Sand is in the desert.

Motivation can be hard to come by. If you were to aggregate my motivation from all facets of life and plot it as a function of time, the recent past would likely be a local minimum in the curve. I’m currently investigating why.

The set of course packets by Leon Schram was the first exposure I had to programming. There was very little consolation for how dry they were; at the time, I had no interest in pursuing computer science as a field of study so summoning the motivation to actually read the packets did not come easily. So it’s not surprising that the only trinkets of information that I retained from the packets have nothing to do with the difference between ArrayLists and LinkedLists or how multiple inheritance works. The most important lesson I learned from Schram has little to do with computer science — at least explicitly. At the very beginning of the very first packet, he introduces himself and along with a concept that seemed like a personal credo of his — an equation concerned more with personal insight than mathematical complexity. It read:

Bewilderment + Exposure = Obvious

Well, that’s obvious. Upon first coming into contact with something that is foreign to you, you enter a state of bewilderment. The length of time any individual person spends bewildered tends to vary. But regardless of how bewildered you are when you first encounter something new, when you’ve been exposed to that thing long enough — you’ve added sufficient exposure into the equation — surely enough what was once incomprehensible becomes incredibly (for lack of a better word) obvious.

The interesting part about this equation is that the statement of the equation exemplified itself to me. When I was wide-eyed and impressionable, I first read the quote and definitely did not apply it to my own life or appreciate its nuances or understand as deeply as I do now. (I’m sure there’s a good argument for why I still don’t understand the statement all that deeply; maybe this post can serve as its rebuttal.) At the time, I hardly understood it at all. I was bewildered. 

As you may have gathered, that is no longer the case. Considering the dramatic paragraph separation I used to ensure that it was seen, it’s rather obvious that I appreciate the equation greatly — or at least enough to have dwelled on it for over 200 words now. However, despite my appreciation, I do find it to be painstakingly self-evident. To me, it’s not an idea that feels like it would take hours of deep thought and consideration to come up with. It just seems like it was always there. And now looking back on it I realize that I’d taken it for granted because it became obvious. And it became obvious because I had been exposed to it for long enough.

I think this is the case for many of the things that we learn and slowly unlearn over time. Of all of the skills you’ve developed in college, think of one that you uniquely built in college. For some that may be programming, for others it might be critical analysis or writing more powerful arguments. Still for others it might be things outside of the classroom, like rowing or DJ’ing. Think about how your sense of bewilderment slowly started to fade as you succeeded for the first time — when you compiled your first error-free program or wrote your first proper thesis or mixed your first track. (Also try to imagine how exciting it was to start learning or doing something new — or how much excitement bewilderment can cause.) Then realize that that feeling continued to fade as you worked harder and harder at developing your skills. Now realize how obvious the errors that you made in your first script were or how silly you’d feel now if you weren’t able to find the right button to save your work. In a larger sense, realize how obvious most of the trivial things you have to do in your daily life now feel.

Does that mean we should simply reduce our exposure to things to maintain some sense of bewilderment at all times? Certainly not! Inconsistencies found in the real world with regard to one equation can be the fault of the equation itself. So maybe Schram is wrong. Or maybe I’m interpreting what he said wrong. The answer to that — as most worthwhile pursuits are — is a work in progress. I'll announce it the world when I've found it. But in the mean time, revisiting Schram's insight did teach me an important lesson: even the most obvious things can be worth thinking about. Like Schram's equation.

Thanks for reading. Best of luck.

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