There is an indescribable rush when you successfully complete something difficult or daring. As a kid, I felt it every time I rode a skateboard or bicycle. When you clear a three foot high wall or land a kickflip on a skateboard, you’re hit with an instant and intense jolt of happiness and exhilaration. Pulling tricks on a bike gives the same rush and after a while you kind of get an addiction for that feeling. You continue to risk injury while pushing yourself to do new things and get that good feeling. Maybe it’s adrenaline, maybe it’s just euphoria from the sudden sense of satisfaction.
As funny as it sounds, I get the same rush when I do things that aren’t very life threatening, but are merely difficult. In college, conquering differential equations, figuring out physics, and acing grad school tests gave the same rush.
In 1995, I wanted to teach myself how to author web pages so I picked up a book, and I stayed up all night reading it, from cover to cover. When I was done, I walked over to my computer, opened up a text editor and wrote out all sorts of previously unintelligible markup. When I pushed “save” and viewed it in a browser, that same sense of euphoria and satisfaction that comes from solving a difficult problem washed over me. I fell into the same sort of routine that I did with skateboarding, bike riding, and school. I continued to push myself to learn new things to get that quick rush again every so often.
Nearly seven years have passed since that first web page, and I noticed a few months ago I don’t get that feeling much anymore. I can’t tell if I’m not pushing myself, if there isn’t anything interesting left to do, or if I’m just getting jaded by the whole thing.
Today, I spent a few hours setting up a collaborative intranet that I’ve been struggling with for the past few weeks. Due to the difficulty of trying to find the right set of tools for the job, I’ve been evaluating a set of packages and had a rough go with a restrictive web host. Eventually, I settled upon a combination of tools including PHP, MySQL, phpwiki, and phpMyAdmin. I downloaded a lot of packages and took some time installing and configuring things. Once it was time to finally test out all these foreign (to me) applications, everything worked perfectly the first time, and that same feeling came rushing back. For a few minutes, it was 1995 all over again, and a string of cryptic characters I barely understood actually produced things I could see and manipulate any way I pleased. A new world of possibilities suddenly opened up, and there’s a lot of new things still left to learn and do.
It was an amazing feeling and a nice reminder of why I started doing this in the first place.