Sunday, June 10, 2012


I worked hard. I gave it everything. I did not get the cheese. What went wrong?

Our major concerns are either long term or short term. Independently, their impact is short term, long term or intermediary; note the emphasis on the word independently. A lot of priority related issues are primarily because we treat a specific concern wrongly as short term or long term instead of what it actually should be. Beyond that, we also expect long term results for everything and that may just be unrealistic. Yes, the perfect project would require minimal work to tackle it, and should yield long term satisfaction with little or no running maintenance. But there is a reason why it is called the ideal situation; it does not exist. So it becomes critical to objectively view a project for what it is, what its scale should be and what should be realistically expected from it. Would that make us perform better? Would that increase the efficiency involved? Would that guarantee success? No. But it would save us a lot of frustration when the project fails amongst other things.

A long term project is something that should not require major effort on a daily basis. In fact, it should be a mostly self-running machine that just requires a little bit of regular maintenance. It is important that you do not abuse it; you do not keep prodding it to do a dance. Just give it that little bit of work because you really want it to work and it runs fine. Most relationships, life principles, true education and hobbies fall in this category.

A short term project is more intensive and may require more work through its time. It definitely would demand more focus. Anything you would call a project falls in this category. Calling your relationships a project is just weird.

For the most part, a long term project does deliver over a longer period of time. But the system of expectation and a lack of understanding of what the output really should be is the first problem. A good relationship with your parents is a long term project, but hopefully you are not doing it for the inheritance or because you want to be perceived socially as the perfect son. The driving force needs to be the fact that you just want your folks to be happy in an overall sense. You may not meet short term expectations like finishing your milk but you never do something to jeopardize the faith that if your parents' world and future depended on it, you would chug that milk. You learn to paint not because it would get you laid someday but because it is something that you just pursue as an art. It is your mode of expression and some day when you decorate the walls of your house with your art, it will tell you something about yourself. So expecting immediate results from your hobbies or from your parents may not really work. Well it could but it would still be something you would regret very soon. The long term project is a delicate machine that is not meant to take the load of concentrated ecstasy; it is more to make you chuckle to yourself when you see it still running decades from now. Many times, all you want is something running at all and these projects should run infinitely if you do not ruin them.

Don't care about the chuckle? No problem. Pick short term projects. They will give you great highs. A successfully completed jigsaw puzzle. A party you throw. These things will take all your time and effort increasing the risk of such a venture but the rewards are also quick and concentrated. For the most part, they are even worth the quick sense of elation. But the problem starts when you expect it to last past its lifetime. The only way of sustaining a life long high of this quality is LSD, though a short life comes in tow. But as long as you are happy with the short lifetime and the basal level risk involved in short term projects, they can be worked and they can be worked well.

Problem two is not how to execute your projects. It is how you deal with it after execution. Not always is a good outcome guaranteed (even with well executed long term projects). You could have spent twenty of your best years maintaining an athletic fitness only to see a career debilitating knee injury on your first day in the NFL. That sucks. At these points, a lot of us are at loss of the maturity needed to accept that we do not always get or even deserve all that we set our eyes on because it is just very hard. To see something fail that has taken so much of your effort is very painful. One cannot rationalize failure instantly and you must take your time but at some point it needs to be rationalized for what it is instead of what you want it to be. The correct organization of your long and short term projects and how they relate to their outcomes can really help you rationalize better. It does not mean that projects should be executed in a certain manner; you can do it the way you please. It is how you define what your results should be and what you do when you do not get them.

If what should be a long term project demands heavy focus that a short term project would normally demand, you are adopting the risk and reward that come with a short term project. So it is naturally bound to fail when it reaches the end of its now finite lifetime. So if you are astounded when you lose a friendship, it would serve you well to retrospect if it truly was one. You may just have lost track of when it stopped being that self-sustaining machine and became an intensive gas guzzler. Conversely, if you think you can develop those killer abs by just showing up at the gym and staring at the weights every day for fifty years, you may have bigger issues.

Once you have the a proper hold on the status of a project, it helps in a number of ways. For starters, you take less shock when it fails over random things that you do not have control over. It helps better define the choices you make and makes it easier to pick or pursue what you want to do in future. You realize that some things got to failure because you made a choice to take that risk in the past. You are more satisfied with your effort and it just saves you a lot of frustration and self-sympathy. Last but not the least, you have a better chance of not being part of the problem; helps your karma if you are into that stuff.

The final problem is sometimes not yours. Sometimes you have to work with others and unless your priorities match up, your styles may conflict. A lot of graduate students end up with mentors or programs that do not fit them and in a matter of months they end up disillusioned and full of self-entitlement. They are so attached to their works of art that they cannot take a word of criticism against it even though the biggest lesson to be learnt in graduate school is to take criticism constructively. Is there a foolproof solution to it? Unfortunately not, but if it really matters so much that the project needs to be completed, then the onus is on you to pick or create the right sustainable environment for it, however much the time taken or work involved. Sometimes it may involve just walking away to keep things alive for another day. You choose that.

It is more important to work true than world hard. Godspeed.



Kris said...

A long term project is like multiple short term projects stitched into one. I suppose you are wondering how this can work for something like relationships? I'd equate it to religion. In the sense, there are important days. These equate to milestones. Christmas, thanksgiving etc brings family together. In the same way, relationships too have days, such as anniversaries and other important milestones. The constant and timely reminder act as positive reinforcements. Ofcourse, trying to work it too much can end up manipulating a relationship. There always needs to be a balance.

-- just my 2 cents

Bala Venkatakrishnan said...

Agreed but I differ a little bit. I was trying to be more general on aspects of focus. Short term projects stitched together do head towards the greater goal but there are separate long term projects.
If I go the religion route, the overall goal is to have a fulfilling way of life/find a place in heaven. So the long term project is to find a religion that you accept, work its true path and hopefully at the end of your life you find that berth. Short term projects surrounding that would be to host a church event, sponsor some charity and so on. They require more focus in short spells. The long term project mostly takes care of itself if you don't go crazy and disturb its equilibrium. The daily 5 minute prayer or something should do.
If we talk relationships, the grand goal is to build a nurturing and supportive mesh around yourself to enjoy a companionship. The best example of a long term project is a relationship with a sibling. Once you have figured out your rules and truce you really do very little as a show of love. You probably get together once in a while but it really works itself if you don't mess it up. Short term projects would be to help them out at a time when they need it but if they were to cling on you all your life, outside of very special circumstances, that relationship would be strained.
At the risk of sounding nerdy and cheesy, I'll make one final example with crystallography. The overall goal of course is improving knowledge but getting a crystal and stabilizing it is a long term project. Once you get that crystal and you find out how to store it so it stays intact through its required lifetime, you just don't disturb it. If you stare at it too long under a microscope just to admire it or keep checking if it is still there, it just melts! If you keep prodding it breaks. Short term projects are when you try to do the subsequent mathematics after you diffract the crystal - you do it with full focus so you can finish up and publish it and then it is over. Essentially while long term projects start as short term ones, once you know it is long term, you back off and let it do its thing.

I guess the big thing I'm pointing at is that while it is important to pay attention and focus on things, it is just as important to defocus on what you want to make last. If it is really meant to last then it'll take care of itself. Scrutinizing because we are impatient will only break the egg prematurely.

Kris said...

Well, I guess that's more of a strategic approach. And I do tend to agree to an extend.

The pros are if you fail - you were never too emotionally involved in the first place because the attitude was a little bit fatalistic.

However, the reason for failure can be attributed to the fact that one just didn't try enough.

More than the end result really, i'd say the right approach would be the one where there are no regrets - regardless of the method.