Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tiger, Jaycee Dugard ,Me ,darwin, and motivation.

(Stick with this it will really end up almost on topic)
The current fascination people have with the Tiger Woods is interesting because the image he projects is perfect, he is a gifted athlete, smart, well spoken, respected, rich, married to a super model, his life is perfect in every way. Yet we learn that at some level he is not satisfied with what he has.

Jaycee Dugard is captured as a little girl raped and held captive for 18 years, yet we read that she had adjusted to her life and even felt some attachment to the monster that did this to her.

Un-happiness in the perfect life and happiness in the horrible life, whats going on?

I think its human nature to adjust your expectations to your situation. Last year my business had the best year ever, I had the time and budget to pursue the LLC dream and work on a really interesting project, I was truly fortunate to have that. It was a great year. In the Month after the contest I've not yet come to grips with the fact that the economy is in the pits and I really can't afford to work on the rockets for awhile. I've got to go work really hard to maintain the business in this climate rather than seeing it grow. (We're down 36% year to date yet we have not laid anyone off) My personal setpoint had adjusted to the thrill and success and its really depressing to try and adjust it back. The vast majority of humanity would be ecstatic to trade places with me, yet I'm depressed about it. 5 years ago I'd be ecstatic, I think we really only react to the changes, not the absolute level of things in our life.

When I stop and ponder this I come it an interesting question. What is the natural state of humans? From an evolutionary standpoint I can see that sit in the corner depressed is not effective and would be selected out of the gene pool. However I can also see that a slight unease or paranoia could have benefits. If one group of humans is satisfied and happy and settles in for the winter, they would be at a disadvantage to another group the was just a little bit uneasy and focused that energy at being more productive and gathering a few more nuts and animal skins for the winter. So what is the natural state of the most productive humans?

What drives productive motivation? Is motivation bordering on obsession good or bad for production? Should I just rest and relax for awhile, or shoudl I try and get fired up to work on the things I can actually do, like clean the workshop, develop a simulator, do a peper design for a nanosat vehicle? What purpose does recharge and satisfaction setpoint "reset" have in the process? My wife has studyied a lot of Buddhist philosophy, IE live in the now and be happy with what you have. Any really productive Buddhist scientists and engineers? Is society better served by the hedonist pursuing things in the free market where he is driven to create value so he can have pleasure? I've always though Maslow's hierarchy of needs was a better gage that pure hedonism. The happiest times in my life have been associated with creating something , or bringing an idea to realization. I've posed a lot of hard questions all much less clear than the rocket equation, yet more important when trying to accomplish things in the world.


Carl Tedesco said...

Why can't you live in the now and wander aimlessly simultaneously? Sooner or later your wandering will turn into a journey or trek. Be patient grasshopper!

Anonymous said...

every athlete has an off-season where they rest up for the next peak effort.

Anonymous said...

if you want to talk about evolution, you've already picked more nuts than the rest of the tribe, so there's no questioning your place in it all, only those below you

Anonymous said...

Dude, enough of the sad story! You've pursued a dream/idea/goal/vision. You've built space rockets!! Go to the mountain top and decide what's next and do it. For Jedi, "there is no try...only do."

Anonymous said...

Second that... Go to the mountain, and learn from Shatner's advice ;-)

Unknown said...

Paul - As always, you pose some good thought-provoking commentary. I, too, have wondered about these things.

I personally have a hard time with two things:
1) Having a goal and not being able to pursue it for reasons outside my control.

2) Not having any goals or new challenges to work on.

Both of these conditions can cause anxiety, mild depression, anger, etc. Sound familiar at all?

Its tough to juggle the stress vs. satisfaction level, isn't it?

The only thing I've found that helps is to bounce to a different kind of passion or pursuit, when I'm roadblocked or aimless. When I have a lack of money or ability to pursue physical tasks (like flying or building aircraft), I jump into online projects (nearly free, just my labor/time) or get sucked into computer/board gaming, etc. Its not necessarily good; but shifting gears like this provides a bit of a mental/spiritual refresher, without being a lump on the couch (which tends to lead to a negative feedback loop and mild anger/depression over my lack of motivation or progress in life).

This constant pursuit of different hobbies or goals has given me some extraordinary life experiences and exposure to a ton of great people and activities; but my tendency to drop out of activities or social groups when I shift gears makes me a "flake" in the eyes of some; and I'm never completely without stress, especially if I slip into being a lump on the couch for a month or two every once in a while!

Not sure that my lengthy post answers any of your questions, but I certainly sympathize - and at least you know you're not alone in wrestling with these issues!

Unknown said...

Almost forgot -

Sometimes the "cure" for me is to engage with a new/different group of people... I may have to drag myself (or have someone else drag me) into this when I am feeling down; but I've rarely - if ever - regretted it.

There are plenty of ways to pass along your passion for certain topics by engaging with groups like the Boy Scouts, school groups, etc. I know your son is a little old to be involved in these sorts of organizations directly - but if you have any connection to a group of this sort you might try volunteering with them. Maybe help a group through a hands-on project in an area you know (build model rockets or circuitry samples) - OR do something completely different, like backpacking or some other pursuit that's unrelated to your recent hobbies/projects. The key is exposure to a new set of personalities and a new/different set of priorities/values.

Good luck!

Joe Latrell said...


Very good questions. The only answer I have ever found is that I am happiest when pursuing a worthy goal. Even if the goal is a long way off, if I can define the steps needed then I can make progress that is measurable.

The natural state of humans is to see what is over the next horizon. We are created with that desire. When we ignore it, we suffer. When we use it, all of mankind is lifted up.

Set your pack down for a while, but do not tarry. The next adventure is just over the next hill.

Paul Breed said...

This post was not intended to be a feel sorry for Paul post, I'm one of the more fortunate people on the planet. It was intended to be a discussion of how humans work, what makes us tick. Maybe its not possible to understand "human" from within "human", maybe our individual experiences of the world are too different for meaningful discussion, but the intent was discuss. I find the contrast between Tiger and Jaycee is particularly stunning.

heroineworshipper said...

Tiger is a wuss. A famous manly athlete crashing into a tree because of a golf club swinging wife is shocking.

Unknown said...

[is becoming disappointed with the tack of the posts, too]

Here's another spin on your Tiger/Dugard comparison: You could make the case that becoming a super-star in our era is, in and of itself, a traumatic event. The pressures, the scrutiny, the access & temptations... they're all outside of the normal experience and I don't know how you reconcile them with our more basic/humble evolutionary experiences as animals.

So you _could_ say that Tiger and Dugard have similarities because they both have psychological wounds. This does not excuse Tiger's behavior, nor is it intended to diminish Dugard's suffering... but it provides a point of commonality.

Food for thought, anyway.

Joe Stanton said...

People have an amazing ability to adapt to niches that are not always the best, and to thrive, because there is a strong survival drive in us. One does what one must to survive.

To the other topic, the struggle for identity is timeless, as is the struggle between what we do and what we must do. This is not just work, but life, they are intertwined inextricably. I am a Christian, not a Buddhist, so I seek understanding and insight from the biblical scriptures. Paul writes in the book of Romans chapter 7, of the struggle between our desire to be good or godly, and our sin nature. This is closely paralleled I feel between our true interest in life and what we find ourselves actually doing. Read this out loud if you can, or have someone read it to you...

Romans 7:14-18: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

And, just to combat the weird mountain video, is the Rocket Man.

If this post offends or annoys just delete it.

Anonymous said...

You are right, I guess that a lot of people live in a differential way. They often only sense the sign of the gradient. But life is by far more complex. Maybe it is more like a PID algorithm where you have the additional PI part. It cant be only the gradient since a lot of people feel happy when they approach the second and final singularity in their lifes.

David said...

I consider happiness to be a transitory feeling. Its not actually real until you are older and reflection of the past becomes a factor. In that state it is call contentment.

I do believe happiness/contentment is not compatible with the human survival instinct. This basic instinct also allows the feeling of acceptance which is where your example lies. The situation is out of her control and the only way to survive the ordeal is to firstly accept the situation and make the most of it. This calming influence in its extremes would appear to be happiness. A strong mind is necessary though.

I am also a goal chaser or if you will a high achiever. I set targets to try and achieve and once I have reach the goal, for a very short time, you could say your happy. Unfortunately, in reality it is only satisfaction and I am not content so I move to the next goal.

In combination with our intelligence, if we the human race did not have this behavioural instinct at our core we as a race would still be sitting in Africa living the same basic survival lifestyle for the last 1 mil years.

Paul, you will find that next goal once you have the target established. I look forward to following along with your journey.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

I'm an engineer working in telcom and IT for 25 years. I am also a long time Buddhist meditator. I feel I have been pretty productive in my career, so in answer to your question, yes there are people who are scientists and engineers who feel productive and are Buddhists.

The beginning of your post sounds quite like you are familiar with Buddhist philosophy. It is perhaps typical that when people get what they want (like Tiger Woods) they are still unsatisfied, and when they suffer (like Jaycee Dugard) they can also be happy. I have been reading your blog for over two years and I really admire what you have done. But I think you summed up your situation in a previous blog post.

If you are intending to make rockets a business, then you need to look at it from a business perspective. There are plenty of small aerospace firms out there doing one off contracts for the government and surviving on that. With all due respect for their achievements, it is mostly people who have made a lot of money in another way, like John Camark, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos who can afford to do the big stuff that might change the paradgim. That is fully consistent with the early history of aviation, where it was the Howard Hugheses that made the big advances.

In your case, it sounds like you have a solid business providing employment for people. This is no small achievement (it is not something I've been able to accomplish for example) but that it needs your attention. Unless you want to start over with a business model like one of those small aerospace firms, I'd recommend that you spend some time with the business until it is once again flourishing, then come back to rockets. If nothing else, it will give you some time to think things over and perhaps get some ideas about how to do it better next time.

Best wishes...


wildiris said...

To bounce off of the last post, I'll quote from "Zorba the Greek", " be alive, is to undo your belt and look for trouble."

I see there is an Xprize for the first group to land a robot on the moon.

Anonymous said...

Response to the person who posted the weird Shatner of the Mountain video, here is the original interview.

Anonymous said...


I have been following this blog for 2 years now and I agree with jak. Since you seem to be searching for meaning, I have an observation as well, based on all your posts here.

Many of your musings have to do with business, starting a business, etc. I would classify you as an inventor. This may sound harsh at first, but there is a positive perspective that I hope will help.

While there must be some inventors out there that are good businessmen, I think you need to consider the strong possibility that you may not be one of them. I don't know your history, but if we take the case of the rocket program and your day business, how would you rate the performance of someone other than yourself if they did the same things? This is a big one. If you were the CEO, and the CTO had the same performance, what would be your reaction?

Rocket program: you are a brilliant inventor, and I can't imagine very many people accomplishing what you did alone (keyword alone, inventors tend not to be team players). But how would you rate your business decisions?

A significant amount of money and time invested, no prize money, and no short term business model (say 1 year) for using the technology to make a good business. As a hobby these decisions are fine, but as a business it is a failure.

Your day job: Decision was to take time off to try and create a rocket based business on the side. Day business down over 36%. Yes, the economy plays a role. However, some business are doing very well. Yours is doing better than most. But knowing the economy was bad, would the losses be smaller if you had spent more effort there? Could there have been a strategic opportunity because a competitor was weak? Did the company need more technical leadership from their CTO? Etc.

For all the talk about business, the data here can certainly be interpreted as you are a brilliant inventor, but not a good businessman. So far investors in either company would have taken a large loss.

So embrace your talent. Be the inventor, and either sell your ideas, or work with a team that has the necessary business skills so you succeed as a group. Are you the happiest when you are the lone inventor? If so, forget the business end and just be the inventor.

In the spirit of enlightenment,


Anonymous said...

"I think we really only react to the changes, not the absolute level of things in our life."

this is a fact and was proven many years ago by psychology scientists

"What is the natural state of humans?"

struggle and adaptation

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