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It’s Always Impossible…Until It’s Not

Has it ever happened that you’re trying to get something done and no matter how hard you try, just can’t…until you somehow do?! I do. A lot!

Now I know it’s not because of procrastination or because I don’t have the brainpower to figure it out or really anything that makes sense. It’s just that, initially – and subsequently, for a while, anyway – the ‘how to’ part can be totally opaque for me. But then, as if all that trying-and-failing never happened, I give it one more go, and – BAM! – it’s done! It’s so joyful. And strange. And familiar. For you, too?

The most prevalent example of this is when I’m doing the New York Times crossword puzzles on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. (For those of you who don’t know, the puzzles tend to get harder as the week progresses. Thursdays’ are particularly challenging in that they often abandon the one-letter-per-box answer format often opting for all sorts of weird variations. Fridays’ tend to really challenge the outer edges of one’s vocabulary and recall. And Saturday, well Saturdays’ clues tend to want multiple-word answers that stretch from one side of the puzzle to the other. But I digress.) The point, though, is that I can look at a clue for literally hours and get nowhere until – duh! – the correct answer is suddenly patently obvious to me.

The same thing just happened to me with some music files I was working with. I wanted to be able to access them all from my iPhone (without having to sync them to my iPhone via iTunes) so I put a copy of all of them on my NAS drive. (Yeah, I hear all you Spotify and Apple Music streamers out there.)

The first problem was in getting my iPhone to retrieve the NAS files, which, per the above formula, took seemingly forever until I was finally able to learn how. (Find (and then open) the iOS Files app » scroll down to Shared » hit the dropdown menu and select “Connect to Server” » enter my NAS’ IP address » and then access the files.) #Yay! #Joy

The only problem was that this method only played one song at a time. #Annoying

So, after several more days of trying to figure that out, I found another iOS app (something called FlacBox) which basically works like Apple’s Music app except that it lets you access your music files from your Cloud storage…or a NAS drive! #Voilà #MoreJoy

What Was Going On, Here?

On one level, I totally get it – some things take time.

“Impossible only means that you haven’t found the solution yet.” 

– Anonymous

But in these moments, it doesn’t typically feel like I’m making ‘incremental’ progress; it feels more like I’m just banging my head against a wall, hoping, each time, to get a different outcome. (I can’t even count how many different websites and forums I visited about this music file thing, how many different keywords searches I did, how many ChapGPT requests I made. Nothing, nothing, nothing.) No ‘if this then that’ learning; no trial-and-error learning. Just dead end after dead end. Until…

So, here’s to the power of sticktoitiveness, I guess, and Conclusion #1 – Keeping at it = Progress.

And yet it feels like there’s something more that was going on.

“Taking a break can lead to breakthroughs.”

Russell Eric Dobdaous

It feels like my brain was working behind the scenes on a nonconscious level to figure out how to thread this needle, find some better search terms, rethink how I was thinking about it. (Crosswords require this given their intentional use of vague clues. Is the clue “Cross” referring to a religious symbol, something to do with transversing a roadway, a Greek letter, or being angry? Gotta keep rethinking and re-challenging your assumptions to know for sure.)

Or maybe, just maybe, it has more to do with NOT thinking about it so I can fully release from my prior assumptions and reengage, anew, with ‘fresh eyes, as it were.

Which leads to Conclusion #2 – Taking a step back and refreshing your approach = Progress.

Which to Do When?

Ah, the proverbial Fork in the Road! (And the reason for the image at the top of this post.)

When is ‘keeping at it’ the way to go vs. ‘taking a step back and refreshing your approach’?

Alternate paths to the same destination, you might say.

So, which to do when? Maybe you have some ideas as to what works for you and when.

As for me, I think it depends. If I’m ‘enjoying the ride’ (and not feeling particularly pressured by an impending deadline or deliverable) I don’t think it really matters which approach I take. But if I’m starting to feel discouraged or stressed, then my answer is to try the other way!

Or better yet, delegate the whole mess and assign it to someone better suited for the challenge!

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