Paul McCartney’s fourteenth solo album was called “Memory Almost Full”. When I heard about it, I instantly recognized the creativity coming from a musician of Sir Paul’s age. He was at the magical age of 64 at the time. You think of all the songs, lyrics, chords, and instruments he’d written, played, and mastered by that time in his life. Surely, if human memory were limited like that of a recently launched iPhone (just 128MB in 2007), at some point, and with a wealth of genius, maybe it could run out.
Around the same time, I had a conversation with a co-worker of my dad’s. This individual, like many, had a tremendous appreciation for the technical ability and extensive knowledge my father applied to his work. He told me jokingly, pointing at my dad, “that man has forgotten more than most will ever know”.
I thought about my career in technology. I was a software engineer at the time and at an age with limited resources and time compared to now. But my weekends were spent browsing the bookstore to go deeper into coding languages I knew or discover new ones. If you’d ask me then, I would have said my hunger and passion was to get better at what I was doing.
These past few years, with my kids getting into a more stable age and recovering incredible amounts of time due to no longer commuting hours each day to work, I’ve realized and appreciated the true nature of this hunger. It was never just to learn. It was about the challenge.
You think about challenging yourself and degrees of physicality come to mind. Challenge yourself to get stronger; to build up your endurance; to move from couch to 5k; and to get in better shape. All valid and important challenges.
Challenging yourself also comes in the form of puzzles in games, like the daily sudoku puzzle or the recently popular Wordle; or beating a level in a video game.
In the past few years, I’ve been lucky to find challenges both in technology and in craft. Depending on ones appreciation, these can be one in the same. For craft, I took up word working and some carpentry soon after my family moved into our home. There were lots of projects I challenged myself to take on — things I would have never imagined doing but really embraced. Projects like doing flooring, replacing a sink, putting up a fence, and building a deck presented the challenge of learning new tools — not just how & when to use them properly but what they even were. 2 years ago I didn’t know the different between 6 different saws.
With technology, for me, the opportunity to challenge never ends. Recently some things aligned with my career where I was gratefully compelled to dive into new languages, frameworks, and best practices. To embrace this kind of challenge — similar to wood working — having a project in mind is essential for me. Here the joy isn’t just seeing what I’m building develop, but appreciating the new tools and skills I’m learning and using.
I realize, depending on your situation, our situation can influence the degree we can challenge ourselves. So I’m especially grateful that the past few years provided me the ability to challenge myself in many ways and to new levels.
I’m still a few decades from the age Paul was when we he released the cheeky titled Memory Almost Full album, and I hope that measure of my capacity to learn is a long ways away.
I’ve never felt more aware that I was loving and living for the challenge.