In his latest book, the 15 Laws of Growth, John Maxwell recounts an anecdote from the life of Richard Feynman. The noted physicist was burned out on physics.
“I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it…It didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing or fun to play with. When I was in high school, I’d see water running out of a faucet growing narrower, and wonder if I could figure out what determines that curve…I didn’t have to do it; it wasn’t important for the future of science; somebody else had already done it. That didn’t make any difference: I’d invent things and play with things for my own entertainment.
So I got this new attitude. Now that I am burned out, and I’ll never accomplish anything…I’m going to play with physics, whenever I want to, without worrying about any importance whatsoever” (Richard Fenyman).
I see a similar burnout in STEM and aerospace–in pilots and flight test professionals and mathematicians and computer scientists.
Maxwell continues the story by pointing out that shortly thereafter, a moment of playful curiosity planted the seeds for Feynman’s Nobel prize winning work in physics.
I am forced to ask myself, have I lost wonder?
What areas of flight test, of engineering, of data sciences that I find in my daily work would I enjoy more if I had less purpose and more playfulness?