Why am I incredibly passionate about learning things but dread actually putting them to use?
January 26, 2009 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Why am I passionate about learning things (mostly IT-related) but dread actually putting them to use?

I love learning new technologies, programming languages, concepts, etc. I absolutely love proving the concept. I'm talking serious rush here, raging endorphins and all. I feel that with these newfound skills, I can rule the world, profit!, etc. Then I just get bored and find something new to study.

Instead of putting the new skills to use, I move on to the next thing. I take great pleasure in knowing I can do these various things, but when it's time to actually do them, I become disinterested. As soon as it turns into work, it's no fun any more.

A random example is that I get great pleasure out of installing and configuring various CMS systems and testing out their configurations. Yet, I still don't have a web page or a blog. Yet, I know how to do it and I'm ok with that, should the 'need' arise.

Is this laziness, or something else at work? I'm in the IT field. I'm considered quite good at what I do but am always looking to be doing something else. I also have a pretty comfortable and unexciting job. Should I be considering something else?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
That, unfortunately, is the way life works sometimes. Fun is fun until it's work. As to the particulars of why you're victim to this phenomeon or whether you should be considering something else, I honestly don't there's any way any of us could know the answer to that.
posted by katillathehun at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2009

Well, if you're anything like many of the people I know, you're likely goal-oriented, enjoy learning, and are easily bored. You like to learn new things because you are fascinated with the world, and understanding how things work. If you have a target to aim at, you get motivated and pour your energy into reaching that target, but once you get there, and you're mentally satisfied that you comprehend the situation and understand the concepts, you lose interest because your goal is the comprehension and not the application of knowledge.

I don't think laziness really enters into it. Unless you really WANT to use these skills in the real world but just aren't getting off your butt. Don't assume that applying skills is a necessary consequence of acquiring them.

Disclaimer: This may be way off because IANAPsychologist, but I did play one on TV. Or I saw one on TV.

The sound was off, but I got the gist...
posted by '' at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a college teacher and I have several students who do as you do, bounce from topic to topic ingesting the knowledge like a sponge, but never staying in one place long enough to be an expert or form any true expertise.

The old saying "jack of all trades, master of none" is very very true in this regard.

While initially on a resume having all of these topics is a good thing, the lack of focus in an area will create a situation where future jobs require an expertise you don't necessarily have from your basic reading and playing around.

I tell my students that until you've worked on something where you must meet a customer's requirements you've never really worked.

Now you say you work in IT but you are bored and look for other things. This too is normal. It's normal for IT workers and for standard wage slaves.

The trick, I would think, would be to find something that excites you if possible, be it a hobby where you can put this expertise to work or a job where you are required to learn new things and enjoy it. That said, in this economy looking for other work is a dangerous proposition...

It's possible (and Ask MeFi answers always seem to jump to this) that it's adult ADD, but more than likely you just have a technical aptitude and aren't engaged in the projects in which you are working. I wouldn't stress too much about it, though. Hopefully you'll find your technological niche and stick to it. Or at least make some good money while looking for it.

And if you ever need to actually complete a project with CMS, drop me a MeFi message :) I could use some CMS expertise :)
posted by arniec at 11:23 AM on January 26, 2009

I see two things at work:

A random example is that I get great pleasure out of installing and configuring various CMS systems and testing out their configurations. Yet, I still don't have a web page or a blog.

This is not uncommon, and is usually just a case of wanting (consciously or not) to keep your work and private life separate.

Instead of putting the new skills to use, I move on to the next thing.

This is classic fear-of-failure. It's easy to learn some new concept, because there's nothing on the line. It's hard to do something with it, because suddenly something is at stake. Basically, as long as it's in the abstract, you can't fail. It's not at all unique to IT, perhaps a bit in that technology changes so quickly that there's always something new to learn. But, this kind of attitude is, to me, a big factor in separating successful people from dilettantes.

If you're not in a job where they're forcing you to implement these new things you're learning, I'd suggest starting a personal project- though start with the end rather than the process. In other words, give yourself a goal that you want to achieve that's an output- a blog, a site about X, whatever. Then go about learning what technology best gets you to that end, rather than starting with the tech and figuring out what end you can get to with it.
posted by mkultra at 11:24 AM on January 26, 2009 [9 favorites]

posted by mkultra at 11:26 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't find it right now, but there's a deep thought by jack Handy that goes something like:

"it's easy to just sit there and wish you had a million dollars. And that's what I like about it, it's so relaxing to just sit there wishing."

The point being, learning something new, or having an idea for a project, is the fun, easy part. Executing things is hard work and almost always stops being fun sooner rather than later. You need to accept these facts:

1) you will get bored of your project
2) you will decide you don't like your project halfway through and wish you had worked on another idea instead
3) you may grow to hate your project and wonder what the hell you were thinking ever starting it.

This is normal for everyone who works on anything creative that takes longer than a few days. If you want to finish something, you just need to work through it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:32 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is classic fear-of-failure.

Without a doubt. mkultra knows what he or she is saying.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:34 AM on January 26, 2009

I think ADD would imply that you are incapable of following through. It sounds like you just like learning and get bored executing.
posted by fusinski at 11:34 AM on January 26, 2009

I'm with the others who say "fear of failure."

I *know* that's what it is in my case. I have the same thing -- love learning how to do something or about something, but don't want to actually DO it. It's satisfying enough, I tell myself, that I know I could do it if I ever had to.

Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to change that even though I know the cause.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 11:57 AM on January 26, 2009

Because when you put them to use its work. Its not fun anymore, its more about stability, uptime, backups, security, etc. It suddenly enters the world of adults. Getting your PC to sing in Esperanto is fun, maintaining 1,000 Esperanto singing machines is work.

On top of it, if you have nothing to say, then why do you need a web page? Some people like to play with tools and others like to make stuff. If you want to create, first find out what you want to say and how you want to express it and then look for the tools. Dont play with the tools hoping they will magically motivate you. They wont.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:00 PM on January 26, 2009

I also suggest you read How to be Creative.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

What about getting into academia? I had a friend who got a job just implementing new ideas and creating prototype software. They'd write a prototype and then ship the code off to India for people to come up with a "real" polished, software-engineered design. Talk about an awesome job -- all of the fun stuff and none of the hard work.

Unfortunately, they got axed during the economic downturn, but oh well.

But there are jobs out there that involve creativity and not slogging.
posted by delmoi at 12:12 PM on January 26, 2009

This is classic fear-of-failure.

I don't buy this. At least, I don't think it's fear-of-failure in all cases.

Like anon, I get a rush from learning something new that I get from very little else. Learning is definitely my favorite thing to do.

After that initial rush, actually using the knowledge is much less fun -- and sometimes it's downright boring. Yet I don't fear failure. I generally do follow through, because I have to in order to keep my job, and I usually succeed. And I expect to succeed. But that doesn't make the doing any more interesting. I would much rather learn something new.

I have to constantly force myself to stay on task rather than spending the time learning a new skill. This is much harder than forcing myself to work instead of goofing off, because my work ethic tells me that goofing off is bad -- but I've been brought up to believe that learning is both fun and healthy. I have to work really hard to remember that there are times when learning is a bad thing. (There's a selfish part of me -- that doesn't feel selfish -- that tells me that I SHOULD be allowed to do nothing but learn, and that it's unfair that I should have to stop learning.)

By a coincidence, I'm currently reading a fascinating book about animal behavior. It posits that there are several core drives shared (to greater an lesser degrees) by all animals: anger, fear, panic and seeking. The seeking drive is what prompts us to hunt for sex, food, luxury items and knowledge. It's feeds off of anticipation -- and that anticipation can be a much more intense feeling than actually acquiring the goal (which is why goal-attainment is so often a letdown). Seeking is a natural high.

I spent years working with children, and almost all of them act like anon and me. Cultural forces (e.g. schooling that is centered around training people for corporate life) tends to beat this instinct out of people. But some of us somehow aren't as effected by those forces as others. It's always odd to me that my extreme love of learning is so odd. When people see how excited I am about learning something new, they often roll their eyes.

As to a solution, I've found two: the first one -- unpleasant as it is -- is forcing. It's easier if the force is external, e.g. a boss who will fire you if you don't get certain work done. A more pleasant solution is realizing that most subjects are bottomless. Yes, I understand all I need to know about programming to write most simple programs. But given my knowledge, do I know all I need to know in order to write them perfectly? That's doubtful, since people are continually coming up with new algorithms and optimization techniques. Most of the time, it's easy to find ways to learn more about a subject you've already "mastered."
posted by grumblebee at 12:13 PM on January 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

You're totally me, and you're totally normal. Especially since you're in IT. There's something about technology that LOOKS exciting and all that, but really, when you think about how much time and effort is placed into the hottest language, the newest gadget... it sucks the fun out.

As grumblebee said, a lot of subjects are bottomless. Look at blogs or other news about the latest things in your field, even if it has nothing to do with your work. Or take on a creative field and find work in that. Creative fields tend to be more exciting.
posted by curagea at 12:44 PM on January 26, 2009

You're definitely not alone in this. I definitely enjoy soaking up technical information like a sponge, but seldom apply what I've learned to my own projects.

I went to an engineering school where one of the unofficial sayings was along the lines of "we're not going to teach you to be the best at X, instead we're going to teach you how to be the best at learning new things, because we have no idea if X, Y or Z are going to be what you need to know five years from now".

So, yeah, I get a big kick out of having my grab-bag of knowledge handy when it's time for a brainstorming session, or when it's time to help someone who is stuck on a project involving something that I know about. Yet I dislike actually using the numerous tools at my disposal to tighten the various nuts and bolts that need to be secured when taking an idea from concept to reality.

Search this article for the word 'spacklers'. I hate 'spackling' with a passion.

Fear of failure? ADD? Maybe a little of both. Although for me, I think the main issue is that very few of my current life goals require me to flex this particular muscle to achieve them. There are some things that I am extremely passionate about lately, that I am devoting tens of hours of personal time to each week, that have nothing to do with this technical stuff.

The weird thing is, I'm probably better at learning technical stuff than non-technical stuff, but oh well. That's just not where my interests are right now. Such is life.
posted by adamk at 12:47 PM on January 26, 2009

Just chiming in with another "I'm just like that too!" I love learning, and collect new skills and knowledge like others might collect comic books or beanie babies or... whatever it is that people collect these days. Unfortunately, I too tend to move on after the comprehension level is reached and never bother with application , which is far, far scarier. If the risk is worth the reward (i.e. I'm being paid to do it), I may venture into applying what I've learned, but often it's safer and easier, not to mention more fun, to move on to learning something new.
posted by platinum at 1:20 PM on January 26, 2009

I think you're just comfortable with your current income and status and as such are not particularly interested in the potential rewards that could result from applying yourself more. I've been there. You think that having modest expectations from life is the key to happiness, but it actually just results in being really bored. If you want to be fully engaged, you need to aim higher and get over any squeamishness you have about showing some competitiveness and drive. You don't need to become a boring self-obsessed show-off, you just need a different balance.
posted by tomcooke at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

You're a consultant. You just don't know it yet.

Most of each new job is learning what the client is doing and how and why, so you can get a grasp on how to fix or improve it. (Some consultants don't even do the actual grunt-work of fixing it; they just map out a plan for the client to follow.)

People who like doing everything the same way and working within the same frameworks make great employees and terrible consultants. People who love learning and constantly adjusting to new situations but get bored with routine work make great consultants and mediocre employees.
posted by ook at 2:04 PM on January 26, 2009

Have you ever taken a Myers-Briggs test? It sounds like you might be an ENFP.
posted by matildaben at 2:14 PM on January 26, 2009

Sounds more like a classic [I]NTP to me, matildaben. I don't see any hint of ADD in the matter; learning is exciting, and implementation is drudgery. Why should you expect to enjoy drudgery?

In any case, I agree with ook; you might enjoy being a consultant.
posted by ROTFL at 2:53 PM on January 26, 2009

Learning to finish is a skill in itself, one valued by every employer because it isn't common.

Finishing is being able to push through the boring, tedious, difficult (yet necessary) parts to a satisfactory conclusion without quitting.

Starting is easy. Everybody does that. Finishing is hard and for many people (me!) it is an acquired skill but one definitely worth learning.

I thank my lucky stars for working in software so that I could learn this skill -- it certainly wasn't found at home growing up.

There are ways to build this skill should you be interested. If you aren't challenged to finish projects at work then do so with personal projects. Set requirements, milestones, and deadlines then force yourself to meet them no matter what.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:12 PM on January 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fear of Failure and ADD aren't incompatible or unrelated. People with ADD tendencies are likely to have a well-reinforced fear of failure. Not that it matters, even if someone could diagnose ADD (or the lack thereof) from a AskMefi post and issue a prescription for Adderall, it wouldn't magically unlearn a behavior conditioned over an adult's lifetime.

As to what the OP should do, I'd suggest starting the book Driven to Distraction and seeing if it has strong resonance. If so, it may help him better understand himself, and suggest strategies for making the most of who he is. If not, well, what's wrong with a little more knowledge?

Beyond that though, is the deeper question of whether change is necessary or desired. That question is impossible to answer without knowing more about the OP. Why did he or she ask the question at all? From what little they've said, it doesn't sound like it is yet a problem in terms of their ability to be self-supporting. There is no mention of friction with a partner, or a parent's disapproval.

There isn't anything inherently wrong with a drive to learn new things without then applying them. But wouldn't it be good to learn that, at least once, that its possible for you to push through the boredom and dread and actually do more than scratch the surface of the things you've learned?
posted by Good Brain at 3:55 PM on January 26, 2009

I'm not sure what your job function is exactly, but in software development, particularly, it's very easy to learn something. But, it takes a long, long time to build up the experience and craft to be effective at doing it.

Maybe you've been doing it for a long time. I don't know the details, but I'm guessing you're relatively new?

Software development is some hard, hard complex stuff. A person is not going to be wildly proficient at it until they've put in their 10,000 hours (~ten years). After that it starts to make enough sense, that one.

Again, reading is easy and likely simple; developing software is hard and likely complex.
posted by brandnew at 4:33 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you are wired for novelty seeking-- some people are higher on this trait than others and yes, there are lots of people who enjoy learning but hate the drudgery of applying things or even just repeating something.

Sometimes this is linked with ADD...sometimes it's just being high on novelty seeking. People with this trait tend to do well in jobs that involve "crises" where the stress makes even old stuff seem novel because it is so high stakes.

So yeah, you would either need to learn to push through the duller bits or seek situations where the stakes are high enough to get the dopamine flowing for you.
posted by Maias at 5:41 PM on January 26, 2009

There are some really good answers up there but I'd like to note something that may not have been mentioned in place of the "fear of failure" issue. It may be more fear of insanity than fear of failure. It seems you work in the programming area of IT. As for the operations area of IT I often find myself concerned that my nights and weekends will be consumed by some surprise issue. I'm so concerned at this point I'd rather not do it at all. I love using technology, when or if it works. If it breaks, I'm no longer interested in it. I no longer like the troubleshooting. I don't want to be responsible for it's upkeep or sanity. I'd rather be surfing the high seas on the weekend than surfing the web looking for answers to an ongoing problem that must be fixed by Monday 6am. I could care less about the glory and it's nearly to the point where I care less about the money. And I absolutely cannot stand getting my fingers cut while poking around the guts of some machine. It just drives me batty.
posted by ezekieldas at 6:20 PM on January 26, 2009

Barbara Sher would say you are a scanner. Her book lists career types and trades that take advantage of the fact that you always want to be learning something new. It really sounds from your description like you could benefit from reading it.
posted by fidelity at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2009

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