Sometimes a break will take you closer to the solution

It's okay to take a break. In fact, sometimes it's necessary. You know when you lose something, search for it and only find it when you stop looking? Exactly!
Sometimes a break takes you to solution

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If you want the full backstory and testimony on how I became a data analyst, then you probably want to start here before continuing on this post. Otherwise, let me catch you up very quickly:

After wanting to be a neurosurgeon and then a sales representative, I ended up in a Level 4 Data Analytics Apprenticeship, which I passed in April 2023, alongside a couple of certifications in Project Management. Data analysts turn numbers and spreadsheets into insights, dashboards and reports. I started my new job in June for almost double my previous salary.

That’s pretty much it.

A Brief Backstory...

Data analysts typically are proficient in a couple computer languages. SQL is universally used for interacting and querying databases, usually accompanied by either Python or R, a general-purpose programming language and statistics language, respectively.

With programming or any computer language comes the inevitability of bugs and issues. Software and data engineers have their whole role around coding, more than analysts, so they can probably tell you more about debugging and solving issues. For simplicity, there’s almost always an issue with your code, guaranteed if it’s a larger or more complex project. It’s part of the job.

Even as data analysts, while the core of our job is visualising data insights, we typically spend most of our time preparing and cleaning the data to use later.

My Problematic Python Script

While my job title at my new job officially is a data analyst, I’m also managing a £100k project migrating from one eLearning platform to another. It’s not exactly the depth of water I thought I’d be swimming in the first time I dived into the pool after getting my project management qualifications.

So, I’m in the office one day; me and the team are just talking. At the time, I was working on the project, scripting an API (Application Programming Interface) to extract the data from our old eLearning platform to be imported into the new. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I had to create about 20 scripts and files of Python code. Some were relatively simple, and others complex and convoluted. You can guess which one I was working on that day.

This particular one was I was struggling with for a good while. I remember being intently focused and progressively getting more frustrated and intense trying to figure out what was going wrong.

You would’ve seen me punch the air a couple hours later as I finally figured out and fixed my script. The others at the table noticed and asked, “Finally got it?” while chuckling. Chuckling because they could relate. They knew what had happened and how it felt. That’s what catalysed our conversation.

We all gave our own recent stories of something we were working on that took us hours, days, and even sometimes weeks to solve. While each story was contextually very different, the stress, frustration, and seemingly getting nowhere were consistent for all of us.

More interesting enough, though, a common theme in all our collective experiences is that we all found the solution when we weren’t looking for it.

The hours and days we spent staring at a computer trying to figure out why our code wasn’t working or where the error was coming from, we seemingly got nowhere. In each case, eventually, we gave up, took a break or just started on something else completely.

It's only when we took a step back, stopped trying to find the solution and shifted our focus elsewhere that we found the solution.

For one of us, while we were cooking, the solution just popped into our head. For another, it was while they were watching a TV show. For another, it was while we were in the shower. (I’ll let you guess which one was me).

The Need for a Break

But it caused me to think. It wasn’t just in the workplace and data analytics where most of my solutions came when I was not looking at the problem. It’s with relationships. It was with school. It’s with music. Its everything.

It is not uncommon for us all to feel stuck at one point or another. In those times, we desperately fight to find the solution. All we see, do and think is what we’re stuck with. We end up consumed by it until we give in. We either give up, take a break, or just move on. But it turns out, it’s almost exactly at that point, or soon after, the solution comes.

Have you ever lost something important to you? You spend hours and days tracing your steps and turning the house upside down to find it? Eventually, you give up, accepting that it’s gone. You move on, and then a couple weeks later, it ends up in the weirdest of places? Well, exactly.

It’s okay to take a break. In fact, sometimes that is exactly what you need. Sometimes, your answer is not looking for it. In my opinion, sometimes the problem isn’t actually the problem. We might just need a fresh perspective, a fresh drive. Sometimes, the solution is blatant and obvious, but our fixation and frustration make us blind. Or we start losing a grip on ourselves. We stop eating and sleeping; from there, it’s just a negative feedback loop. The less sleep we have, the less our brain works effectively and the less likely we are to solve our problems.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to solve the problem. Sometimes, the only problem is that one needs a reset. A fresh perspective. A fresh motivation. A fresh restart. It’s not you giving up. It’s not you abandoning your mission. It is not you being a letdown or being weak. It’s doing what is necessary.

In either case, the idea is the same:

Counterintuitively, sometimes, if you want to find something, you have to stop looking.

The Resolution

So, for anyone stuck and feeling lost but can’t figure out something and you’ve been trying, maybe it’s time to stop looking. Sometimes, the more you look for it, the less likely you find it.

Whether that’s your wedding ring or your career path. Whether it’s an error in your code or struggling to find the right words for your writing piece. Whether it’s a topic for your next dissertation or whether it’s choosing what car you should get. You’ll do yourself and the problem a favour by temporarily letting it go.

It can be as short as having a shower or taking a walk. Go to the gym. Alternatively, depending on what you need, it can be as long as leaving it altogether and moving on until ‘further notice’. Whatever it is and for however long, do something else and take your focus away from it.

You're probably closer to the solution the further you are away from the problem.

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