I thought I’d start off this column with my goal – my expressed desire for what I want to achieve through putting my thoughts into words.
The title of my column is “Go Beyond The Envelope”. As you might know, the definition of “pushing the envelope” is to go beyond established limits, so this is where the title originates from.
The phrase became popularized by the author Tom Wolfe in his book (which eventually became a hit movie) The Right Stuff, about the early aircraft test pilots and pioneers of the space program in the 1950s and 1960s. On pushing the envelope, Wolfe wrote:
“One of the phrases that kept running through the conversation was ‘pushing the outside of the envelope’… [That] seemed to be the great challenge and satisfaction of flight test.”
And this becomes the main thrust of my column. In the areas of science and technology, but also life in general, I believe that we must continue to push the envelope. Joy can truly be achieved when we strive to do what others seem to think is impossible.
I also believe that we become better scientists, better developers of technology, and a better society when we choose to do more than what we thought we could do only yesterday.
We push what is possible and ourselves at the same time.
And with that, we shouldn’t merely be satisfied with pushing the envelope; we should strive to go beyond it.
The envelope is the currently established limit of what is possible. In the ultimate, the laws of physics define what this envelope is. However, we learn more and more about what the laws of physics are, encapsulated in such theories, for example, as string theory and loop quantum gravity, so the envelope keeps moving.
However, in many areas of our lives, including those of science and technology, it is people who define what the envelope is. Sometimes, we even encase ourselves in an envelope of our own making. And to achieve the things that we want in life, we need to break through these invisible boundaries we or others set up for ourselves.
I believe that success is about going beyond the envelope, testing the limits of what everyone else thinks can be done, and showing that more can be known, more can be accomplished, more can be understood by stretching our sense of the possible.
What I want to do is help people in my favorite discipline of science and technology really succeed.
I’ve spent nearly my entire life living and breathing science. It’s what drove me in school, and I can’t seem to get my mind off of it. Every time I go to a book store, I always gravitate to the science section.
There, I learn about Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Richard Feynman – some of the greats that defined a new sense of what the envelope really was.
And sometimes, in thinking about science and technology, we scientists and developers of technology would rather just bury our heads in the problem we’re trying to solve and tell everyone else to just leave us alone. Sometimes the problem and the effort to solve it is the joy of living.
However, I have found that true joy comes not only when you’ve solved a problem, but you’ve solved one that no one has ever solved before – when the envelope has been pushed and new understanding comes – to you and to others – as a result.
And the people in science and technology – these true problem solvers – by choosing to go beyond the perceived limits of what is possible can make our world a better place.
So I hope to encourage those in the sciences not only to push the envelope, but go beyond the envelope and dare to do great things.
As I end this first column, I’ll mention one last thing. I’m not perfect and I’m learning all the time about what works and what doesn’t. A good scientist tries lots of things, sees what works, and figures out what doesn’t.
As I write this column, I’ll probably be making many more mistakes along the way, and I’ll probably share those with you, too, so that you may learn from them as well.
So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and you’ll find these columns helpful and interesting.
I want to write stories that inspire scientists to succeed. I want to share what I’ve learned (and fumbled into) to help others in becoming successful themselves.
And to go beyond the envelope.