Something totally new and awesome, so unlike anything ever done before its not even in the same category
When I was a kid thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to rip through all the clichés and do something totally new. Not something never been done before, but something not even in the same category:
But then I read this quote from Richard Feynman:
I have worked on innumerable problems that you would call humble, but which I enjoyed and felt very good about because I sometimes could partially succeed. For example, experiments on the coefficient of friction on highly polished surfaces, to try to learn something about how friction worked (failure). Or, how elastic properties of crystals depends on the forces between the atoms in them, or how to make electroplated metal stick to plastic objects (like radio knobs). Or, how neutrons diffuse out of Uranium. Or, the reflection of electromagnetic waves from films coating glass. The development of shock waves in explosions. The design of a neutron counter. Why some elements capture electrons from the L-orbits, but not the K-orbits. General theory of how to fold paper to make a certain type of child’s toy (called flexagons). The energy levels in the light nuclei. The theory of turbulence (I have spent several years on it without success). Plus all the “grander” problems of quantum theory.
No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.
And I realized that “awesomeness” doesn’t really matter, it’s just a human invention. Any problem is awesome if you focus on it long enough. It just matters that I work on problems I can solve: