Steven Pressfield, in his excellent book The War of Art, talks about approaching our calling to any form of self expression or self improvement the same way that we would approach our career: show up every day, work hard, train ourselves, focus. In other words, be a professional.
It was a wonderful concept, one that I could instantly sink my mental teeth into and understand. After all, after 18 years I understand all to well the unwavering commitment to something that is hard to do. But then I started thinking: what if I approached my actual job as a professional?
I know - sounds a bit counter intuitive, does it not? But the rather strange reality is that I seem to approach my job as an amateur too often: I allow moods to influence how I work. I may be physically there, but I am not all there. Certainly I show limited interest in making myself more adept at what I do - after all (after 18 years) I do not really intend to do this forever, right? And over time, have I truly gotten better at what I am doing?
You get the idea.
But what if I approached my career with the same commitment that I have to something I really want to do - say writing, for example? What if I actually acted like a professional at my job?
I tried it yesterday. It was one of the toughest, most unrewarding things I have done for a while. Maintain focus all day. Work systematically on one thing at a time to completion. Manage tasks. Deal with people concisely and politely and then go back to the task at hand. And casting aside any sense that something is magically going to change or get better. Just keep working.
Was it the same feeling of fulfillment that I get from writing? No, not at all. Sure, I left feeling that I had moved some things forward, but there was no sense of accomplishment or a greater purpose being fulfilled.
But that is part of being professional too, I suppose: do what needs to be done knowing that actual reward or recognition beyond your contracted salary may never come. It is not your life. It is simply your profession.