The Practice of Work

I sit down and turn on my computer with no expectations of what the day will hold. Sure, I have work to do but I don't know if it's going to go well or go poorly (or if there is really even any difference). I try not to get caught up in predicting how people will react to what I've created. Will people retweet this article? Will I get any more coaching clients today? Will my professor like what I've written? None of these answers affect the reality of what I'm sitting down to do right now. Without thinking of the future I bring my hands to the keyboard and begin typing. I don't let the harsh criticism of my work yesterday, or last week, or last year affect what I'm doing in this moment.

I try to lose myself in the physical movement of my work. I'm not getting dirty, sweaty, or building anything concrete. However, there are still physical sensations that surround me. My fingers move across my keyboard and make a satisfying click every time I add another letter to this sentence. I pause from time to time to take a sip of hot coffee and crack my wrists. It's still quiet outside and there is a rare January rainstorm pounding the snow in the front yard. A cat brushes my bare feet and a candle burns just out of arm's reach.

I focus on the words I'm using to craft this email and try not to get caught up in the massiveness of this current project. This one email is the tiniest drop in a bucket. I try to focus on the fact that I'm communicating with another human being. Somebody I respect and I choose my words carefully while paradoxically not spending too much time worrying about the words I choose. It's not just an email, but a transmission of ideas, dreams, information, and emotion to another person. And I do this over and over. Building a project, building consensus, enlisting help one small email at a time.

I shift my attention to a new project and pick up a pen and my well-worn and well-loved notebook. I jot ideas, draw shapes and lines, smudge the ink with my hand by accident. This is the extent of physical dirt I experience as a knowledge worker so instead of being annoyed, I relish it. It's physical proof that I do wrestle with dirty and complicated and chaotic things all day long (albeit, largely ephemeral).

I try to remember that I'm not looking for specific results or massive enlightenment through my work. I'm just showing up and doing what I do the best way I know. The less I worry about myself, about others, and just continuously plunk away in the most creative, diligent, and dedicated way I know the better I'll be. The better my work will be.

And therein lays the strangest paradox.

Obsessing over the quality and content of my work always, always, results in sub-par work. But when I just lose myself in the physical sensations, the tiniest of decisions, the continuous improvement of the way I approach my work -- that's when incredible things happen. When I let go of the expectations of what this article should be, what my next article should be, how my career should develop, how my advisor should view me, and how I should craft the next email, everything goes better.

Anything worth doing well is worth practicing and difficult things must be practiced before any kind of positive results can surface.

My work is worth doing well and being a knowledge worker and student is one of the most difficult things I've done.

Therefore, every day is a chance to go to practice again. With an open mind, without expectations, and with the diligence needed to get better;

I turn on my computer. I open my notebook. I practice.

photo via highfireDANGER