A couple months ago, I heard Seth Godin would be releasing a new book in November of 2020. As a long-time fan, such news immediately piqued my interest. Digging deeper, I was pleased to find out that not only was a new book by one of my favorite authors coming out, but it was also on a lesson I’ve needed to hear all year: The Practice.
The Practice is not a shortcut, a hack, or a get-rich-quick scheme. It doesn’t promise an outcome and it doesn’t promise success. The Practice is a process, a path, and a way forward. It’s work without instructions. It’s acting without guarantee. It’s creating regardless of results. The Practice cuts through excuses, good intentions, and procrastination. It forces you to get in the game, shortcomings and all, to do the work.
The Authenticity Trap
There’s a misconception in our culture that real art is authentic. Godin convincingly argues that people don’t actually want authenticity. They don’t want your worst work because you’re having a bad day. They want the best version of you regardless of how you feel, and it’s your responsibility to deliver. An example that put this in perspective for me is that of the musician. Let’s say your favorite singer is coming to your city next Summer. You’re super pumped to finally see them live and buy front-row tickets for your entire family. When concert day comes, you don’t want the authentic version of this singer. You want the best performance they’ve ever given. It doesn’t matter if they’re feeling gloomy. You showed up to be entertained—to be wowed. As an artist, it’s their job to make that happen despite how they may feel.
If you’re going to engage in The Practice, you have to commit to the work rain or shine, sun or snow, in sickness and in health. That’s because it’s not about you. It’s about something bigger than yourself. The change you seek to make is more important than how you feel on a given day.
“Your work is too important to be left to how you feel today. On the other hand, committing to an action can change how we feel. If we act as though we trust the process and do the work, then the feelings will follow. Waiting for a feeling is a luxury we don’t have time for.”
This brings me to the difference between a professional and an amateur. Author Stephen Pressfield popularized the idea of turning pro in a few of his bestselling books, and Godin highlights the mindset here. If you’re committed to making a change in your world, you can’t be an amateur. There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur if you’re looking for a hobby, but if you want to make a real impact with your craft, you have to turn pro.
To understand the difference between an amateur and a professional, just look at how you show up for a job. You show up every day, rain or shine. You show up when you’re tired, grumpy, and slightly sick. You stay the entire time you’re supposed to be there. You don’t give up when you feel drained. You don’t leave when it gets hard. You buckle down and do the work. You don’t wait for inspiration to strike before you get to work. You get to work because you know inspiration will only come when you do. You know every day won’t contain your best work, but you come back tomorrow because you know it’s a process. Pros don’t talk. They do. They don’t procrastinate. They create.
It Only Counts if You Ship
If you never publish an article, then you have a diary, not a blog. That’s fine if you acknowledge that you’re not changing anyone’s lives with your journal entries. If you never release a song, you’re no more of an musician than me singing in the shower. If you never start the non-profit, you’re still just a helpful volunteer. If you never display your paintings, you’re still an amateur. Again, there’s nothing wrong with these things if you understand they’re hobbies. When you’re ready to do generous work though, you have to ship or it doesn’t count.
“Hiding is pleasant. If it weren’t for the way it leads to suffering a thousand small deaths, hiding would be a comfortable way to coast through life.”
Shipping is generous. If you believe your work could help at least one person, wouldn’t that be worth the nerves? Wouldn’t that be worth overcoming your doubts? There are people who need you. Godin reminds us it’s selfish to hide your work because then it can’t reach the people who needed it most. It’s scary at times to ship your work, but that’s why you fall back on The Practice.
Be careful who you listen to. @troll928 on Twitter should not hold the same weight as your highly believable colleague. Don’t give the internet haters validity while shutting down your well-intentioned peer. ‘Peer’ in this case isn’t necessarily defined by age group or demographic. A peer is someone who is engaging in their own practice, overcoming their own resistance, and shipping their own work. Someone you respect. Ignore the haters. Listen to your peers.
Don’t look for people who will tell you what you want to hear. Reassurance is futile and often unhelpful because it claims to know the unknowable future. Telling someone “The show is going to go great!” doesn’t mean anything because you can’t know that’s true. While most reassurance is well-intentioned, you shouldn’t seek it out. It will only worsen your doubts.
What you should seek instead of comfort is hospitality. Marie Schacht delineates the difference between hospitality and comfort. Hospitality is about being welcoming and supportive, but firm. It’s about providing someone with what they need (sometimes tough love) and not what what they want (reassurance). Comfort on the other hand is about avoiding tension. Hospitality leads to growth. Comfort leads to stagnation.
In the book, Godin warns us repeatedly that The Practice doesn’t guarantee an outcome. It merely provides you with a way to make the change you seek to make in the world. When you realize there are no shortcuts, it’s clear that The Practice is the only viable way forward. It’s the way all the masters of their crafts have done it before you. They didn’t change the world by working when they felt like it. No. They returned to the drawing board, the court, the keyboard every day regardless of their mood. They showed up. They did the work. And now we have the opportunity to do the same.
Favorite Quotes from the Book
Once you decide to trust your self, you will have found your passion. You’re not born with it, and you don’t have just one passion. It’s not domain-specific: it’s a choice. Our passion is simply the work we’ve trusted ourselves to do.
The trap is this: only after we do the difficult work does it become our calling. Only after we trust the process does it become our passion. “Do what you love” is for amateurs. “Love what you do” is the mantra for professionals.
Sculptor Elizabeth King said it beautifully, “Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.”
The Bhagavad-Gita says, “It is better to follow your own path, however imperfectly, than to follow someone else’s perfectly.”
For the important work, the instructions are always insufficient. For the work we’d like to do, the reward comes from the fact that there is no guarantee, that the path isn’t well lit, that we cannot possibly be sure it’s going to work. It’s about throwing, not catching. Starting, not finishing. Improving, not being perfect.
If you want to change your story, change your actions first. When we choose to act a certain way, our mind can’t help but rework our narrative to make those actions become coherent. We become what we do.
Any idea withheld is an idea taken away. It’s selfish to hold back when there’s a chance you have something to offer.
Good processes, repeated over time, lead to good outcomes more often than lazy processes do.
There’s nothing magic about being eleven years old. Except that it’s easier to develop an identity when you don’t have to walk away from one you’ve already developed.
The practice requires a commitment to a series of steps, not a miracle.
If the problem can be solved, why worry? And if the problem can’t be solved, then worrying will do you no good.
Everything that matters is something we’ve chosen to do. Everything that matters is a skill and an attitude. Everything that matters is something we can learn.
We don’t ship the work because we’re creative. We’re creative because we ship the work.
The practice is choice plus skill plus attitude. We can learn it and we can do it again.
Many people have talent, but only a few care enough to show up fully, to earn their skill. Skill is rarer than talent. Skill is earned. Skill is available to anyone who cares enough.
if you ignore what you see and simply create for yourself, you’ve walked away from empathy. If there is no change, there is no art.
From an early age, high achievers are taught to sacrifice independent thought for a good grade.
Desirable difficulty is the hard work of doing hard work. Setting ourselves up for things that cause a struggle, because we know that after the struggle, we’ll be at a new level.
When we intentionally avoid desirable difficulty, our practice suffers, because we’re only coasting. The commitment, then, is to sign up for days, weeks, or years of serial incompetence and occasional frustration. To seek out desirable difficulty on our way to a place where our flow is actually productive in service of the change we seek to make.