Identifying with Work

The strangest thing happens when I identify with my work: I can’t do it.  As soon as I start thinking, “I am a writer,” I lose the power to write.

If that’s who I am, then nothing’s ever good enough.  “That’s not me.  I can do better than that.”  I can’t stop revising.  I can’t even get past the title.

I’m not a writer.  I just write.  The power to write comes from writing; as long as I keep the words flowing onto the page, I know it’s going to be OK.

As soon as we identify with our work we lose sight of the work, and start thinking of how we’re perceived by our audience.  Not who our audience is, but who we are in the eyes of our audience.  We may need to know who our audience is if we want them to understand our work, but we can’t think about whom we are as perceived by them.

We’ll never get naked up there on the stage with all the eyes of the world watching us.  But if that’s where our work takes us, then that’s where we need to go.

For our work to be genuine we need to be vulnerable.

That’s what the sports world means when they talk about having amnesia.  The ones that have it are focused on the next pitch, the next pass, the next catch; they are focused on the work, and not on themselves in the eyes of the arena.

Persistent Behavior

Persistence comes of our belief that we will accomplish what we’ve set out to do.  How do we build that belief if we don’t already have it?  Where does that belief come from in those that do have it?

I remember reading in Duhigg’s The Power of Habit about Michael Phelps.  His coach, Bob Bowman, believed the key to winning was building the right routines.  Routines built of small wins; small wins that built preparedness, confidence, and a sense of calm; which in turn led to a series of record setting victories on one of the world’s biggest stages: the Olympics.

My secret dream since college has been “to be a writer.”  But as soon as I turn my thoughts from “practicing writing” to “being a writer” I’m a deer in the headlights.  It was the same way with “practicing mathematics” versus “being a mathematician.”  One perspective keeps my pencil moving, the other keeps me from even getting started.

I thought writing a 250 word essay every day would be easy.  It isn’t.

“Being a writer” isn’t a small win.  In fact it isn’t even well defined.  Does writing this essay make me a writer?  Or writing a book that never gets published?  Or writing an article for a newspaper or magazine?  It’s too vague; and “Being a writer” focuses on identity rather than practice.

Obviously I’m no expert on this matter.  But I suspect the key is to have a well defined and very specific routine that leads to the behavior required to produce the desired outcome.  For example if you, like me, are interested in writing essays here is “How to Write an Essay – 10 Easy Steps.”

How about you?  Do you struggle with persistence?  Or are you one of those who seem able to beat down any obstacle that stands in your way?  Do you understand where your persistence comes from?  Please share your thoughts with me.