When it comes to insights about work, there are tweaks and there are game changers. Which isn't to diminish tweaks. Sometimes, the perfect scheduling hack or productivity ritual can radically improve how much you get done.
But no hack or routine will change the fundamental way you view your work -- how much satisfaction you get out of it, the way you see your work relating to the rest of your life, the terror you feel about your inadequacies. For that, only wisdom will do.
Helpfully, creativity site 99U recently dug out more than a half dozen gems of just this sort of wisdom, and what's even better for the time pressed, one of the best of them is only two words long.
It comes from celebrated author Kurt Vonnegut, who penned this succinct nugget of professional wisdom in response to a high school student who was given the assignment of writing his favorite author. Vonnegut's kind reply included these two powerful words: practice becoming.
If the phrase doesn't immediately strike you like a thunderclap that's because Vonnegut's advice might require a little more explanation. He tells his correspondent:
Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on.
That sounds pleasant enough, but why is it so profound? Sure, Vonnegut's advice jives with scientific research that shows exercising your creativity will make you happy even if you're terrible at your chosen form of self-expression, but that's far from the most powerful part of this dead simple but potentially life-changing message.
Like many wise thinkers, Vonnegut recognizes that "success," if you view it as a single, final destination, will always be out of reach. There will always be someone you can compare yourself to and find yourself wanting. There will always be more to want and more to dream. Instead of working to reach some fixed goal (and planning on finally enjoying yourself then), enjoy the the process of working and living itself, the self-exploration and moment-by-moment accomplishment it gives you.
Or, in other words, you're always going to be in the process of becoming who you want to be, so you may as well get good at becoming and learn to enjoy it. It's a powerful message for our endlessly ambitious, angst-filled age.
Looking for more down-to-earth wisdom from Vonnegut? Here's his letter in its entirety, including a fun "assignment" he gives the young man who reached out. You could give it a try yourself if you want to practice becoming yourself tonight.