When the Dancer becomes the Dance
Anything that you do, if you do not do it with full involvement, will feel like hard work. During the initial days of your career, you might have to chop wood and carry water, even if that's not something that you love. But once you have enough money to sustain yourself at a descent comfort, your focus should be on finding something that you love to do.
When you do something that you love, you enter the flow state. A state where you forget about the passage of time because you are so deeply engrossed in your work. Only in such states does creativity flow and great work happens.
One of the reasons why we forget the passage of time is because we forget who we are. We become one with the work that we do. Our name, our identity, where we are, and how we are perceived are put on pause. Your ego is fiction. And fiction needs maintenance.
One of the reasons why deep work is also very satisfying is because it removes the burden of us carrying our identity, at least for a short while. It is hard work to maintain your identity, consistently. And people go to great lengths to prop up their identity and polish it.
I get into deep work and flow state when I am reading, learning, speaking, creating videos, and writing a blog post or email. I am so deeply engrossed during content creation that for a moment I become the content. I literally feel like I am the words on the screen and I am moving around for the perfect fit.
Every creative person has experienced those moments. Those moments of becoming the work and forgetting who they are.
- The dancer becomes the dance
- The singer becomes the song
- The artist becomes the painting
- The gardener becomes the garden
- The carpenter becomes the woodwork
Civilization has been built on such work and there is no reason for you not to contribute to the same civilization that makes your work even possible.
When I write, I become the article.
Such deep work takes a lot of effort, but the effort is only required until you get into the flow. Once you are in the flow, the tension is just right for you to forget the passage of time.
If you take up work that is too difficult for you, you will get anxious. You will have pain during the process.
If you take up work that is too easy for you, you will be bored. You will feel like the time is passing slower and that's also painful.
You have to take up work, that's just enough challenging for you that you can lose yourself in it.
Just like in a guitar, you will not be able to make music when the strings are too loose. And you can't make music when the tension in the strings is too tight either. You just about need the correct tension in the strings for you to make music out of it. Just about right. Precise.
You have to put yourself in the state. Not too challenging, not too boring. And with time, because you love what you do, you will get better at it. Because you get better at it, you will enjoy doing it more. Because you enjoy it, you will do it more and more, leading to mastery of that specific skill.
As the levels of your mastery go up, you increase the challenge and the difficulty of the task at hand. This is what most people miss.
They become skilled at one thing, but they don't increase the difficulty level of their work.
They make more money but they don't know what to do with it. They try to buy pleasure with money, but they soon realize how shallow it is. They will never be able to get the same mode of the zen working state that they have been doing for years unless they get back to work.
That's why the master has to become the student, to remain a master. There is always, always, one level up. And it should be just about the right tension to get into the deep work state.
Only a deep work state is sustainable for a long-term career. No matter how much "motivation" you have, you will never be able to keep pushing yourself to do something, unless you get pulled into what you are doing.
All your thoughts, energy and action should be directed towards creating an environment where deep work is possible. This might include big decisions as well such as quitting your job and taking a six months career break to reflect on what you have been doing with your life until now.
Such a targeted effort will eventually put you in an environment where you are capable of doing the deep work day in and day out. And once you are in the groove, you will be unstoppable.
Think of it as getting the train onto the rails. The train is not going to move an inch unless it is on the rail. The amount of effort needed to move the train forward after it gets on the rail is going to be very less compared to the difficulty of getting the train on the rails.
So get yourself on the rails. Nothing else matters.