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On Professions



"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people," said Thomas Mann. The same can be said of any art or craft that you love and live by. Say I'm a teacher. It is generally taken for granted that teaching is a piece of cake for me, something that comes to me naturally through this innate talent or acquired skill, as if I was born with it or have become good at it, and that instruction should then be the easiest thing for me. Coupled with such a belief in the ease by which a profession comes (or should come) to a professional, is the view that you enjoy your craft precisely because it is easy or has become easy for you, or to qualify, that it is easy even if it is objectively difficult because you are gifted or have become learned. Now these beliefs, though with bases (but on the wrong ones, e.g., on the wrong people or examples), are never always true. There are two kinds of difficulties: one is the stress you put on yourself for doing something that you are both incompetent at and detest, the other is the unnecessary strain that you exert on yourself in wanting to perfect your work, which objectively is easy for you thanks to your competence. Or again, difficulty springs from either not loving what you do or loving what you do too much. And it's not only about wanting to be perfect as in being obsessive-compulsive regarding something; it's that infinite desire to reach the invisible point of knowing that things could no longer be better, that though imperfect, is perfect for me right now. I sin against my craft, in the end against myself, if I turn in a work less than that. Hence the endless revisions, the constant second-guessing, the cruel doubts that haunt the artist even in his sleep. To be competent in and to love one's work comes with endless torments--at times at the cost of your happiness even.

Do one thing really well and the world will open its arms to you.

Work-life balance. There are some professions which can be clearly marked out from one's personal or leisurely life. These are wage earners with clear work hours, who can leave their work when they're no longer under the clock and can completely turn into another person outside of their professional responsibilities. In a sense they are the lucky ones, because work is not everything for them: they are not necessarily what they do. Others, in contrast, do not have distinct lives from their "work-lives." They seem to be "under the clock" at all times, they have movable offices (usually because they do not have the luxury of offices), and they can generally be so obsessed with their profession or vocation that they become what they do. Not, however, that they become "only" what they do, that is, they become bores who cannot talk about anything apart from their work, having no distinct personality, no "self." (It's such fun encountering these folks! As if the whole world depended on them! What Atlases!). On the contrary, becoming what you do can sometimes make you the best that you can become, an excellent person unlike any other, an amazing discovery and a breathtaking sight. They are transformed by their actions and their actions have become them themselves; no more mirrors, no more differences, no more fragmentation or bifurcation of the self, just pure assimilation and unity of life. They are the blessed ones, from their lines come the hero and the saint. But of course, it all depends on what you do. Being the devil, too, is a full-time occupation.

Beware the man of one occupation. 

What if we did not need to work? If we did not need to work, those who do not love their work will stop working, while those who do would all the more love to.

On choosing a profession. Choose as your profession what you would still do even if you were so rich as to not need to work. Whether you are that rich or not, you will still be doing what you wanted.

"I am . . . ." Because of the infinite possibilities for you, never say that "I dedicate my life to being a . . . " forever. You still do not know if another kind of living will attract you, if another kind of art or craft will entice you. You will always find something better to do, somewhere better to do what you want to do. The trouble with such a commitment (as in all commitments) is that in deciding to be this or that for your life, you tie yourself down and cannot become otherwise any longer. Now, you are only this or that man, with only this or that means, that is, you become limited and a bore. Enter the man of divine availability! Everything is possible for him because nothing is settled. He is a man of many faces--real or possible, it matters not. He is still able to learn. Alas! The man of one skill can no longer learn, and does not desire to any longer. His possibilities were executed when he on one clear morning happily declared that "I want to be a . . . ."

I like accountants who can paint, doctors who give photography lessons, waiters who read Kafka or Nabokov, professors who own restaurants or resorts, actors who earnestly want to and can govern a people.   They not only warn us from being one-dimensional, but also from becoming one of those whom Weber called "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart."


  1. Anonymous11/23/2010

    Ah, how apt - commenting could be my profession, at least for the past weeks! Messaged you again. Good morning!


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