Rediscovering Pleasure in Professionalism

In the rush to be more productive, to be more successful, to be more…whatever it is we’re trying to be more of…it’s easy enough to forget about the why in pursuit of the what.

Case in point: I’ve been trying for a few years to get better at sketchnoting. In a time when I was finding classes and even books I read to be less and less interesting, taking up sketchnoting (and later sketching) revitalized my interest.

Not only that, it began to attract attention from others. Fellow class attendees and even teachers would enjoy looking at my sketchnotes, and I ended up even getting paid for them occasionally!

That was, of course, the death knell.

Profit Interrupts Pleasure

It’s a well-known phenomenon in Behavioral Economics; people will work their asses off for free, but will be offended if you offer them money for it. Even something that you really like doing becomes “work” if we attach a monetary value to it.

And that’s what happened to my sketchnoting. I stopped doing it for fun; any time I pulled out the paper and pens (or booted up the program on my iPad Pro, which I’d bought specifically for sketchnoting) my mind went into production mode:

Who’s going to buy this? What is your audience looking for? What have other sketchnotists done that is better than you? Where are your weaknesses? Where do you need to build skill? Is this going to work well as a PDF? Will your audience be able to read this clearly? Shouldn’t you be recording this real time, like those neat whiteboard cartoons? Who are you to be drawing anyway? You have a degree in Dance, for gossakes…

Notice how quickly that went into “Impostor Syndrome”? That’s part of the way that love as work loses its appeal. We have, in our culture, this funny word called “professional” which often holds the connotation of expertise, ethics, experience, and training beyond the “amateur” level.

In reality, of course, there’s only one real criteria for “professional”, and that’s whether or not someone’s willing to pay for your work.

Supposedly that’s tied into the idea that they wouldn’t be willing to pay you unless you had all those other things like expertise, etc., but the truth — which I’ve both seen and acted on myself, more than once — is that the people who get paid are not the ones who wait until people think their work is worth paying for.

No, the people who get paid are the ones who have learned the audacious art of asking for money.

Pay Yourself in Joy

I’m not saying that you should pay yourself in order to try and rediscover some of the joys of that thing you love. But perhaps (and I say perhaps because this falls square in the category of “I’m trying to figure this out) it can be treated like a bonus. If you have fallen into the briar patch of doing what you love for work (even if it’s not your primary source of income) then it would be a good idea to remind yourself of why you loved this art in the first place.

Me, I’m going to pick some ratio — 4:1, maybe — and try to make sure that for every four — hours? sketches? sessions? — that I do that are “productive” I have one that is simply for pleasure. It still isn’t really authentic joy — any more than enforced “break time” at a job is “free time” — but it’s a step in the right direction.

My purpose in the “pleasure sessions” (ok, maybe I need to find a better term…) will be not to produce something that I can show off or sell — rather, it will be to practice mindfulness, see how it feels to draw and letter and reformat information through the filter of my mind. To notice where the moments of joy happen, so that rather than optimizing for productivity I can optimize for my own enjoyment.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the quality of the drawings will be better when they are filled with an authentic appreciation of what I’m doing, rather than a forced push through to some marketable product.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, do you have a better idea? How does someone who has found that what they did for fun but now do for money keep the joy in what they love? I’d love to hear in the comments — or if you know someone who has faced that challenge, forward them this article and see what they think!