No, I don’t mean the kind of “professional” student who never graduates, either because they love school or because they fear the world outside of school. What I’m talking about here isn’t about how long it takes you to finish school but about how professionally you approach your education. If you want to thrive as a student, you can’t approach your education like a hobby or like that list of chores that you may get to when you feel like it. Your education is your job, even — or better, especially — if you have more than one. So approach it that way.
I was thinking about this when I ran across the following excerpt from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles. The book actually focuses on the challenges of being a writer in today’s world, but many of the lessons apply to students at every level. And that certainly holds with this appeal for writers to approach their writing professionally.
All of us are pros in one area: our jobs.
We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals.
Now: Are there principles we can take from what we’re already successfully doing in our workaday life and apply to our artistic aspirations? what exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?
1) We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
2) We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.
3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blow.
4) We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.
5) The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
7) We do not over identify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, over identifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
8) We master the technique of our jobs.
9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
10) We receive praise or blame in the real world.
The War of Art, pp. 69-70
Now I realize that many students today have to balance more than just school. Many have other jobs (sometimes more than one), families, ministry responsibilities, and more. So life is busy. I get that. And that means you need to establish priorities and figure out where to invest your time. So I’m not suggesting that school needs to be more important than family or ministry. But that isn’t an excuse for being an unprofessional student.
If you’re a student, that means God has given you the opportunity, and responsibility, to invest a significant chunk of your life in your education. For the next few years, that’s your vocation (among others). So approach it with the same level of professionalism you would anything else.
[This is part of our Back to School: Tips from the Writers Guild series, focusing on things we can learn from professional authors about what it takes to thrive as a student in today’s world.]