Monday, October 18, 2004

Workin' Ain't Work: Sandefur wrote me a while back with this:

Good post on hard work making success. One thing I would add is, it's true that if you enjoy what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. Objectively, one might say that I've worked my ass off to get where I am--went to college, went to law school, borrowed and worked to get the money for these things, spent years studying and researching and practicing every waking moment for what I do--learning about the law, practicing arguments, doing research in very old cases, spending my weekends in the library, going to the office on the weekends, staying late on the weekdays...

But to me, none of this has been work. It's all been "easy" for me, in the sense that this teacher would probably use that word, because I've loved every minute of it, and I rush to do it again. I do it when I don't have to, because I consider it fun. So if a person were to ask me, "Do you think you've slaved your way to success?" I'd answer no--it's been easy for me. But if you took another person with the same intellectual endowments and made him do just what I'm doing, he'd probably hate it, and consider it the worst drudgery.

I think of this because I'm trying to learn to play the guitar. Then I listen to, say, Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Jonny Lang--guys who were 18 and 15 when they issued their first albums. These guys were better at half my age than I will ever be. That comes from constant, godawful, back-breaking practice. But I'm a better lawyer than they ever will be, and that come sfrom constant, godawful, back-breaking practice, too, and they probably look at the idea of reading Coke Upon Littleton as being just as awful as I do when I think "Oh, God, I don't want to play scales!"

Which shows you how jealous I am of Sandefur. As pretty much everybody knows (Including my 12 year old self, as of last week) I haven't "worked" in a field I enjoyed since I left the Children's Book department at my University Bookstore.

It reminds me of a story Henry B. Eyring tells about his father, scientist Henry Eyring.

One evening he was helping me with some physics or math problems in the basement of our home. I was in college and he had high hopes for me, as he did for my brothers, that I would follow him in science.

He looked up as he saw me stumbling on a problem and said, "Hal, didn't we work on a problem just like this a week ago?"

I said, "I think we did."

He said, "Well, you don't seem to be any better at it this week than you were last week."

I didn't say anything to that.

Then he looked at me with a shock of recognition on his face and asked, "Hal, haven't you been thinking about it during this last week?" I looked a little chagrined and said that I hadn't.

He put down the chalk, stepped back from the blackboard on our basement wall, and looked at me. He then taught me something, with sadness in his voice, I will never forget. I am just beginning to understand what he meant. He said, "But, Hal, what do you think about when you are walking down the street or when you are in the shower? What do you think about when you don't have to think about anything?"

I admitted that it wasn't physics or mathematics.

With a smile, but I think with a sigh, he responded, "Well, Hal, I don't think you'd better make a career of science. You'd better find something which you just naturally think about it when you don't have to think about anything else."

For me, that's fiction writing.

So I better get back to it.

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