Chris Padilla/Blog / Notes

Practice or Play

I hear variations on this quote every now and then. Here's Scott Adam's version of it:

"Practice involves putting your consciousness in suspended animation. Practicing is not living."1

A jarring idea for someone who spends time doing what looks like "practice" on first glance. It goes for all domains — software, music, art, writing, or otherwise.

I thought about my time in school and think about how, largely, your time is spent "practicing" for adulthood. Why did that feel different? Why was there nothing but abundance and joy during that time?

One of my favorite essays from Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" has an answer:

“It must take so much discipline to be an artist,” we are often told by well-meaning people who are not artists but wish they were. What a temptation. What a seduction. They’re inviting us to preen before an admiring audience, to act out the image that is so heroic and Spartan—and false...

True, our artist may rise at dawn to greet the typewriter or easel in the morning stillness. But this event has more to do with a child’s love of secret adventure than with ironclad discipline. What other people may view as discipline is actually a play date that we make with our artist child: “I’ll meet you at 6:00 A.M. and we’ll goof around with that script, painting, sculpture …”

Largely when we're kids, we're playing. Kids aren't overly concerned about their futures or the results of where their work will get them. It's just for the joy of exploration and taking on an interesting challenge!

Matt also has a great antidote to this in Form & Essence — it's the difference between doing and being. Are you aiming to get tasks done? Reach a certain destination? Or are you simply being a musician, being an engineer, being an artist.

The difference between practicing and living is the posture. Are you overly worried about results and reaching a continually elusive future, or are you playing?

Julia Cameron again:

Remember that art is process. The process is supposed to be fun. For our purposes, “the journey is always the only arrival” may be interpreted to mean that our creative work is actually our creativity itself at play in the field of time. At the heart of this play is the mystery of joy.

1: To be fair, the whole essay this comes from "Is Practice Your Thing?" makes a fantastic point. The rest of the quote: "But when you build your skills through an ever-changing sequence of experiences, you're alive." A case for pursuing range over mastering a single skill. I'm also a fan of the idea! But it was the handiest instance of this quote I had around, so! 🤷‍♂️