“If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires, however, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.”
— Stephen King, “On Writing“
A few days ago, I came across an article about different speech patterns in men and women, and what they reveal about confidence, stereotypes, etc. In particular, women tend to use the word “just” more often than men. It is a “permission word”, which people use to subtly, and often subconsciously, justify their right to talk about whatever the subject happens to be.
As I was reading the article, I realized that I also use “just” often, especially in emails. Also, I noticed that I use permission words more often when I write about photography than when I write about academic research. This happens because my photography work evolved from being a pure hobby, while the research has always been in the “job” category (so I take it more seriously). Similarly, new writers are often reluctant to view themselves as professionals, as Stephen King described in his fascinating and incredibly insightful book “On Writing”.
In fact, what determines whether one is doing something professionally is not the fraction of personal income that this activity generates. Instead, what makes a professional is her professional attitude. This includes:
1. Showing up to do the work every day. It is not the amount of work per se that is important, although quantity does matter, as well as quality. The important factor is regularity. Professionals do not make grand accomplishments their daily goal. Instead, they aim for continuing improvement.
2. Treating tools of the trade and the working environment with respect, but without making them cult objects. A perfect example of this how experienced kendoka, who practiced martial arts for a significant part of their lives treat their bogu and shinai. They don’t bow to the shinai every time they take it out of the bag, but they keep everything in good working condition.
3. Not using elitist excuses for not doing the work. Those excuses are related to the lack of resources (“proper” tools, ideal conditions, sufficiently long uninterrupted periods of time) that are apparently necessary for doing the activity. If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all, an elitist would say. But the reality is never perfect, so a pro would say that a little bit of practice is better than none. And those little bits do accumulate over time. Yes, deep work requires large chunks of time and specific conditions, but not every time. In challenges, there are opportunities to practice certain aspects of the craft. In fact, limiting the choice of tools or media is a well-known artistic technique. Jigoro Kano said: “Derive meaning from the struggle”. Brandon Webb, a former US Navy SEAL sniper, puts the same thing less poetically: “Embrace the suck.”
In other words, professionals are just doing their craft, without needing justifications for it. This is exactly what Nike is inviting people to do in their famous slogan: to adopt a professional attitude towards running, even though, ironically, they do it using a permission word. Perhaps, once we give ourselves permission to be pros, we don’t need to subconsciously seek this permission from others by using “just” in our speech.