For much of my life I was a practicing pharmacist. Each day I would draw on my professional experience and use every tidbit of education to make appropriate clinical decisions. Like so many other professionals, I was doing the work I was trained to do and loved every minute of it. I was also secure in the knowledge that I was very good at what I did and was making a difference in people’s lives.
So why did it rub me wrong when others would jokingly ask, “Practicing, huh? When do you think you’ll get it right?”
I laughed at the jokes but inwardly seethed. How could someone mock that by which I defined myself? One day, though, I took a mental step back to analyze that old joke. Was I any different in how I managed my career than the physician to whom I trusted my health? After all, he “practiced” medicine. Absurdly, I wondered, “Does he practice on me, maybe to get it right later with another patient?”
One summer in my youth I practiced getting better at baseball. I was never very good, but that summer I managed to hit consistently two out of three pitches. Was my doctor getting it right two-thirds of the time? Was I one of the lucky two?
That kind of success rate in my pharmacy practice wouldn’t win me any fans. If I managed to get the right drug to the right person only two out of three times, all I’d gain would be stack of lawsuits.
Why are many health professions called a PRACTICE? If I went to my financial advisor and asked if he were practicing his profession, he’d probably say, “I do better than practice. I try to get it right every time.”
Is his profession any more exacting than pharmacy or medicine? He doesn’t always get my investments right. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, and then I take a tax loss. In pharmacy, however, when you lose, there’s no tax loss. The results are often life threatening.
Eventually, I decided that the beauty of PRACTICING your profession is to always get better at it. Most people are good at their jobs and mistakes happen only rarely. I might get upset if my financial advisor makes a less than perfect judgment about my investments, but at the end of the day life still goes on.
When I practiced pharmacy, it was intense stuff: clinical trials, intravenous therapies and life or death situations. If I had made less than perfect judgments regarding those therapies, there was the real possibility that someone would end up dead. There was no “Oops, I’ll do better next time.”
The wisdom in understanding why some professions are called PRACTICES and others are known as WORK or ART is this.
My work as a novelist is an expression of art; but if I don’t get the story right the first time, it’s not a problem. No one dies; no one has a funeral (except maybe for one of my characters). I always get a “do-over.” Writers are lucky that way, except when the rewrites and edits go on and on—but that’s another whole blog.
The point is that it takes practice to be good enough at something to make a decent living at it. I’ve read that it takes 10,000 hours to really be good at something. I had a friend guest blog about that once (see here). It seems that 10,000 hours of “practice”—about five years if that’s all you’re doing—is what it takes to be really good at something.
So I guess we all practice our professions when we continue to work to get better at our jobs. I practiced pharmacy for a great many years and was very good at it, but I also practice my writing everyday now to get better.
The five-star reviews of my last two books tell me that I must be doing something right as an author.
In the end, as much as I liked pharmacy practice, I love writing even more. Whatever it is you want to accomplish, practice to be better than you were yesterday and you’ll wind up getting five-star reviews in whatever you do.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!