When I was in uni, I had an adviser who kept telling me to focus on the process, not the product. I wasn’t very good at following that advice, in part because I didn’t really understand what it meant.
If the process is what is important — that is, the act of learning through exploration and discovery and connection — you play.
If the results are what truly matter, you work. You use techniques you’ve already developed that are associated with specific outcomes.
This ties in with what I’ve written about the difference between play and performance on my personal blog:
Play is a gift you give yourself.
Performance is a gift you give an audience.
Or, if you want another pithy dichotomy: Play is about your experience. Work is about someone else’s.
Knowing when to use a process-based mindset vs. a results-based mindset is, for example, the difference between trying out a new recipe for fun and putting together a dinner you know your family will eat. The difference between the way you play your guitar when you want to relax and the way you work at your music when you’re preparing for a gig.
Of course, there are situations where it’s hard to know which mindset should prevail. Should a uni education be process-based or results-based? What about raising a child? If you’re bringing together a group of people to form a band or an improv group or a grassroots campaign, when do you shift from a process-based orientation — a necessary part of group development—to a results-based practice? (And who among the family or group will have to maintain enough of a results-based mindset in order to provide the leadership/framework/space in which everyone else can play?)
According to the pullquote that Khe Hy shared, you might have to ask yourself the same question in every new scenario (that is, every group meeting, every family dinner, every guitar session, and so on): is this a situation where the process is more important, or a situation where the results are more important?
And then you’ll know whether it’s time to work, or time to play.