If you're remotely involved with cars in any way professionally, your should read 'Traffic', by Tom Vanderbilt. Indeed, you should read it if you just drive.
Especially interesting is sub-plot that the biggest danger to a driver is safety. The better you get at driving, the less you concentrate on it, the safer the road looks, the more you switch off.
This reminds me to show you the way to Niko's post about doing strategy for your clients' competitors. I love the idea of forcing yourself to be better by making things as hard as possible. If you've made the market dynamic that much more challenging to be different and credible to, that's a good start. Make yourself 'awake at the wheel' rather than coasting and thinking about what you'll do when you arrive.
However, while pressure forces you to be better, a level of 'not thinking' is needed too.
When it comes to the crunch, it can be helpful to be able to do really skillful things on instinct. If your a sportsperson, that allows you to not worry about technique and frees you up to read your opponents. If your cook, not worrying about a sauce curdling, or burning a steak lets you multi task and become incredibly creative, until even being incredibly creative becomes second nature.
That's why I think you can't avoid basics and hard work in this job either. No presentation goes as expected, there's always a question you're not ready for. You need to have what you're going to say so ingrained you're ready to be flexible, you need to have done so many presentations, you no longer need to worry about standing up in front of people, or how you come across.
It's really hard doing strategy if you're worrying what the difference is between a brand idea and a comms idea, you can't make a creative brief sing if you're confused about the difference between a proposition and take-out, or when to use a task based proposition.
I once heard George Bryant say that it takes seven years for a planner to find their voice. That's a bit steep, but I know what he means, before you can stir things up, you need to do the craft bits as second nature.
Just like my old swim coach say that there was no physical pain we would ever go through a race that would come close to what we experience in training (bastard). He also made sure we never worried about ot stroke, it was second nature.
But here's the rub. When you're a child grown ups look like they know what they're doing, when you become one of them, they'll be nothing to worry about. When you're an account exec, account directors seem to know it all, they make things look effortless. Planning directors look the same to me.
IBut it doesn't get any easier, or not if you're any good. Like driving on instinct, the more you can do without thinking, the more time you have to fret about other stuff, and there's always new stuff to make you feel like that kid, that baby planner or that account exec again.