I revisited my old friend Steven Pressfield the last three evenings by zipping through his short tome on productivity, “Turning Pro”, a follow-up to his earlier kick-in-the-can, “The War of Art”. Pressfield, author of “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “Gates of Fire”, among other books, knows what it is to be an artist-type who dabbles for a while before going all in. That’s the substance of “Turning Pro”, essentially. The pro doesn’t dabble. The pro is fully committed- to craft and to creativity.
I want to be that guy.
I try a bit to be that guy, but I’ve never truly been that guy yet.
I’ve “ran” two marathons, but in training for each, I never fully completed all of the training runs suggested to pull off a good race. In both runs, I ended up walking for extended periods within the last two miles. I was never fully committed to kill the runs. I did enough to finish each of them.
But I want to be that guy.
Pressfield wrote compulsively as a younger man, fiction stuff, stuff that he completed and felt was never good enough to publish. And he’d start and stop stuff. At a point, his old typewriter become repulsive to him, and he could not get it out to whittle out a lame paragraph. Resistance was beating him.
He finally rented an old cabin- a place without electricity, without utilities- for half a year where he could not be distracted, and he sat down in front of the typewriter on the bare table before him, and made himself stay until he wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And finished a book.
That’s what he talks about in Turning Pro- the distinctions of the professional artist, as opposed to the amateur artist, who tinkers.
Most people remain amateurs, he posits, because of fears and doubts that keep them from pursuing their felt calling, because following a calling usually comes with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. As a result, they accept shadow careers, or even descend into addiction to deal with their discomfort of accepting a “less than” life- accepting living daily in a routine that is far from what they hoped they might experience if they had followed their heart. Accepting a life of wishing and regretting, instead of deciding and doing. Accepting a life of giving up too quickly, letting go too easily, bowing out too early.
Both the amateur and the professional face the same fears when facing opportunities and situations in life, but the amateur responds to situations differently than the pro.
The amateur is egotistical and terrified, and he lives by the opinion of others. He is jealous, easily distracted and wants instant gratification, and he lives for both the future and the past, and yet needs permission to take risky steps in his life. The amateur will be ready tomorrow. The amateur is not self-aware, and as a result does not know himself, or he avoids self-definition, and as a result, lacks compassion for himself. And he lets fear stop him perpetually from acting.
You can be a part-time pro, Pressfield points out. But you still haven’t turned pro at that point.
Turning pro is quiet and simple. You hear the still small voice in your head that speaks to you about your dream, and about that which you are most afraid of- chasing that dream and failing at it. And you give in and decide to chase it anyways.
When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears.
When we turn pro, we stop fleeing.
We turn around and face our fears.
And how we deal with life will change.
The same temptations, the same nagging voices, the same insecurities will greet us in the following days. Resistance will try to steer us away from our pursuit- but it won’t win, because we find we are different.
The pro has a code. The pro shows up every day. The pro stays on the job all day. The pro is committed over the long haul. The pro… seeks order. Acts in the face of fear. Demystifies. Is patient. Plays it as it lays. Accepts no excuses. Is prepared. Masters techniques. Doesn’t show off. Asks for help. Endures adversity.
The pro is courageous.
The professional will not be distracted. Here’s looking at you, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, ESPN, YouTube, boardgamegeek.com.
The professional is ruthless with herself, but she also has compassion on herself. She lives in the present. She defers gratification. She does not wait for inspiration to work- she sits and begins to work, letting the muses find her ready. She does not give her power away to others. She yet helps others. The professional trusts the mystery. The professional stays in the saddle when the horse approaches the high wall and is about to leap it. And the professional plays hurt: no vacation days.
As a result, the professional practices daily.
Pressfield is always good for a hard shove forward when you get stuck or stalled or scared by the tasks in front of you. He doesn’t let you stay there, if you trust his understanding of creativity and of work. You break through when you put in the work, he chants. And I am certain he is right.
This year I turn 50, and it is my hope that I can help myself to move from amateur to pro status, at least in the arena of writing.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
– I Corinthains 13:11