Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

Today I’ll briefly talk about this little book by Steven Pressfield. I had read The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles before, which is a brilliant motivator for anyone struggling to put words to paper or screen, like me. Steven Pressfield emphasizes that we are in a constant struggle to create and the only way is to push through and embrace the struggle against the resistance. 

Turning Pro follows The War of Art focusing on the move from an amateur to a professional. What distinguishes between these? What makes you dissatisfied with your life? What should you do every day in your work? How to kill the resistance? 

Pressfield offers us his answers to all of the above in this book. Read, re-read and then keep it close at hand because you’ll need it again sooner than you would expect!

The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs. The solution, this book suggests, is that we turn pro.

Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we ‘ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.

If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.

In the shadow life, we live in denial and we act by addiction. We pursue callings that take us nowhere and permit ourselves to be controlled by compulsions that we cannot understand (or are not aware of ) and whose outcomes serve only to keep us caged, unconscious and going nowhere. The shadow life is the life of the amateur. In the shadow life we pursue false objects and act upon inverted ambitions. The shadow life, the life of the amateur and the addict, is not benign. The longer we cleave to this life, the farther we drift from our true purpose, and the harder it becomes for us to rally the courage to get back.

The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits. We can never free ourselves from habits. The human being is a creature of habit. But we can replace bad habits with good ones. We can trade in the habits of the amateur and the addict for the practice of the professional and the committed artist or entrepreneur.

Both addict and artist are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage. But the addict/amateur and the artist/professional deal with these elements in fundamentally different ways.

Distractions. Displacement activities. When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling—meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves. Addiction becomes a surrogate for our calling. We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires work. It’s hard. It hurts. It demands entering the pain-zone of effort, risk, and exposure. So we take the amateur route instead.

Each day, the professional understands, he will wake up facing the same demons, the same Resistance, the same self-sabotage, the same tendencies to shadow activities and amateurism that he has always faced. The difference is that now he will not yield to those temptations. He will have mastered them, and he will continue to master them.

First, the pro mindset is a discipline that we use to overcome Resistance. To defeat the self-sabotaging habits of procrastination, self-doubt, susceptibility to distraction, perfectionism, and shallowness, we enlist the self-strengthening habits of order, regularity, discipline, and a constant striving after excellence.

It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true: in order to achieve “flow,” magic, “the zone,” we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we’re ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.

Two key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong:         

1. Take what you can get and stay patient. The defense may crack late in the game.         

2. Play for tomorrow. Our role on tough-nut days is to maintain our composure and keep chipping away. We’re pros. We’re not amateurs. We have patience. We can handle adversity. Tomorrow the defense will give us more, and tomorrow we’ll take it.

There’s a third tenet that underlies the first two:         

3. We’re in this for the long haul.

The amateur believes that she must have all her ducks in a row before she can launch her start-up or compose her symphony or design her iPhone app. The professional knows better.