“Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield TLDR

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.” ― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Qualities of the professional

1. The pro shows up everyday

2. The pro stays on the job all day

3. The pro is committed long term

4. For the pro, the stakes are high

5. The pro is patient, seeks order and demystifies

6. The pro acts in the face of fear

7. The pro accepts no excuses

8. The pro plays it as it lies

9. The pro is prepared and doesn’t show off

10. The pro dedicates himself to his system

11. The pro doesn’t hesitate to ask for help

12. The pro doesn’t take failure/success personally

13. The pro doesn’t identify with his instrument

14. The pro endures adversity

15. The pro self validates

What’s in the box?: Patricia Ryan Madsen taught improv at Stanford and created an exercise called “what’s in the box?”. She asks students to imagine a small white box with a lid, now lift the lid. What’d you find? Some students say a diamond, a frog, a pomegranate etc. The trick is there’s always something in the box. In this exercise, she was addressing her students’ seminal terror: that they would get up on stage and draw a blank. The pro trusts the muster he knows that the muse always delivers. She may give us something we never expected, but she’ll always put something in the box.

Sometimes 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, it 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.

Are you pursuing a shadow career? Are you getting a Phd in Elizabethean studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs/booze half of the musicians life without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk becoming an innovator yourself?

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 a 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 they we cannot understand and whose outcomes serve only to keep us caged, unconscious and going nowhere.

The shadow life, the life of an 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 courage to get back.

We can never free ourselves from habits, but we can replace bad habits with good ones (- —>+) we can trade the habits of the amateur and the addict for the practice of the professional and committed artist/entrepreneur.

Both the 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 deal with these elements in different ways; distractions and displacement activities signal we’re living as an amateur and running away from our calling which is our work, destiny, the obligation to become our truest/highest selves.

Addiction is a surrogate for our calling. We enact the addiction instead of embracing the calling. Why? Because following a calling requires work. It’s hard, it hurts, it demands entering the pain zone of effort, risk and exposure.

The addict/amateur is an egoist. They enact aspiration in shadow form but never do the work. The addiction becomes his novel, his adventure, his great love. The work of art or service that might’ve been produced is replaced by the drama, conflict and suffering of the addict a crazy, shattered life

The pre-addictive individual (every child) experiences a calling or positive aspiration. this is a vision of the higher, realized self we might become. The intimation of this calling is followed immediately by the apparition of resistance; fear, self doubt and self sabotage. What makes this moment so precarious is that most of us are unconscious, in the event, of both our aspirations and resistance. We’re asleep, bored, angry. We burn to accomplish something great but don’t know where to begin, but even if we did we’d be so terrified that we couldn’t take a step… enter a drink, a lover, a habit: addiction replaces aspiration. the quick fix wins out over the long, slow haul.

When we can’t stand the fear, shame and self reproach we feel, we obliterate it with an addiction. The addiction becomes the shadow version, the evil twin of our calling to service or to arts.

All addictions share two primary qualities; they embody repetition without progress and produce incapacity as a payoff. This is why systems are better than goals.

Theres a difference between failing (which is natural and a normal part of life) and being addicted to failure. When we’re addicted to failure, we enjoy it. Each time we fail, we’re secretly relieved. Theres a certain glamour to failure that’s been mined for centuries e.g. starving poets, romantic suicides and other self doomed sounds. This glamour inverts failure and turns it into “success”.

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human by either transcending it or by anesthetizing it.

Plato suggested that if the upper realm is the sphere of perfect love, truth, justice, and beauty, then the artist seeks to fall down the magic of this world and to create, by dint of labor and luck, the closest-to-sublime simulacra of those qualities that he or she can. This produces peace of mind.

Fear is the primary color of the amateurs interior world. Fear of failure, looking foolish, fear of under achieving, poverty, loneliness, death. But what amateurs fear most is being excluded from the tribe, crew, gang, mother, family, nation, race or religion. The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling he’ll have to live up to who he really is and what he’s truly capable of.

Amateurs identity with their own ego. He believes “himself”. That’s why he’s terrified. The amateur is a narcissist who views the world hierarchically and continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self inflated if his fortunes rise and desperately anxious is his star should fall.

Amateurs see themselves as hero’s, not only in his own movie but the movie of others. He insists that others share his views and cannot rise unless his competitor falls.

The amateurs identity is seated in his own ego, an ego so weak that it cannot define itself based on its own self evaluation. The amateur allows his worth and identify to be defined by others.

Amateurs crave third party validation and is tyrannized by his imagined conception of what is expected of him. He is imprisoned by what he believed he ought to think, look, do and be.

Paradoxically the amateurs self inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself. He fears becoming himself because that means being different from other and possibly violating expectations of the tribe. Without this wide approval and acceptance by the group he cannot survive.

Amateurs have two primary fears: solitude and silence, because they have to avoid the voice inside that points them to their calling/destiny.

Amateurs know they’re hiding and that they’re meant for better things. They recognize when they’ve turned away from a higher power and denied self compassion, which is the first powerful step in moving from an amateur to a professional.

Amateurs own nothing of spirit in the present. They either look forward to a hopeful future or backward to an idyllic past. In a way, the amateurs re-imagined highlight reel past is worse when it’s true because then it’s really gone.

The payoff of living in the past or future is you never have to do your work in the present.

How life changes when you turn pro: I didn’t change or achieve enlightenment, I’m the same person I’ve always been with the same weaknesses and fallibilities, but everything is different. Before the turn, life is dominated by fear and resistance. We deny our calling, the voice in our heads and who we really are.

When we turn pro everything becomes simple. Our aim centers on the the ordering of our days in such a way that we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past. We now structure our hours not to flee from fear but to confront and overcome it. We plan activities in order to accomplish an aim, we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution.

Turning pro changes how we spend our time and whom we spend it with, it changes or friends, spouses and children. It’s changes who is drawn to us and who is repelled by us. People will try to sabotage us for going after our goals while they flee their own. People will appear in our life, perhaps they’re facing their own fears and who are actively conquering them; hang on to those people, they’ll be good friends.

The pro mindset is a discipline we use to overcome resistance. To defeat self sabotaging habits of procrastination, self doubt, susceptibility to distraction, perfectionism, and shallowness, we enlist the strength strengthening habits to order, regularity and a constant striving for excellence.