Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
Updated: May 24
Really about rock bottoms, big dreams, and the daily choice to invest the commitment and courage necessary to grow up and become our best, most authentic selves, please don't be dissuaded by this book's title (nor by its emphasis on writing).
Enjoy, and here's to turning pro!
P.s. friendly reminder that the words offered below are the author’s; I only get credit for summary skills. :-)
Book One: The Amateur Life
I can divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.
Ambition is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.
My ambition was to write, but I had buried it so deeply that it only peeked out in dreams and moments of insight that appeared at odd instants and then vanished without a trace.
Sometimes, when we are terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead...are you pursuing a shadow career?
The amateur life is our youth.
No one is born a pro. You’ve got to fall before you hit bottom, and sometimes that fall can be a hell of a ride.
So here’s to blackouts and divorces, to lost jobs and lost cash and lost self-respect...because becoming pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.
How can we learn from all of the bad of our youth, and profit from them, when we finally put our days on the street behind us and begin to live our real lives?
This book is about habits. The difference between the amateur and professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.
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.
The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. The artist and the professional have turned a corner in their minds. They have succeeded in stepping back from themselves. They have grown so bored with themselves and so sick of their petty bullshit...that they now manipulate them for the good of others.
Turning pro is an act of self-abnegation. Not Self with a capital S, but little s self. Ego.
The question we need to ask of a shadow career is the same question the psychotherapist asks of a dream: what is our unconscious trying to tell us? Is money or sex how we keep score? Is it money or sex that produces transcendence? What you and I are really seeking is our own voice, our own truth, our own authenticity.
Book Two: Self-Inflicted Wounds
A definition of the amateur:
The amateur is young and dumb; he’s innocent; he’s good hearted; he’s well-intentioned; he’s brave.
He harbors noble aspirations; he has dreams; he seeks liberation and enlightenment. And he’s willing, he hopes, to pay the price.
The amateur is not evil or crazy. He’s not deluded. He’s not demented. The amateur is trying to learn.
The amateur is you and me.
The amatuer is terrified. Fear is the primary color of the amateur’s interior world...Mostly what we all fear as amateurs is being excluded from the tribe...that if the tribe should discover who he really is, he will be kicked out into the cold to die.
The professional is terrified too, but acts differently in the face of fear (see book three).
The amateur is a narcissist; he continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall; the amateur competes with others, believing that he cannot rise unless a competitor falls.
The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others. The amateur craves third-party validation. The amateur is tyrannized by his imagined conception of what is expected of him. He is imprisoned by what he believes he ought to think, how he ought to look, what he ought to do, and who he ought to be.
The amateur fears becoming himself because becoming himself means being different from others and thus, possibly, violating the expectations of the tribe without whose acceptance and approval, he believes, he cannot survive. By these means, the amateur remains inauthentic. He remains someone other than who he really is.
In his heart, the amateur knows he’s hiding. He knows he was meant for better things. He knows he has turned away from his higher nature.
Achieving self-compassion is the first powerful step toward moving from being an amateur to being a pro.
The sure sign of an amateur is that they have a million plans and they all start tomorrow.
The amateur gives his power away to others. Have you ever followed a guru or a mentor? I have. I’ve given my power away to lovers and others. I’ve sat by the phone. I’ve waited for permission…I applaud your story of how you hit bottom, because at the bottom there’s no one there but yourself.
The force that can save the amateur is awareness, particularly self-awareness.
The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others..the tribe will declare us weird...the tribe will reject us. But here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit. There is no tribe...When we truly understand that the tribe doesn't give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.
When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.
When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. Our aim centers on the ordering of our days in such a way that overcomes the fears that have paralyzed us in the past. We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim.
Turning pro changes how we spend our time and with whom we spend it. It changes who is drawn to us and who is repelled by us. Turning pro changes how people perceive us….at the same time, new people will appear in our lives. They will be people who are facing their own fears. These people will become our new friends. When we turn pro, we will be compelled to make painful choices. There will be people who in the past had been friends who we will no longer be able to spend time with if our intention is to grow and to evolve. We will have to choose between the life we want for our future and the life we have left behind.
Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit every day…Turning pro is a daily decision, but it’s also a monumental, life-overturning decision such that the moment is frequently accompanied by powerful drama and emotion. Often it is something we’ve been avoiding for years, something we would never willingly face unless overwhelming events compelled us to. Turning pro is like Pearl Harbor or 9/11. We never forget where we were when it happened.
Carl Jung said that a person might have five “big” dreams in her life--dreams that provoke a shift in consciousness.
In the post-epiphanal moment, we have two things going for us that we didn’t have ninety seconds earlier: reality and humility. These are powerful allies. And we have a third force working in our favor: shame. Why is shame good? Because shame can produce the final element we need to change our lives: will.
Epiphanies hurt. There’s no glory in them. They only make good stories at AA meetings or late at night among other foot soldiers in the trenches of life. These soldiers know. Each has his own story, of that ghastly, hideous, excruciating moment when it all turned around for him.
Book Three: The Professional Mindset
Qualities of a professional:
Shows up everyday
Stays on the job all day
Committed over the long haul
Stakes are high and real
Acts in the face of fear
Accepts no excuses
Plays it as it lays
Does not show off
Dedicates himself to mastering technique
Does not hesitate to ask for help
Does not take failure or success personally
Does not identify with his or her instrument
Recognized by other professionals
The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it. He knows that when inspiration sees his butt in the chair, she will deliver.
The amateur is an acolyte, a groupie. The professional may seek instruction or wisdom from one who is further along in the mystery than he, but he does so without surrendering his self-sovereignty.
The professional helps others while the amateur hoards his knowledge, believing that if he shares what he possesses with others, he will lose it. The professional is happy to teach, but there is a caveat. The professional refuses to be iconized. Not for selfish reasons, but because he knows how destructive the dynamic of iconization is to the iconizer. The pro will share his wisdom with other pros or with amateurs who are committed to becoming professionals. He won’t waste his time though on dilettantes.
The professional mindset as a practice:
A practice implies engagement in a ritual--a defined and dedicated daily exercise of commitment, will, and focused intention aimed at the achievement of mastery in a field but, on a loftier level, intended to produce a communion with a power greater than ourselves--call it whatever you like: God, mind, soul, Self, the Muse, the superconscious.
A practice has a space, and that space is sacred.
A practice has a time...our intention as artists is to get better, to go deeper, to work closer to the bone.
We may bring intention and intensity to our practice (in fact we must), but not ego. Dedication, even ferocity, yes. But never arrogance. The space of the practice is sacred. It belongs to the spirit. We take our shoes off before we enter. We press our palms together and we bow.
When you and I struggle against Resistance (or seek to love or endure or give or sacrifice), we are engaged in a contest not only on the material, mental, and emotional planes, but on the spiritual as well. The struggle is not only to write our symphony or to raise our children or to lead our Special Forces team into battle. The clash is epic and internal, between the ego and the Self, and the stakes are our lives.
In the hero’s journey, the wanderer returns home after years of exile, struggle, and suffering. He brings gifts to the people. That gift arises from what the hero has seen, what he has endured, what he has learned. But the gift is not that raw material alone. It is the ore refined into gold by the hero/wanderer/artist’s skilled and loving hands.
You are that artist.
The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns. You are that hero.