When we turn pro, we give up a life with which we may have become extremely comfortable. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own. We may have to give up friends, lovers, even spouses.
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.
Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s 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 methaphor for.
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 commited 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. (When I say “addiction” by the way, I’m not referring only to the serious, clinical maladies of alcoholism, drug dependence, domestic abuse and so forth. Web-surfing counts too. So do compulsive texting, sexting, twittering and Facebooking.)
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.
We were amateurs living in the past or dreaming of the future, while failing utterly to do the work necessary to progress in the present.
The artist and the professional, on the other hand, have turned a corner in their minds. They have succeeded in stepping back from themselves.
Addiction replaces aspiration.
The question we need to ask of a shadow career or an addiction is the same question the psychotherapist asks of a dream. “What is our unconscious trying to tell us?”
The life we call “normal” isn’t normal at all. A spouse and kids, a mortgage, a 9-to-5 job… who said that was life? What’s so great about working in a factory or a cubicle? You and I, who are artists and entrepreneurs, live a life that’s closer to natural, if you ask me. We migrate, too. We follow the muse instead of the sun.
All addictions share, among others, two primary qualities. 1. They embody repetition without progress. 2. They produce incapacity as a payoff.
Distraction and displacement seem innocent on the surface. How can we be harming ourselves by having fun, or seeking romance, or enjoying the fruits of this big, beautiful world? But lives go down the tubes one repetition at a time, one deflection at a time, one hundred and forty characters at a time.
Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed. (…) Resistance want to keep us shallow and unfocused. So it makes the superficial and the vain intoxicating. Have you checked your e-mail in the last half hour? When your sit down to do your work, do you leave your web connection on? It can be fatal, keeping up with the Kardashians.
I didn’t talk to anybody during my year of turning pro. I didn’t hang out. I just worked. I had a book in mind and I had decided I would finish it or kill myself. I could not run away again, or let people down again, or let myself down again. This was it, do or die.
That was what I did at night. I read all the stuff that you’re supposed to read in college but never do, or if you do, you’re not paying attention. I read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky an Turgenev…
During that first year (of turning pro), I sometimes thought to myself, “Steve you’ve got it lucky now, no distractions, you can focus full-time. What are you gonna do when life gets complicated again?” In the end, it didn’t matter. That year made me a pro. It gave me, for the first time in my life, an uninterrupted stretch of month after month that was mine alone, that nobody knew about but me, when I was truly productive, truly facing my demons, and truly working my shit.
The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of.
The difference lies in the way the professional acts in the face of fear.
The amateur identifies with his own ego. He believes he is “himself”. That’s why he’s terrified. The amateur is a narcissist. He views the world hierarchically. He continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall.
Though the amateur’s identity is seated in his own ego, that ego is so weak that it cannot define itself based on its own self-evaluation. The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others. (…) He is imprisoned by what he believes he ought to think, how he ought to do, and who he ought to be.
Paradoxically, the amateur’s self-inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself. (…) By these means, the amateur remains inauthentic. He remains someone other than who he really is.
The amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two: Solitude and silence. (…) The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.
The amateur, the addict and the obsessive all want what they want now. The corollary is that, when they get it, it doesn’t work. The restlessness doesn’t abate, the pain doesn’t go away, the fear comes back as soon as the buzz wears off.
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.
The amateur sits on a stool, waiting to be discovered.
The amateur lives in the past. The payoff of living in the past or the future is you never have to do your work in the present.
The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow.
Exile, failure, and banishment can be good things sometimes, because they force us to act from our own center and not from someone else’s.
Fear of self-definition is what keeps an amateur an amateur and what keeps an addict an addict.
Here’s the truth: The tribe doesn’t give a shit.
There is no tribe.
That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just as fucked up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.
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.
(…) what we are most afraid of. This is what we know in our hearts we have to do.
What changes when we turn pro is we stop fleeing. 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 we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past.
It changes what time we get up and it changes what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do.
When we were amateurs, our life was about drama, about denial, and about distraction. Our days were simultaneously full to the bursting point and achingly, heartbreakingly empty.
Turning pro changes how people perceive us. Those who are still fleeing from their own fears will now try to sabotage us. (…)
They will try to entice us to get stoned with them or fuck off with them or waste time with them, as we’ve done in the past, and when we refuse, they will turn against us and talk us down behind our backs.
At the same sime, new people will appear in our lives. They will be people who are facing their own fears and who are conquering them. These people 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 colleagues and associates, even friends, whom 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.
Twelve-step programs say “One Day at a Time.” The professional says the same thing.
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.
Turning pro is like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 or the assassination of Present Kennedy. 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 big shift in consciousness – and this was my first.
From that moment I changed the way I approached songwriting, I changed how I sang, I changed my work ethic, and I changed my life.
I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.
The essence of epiphanies is the stripping away of self-delusion. We thought we were X. Now suddenly we see we’re minus-X. We’re X divided by infinity.
What we have gained is the truth. Our bullshit falls away. The scales drop from our eyes. In that moment we have two options:
We can reconstitute our bullshit.
Or we can turn pro.
In The War of Art, I listed the following habits and qualities that the professional possesses that the amateur doesn’t:
1. The professional shows up every day
2. The professional stays on the job all day
3. The professional is commited over the long haul
4. For the professional, the stakes are high and real
5. The professional is patient
6. The professional seeks order
7. The professional demystifies
8. The professional acts in the face of fear
9. The professional accepts no excuses
10. The professional plays it as it lays
11. The professional is prepared
12. The professional does not show off
13. The professional dedicates himself to masterig technique
14. The professional does not hesitate to ask for help
15. The professional does not take failure or success personally
16. The professional does not identiy with his or her instrument
17. The professional endures adversity
18. The professional self-validates
19. The professional reinvents herself
20. The professional is recognized by other professionals
The linebacker and the Army Ranger go into action as part of a team. But the artist and the entrepreneur enter combat alone. I take my hat off to every man or woman who does this.
The amateur tweets. The pro works.
The professional knows when he has fallen short of his own standards. He will murder his darlings without hesitation, if that’s what it takes to stay true to the godess and to his own expectations of excellence.
The amateur spends his time in the past and the future. He permits himself to fear and to hope.
The professional has taught himself to banish these distractions.
When Stephen Sondheim makes a hat, he is thinking of nothing else. He is immersed. He loses himself in the work and in the moment.
What do we imagine we’re going to find in our Inbox?
Krishna said we have the right to our labor, but no to the fruits of our labor. He meant that the piano is its own reward, as is the canvas, the barre, and the movieola.
The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it.
He knows that when the Muse sees his butt in the chair, she will deliver.
When we make someone into an icon, we give away our power. We say to ourselves (unconsciously), “This person possesses qualities I wish I possessed. Therefore I will worship this person in the hope that quality will wear off on me, or I will acquire that quality by virtue of my proximity to this mentor/sensei/lover/teacher/hero.”
In my experience, when we project a quality or virtue onto another human being, we ourselves almost always already possess that quality, but we’re afraid to embrace (and to live) that truth.
The amateur is an acolyte, a groupie. The professional may seek instruction or wisdom from one who is further along in mastery than he, but he does so without surrendering his self-sovereignty.
The amateur hoards his knowledge and his reinforcement. He believes that if he shares what he possesses with others, he will lose it.
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 professionals – or with amateurs who are committed to becoming professionals.
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.
When we do the work for itself alone, we’re like that Marine who sleeps in a foxhole in the freezing rain but who knows a secret that only he and his brothers and sisters share.
When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have though about or aspired to at the beginning.
It turns into a practice.
The truth was that, I was enjoying myself. Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing, but I did. I was learning. I was getting better.
The work became, in its own demented way, a practice. It sustained me, and it sustains me still.
A practice has a space, and that space is sacred.
When we convene day upon day in the same space at the same time, a powerful energy builds up around us. This is the energy of our intention, of our dedication, of our commitment.
(…) the achievement of mastery in any field, be it brain surgery or throwing a split-finger fastball, requires approximately 10,000 hours of practice. But the key, according to Mr. Gladwell, is that practice be focused.
It must possess intention.
The sword master stepping onto the fighting floor knows he will be facing powerful opponents. Not the physical adversaries whom he will fight. The real enemy is inside himself.
We may bring intention and intensity to our practice, but not ego. Dedication, even ferocity, yes. But never arrogance.
The epiphany is everything. When we see the gaping holes in our practice (or discover that we have no practice at all), no one has to school us in time management or resource allocation.
We know what we have to do.
The professional trusts the mystery. He knows that the Muse always delivers. She may surprise us. She may give us something we never expected.
Good things happen when we trust the Mystery. There is always something in te box.
Two 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.
3. We’re in this for the long haul.
Our work is a practice. One bad day is nothing to us. Ten bad days are nothing.
In the scheme of our lifelong practice, twenty-four hours when we can’t gain yardage is only a speed bump. We’ll forget it by breakfast tomorrow and be back again, ready to hurl our bodies into the fray.
The amateurs 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.
Keep shooting film.
Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared.
The professional takes two aspiring and keeps on truckin’.
The professional knows that, in the course of her pursuit, she will inevitably experience moments of terror, even panic. She knows she can’t choke that panic back or wish it away. It’s there and it’s for real.
The pro sits chilly.
She focuses on the horse and the wall. She keeps her seat.
In truth, I practice my own form of shamanism every day. As an artist, I seek to access unseen powers. Evil forces are out there – Resistance, self-doubt, self-sabotage. How many other malign entities are hovering each morning over me and my huevos rancheros?
Then there are the good forces. Inspiration, enthusiasm, courage. New ideas, brilliant breakthroughs, insights, intuitions. Where do these come from? I don’t know. How can I access them? I have no clue.
Yes this is my business This is my life.
I have a code of professionalism. I have virtues that I seek to strengthen and vices that I labor to eradicate.
“There is a second self inside you – an inner, shadow Self. This self doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t love you. It has its own agenda, and it will kill you. It will kill you like cancer. It will kill you to achieve its agenda, which is to prevent you from actualizing your Self, from becoming who you really are. This shadown self is called, in the Kabbalistic lexicon the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara, Steve, is what you would call Resistance.”
Mussar was a code of ethical discipline. Its first tenet was “identify the sin.” The second was “to eliminate it.”
What they called Mussar, I called turning pro.
Our job, as souls on this mortal journey, is to shift from the seat of our identity from the lower realm to the upper, from the ego to the Self.
The struggle is not only to write our symphony or to raise our child or to lead our Special Forces team against the Taliban in Konar province. The clash is epic and internal, between the ego and the Self and the stakes are our lives.
In the end, the enterprise and the sacrifice are all about the audience.
They’re about the readers, the moviegoers, the site visitors, the listeners, the concertgoers, the gamers, the gallery-goers – a group which, by the way, includes you and me.
We’re the audience.
In the hero’s journey, the wanderer returns home after years of exile, struggle and suffering. He brings a gift for 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.
I will gladly shell out $24.95 or $9.99 or 99 cents on iTunes to read or see or listen to the 24-karat treasure that you have refine from your pain and your vision and your imagination. I need it. We all do. We’re struggling here in the trenches. That beauty, that wisdom, those thrills and chills, even that mindless escape on a rainy October afternoon – I want it.
Put me down for it.
The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns.
You are that hero.