Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield: Notes16 min read

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Turning Pro is an inspiring instruction manual that will help you create the work you were meant to do by dividing your life into two phases, the amateur and the professional, and getting you from one into the other.

There are many different ways to frame the fundamental struggle of what it means to be human: trying to fulfill our potential. Science has the therapeutic model, in which some disease or condition must be cured and religion has the moral model, which says we must pay for our sins. According to Steven Pressfield, however, there’s a third model, a much simpler one: the model of the amateur and the professional.

Pressfield is a distinguished author, both in fiction and non-fiction. Turning Pro is his guide to this model, which’ll help you go from one to the other. According to Steve’s opening line, this change will make all the difference:

“I wrote in The War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.”

The book is divided into three big parts. The first describes the addictive nature of the amateur, who’s lost in his bad habits. The second paints a vision of what it’d like to be a pro, and where the amateur falls short. The third is about cultivating professionalism.

Here are 3 lessons to help your Turning Pro:

  • The defining trait of the amateur is the fear of being who she is and getting rejected for it.
  • A central obstacle for the amateur is that he always chases some guru or authority.
  • When you do your work for the sake of its practice and nothing else, that’s when you turn pro.

I don’t know what you want to create. Maybe it’s a museum, maybe a rare breed of frog, maybe a hedge fund. But I do know that turning pro will help you get there. So let’s do this!

Lesson 1: An amateur is terrified of being her real self and the consequences that come with it.

None of us are born as pros. We all start as amateurs, addicted to ‘shadow careers,’ as Steve calls them, which we pursue in lack of the guts to chase our real calling. I have no way of putting it better than Steve, so (emphasis mine):

“Fear is the primary color of the amateur’s interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death. But mostly what we all fear as amateurs is being excluded from the tribe, i.e., the gang, the posse, mother and father, family, nation, race, religion.

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 amateur is terrified that if the tribe should discover who he really is, he will be kicked out into the cold to die.”

This was a big issue for me. The idea that the more we become ourselves, the less we’ll be understood, and the fewer people will walk, talk, and act like us is paralyzing. Most people never get out of this incapacitated state of ungrounded fear. People do turn on you when you “go rogue,” but you’ll also find new people who are discovering themselves too.

Nonetheless, for the few who break out of their shell of fear, another roadblock awaits.

Lesson 2: One major roadblock for amateurs is trying to please gurus, mentors, authorities, and teachers.

Once I finally got over the hump of pressing ‘Publish’ on my first articles, I instantly turned to the gurus whose work I’d read in order to get there. This is as natural a part of the process as it is damaging. You just ventured into new, uncharted, scary territory, and now you realize there’s no clear path to go. So you hang on anyone’s every word who tells you otherwise.

There’s nothing wrong with listening to expert advice, but worshipping a teacher, mentor, even a spouse as an icon takes away our power. It’s the singer waiting to be discovered, the blogger hoping for a viral post, the swimmer craving her coach’s approval. All of these stand in the way of you doing your work your way.

Your mentor’s genius will never rub off on you. You must choose yourself. In Steve’s words:

“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 moment you take your power back, magical things start to happen.

Lesson 3: Doing your work for its own sake, as a practice, is what being a pro is really about.

Steve published his first book when he was 52, despite writing novels since his late twenties. You’d think by that point, any rational person would’ve quit, which is exactly right. Eventually, the professional must commit herself to her work to an extent that is beyond reason. This, she will do gladly, because like Steve and like me, she at one point realizes she can’t do anything else.

“In the end I answered the question by realizing that I had no choice. I couldn’t do anything else. When I tried, I got so depressed I couldn’t stand it. So when I wrote yet another novel or screenplay that I couldn’t sell, I had no choice but to write another after that. The truth was, I was enjoying myself. Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing, but I did. I was learning. I was getting better.”

It is at this point that your work will turn into a practice. A self-serving ritual that needs no justification. Steve defines it as “a rigorous, prescribed regimen with the intention of elevating the mind and the spirit to a higher level.” As such, each practice has a time, a place, and an intention. It’s a simple, consistent routine that enables you to let quality do its thing.

The professional is an eternal student, always ready to learn, always willing to show up, regardless of the weather. This is what allows him to practice his craft as long as he needs to until his craft begins to work for him in return.

My personal take-aways

The book is a short read. Technically a follow-up to The War of Art and a prequel to Do The Work, I think for most, Turning Pro is the right place to start. If you know what you want to do deep down, but don’t have the courage to jump in, this is the book for you

The Book in Three Sentences

You can divide your life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after.

All you have to do to turn pro is decide.

When you turn pro, life gets easier.

The Five Big Ideas

“Do you remember where you were on 9/11? You’ll remember where you were when you turn pro.”

When we’re afraid to embrace our true calling, we pursue a shadow calling instead.

“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 difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.”

“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 Book Summary

“I wrote in The War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.”

“What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.”

“All you have to do [to turn pro] is change your mind.”

“We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.”

“Do you remember where you were on 9/11? You’ll remember where you were when you turn pro.”

“To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls.”

“Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead.”

“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.”

“Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

“In the shadow life, we live in denial and we act by addiction.”

“The shadow life is the life of the amateur.”

“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.”

“The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.”

“When you turn pro, your life gets very simple.”

“The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a ‘life,’ a ‘character,’ a ‘personality.’”

“The quick fix wins out over the long, slow haul.”

“When we can’t stand the fear, the shame, and the self-reproach that we feel, we obliterate it with an addiction.”

“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?’”

“What you and I are really seeking is our own voice, our own truth, our own authenticity.”

“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 amateur identifies with his own ego. He believes he is ‘himself.’ That’s why he’s terrified.”

“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.”

“Paradoxically, the amateur’s self-inflation prevents him from acting.”

“The amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two: Solitude and silence. The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction.”

“The amateur lacks compassion for himself.”

“Achieving compassion is the first powerful step toward moving from being an amateur to being a pro.”

“The amateur believes that, before she can act, she must receive permission from some Omnipotent Other — a lover or spouse, a parent, a boss, a figure of authority.”

“The force that can save the amateur is awareness, particularly self-awareness.”

“Fear of self-definition is what keeps an amateur an amateur and what keeps an addict an addict.”

“The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as ‘different.’ Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit.”

“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.”

“Sometimes it’s easier to be a professional in a shadow career than it is to turn pro in our real calling.”

“Life gets very simple when you turn pro.”

“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads.”

“Before we turn pro, our life is dominated by fear and Resistance. We live in a state of denial. We’re denying the voice in our heads. We’re denying our calling. We’re denying who we really are. We’re fleeing from our fear into an addiction or a shadow career. 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. 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. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution. This changes our days completely. 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. It changes the activities we engage in and with what attitude we engage in them. It changes what we read and what we eat. It changes the shape of our bodies. 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. But we are not amateurs any more. We are different, and everyone in our lives sees it.”

“Turning pro changes how we spend our time and with whom we spend it. It changes our friends; it changes our spouses and children. It changes who is drawn to us and who is repelled by us. Turning pro changes how people perceive us. Those who are still fleeing from their own fears will now try to sabotage us. They will tell us we’ve changed and try to undermine our efforts at further change. They will attempt to make us feel guilty for these changes. 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 time, new people will appear in our lives. They will be people who are facing their own fears and who are conquering them. 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 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.”

“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.”

“Turning pro is a decision. But it’s such a monumental, life-overturning decision (and one that is usually made only in the face of overwhelming fear) that the moment is frequently accompanied by powerful drama and emotion. Often it’s something we’ve been avoiding for years, something we would never willingly face unless overwhelming events compelled us to.”

Habits of The Professional

The professional is patient

The professional seeks order

The professional demystifies

The professional acts in the face of fear

The professional accepts no excuses

The professional plays it as it lays

The professional is prepared

The professional does not show off

The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique

The professional does not hesitate to ask for help

The professional does not take failure or success personally

The professional does not identify with his or her instrument

The professional endures adversity

The professional self-validates

The professional reinvents herself

The professional is recognized by other professionals

“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 goddess and to his own expectations of excellence.”

“The amateur spends his time in the past and the future. The professional has taught himself to banish these distractions.”

“The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it.”

“The pro will share his wisdom with other professionals — or with amateurs who are committed to becoming professionals.”

“When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.”

“A practice implies engagement in a ritual. A practice may be defined as the dedicated, daily exercise of commitment, will, and focused intention aimed, on one level, 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.”

Characteristics of a Practice

A practice has a space

A practice has a time

A practice has an intention

We come to a practice as warriors

We come to a practice in humility

We come to a practice as students

A practice is lifelong

“The best pages I’ve ever written are pages I can’t remember writing.”

Three key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong:

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

Play for tomorrow.

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.”

Sue Sally Hale had a phrase that she drilled into her students’ heads: “Sit chilly.”

Other Books by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Do The Work

Buy this bookhttps://amzn.to/2EekL6m

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