Steven Pressfield has had a fascinating literary career. He persevered through odd jobs, personal and professional setbacks, and voluminous rejection slips before finally pubishing his first novel The Legend of Bagger Vance when he was 50 years old. The same year the novel was published, it was made into a movie. Pressfield has learned a lot about what it takes to keep working towards your goals and moving through failure to achieve success. He even wrote a book about it called Turning Pro. In the book he states that to truly succeed at any kind of work – art, business, writing, research – you have to be a pro. Amateurs might have some success, but eventually their fear will overcome them and they will hide from their work.
A pro shows up all day, every day; an amateur shows up when they feel like it.
A pro is committed at a deep level; an amateur is committed at a shallow level.
A pro perseveres through adversity; an amateur quits.
A pro distances himself from the work in order to more objectively judge and take criticism; an amateur is tied to the work and cannot judge or take criticism.
Being a pro is a lifestyle, a daily commitment to doing the important, meaningful work of life.
Pressfield lists the qualities and traits of professionals:
- Pros are Brave
- Pros are Focused
- Pros have High Expectations and Standards of Themselves
- Pros Do Not Work to Exhaustion; instead They Leave Something for the Next Day
- Pros are Mindful and in the Present Moment
- Pros Delay Rewards to a Later Date; the Work Comes First
- Pros Do Not Wait for Inspiration; They Work when there is Work to be Done
- Pros Do Not Need External Validation
- Pros are Generous with their Knowledge and Wisdom
A professional has a practice. A professional does the work.
But sometimes even the best professional is steered away from the work by an inner voice full of excuses and distractions. Pressfield calls this “The Resistance.” Below are some of Pressfield’s examples of resistance and some of my own examples. Do any of these ring familiar?
The Excuse of Time
I will start tomorrow. No. You will start right now. Do the work that is important and meaningful to you. I am too busy. No, you are not. And if the work is meaningful to you, then you will make time. Do the work.
The Distraction of External Validation
We often spend our time chasing accomplishments and achievements solely for the sake of external validation. While these may bring us a great deal of joy, the feeling is always fleeting. We can never get enough external validation to fill us up. In fact, the more we get, the less happiness it brings. We build a tolerance for external validation. Eventually, we will experience a small uptick in mood and then an immediate let down leaving us feeling empty. In order to feel truly satisfied with our work, to feel rewarded and full from our accomplishments, we need internal validation. We get that internal validation by doing the work that is meaningful to us.
The Excuse of Others
This is closely related to The Distraction of External Validation. We measure ourselves against others. We will never be as good as them, we think, so why even bother to try. We need the permission of others to start and their approval to know when we have done something good.
We need others to tell us we are now accepted as “one of them.” In this mindset, we give control of ourselves over to another. We voluntarily give away our agency and our sovereignty over our own self. We cease to be autonomous beings. The only valid measuring stick is ourselves. We set high expectations. We hold ourselves to high standards. We then judge our work against what we know are capable of. We will know we have arrived when we consistently meet our own high standards. When we push ourselves and challenge ourselves to do better, and we meet those challenges. We do not need someone to tell us we are that. We become that when we decide to do the work.
The Joy of Defeat
For some people, being miserable is their happy state. Projects are never started or completed because conditions are not perfect. This is the perfect excuse. They never have to face the possibility of failure because they never try in the first place. When something is broken or not right, they will complain about it rather than fix it. Why fix it? Whatever is broken gives them cover from having to perform. Because their standards are so low, they become resigned to poor conditions. They never expect more from themselves. They take pride in being a self-identified martyr. They are sure they have a greatness in them, but it will never be manifested because everything around them is so broken. We must take responsibility for everything around us. The only thing we need to do the work is a decision and resolution to do the work. We must go over and around obstacles. Find new paths and ways to get it done. We will not die a martyr. We will manifest our greatness.
The Allure of the Easy
We keep on doing what we are doing because it is what we have always done. We set low standards because they are easy to meet. We never push or challenge ourselves because once we start we can never go back. This is scary to us. This can open us up to our potential, which requires a lot of work and discipline to for us to reach. We tell ourselves we do not car. That nobody cares. That none of it matters. The only way we can do great work is to push ourselves beyond the mediocre work we are now doing. The fear we fear is what motivates us. When that fear overtakes the excuses is when we can begin to do great work. The work is important to us; otherwise, we would not be doing it. The work matters to us, never forget that. Do the work.
The Excuse of Perception
I am not the the kind of person that does work like that. I am the kind of person that does work like this. No. You are the kind of person who does the work that is meaningful to you. You can be that person if you set out to be that person. Change your perception. Change your mind. Change your opinion. None of this is set in stone. You can be who you want by deciding to be who you want. Be the person. Do the work.
The Resistance is a liar. Do not listen to it. Do the work.
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield