Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield | Notes & Quotes

Turning Pro is the follow-up from Steven Pressfield to The War of Art. If you’re pursuing something big in your life it is a great source of fuel and inspiration to take your game to the next level.

Key Takeaway:

Commitment is king. Tips, tricks, and hacks are minor details that may help you get where you are going faster, but without a deep long-term commitment, you aren’t going to achieve anything significant. The analogy between pro and amateur is a powerful lens to look at your own life and realize where you are not committed to getting what you want. The secret formula to success is to wake up every single day and go to work on your craft.

Below are some of my favorite quotes and thoughts from reading.

“Turning pro is free, but it’s not without cost. 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.”

Making a change means giving into a process of self-transformation. You make a commitment to do something before you have the capability and confidence to do it, but with the force of your commitment, you will eventually gain capability and confidence.

Making a commitment to improving, means leaving part of yourself behind, often part that you deeply identify with.

There is an episode of Startup (one of my favorite podcasts) where Gimlet founder and CEO Alex Blumberg works through and faces this reality of self-transformation. He has an incredibly compelling conversation with a therapist about how his identity and fear are holding him back from growing into a better version of himself.

The second part of this self-transformation is the resistance it will cause in people around you. The people in your life, even those closest to you, like you as you currently are. You changing will likely be threatening to them. They may push back unconsciously against that change. There will likely be fights, arguments, and talking behind your back. These will all be opportunities to give up on your commitment, to give up on the transformation, to give up on your ambition, and to give up on turning pro.

When you make the decision to evolve you have to keep your focus on the future. If you are certain of your direction and hold true to it, others will accept it and then celebrate it.

“My ambition was to write, but I had buried it so deep that it only peeked out in dreams and moments of insight that appeared at odd instants and then vanished without a trace.”

It is easy to distract ourselves from the thing that we truly want. Our desires exist on a spectrum. Some are easy to obtain, others very hard. Lots of people reach a level of success in things they don’t actually care about being good at.

I feel this in my own life. Writing well and often is something that I have listed as a goal many times in my life. But that is the area I feel the strongest resistance. Is this a sign that it is a challenge I should push harder through, or should I view it as a sign that I don’t actually like this thing that I think I like? That I’m more in love with the idea of writing than the reality? It is a question that I still need to answer.

“When we can’t stand the fear, the shame, and the self-reproach that we feel, we obliterate it with an addiction. The addiction becomes the shadow version, the evil twin of our calling to service or to art. That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time. They’re interesting because they’re called to something–something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation. At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.”

Addiction, no matter the form, is fueled by a desire to escape reality. Turning pro means completely accepting reality, despite the pain and discomfort, and learning to shape it.

“The habits and addictions of the amateur are conscious or unconscious self-inflicted wounds. Their payoff is incapacity. When we take our M1903 Springfield and blow a hole in our foot, we no longer have to face the real fight of our lives, which is to become who we are and to realize our destiny and our calling.”

Dan Sullivan has a model for personal growth that I come back to often in my life. He defines the four stages of a breakthrough.

    1. Commitment
    2. Courage
    3. Capacity
    4. Confidence

When we make a commitment to something, whether that is a new job or writing a book, we force ourselves into a period of courage. Courage looks good on other people, but it doesn’t feel good for the person acting courageously.

Doing things that we aren’t confident in doesn’t feel good, so the urge is to not do those things. But we will never become confident if we don’t start doing things when we don’t know how to do them.

Commitment is not easy though. It is not a one-time decision. Every morning and throughout the day you have to recommit. During that process, it is natural to at least have an urge to find a way out. Addiction is one of the ways out. If we incapacitate ourselves we can pretend that it isn’t our choice.

We find a way to shoot ourselves in the foot so we can tell others and most importantly ourselves, that we couldn’t achieve our goals, not that we chose not to.

“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.”

In a group, there is lots of ongoing meta-communication. Small jabs and teasing to establish power hierarchies, more serious teasing and taunting emerge when one member is threatening group norms. Backroom conversation and attempts at excommunication when one member is threatening the established hierarchy.

If you are in a group that does not value what you value, pursuing a virtuous life will come at the expense of your position in the group.

The desire to fit in is one of our most powerful motivations, we have a base pull to be accepted into a group, but we also have a higher order need to live in accordance with our values. Too many people kill their true selves to fit it. Too many people decide to remain amateurs to avoid the threat of being kicked out into the cold.

“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.”

  1. “The professional shows up every day
  2. The professional stays on the job all day
  3. The professional is committed 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 mastering 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 identify with his or her instrument
  17. The professional endures adversity
  18. The professional self-validates
  19. The professional reinvents herself “

“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.”

Commitment and hard work lead to inspiration. If you sit waiting to feel inspired you won’t know what to do with it when it comes.

“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.”

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