10 Short Lessons from Turning Pro

Steven Pressfield on finding your life’s purpose

10 Short Lessons from Turning Pro
“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” - Steven Pressfield

The best teachers in life are those who have walked the path before us and learned from the school of hard knocks.

Pressfield is one of those. 

He wrote for 27 years before he published his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Before that, he worked 21 different jobs in eleven states. He drove tractor-trailers, taught school, worked on offshore oil rigs and picked fruit as a migrant worker until he embraced his calling.

He subsequently went on to publish 19 books and wrote several Hollywood screenplays.

I admire his transformation. I resonate with the story of trying different things, making mistakes and finding the courage to answer the call to adventure. 

After reading The War of Art (2002), Pressfield's masterpiece for creators, I knew I wanted more. Turning Pro (2012) was the logical next choice and it did not disappoint.

Pressfield’s main theory (described in both books) is that every one of us has a calling (a higher purpose) and it's our life’s duty to find it and embrace it. 

But it isn’t always easy. There is a force working against us, which he calls Resistance. Resistance manifests itself in many forms and prevents us from doing the work we were put on Earth to do. Resistance can come in the form of addiction, procrastination or relying on talent instead of putting in the work. It can come from other people pulling us down or from within when we don’t believe we deserve great things.

To do great work, we need to beat the Resistance every day. Trust me - I’m trying - hence the newsletter you’re reading ;).

10 short lessons from Turning Pro

1. You can be your own biggest obstacle. Remember to get out of your own way and not let your own pride, vanity, or ego defeat you out of the gates.

“The sword master stepping onto the fighting floor knows he will be facing powerful opponents. Not the physical adversaries whom he will fight (though those indeed serve as stand-ins for the enemy). The real enemy is inside himself."

2. Embrace your true calling. You can avoid discomfort or you can decide to take your craft more seriously.

“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that small voice inside our heads. At last we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny.”

3. If you put in the work the Muse will come. Nothing gets done if you avoid sitting down and grafting.

“It seems counterintuitive, but it's true: in order to achieve "flow," magic, "the zone," we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we're ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door. Like a child entering a meadow, we step over the threshold, forgetting everything except the butterfly that flits across our vision.”

4. Roll your rock up the hill. Pitch up every day.

“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 difference is that now he will not yield to those temptations. He will have mastered them, and he will continue to master them.”

5. Don't attach your self-worth to external validation. Look within.

“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 look, what he ought to do, and who he ought to be.”

6. Creating & sharing your work helps others. Don't deny us.

“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 refined 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.”

7 . Sometimes you need to kill your darlings. Maintain your level.

“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 & his own expectations of excellence.”

8. Addiction (to your phone, Netflix, partying) leads to incapacity. You avoid having to face your fears.

“All addictions share, among others, two primary qualities. 1. They embody repetition without progress. 2. They produce incapacity as a payoff.”

9. Seek to perform deep, uninterrupted work every day.

“Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed”

10. When we idolize others we postpone finding our own greatness. You’ve got what it takes already.

“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.”
Lesson #3

That's a wrap.

I hope these lessons resonated with you as much as they did with me. 

My favourites are #3 (when I sit down and write, the ideas eventually come, as illustrated above) and #6 (don't deny people of your talent & ideas).

If anything, this book taught me our passions are all already in front of us, we should simply pay closer attention to what motivates us and gives us energy.

Here’s to all of us finding our calling and sharing our life’s work.

Thanks to Rik van den Berge for reading drafts of this essay.

Originally published at https://johnnic.substack.com/p/10-short-lessons-from-turning-pro-54 on August 14, 2023.