How Hard is it to Turn Pro?
How hard is it to stop drinking? How hard is it to overcome an addiction? How hard is it to break free of a toxic relationship, a twisted family dynamic, a destructive marriage?
How hard is it to make those changes permanent?
When we talk about the switch from the mindset of the amateur to the mindset of the professional, we’re talking about a total, fundamental, life-overthrowing revolution.
That’s why it’s so hard.
The amateur is in the habit of yielding to Resistance, just as the alcoholic is in the habit of taking a drink. I can’t prove this, but I would bet the farm that the chemistry of the Resistance-addicted amateur’s body is as deformed as the physical chemistry of the heroin addict’s. To change, he has to alter that chemistry. And he has to do it by will power alone.
How hard is that?
It’s as hard to turn pro as it is to change nationalities, to move to another country, take on a new name, learn an alien tongue. It’s as hard as it is to switch genders, to wake up tomorrow morning in the body of a woman if you had been a man or the body of a man if you had been a woman. It’s as hard as bleeding out. As hard as letting go of your life. It’s as hard as dying.
I’ve used the phrase “turning pro” lightly in the past, and I was wrong to do that. There’s nothing light about it. There are no degrees to turning pro. There’s no such thing as Turning Pro Lite.
I turned pro myself because if I hadn’t I would’ve died. I couldn’t stand myself for one second longer or endure for another minute the wasted, pointless life I was living. Like the Peter Finch character in Network, I had run out of bullshit. Otherwise I never would’ve found the courage. It was too hard. Too unknown. Too terrifying.
I can’t fault anyone for staying on the amateur side of the line. You have to be crazy to cross over. The dirty little secret of every creative workshop or motivational seminar is simply this:
The person who is going to change is going to change anyway. She has no choice. She is impelled by inner necessity. While the person who is not going to change is not going to change no matter how many seminars or retreats she attends or how much money she pays to those who promise to help her make the change.
The good news about turning pro is it’s free. You can’t be excluded. No one can turn you back at the border. The act is self-initiated, self-sustained, and self-defined. You turn pro in secret. Not even the NSA knows you did it.
But you know. And I’ll know when I look in your eyes.
I know how hard it was. I know the price you paid. I know the guts it took. I know how scared you are, and I know how weird and alone it feels.
I salute you. You are one in ten thousand. You have done what many, many talk about, but damn few actually do.
I’ve read your books and felt the shared creative, push-forward energy that has inspired me to step out on a limb of my own creation. Your words are exactly what I needed to read and feel today. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you.
You have brought your mom on this journey with you and for myself. Thanks.
The person who is going to change is going to change anyway…
Thank you very much.
“…And I’ll know when I look in your eyes.”
Indeed, it is all there, shining through.
Thanks for another great piece, Steve.
I agree, Self is always coming through
Thank you, for your great writing, I found it profound and it touches me on a deep level
I just started reading, “Turning Pro.” What a relief. I turned pro almost a year ago. Turning Pro has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done!! People tell me how wonderful it is that I’m finally doing what I was meant to do — isn’t it great?? Actually, no. This is a deep down — raw emotional struggle every moment of every day. Everything is at risk. But, somehow, every day I know that this is what I have to do — and every month that has passed takes me farther away from the (amateur) life I used to live. Thank you for letting me know that I’m not crazy.
Does this mean we’re going to get married?
Thanks for the much needed reminder of how hard it is, that it probably does require changing one’s chemistry by mind alone. For me, moving to other countries and learning foreign tongues has been easier than overcoming resistance. Although those were not permanent moves, so perhaps resistance got me there, too?
Thank you. This is the only way to live a life in freedom and dignity. Sometimes it sucks but there is no turning back. So: here it is: the secret to a life well lived. And loved. Keep up the good work, whatever it might be!
Another extraordinary message from the mentor…
First of all, I want to thank you for this excellent piece. I was looking, craving to read a piece like this, since I was feeling slightly demoralized today.
I have read Turning Pro, Do the Work and The War on Art. I find that hugely instructive and inspiring. Understanding the concept of “Resistance” has change my life, and that has changed profoundly how I approach certain issues. It was a relief after many years that I lived a life of BS. I can very much relate to Steven’s story. You hit a dead end, you are stuck, and you find yourself confronted with two choices; either sinking, for me that would have been a slow suicide, or readjusting completely and “turning pro”. I made the switch literally within a week or two, and turned my life around completely by making some very drastic decisions: it was a move from lethargy to an active, purposeful lifestyle.
Two years onwards, I have been given many compliments for drastically changing my life. To an outsider these snapshot decisions might look very courageous, but once you have the right mindset it’s not an issue of courage but of necessity; you just have to do it.
However, I must also say that Resistance is quite sticky in the sense that I still often feel pulled towards procrastination, self-pity, delusions and so on. Albeit that now that I understand that force, I can more efficiently fight it than in the past.
So I guess for me personally it’s not a fight that culminates in reaching the “pro” status and than being able to stay “pro” full time, but rather it is a non-stop struggle to not succumb to Resistance and keeping on track.
In any case, thank you, Steven, for the positive impact you had on the lives of many people.
The hardest thing for me about “turning pro,” in the million and one ways in which I have come close but never quite gotten there, is the deep and unshakeable conviction that if I ever really let myself focus to the depth that I need to focus, I will not be able to keep one eye over my shoulder for whatever will come up behind me and kill me.
I’m not kidding about this. People talk about being 100% in the work, letting yourself sink into the work until you are only doing that and totally immersed.
I keep thinking that something will sneak up on me while I’m in that unaware state and attack me. That I can’t sink in and be totally immersed because that’s when some part of the universe will kill me. I will get cancer. Someone I thought I knew will sabotage me. I will get hit by a truck, struck my a meteor, something. I don’t know what, but “turning pro” feels to me a lot like taking my eyes off the road, leaving my front door unlocked, or getting visibly drunk at the bar. An invitation for the universe that she’s distracted and not paying attention, so quick-quick move in for the kill!
I know it sounds stupid, but I cannot shake this fear that the second I focus 100% on what I’m doing — and stop focusing on what might be sneaking up behind me — that’s when something will sneak up. I hate this about me, and I can’t stop thinking it. I suspect that finally stopping thinking this is a big part of the key, but I don’t know how to stop thinking it. I don’t know how to stop fearing that the universe is lying in wait for me to drop my guard.
Janis – please see my post blew. Hope it helps.
You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink, remains a truism. All the best.
blew = below
To be honest, it would have helped more had you told me how YOU dealt with it and not how some dude whose book you read dealt with it.
That’s one awesome post. Those who are ready to change will change and those who are trapped in an amateur mindset will always have excuses for not jumping out of the addicted body, to feel that pain and self hatred surface, the unworthiness, the not enoughness. All that crap that needs to be let go of. It needs courage, determination and persistence.
This is what Jopseph Campbell had to say about this personal hell:
“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.” ~ Joseph Campbell in “Sukhavati”
Even Homer sometimes nods.
One in ten thousand? C’mon, Steven. This post strikes me as way too bleak. Here’s hoping that things are okay with you personally.
All I want to say, is Thanks! And now back to work!
“There’s no such thing as Turning Pro Lite.”
Looks like I need to rethink my game plan.
I knew that. Yes, I did.
It’s always great to see these words out in the open. They give hope to those trying to maintain sanity while battling with resistance and turning pro in secret.
Hello, Mr. Pressfield, thank you for ‘turning pro and follwoing your path in life, and living out your purpose, so others can learn from you. Thanks for your advice and sharing your stories. I just finished reading, “turning pro and “war of art.” Brillant stuff – I salute you!
“It’s as hard as bleeding out. As hard as letting go of your life. It’s as hard as dying.” “…I turned pro myself because if I hadn’t I would’ve died. I couldn’t stand myself for one second longer.” “. No one can turn you back at the border.” I HEAR… I LISTEN and I KNOW. OMG… Soon I will be moving IF our loan/escrow goes though. Our new home will have a 2 car garage that I will make into a studio for my art. WHAT is it that I feel I don’t deserve this? I am making plans and plans and then I ignore it all and fall back. I need to tell myself that I CAN and I WILL.
OK.. typos .. gads
“There’s no such thing as Turning Pro Lite.”
My favorite line. I will remember this.
Turning Pro is the hardest thing I have ever done. Even harder than childbirth.
Teh comparison is interesting. For the alcoholic, though, or anyone suffering from addiction, willpower alone is usually not going to cut it. That’s why help is needed. I actually think the same goes here if we’re going to make the addiction analogy. And I don’t mean going around telling people about whatever project you’re working on (good advice to NOT do that), or finding someone who will be sympathetic to why you’re not getting it done (enabler). Accountability is important. Finding others who will support, challenge, and hold us accountable may also be the best way to break free of the “addiction” to amateurism. By the way, an addict changes only through inner necessity as well, when the old way of life becomes unbearable. You gotta ask yourself, how comfortable have I become on the amateur side of the fence? And what would compel me to change?
Raw, gut-retching truth. I got goosebumps. This is one of the best blogs I have ever read.
You remind me of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s “Willingness” to deal with life and your inner critic.
What to do? To be BOLD: Breathe into your own life without negative judgement; Observe honestly your feeling and thinking. REALLY openly listen to what is going on within you right now; Listen to your values. In this moment I am feeling ___, thinking___; DO what works for you to serve your values. Be courageously curious. This reminds me of being at the top of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. You see everything below, are mindful of it, but accepting and appreciating greatness from up above and also down below.
BOLD is the willingness to rise to the top of YOUR game. Yes, to turn PRO wherever you go. yes, there may be moments you drop the ball. But you pick up the ball and throw it again. Why? Because you KNOW you are a pro.
Steve, you did yourself proud here. I am printing this out to remind myself how a great man thinks.
Possibly the best post I’ve ever read. Thanks
I love this post. Thank You Steven. I’ve just finished Do The Work. I LOVE it! I’d read a page, and that alone would kick my butt back to work! Turning Pro is at my bedside, there any time I need a good reminder.
Thanks for all this great writing which is a huge gift.
I wanted the plums, but I waited.
The sun went down. The fire
went out. With no lights on
I waited. From the night again—
those words: how stupid I was.
And I closed my eyes to listen.
The words all sank down, deep
and rich. I felt their truth
and began to live them. They were mine
to enjoy. Who but a friend
could give so sternly what the sky
feels for everyone but few learn to
cherish? In the dark with the truth
I began the sentence of my life
and found it so simple there was no way
back into qualifying my thoughts
with irony or anything like that.
I went to the fridge and opened it—
sure enough the light was on.
I reached in and got the plums.
-William Stafford, “Thinking about Being Called Simple by a Critic
And no 12-step program to help get us over our own bullshit?
When people effuse over my decision decades ago to quit drinking and drugging and indulging in self-righteous indignation, I am embarrassed. I usually start my a response by saying, “I didn’t have a choice.” Some respond, “Of course you did. A lot of people don’t make that choice.”
True enough, but those people aren’t me. They never experienced “if I hadn’t I would’ve died. I couldn’t stand myself for one second longer or endure for another minute the wasted, pointless life I was living.” They never imagined what the blued barrel of a shotgun might taste like just before the trigger is pulled.
That was a long time ago. It was a year ago I made the decision to “turn Pro.” Not from reading Steven Pressfield, but from talking to a friend who had. And it was everything you say: daunting, liberating, and a decision made without choice. Because I could not stand for one second longer making promises to myself I knew I would never keep.
I could not stand not being a willing slave to my muse. Make of that statement what you will. But just as when I was drinking, the falseness of not doing what I knew had to be done, as I knew I could do it, of putting it on the line, of not doing everything that was necessary, of not being the warrior of my art, of not feeling the peace of being on MY path, was something I could not stand for one second longer.
And the fear went away, just as the desire to drink went away in one, glorious, unforgettable moment in 1985.
As an editor for 25 years, I used say there were people who wanted to want to write, and people who wrote. I could tell the difference within one minute after they walked through my door. When I finally picked up my pen to do fiction, I suffered every doubt (each of which had in its mirror a bullshit fantasy—every principle had a profile).
But turning Pro, and thank you, Mr. Pressfield, for continuing to articulate the psychological, emotional, and philosophical impact of that, was a transformation. Not to be spoken of lightly, but after the fact, one of the easiest things one can do, because the Pro never really had a choice.
Steve, of all the many and varied things I read on the internet, your posts are the only ones I feel I really _need_, although sometimes I forget how much.
You always deliver, your insights are communicated with realism, compassion and humour. The truth of those insights resets mechanisms I hadn’t realised were out of whack.
Thanks for the continuing inspiration, adrenaline and balm, I really appreciate it.
I wait every Wednesday for these post. I need them like a dose of medicine for an incurable disease! Thank god Dr. Pressfield is in the house.
Changing countries and careers, several times each, was the easy way out for me…
Overcoming resistance, doing the work and turning pro is damn hard but I know it will be worth it.
Thanks for showing us the way Steven
This is great! I am going to pass this on as a challenge to my colleagues. I am a national sales manager. This is some of the best I have ever read.
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Turning Pro is the hardest thing I have ever done. Thank you for the reminder to not give up.
Steve, I found The War of Art when I was, as you say, “out of bullshit.” None of the distractions were working anymore (and I had many!), even as my shadow career was expanding. Now I am writing every day and enjoying the first authenticity in my life in decades. I am 60 years old and am just now turning pro – I almost didn’t make it – thank you so much for saving this writer.