Tk Ths Job n Shove It
[This is Post #2 in our new series, “The Professional Mindset.”]
When you and I were working on the line at Ford in Dearborn, we had to worry about our production quotas, our standards of workmanship, our supervisor’s evaluations of us.
What we didn’t have to worry about was the structure of our day.
That structure was imposed on us from outside.
Then one day we quit.
Suddenly we were artists.
We were entrepreneurs.
We thought it would be easy. We were free! Nothing could stop us!
It turned out to be the hardest thing we’d ever done.
Suddenly, like Dorothy swept up from Kansas or Luke following Obi-wan Kenobi, we had embarked upon our own Hero’s Journey. We had left the Ordinary World and entered the Inverted World, the Extraordinary World.
In this new world, all things became possible. Our life could change. Our future could change. Our prospects could change.
There was only one problem: we ourselves had to change.
We could not survive in the Extraordinary World using the mindset that had worked for us in the Ordinary World.
How exactly did we have to change?
We had to make the mental shift from externally-imposed discipline to self-discipline.
This, in one sentence, is the difference between the laborer-for-hire and the entrepreneur.
This is the Professional Mindset.
I begin each day of my life with a ritual. I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg-warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours [before heading to my dance studio to begin the day’s work.] The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed my ritual.
Do you see the Professional Mindset in this passage from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit?
I’ve quoted these sentences before, and I’m sure I’ll cite them again and again because they so eloquently articulate the Mindset of the Artist.
Encapsulated within Ms. Tharp’s morning ritual are virtually all the qualities of mental toughness that the artist/entrepreneur needs:
And they’re all wrapped up in the artist/entrepreneur’s secret package: habit.
When you and I worked on the line at Dearborn, we didn’t need the Professional Mindset. Ford supplied that for us.
Ford told us when to show up for work and where. It told us what attitude we must have when we arrived for work and what state of mind we must maintain throughout the day (cheerful, alert, patient, collaborative, committed, professional, imbued with aspiration for excellence and a vision of the big picture melded simultaneously to the capacity for attention to detail.)
Ford told us how many hours we had to stay on the job, how many days a week, how many months a year. It told us when we could go to lunch, when we could take a vacation, when we could leave the line to heed nature’s call.
Ford even supplied a factory whistle to tell us when the day was over and we could go home.
We were not amateurs at Ford. We were professionals. But we were professionals whose professionalism was imposed upon us from outside by our employer, under penalty of disciplinary action, penalty of fine, penalty of termination.
There’s nothing wrong with any of the rules or strictures that Ford or any other company imposes on its employees. If you and I were running a similar enterprise, we’d make our workers do exactly the same. It’s how good cars get made. It’s how professional work gets done. It’s how a business survives and prospers.
What exactly, we might then ask, is the Professional Mindset … the mindset of the individual who has left the factory and has set herself up as an artist and an entrepreneur on her own?
What should she do differently from when she worked on the line?
Answer: We do exactly what we did when we were working for Ford, only instead of Ford telling us what to do, we tell ourselves.
Instead of Ford setting the agenda, we set it.
We decide what our goal is—and how we intend to reach it.
We decide how much we’re willing to sacrifice to reach that goal.
We decide how many hours we will work (our total, bank on it, will be MUCH HIGHER than it was at Ford) and how many weeks and months per year.
We decide where we will work.
We decide when.
And with whom.
We decide what time we get up and what time we go to bed. We assign our own vacations and our own days off. (We also assign all-nighters and working weekends.)
We alone will be the arbiters of our success.
We’ll give ourselves a raise if we deserve it.
And we’ll kick ourselves in the butt when we screw up.
We will be our own boss, our own employer, our own mentor and teacher and psychiatrist.
Can you make that mental shift?
Can you flip that switch in your head?
Can you be your own master, run your own show without adult supervision?
If your goal is to be a writer or an artist or an entrepreneur, you can’t do it any other way.
Oh, Steven, yes, yes, yes… This post is THE reason I’m encouraging my grandkids not to go to college but perhaps pursue a trade instead. In general, colleges do not (because they can not) teach students to be entrepreneurial. It’s imposssible. It’s learned by doing, and most of the time by doing it wrong, wending our way toward doing it right. What a beautiful commentary on how to do it for ourselves, everyday!
So beautifully put!! I started a sign painting business when I was in my twenties and a single mom, and I got thrown to the crucible. I had to learn self-discipline if I wanted to eat, and I credit those hard days with the ability I now have to stay in the chair and do the work of writing fiction. But self-discipline isn’t finite. It’s a practice and a way of life. Thanks foe the eloquent reminder!!
This has been the biggest challenge for me all along, but I’ve made strides and I thank you for driving this lesson home once again!
This has to be my most favourite post yet Mr Pressfield! The timing for me is perfect and I most definitely needed to read this today. I left corporate life two years ago and I’m still astounded by how ‘institutionalised’ my thinking and behaviour is. Thank you for doing the work.
we were professionals whose professionalism was imposed upon us from outside
I always hated that, and my greatest struggle in self-anything has been that I conflated giving myself a task with the 2 worst clowns I ever worked for giving me a task. Not quite the same thing. I guess I’m great at giving orders, just not so good at following them. Noted.
Thanks man. It’s a wanderful post again. Keep up!
I checked the comments on this post again today ,because it was rather like a physician telling us, “You need to lose weight. Being overweight and sedentary is causing or contributing to all your health issues. Can you change your mindset and take responsibility?” Nobody likes hearing that, even though it’s true. We haven’t been trained to take responsibility for our own health, not really. We expect doctors to fix us. But as artists and entrepreneurs, there’s nobody to fix us. And we aren’t even going to hear a life-changing, dire pronouncement unless we pay attention to people like you, Steve. People willing to say, “Can you flip that switch in your head? Can you be your own master, run your own show without adult supervision? If your goal is to be a writer or an artist or an entrepreneur, you can’t do it any other way.” Amen, once again.
Simply and lucidly stated.
Hello today. Thank you. My life was much easier when it was structured externally. But my Muse gave me something awhile ago. I needed to decide that being a writer was like doing neurosurgery. If I was a neurosurgeon and had an 0730 surgery scheduled, there would be no problem giving things up and dedicating myself to that task. Well, this is my neurosurgery…and just because I or anyone else doesn’t judge it that way, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Who’s to say how all these judgments of ours will wash out in the end? We shall be surprised, I believe.
Thank you, as always, Steve, for these posts. I recently read the book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin, two ex-Navy SEALS. In many ways, the book reminded me of reading so much of your work as it highlighted to me once again that there are so many principles that can be taken from life in the military and applied to our creative lives. Jocko now has a podcast and he often cites ‘discipline’ (i.e., Turning Pro) as the key to a rewarding life. I’ve recently started listening to Jocko’s podcast and found this video on YouTube which may also reflect some of the ideas in this post.
Thank you again for all that you, Shawn & Callie do. Your work is a constant source of inspiration for me.
I love this series. I want to print this post in 36 font size and read it every day. Just like how I could re-read your other brilliant books every day. My brain needs this reminder, daily! Thank you!
I love the meditative aspect you give to work.
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