[This is Post #3 in our new series, “The Professional Mindset.”]
I had a friend named Victoria when I was working in Hollywood. Victoria was a successful screenwriter, very much a role model for me. One day Victoria took me out to lunch and gave me some insight into how she handled herself as a professional in “this town.”
Steve, you and I are going up every day against Twentieth-Century Fox and Warner Bros. and Paramount. They’re our competition. We’ve got to be just as organized as they are, just as tough, and just as smart.
Victoria told me how she organized herself mentally to compete in this arena.
Fox has a slate of pictures in development, right? I’ve got one too. Warners has a five-year plan. I’ve got one too. Everything the studios do, I do. I’m not just as organized as they are, I’m more organized. And I can react ten times faster than they can.
I immediately adopted Victoria’s mental model.
Have you ever worked for a corporation? Then you know about Monday morning status meetings. [See pp. 97-98 in The War of Art.] The group assembles in the conference room or the boss’s office. Plans are discussed, assignments are given out. The boss’s secretary types up an Action List and distributes it. Now every team member knows where every ongoing project stands and what action is required of him or her for the coming week.
I adopted that plan exactly. I still work that way.
Every Monday morning I have a meeting with myself. I go over everything I’ve got to do in the coming week. I assign myself tasks and set myself goals and deadlines. I type up an Action List and distribute it to myself. If I succeed through the week, I reward myself. If I screw up, I kick myself in the ass.
The Professional Mindset begins with a radical reconceptualization of ourselves as artists and entrepreneurs.
When we adopt the Professional Mindset we stop thinking of ourselves as individuals.
We start thinking of ourselves as enterprises.
After I’d been in Hollywood for a few years, I realized that many screenwriters worked as one-man corporations. They provided their writing services not as themselves but as “loan-outs” from their businesses. Their writing contracts were f/s/o—“for services of”—themselves.
I formed my own corporation the minute I could afford to.
Why did this idea appeal to me? Not just for the tax benefits or the advantages involving medical insurance.
I loved the metaphor.
I loved the psychology.
If I think of myself as me-the-writer, I’m a fragile, isolated individual. I’m hesitant. I’m insecure. I’m vulnerable.
But if I reconceive myself as Me, Inc., I’m no longer so alone in the world.
I’m now an entity, like Apple or Fedex or General Dynamics.
I’m an operation.
I’m an enterprise.
As Sgt. Archibald Cutter (Cary Grant) declared to Sgt. ‘Mac’ MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) in Gunga Din, as he set out to find the Temple of Gold:
You’re not looking at a soldier, MacChesney, you’re looking at an expedition! Stand aside! Make way for the expedition!
Remember, our enemy as writers is not the marketplace or the competition.
The enemy is Resistance.
The enemy is our own internal self-sabotage.
Thinking of myself as a corporation gave me an invaluable weapon against Resistance.
I could no longer say to myself (or, more accurately, allow my own Resistance to say to me), “Steve, you’re a loser. That last piece of work was garbage, and you’re gonna follow it up with more garbage, etc.”
Now I say to myself, “Okay, the team suffered a bit of a setback. Perhaps our instincts were not as spot-on as we had thought. Let’s schedule a meeting with ourselves to regroup and decide on next steps.”
I may still be myself-the-writer, but I’m also myself-the-CEO. Under pressure, the writer may fall prey to self-doubt and impulses of self-destruction. But the CEO maintains his cool. He’ll send the writer to Palm Springs for a three-day vacation if he thinks that’ll get him back to his old self. Or he’ll put him up against the wall and read him the Riot Act.
Either way, I/me/my company are operating at the same professional level as the corporations we are competing against. We are the Google and the Facebook and the Tesla of our own mind.
Those Fortune 500 corporations are not going to falter and neither are we. We’re as self-energized as they are, as self-organized, and as self-sustaining. There is nothing they can do in their sphere that we can’t do in ours.
Stand back, MacChesney! Make way for the expedition!