The War of Art Mini-Course, Part 3

Shawn Coyne: Welcome to Part Three of The War of Art Mini-Course. My name is Shawn Coyne and I am the publisher of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Okay. We’ve defined our internal creative problem. We know that there is a nasty force out there determined to keep us from doing what we should be doing. It’s called Resistance. So how do we deal with this thing?

What practical steps can we take to keep us sane? Let’s bring in Steve and get some answers. This is Part Three of The War of Art Mini-Course, “Overcoming the Enemy.” Okay, Steve, I’m a believer. I believe in your monster. This Resistance is just a tough hombre. Now what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to overcome this thing?

Steven Pressfield: That’s such an easy question, but let me see. Let me . . . Let me give you my method. What worked for me, and I can’t say that to . . . Maybe this doesn’t work for everybody else, but this, this is my method for overcoming . . . This is the breakthrough that turned the corner for me.

It’s the concept of “Turning Pro” and the reason . . . In other words, you shift . . . When people are defeated by Resistance, it’s almost always because they have a kind of an amateur attitude. They have the attitude of a dabbler, of a weekend warrior, of somebody that’s not really serious about it.But when they make that shift inside their head and they tell themselves, “I’m a pro and I’m going to operate as a professional here, then that con- ” . . . That turns the corner for them.

Shawn Coyne: Well, I get it. I, I could understand that point that when you have . . . when you have the attitude that if I never really gave it my all and it doesn’t work out, then that’s fine. And so that, that does remind me of an amateur attitude, but can you think of any other sort of differences between the professional point of view, which is sort of a job-like sensibility and the amateur?

Steven Pressfield: Absolutely, but let me, let me go back to one other thought here. A lot of times when we’re struggling with Resistance, we can’t finish a project. We can’t, you know, get our new startup going, we can’t . . . whatever it is. We put a judgment on ourselves, we blame ourselves, and there’s usually two ways we blame ourselves. One is we tell ourselves we’re Wrong. Capital “W” Wrong, right? We’ve committed a sin, da da da . . . Right? And we need to sort of expiate that sin, you know, undergo some kind of ordeal.

The other thing that we say to ourselves is, we’re sick. We’ve got some, you know, something is . . . is ill inside us, and we have to kind of cure ourselves. We have to, you know, get our act together before we can do that. But I think both of those—anytime you put judgment on yourself, you’re screwing yourself. And the reason I liked the idea about turning pro as opposed to being an amateur is it eliminates judging. You just say to yourself, “Well, I was just operating as an amateur. I was just, I was hitting on two cylinders instead of eight,” and you make the switch to turn pro. There’s a passage in . . . there’s . . . I wrote a follow-up book, as you know, to The War of Art, called Turning Pro.

Shawn Coyne: Right.

Steven Pressfield: And this is a passage I’m going to quote from it here. This is about the idea of turning pro: 

“You don’t need to take a course and you don’t need to buy a product. All you have to do is change your mind. You decide that you’re no longer going to operate as an amateur. You make a decision to turn pro and you live it out. Turning pro is free, but it’s not easy. When we turn pro, we give up a life that we may have become extremely comfortable with. We give up a self that we have come to identify with an to call our own. We may even have to give up friends, lovers, even spouses. Turning pro is free, but it comes at a cost. The passage is often achieved via an interior odyssey whose trials or survived only at great cost emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. We cross a threshold when we turn pro. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread it in blood when we turn pro. What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice, and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were, but had until then been afraid to embrace and live out.”

Shawn Coyne: Wow. So the professional mindset seems to be one that’s accepting of negative consequences in, in, in our choices. But instead of self-blaming us for random change, we decide to just keep plowing forward. Is that correct?

Steven Pressfield: Exactly. I mean, you know . . . We are all creatures of habit. And the difference between an amateur and a pro is that an amateur has amateur habits and a professional has professional habits.

Now, let me just give you . . . Think of yourself as a professional basketball player, professional hockey player, or just any job that you have. You go to work as an editor or whatever it is. Here’s, here’s . . .  Here’s something . . . the attributes of a professional. Number one, a professional shows up every day. You think about an amateur, an amateur flakes out, you know, half the time. A professional shows up every day.

A professional stays on the job all day. A professional doesn’t quit halfway through.

A professional is patient. A professional does not get thrown off his or her game because something, some adversity came into play. A professional knows how to handle adversity. Iin fact, a professional . . . think about any athlete, all the adversity that you have to face from an opposing team, from injuries and all that sort of stuff.  A professional doesn’t let adversity knock them out. Think of a warrior soldier. A professional plays hurt. An amateur . . . You stub your toe or you tweak your hamstring and you go, ah, I can’t play . . . But a professional . . .Think about writing, sitting down. How many excuses come up that, you know, today I’ll take today off da da da da da . . . In fact, even today I’m talking to you right now. We are recording this mini course. When this course is done, I’m going to sit down and get in my hours today.

A professional takes her craft seriously and masters it. An amateur thinks that they can get by just on winging it or whatever. But the professional will take courses, will study, will learn, will apprentice herself, et cetera, et cetera. I could go on and on and on, but let me do one other final thing. 

A professional does not take success or failure personally. A professional really knows how to manage his or her emotions. If am amateur … you write, let’s say a piece . . . It’s put out for review one way or another, and people trash it. An amateur will go into a total tailspin over that. And I used to too. But once you just sort of turn that key in your head and you just say, “I’m a professional.” You know, you go, oh, okay, that was a crappy review on Amazon or wherever it was, but those things are gonna come in. The blows, they’re gonna come in. A pro doesn’t leave the arena. A pro suits up and does her job.

Shawn Coyne: Well. I think that’s a really good point, and also the fact is that the professional doesn’t let praise swell their heads either, and it reminds me of, you know, Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize, right, and I don’t even think he’s recognized that he has yet. I don’t think he’s even like, called the committee and said thank you yet. And I think Bob Dylan is the quintessential person who doesn’t let praise or, he seemingly doesn’t. I’m sure you know the personal Bob Dylan is a completely different person than the one that we see in the public, but I think what he represents in his . . . He’s not like thumbing his nose at the Nobel Prize Committee, but what I think he’s doing is he’s got his work to do and when he’s ready to accept that honor, he will. But until that time, he’s got other things that he’s asked to do.

Steven Pressfield: I think you’re exactly right, Shawn. You know, and he is so smart to do that. I mean, Hemingway says, if you believe the critics when they tell you you’re great, then you have to believe ’em when they tell you you’re shit.

Shawn Coyne: Nobody wants to do that.

Steven Pressfield: You can’t listen to them either way. You have to stay focused. And that’s the professional mindset. One of the things that we talk about it in the various books that we have, is developing that kind of mindset, which is, which is mental toughness, the warrior mindset to keep, to keep plugging.

Shawn Coyne: So Steve, is there’s one single takeaway from the idea of turning pro, what would that be?

Steven Pressfield: That’s another great question. Okay. Here it is. Here’s a single takeaway. The voice that we all hear in our heads, the negative voice of Resistance that tells you you’re a loser et cetera, et cetera, that you’re never going to finish your project, whatever . . . The mistake that the amateur makes—and it took me years to figure this out—is we think that’s our actual thoughts. We think that voice is our voice, but it’s not our voice. It’s Resistance and that same voice would come up to you, Shawn, to da Vinci, to Michelangelo, to everybody. So the amateur believes that voice is his own, and because he believes it, the voice defeats him. He says, “I really am a loser. I really shouldn’t be doing this project. I’m never going to be able to finish” . . . blah,  blah blah. But the professional operates one level higher than an amateur. He operates . . . he stands back kind of in one removed, like you always like to say: the 30,000 foot view of something.

Shawn Coyne: Right

Steven Pressfield: So the professional hears that voice in his head and it’s kind of like they teach you in meditation that when a crazy thought comes into your mind, just let it go through and don’t identify with it. That’s exactly what the professional does. When that negative voice comes in, the professional says, “Oh, I recognize you.” This is your Resistance. This is a B.S. voice, and the professional simply dismisses it, just lets it pass on and continues to sit down and do his or her work.

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