At the start of the year, I made a decision to read LESS. I wanted to take more time to apply the principles in each book instead of immediately moving on to the next one. That was much harder than I anticipated. Especially since I gave up TV, reading became my preferred way to unwind and relax. But that conflicts with the intense focus required to completely digest and apply the what I read. So, I decided on a hybrid.
My revised goal is to complete “net-outs” on 12 books this year, one a month. And then I’m free to read as much as I’d like, gleaming what I can and enjoying the time. I’ve also spent some time deciding which books were important enough to study as opposed to just reading through.
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield definitely makes the cut.
Building on The War of Art, Pressfield continues his assault on excuses and unfulfilling work. This book provides a clear roadmap for transitioning from an amateur to a true professional, and the difference is both more distinct and more subtle than I expected. Essentially, only you can know if you’ve made the change. It may be years before the fruits of “turning pro” may be outwardly visible.
The first two sections of the book were a bit hard to read, primarily because I could often identify with the traits of the amateur. (It was also a bit abstract at times.) Then the third section began, and I bookmarked it immediately. I’ve already read it three times over, and you may want to read it first. In my opinion, it reflects Pressfield’s genius. He begins by listing the characteristics of a “pro,” and then expands on what each “looks like.” I found these descriptions to be incredibly inspirational and effective for identifying the changes I need to make.
Key Insight #1:
These words stopped me in tracks.
This book is about habits. The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.
I’ve been studying habits for years, but I never made the connection in that way. Instantly, I felt some puzzle pieces click into place. More than that, I felt instant affirmation of the direction of my life’s work. More on that in the Personal Application section below.
Key Insight #2:
Next from the section entitled, “How Your Day Changes When You Turn Pro”
When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. . . . We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution. This changes our days completely. It changes what time we get up and what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do.
This reminded me of a message I’ve heard often from my pastor. Essentially, he asks us to reflect on whether our lives are different after accepting Christ, and I think there are significant parallels between “turning pro” and fully embracing your God-given calling. Have we changed the time we get up and go to bed? Are there things we don’t do anymore? Are there areas we’ve simplified significantly? (Thanks for your leadership on this Alene!) And are there new things we focus on?
Can we tell the difference in the activities of our lives?
Key Insight #3:
It’s a daily battle.
Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must recommit every day. Twelve step programs say “One day at a time.” The professional says the same thing. Each day, the professional understands, he will wake up facing the same demons, the same Resistance, the same self-sabotage, the same tendencies to shadow activities and amateurism that he has always faced. The difference is that now he will not yield to those temptations. He will have mastered them and he will continue to master them.
On my birthday lessons list, I called this “embracing the suck.” Whatever you call yours, the important part is to enjoy the present, not daydream of a better future or an idyllic past. We must find joy in winning the daily duel with our Resistance.
On April 12, I woke up to the realization that I’d been living scared. I didn’t know the words yet, but I “turned pro” that day. I can clearly see the delineation in my mindset and the activities of my days. To some degree, I’m thankful that I’ve already made the initial decision. But I’m also humbled to recognize that it’s meaningless if I don’t show up every single day. After slipping for about a week after a conference, I’ve recommitted to my Daily March.
I’m learning how to appreciate each day as it happens, without dreaming of a different future. Each of my days are full of 14-16 hours of intense activity, physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging. For a while, I resented that life required so much of me just to get through the day. And then I realized what a gift it was. The truth is that I “get” the privilege of working on challenging projects with talented and inspired people that stretch me. Now, I can’t imagine wanting it any other way.
The other big takeaway for me was Pressfield’s emphasis on habits. I’ve been studying and experimenting with habits for several years now and have been actively coaching a few dozen people on how to proactively change theirs. I realized that this is exactly what I’m called to do, and how important it is to helping people live the lives they see in their dreams. I also realized how I can use a much broader set of experiences to “teach” these habit principles. They apply to so much more than formal mentoring or coaching situations. Understanding that perspective has allowed me to embrace work situations that I once thought were in conflict, and the resulting peace has been a tremendous gift. I feel like I’m living out James 1:2 without even really trying to.
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