Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review - Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

I first heard of the book “How to Turn Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work,” by Steven Pressfield while listening to Joanna Penn on “The Creative Penn” podcast.  She seemed to mention the book every few months. Curiosity had the best of me. I located it up on One-click later I had a charge for its purchase on my credit card and the e-book downloaded to my Kindle.

Steven Pressfield’s name registered with me as the author of the novel “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and the non-fiction book “The War of Art.”  Maybe it was the book’s subtitle “Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work” that caught my attention. A quick read of several Amazon reviews showed a common theme. Most agreed the book helps you navigates the passage from the amateur life to a professional practice. I agree.

In “Turning Pro” Steven Pressfield teaches you how to be a professional artist. The book's lesson is the reason so many of the writers, producers, bloggers, painters, and designers have a copy of his book in their studio or office. The principles shared in the book worked for them. They will work you you as well. When they have self-doubt, they reread the book and regain their focus.

Pressfield teaches the artist how to:

•    Fight resistance,
•    Believe in themselves,
•    Find their muse, and
•    Commit themselves to their craft.

He sells the dream of turning pro, of being able to quit your day job. It’s the dream most writer’s I know what to see fulfilled in his or her life. I include myself in the aspiring group.

"Turning Pro" tells us we all have a job to do. It is not the same job for everyone. For some, the job is art. For others, the job they have to do is working in the business world. Creative endeavors like acting or writing await others.  Instead of embracing and doing the job, we spend our energies running from it. We do anything but what we were born to do.

Why do we run? Pressfield argues this is because we are not professionals. We have not learned how to turn pro.

Turning pro cannot be reduced to a formula or streamlined process. The trip is too convoluted, too intimate to allow that. It is a journey. The passage has many steps.  We’ll see those in a minute.
The book is divided into three parts.

Book One is The Amateur Life. 

Pressfield believes that the real problem is that we remain amateurs and never become professionals.

Becoming a pro is about growing up. He says it’s about becoming a man or woman in a world filled with adult children. One of the most important quotes from the book is this: "The difference between an amateur and a professional is their habits." 

Most people haven't appreciated the power of habits as much as they should have. We need to realize how much of our lives are shaped by our habits.

To be an amateur is to walk or run away from your true calling. Avoidance is the life of the addict or amateur: a life being distracted from your true calling. We need to not be distracted from what's important.

Here is a second powerful quote from the book is: "The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a ‘life,’ a ‘character,’ a ‘personality.’ The professional has turned a corner in his or her mind. They have succeeded in stepping back from themselves." 

Why do we choose distraction and addiction? It’s because we look short-term instead of long-term. Addicts and amateurs know that they're called to something great, but then they back away from the hard work and pain necessary to fulfill their calling. Addictions are the shadow form of our true calling and a metaphor for our best selves.

Steven Pressfield catalogs our addictions. He discusses addictions to failure, sex, distraction, money, and trouble. He philosophizes more on the meaning of addiction, saying "The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of the two ways--by transcending it or by anesthetizing it."

Book Two is Self-Inflicted Wounds. 

In Book Two, Steven Pressfield states "Fear is the primary color of the amateur's interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving." The professional is also fearful, but the difference between the two is how they handle this fear, something the book deals with in Book Three.

Reading “Turning Pro” can change your life. How? You face your fears, your activities, and your habits. You structure your days to achieve an aim. And it changes how you spend our time and with whom you spend it.

Book Three is The Professional Mindset

In Book Three, Steven Pressfield gets to the payoff: how to Turn Pro. He lists twenty characteristics of a pro:

1.      The professional shows up every day
2.      The professional stays on the job all day
3.      The professional is committed over the long haul
4.      For the professional, the stakes are high and real
5.      The professional is patient
6.      The professional seeks order
7.      The professional demystifies
8.      The professional acts in the face of fear
9.      The professional accepts no excuses
10.    The professional plays it as it lays
11.    The professional is prepared
12.    The professional does not show off
13.    The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique
14.    The professional does not hesitate to ask for help
15.    The professional does not take failure or success personally
16.    The professional does not identify with his or her instrument
17.    The professional endures adversity
18.    The professional self-validates
19.    The professional reinvents herself
20.    The professional is recognized by other professionals

I recommend “Turning Pro.” It will make you think. Many of his applications and stories use his journey to becoming a writer as the illustrations to lead us to how to apply it to our life.

Joanna Penn still mentions “How to Turn Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work,” by Steven Pressfield every few months on “The Creative Penn” podcast.  I now understand why she gushes over his work. It's a wake-up call on how to cross the threshold from being an amateur to becoming a professional.

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  1. The problem with quitting a day job generally means something else has to take its place. We should be professionals no matter what we're doing. If we quit something that pays the bills because it's not fulfilling something within our art psyche, and we turn around and find a job that doesn't necessarily pay the bills...then what? And if it does pay the bills, it becomes our new day job. I'm giggling at the thought of artists dreaming of quitting their day jobs to be accountants and computer programmers and auto mechanics. Enough already about the day job. My older son was marvelously astute at 20 when he said he didn't want to study natural sciences that he loved because if it became his job he wouldn't like it as much.

  2. Jimmie... my first comment didn't "take." I'll try again. This was a very insightful and in-depth review. I've already looked it up on Amazon and it's on my mental wish list. Thanks....