Turning Pro

Turning Pro Book Cover Turning Pro
Steven Pressfield
Black Irish Entertainment LLC

Turning Pro is Steven Pressfield’s follow up to The War of Art. He highlights the difference between the amateur and the Professional. It is an excellent follow-up. Turning Pro – becoming a professional is about grinding. It is about suffering for your art; your CRAFT. He quotes the Greek poet and mercenary, Archilochus: “Be brave, my heart. Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man-killing spears. Hold your ground.” You don’t really need Turning Pro. You could easily carry The War of Art around with you content that it will serve as your guidebook but Turning Pro provides a lot of supplemental guidance.

The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs. The solution, this book suggests, is that 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 to live out.

I was terrified of sitting down at that Smith-Corona and trying to write something, and ashamed of myself because I knew I was terrified, but I was still too scared to act.

Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead.

If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for.

The amateur life is our youth. It’s our hero’s journey.

The longer we cleave to this life, the farther we drift from our true purpose, and the harder it becomes for us to rally the courage to get back.

The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.

There’s not that big a difference between an artist and an addict.

Distractions. Displacement activities. When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling — meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.

Robert McKee, in his story seminars, testifies that the essential quality in a fictional protagonist — i.e., the hero in a book or a movie — is that he or she must possess the passion and the will to push the story to the limits of human experience in order to achieve their goal. (Otherwise there would be no story.)

“What is our unconscious trying to tell us?”

Second, they had achieved the kind of peace that comes when you’ve already fallen so far that you don’t have to worry about falling any farther.

She has become a version of herself, but it is a shadow version, an inverted version, a crippled version.

Here’s a passage from [Pressfield’s] Killing Rommel:

“Jewish despair arises from want and can be cured by surfeit. Give a penniless Jew fifty quid and he perks right up. Irish despair is different. Nothing relieves Irish despair. The Irishman’s complaint lies not with his circumstances, which might be rendered brilliant by labour or luck, but with the injustice of existence itself. Death! How could a benevolent Deity gift us with life, only to set such a cruel term upon it? Irish despair knows no remedy. Money can’t help. Love fades. Fame is fleeting. The only cures are booze and sentiment. That’s why the Irish are such noble drunks and glorious poets. No one sings like the Irish or mourns like them. Why? Because they’re angels imprisoned in vessels of flesh.”

THE AMATEUR IS TERRIFIED 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, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death. But mostly what we all fear as amateurs is being excluded from the tribe, i.e., the gang, the posse, mother and father, family, nation, race, religion. The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of. The amateur is terrified that if the tribe should discover who he really is, he will be kicked out into the cold to die.

The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction.

My beef with American culture is that almost every aspect, including the deliberations of the legislature and the judiciary, has been debased to pander to the culture of amateurism. The promise that our products and politicians proffer is the promise one might make to an infant or an addict: “I will get you what you want and it will cost you nothing.”

Because the amateur owns nothing of spirit in the present, she either looks forward to a hopeful future or backward to an idyllic past. But the past evoked by the amateur is make-believe. It never existed. It’s a highlight reel that she edited together from events that almost took place or should have occurred. In a way, the amateur’s re-imagined past is worse when it’s true. Because then it’s really gone. The payoff of living in the past or the future is you never have to do your work in the present.

The force that can save the amateur is awareness, particularly self-awareness.

That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just as fucked up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.

This, we acknowledge at last, is what we are most afraid of. This is what we know in our hearts we have to do.

Be brave, my heart [wrote the poet and mercenary, Archilochus]. Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man-killing spears. Hold your ground.

When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.

HOW YOUR MIND CHANGES WHEN YOU TURN PRO Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit 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.

I heard my own voice say, “That’s enough, darling. This shit has got to stop.”

QUALITIES OF THE PROFESSIONAL In The War of Art, I listed the following as habits and qualities that the professional possesses that the amateur doesn’t: 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 Further: 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

The amateur tweets. The pro works.

in order to achieve “flow,” magic, “the zone,” we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we’re ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.

When we convene day upon day in the same space at the same time, a powerful energy builds up around us. This is the energy of our intention, of our dedication, of our commitment.


Athletes play hurt. Warriors fight scared. The professional takes two aspirin and keeps on truckin’.

The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns.