When I sat down on a plane headed to L.A. and opened up the book The War Of Art, I had no idea how it would impact my life. Two hours and 165 ink filled pages of notes and underlines later, I felt like I had been awakened to a new world; one that put frame and context around why “being creative” was so hard sometimes.
Author Steven Pressfield had written a masterpiece. It’s a book that has passionately spread throughout our creative communities. Recently, Pressfield released his latest work, Turning Pro. It rocks.
Even though the concept seems obvious, we have to always remember that creativity is an action – not a concept. Pressfield beautifully displays this point when he compares the artist with the addict.
“How can you say you’re passionate about something if you’re not doing anything about it?” A common question that drills to the core of the concept of discovering why and how we are to work towards our calling – that thing that we’ve been made to do with our lives.
There are major distinctions between “the artist” and “the addict.” Artists have made the leap from aspiration to productivity. They’ve made the decision that the work is bigger than the conversation about the work. They have put their idea, concept, or passion into action; an action that, in turn, brings them some level of understanding that their work is bigger than them, but also made for them.
Artists and addicts both are provided the same canvas. The “pain of being human”, distractions, fear, busy schedules, the struggle for acceptance, the desire to succeed, the war against sabotaging themselves, and the list goes on and on. But the major difference – the breakthrough – comes in how both of these types of people deal with these issues because, at the core, addicts are amateurs and artists are professionals.
Pressfield goes on to discuss how amateurs create shadow lives for themselves because they’re running from their “highest selves” or calling. Addiction becomes a substitute because being an artist and creating the real thing takes A LOT OF REALLY HARD WORK. The kind of work that will cost more than the average person is willing to pay. Amateurs are not willing to pay the price it costs to be a professional. In their shadow lives, the addicts imitate all the realities of professionals but to an audience of no one. They do work that doesn’t gain any traction and get frustrated that it doesn’t work, all because they’re hoping for a short cut to being professional.
I think we’ve all been there – that place where we wish our work was fulfilling and made a difference, all the while knowing that we skipped over the hard stuff. We move past he places where the cost is high in hopes of finding an easier way that still produces the same results. But it never does. Ever. Great work takes WORK. So, we stay stuck dreaming of our future or reminiscing about our past – hoping either will create momentum in our lives.
“When you turn pro, your life gets very simple,” says Pressfield. Not because the work goes away or get easier, but because we’ve come to the realization that doing the work is part of the job of being a professional and an artist. The artist realizes that life has to keep moving and they become bored with a cycle of life filled without momentum towards their purpose. And while artists are busy doing the work, the amateur continues to wish they lived the life of a professional. “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.” Professionals leverage their “success” for the benefit of others, rather than filling their lives with self-serving sound bites that make them just feel better about themselves. The energy that once was wasted on our ever-growing list of reasons NOT to do things, now goes into the work of being an artist and a professional.
Go get the book. I think it will impact you the same way it impacted me. We all have a choice: Will we be Addicts/Amateurs or Artist/Professionals? Which do you choose?