Last week, I found in my inbox a wonderful post from the folks at The Behance Network, and their award-winning blog, “The 99% – Insights on Making Ideas Happen.” The title was, “Are You Trapped in a “Shadow Career”? The Artist vs The Addict,” and it refers to a new book by author Steven Pressfield, Going Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your LIfe’s Work. This book is a sequel to his earlier book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. The excerpt from Going Pro at the Behance blog made me choose to read the sequel first, and I can report that I finished it while working out yesterday afternoon. I have now ordered the first book, and when I finish re-reading the sequel, I will begin The War of Art. Both books are available in multiple formats at Black Irish Books. Look for more posts in the future as I complete my initial reading, and digest the wealth of insight in the work of this author. For now, let me share some of my first impressions.
This is one of those books that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and just wouldn’t let go. The first quote that caught my breath was this:
Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice. The passage is often accompanied by an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It hurts. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.
Pressfield goes on to talk about the “shadow life,” the life we lead that takes us away from our true calling, the one we nurture and grow and feed to avoid the hard work of “turning pro” and doing that which we are truly called to do. In describing the shadow life, he says,
We pursue callings that take us nowhere and permit ourselves to be controlled by compulsions that we cannot understand (or are not aware of). . .The shadow life is the life of the amateur. In the shadow life we pursue false objects and act upon inverted ambitions. The shadow life, the life of the amateur and the addict, is not benign.
He goes on to describe the life of the professional, and qualities of the professional, including (among many others):
- The professional shows up every day
- The professional is committed over the long haul
- The professional acts in the face of fear
- The professional self-validates
- The professional is courageous
- The professional has compassion for herself
This book is rich in its descriptions of the life of the amateur and the professional, and it makes me think about reasons many of us went into health care, healing or helping professions. In my own experience of my career and those of others, many helper/healers chose careers that allow us to be helpful in the ways in which we were initially acculturated. Some of us chose helping professions that were socially acceptable ways to pursue ambition and high income, and some of us chose these paths for reasons of others’ expectations for us.
As life takes its course, we sometimes find we must turn and face those first choices, and become brutally honest about the “shadow” reasons behind our career decisions. We must ask if our current career trajectories are those of an amateur, or those of a professional. We must discern whether in fact, we should remain in our current path and “turn pro”, or whether we must instead step out of “shadow careers” and do the hard work of “turning pro” in another arena.
Either choice requires courage, commitment, and compassion for ourselves.
Stay tuned for further thoughts, and for now, perhaps it is enough to ask ourselves, “Amateur or Pro? Am I ready to make the leap?”