Monday, July 07, 2014

Some people are amateurs & some are pros

Question - What is the difference between an amateur and a professional? Hold onto your answer for a few moments, while I tell you a story.

In May, I had lunch with Steve Borek, who is a friend and coach, and who works with entrepreneurs.  Steve and I had a lot of catching up to do, including talking about what was fueling our drives to succeed.  It was during this conversation that Steve mentioned the book Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield.  Pressfield has had a career as a successful fiction writer and has added to his success with a couple of non-fiction books.  Turning Pro is a follow-up to his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. While I hadn't read The War of Art, Steve Borek's description of Turning Pro had me intrigued and I decided to read the book, while traveling to and attending the SLA Annual Conference.

The word "amateur" comes from the Latin word "to love".  An amateur is doing what she loves.  The fact that the person loves it is a good thing, because that passion can create drive and ambition.  However, just because the person loves the activity does not mean that the person does it well.  In fact, we generally do consider that the difference between an amateur and a professional.

One definition of the word professional is "a person who is expert at his or her work." In order to be an expert, a professional has received training to ensure that her work is done well.  That training could have been through workshops, courses, or even on the job.  Generally a professional is well paid because it is believed that the person indeed knows how to do the work better than someone who is an amateur. It is believed that the professional will bring special knowledge and abilities to whatever the work is.  It is also believed that the professional will persevere, even when the work get tough. 

By the way, what did you think the difference between an amateur and a professional were?  More importantly, which one are you?  

When someone moves from being an amateur to a professional, that person turns pro.  It is a phrase that I associate more readily with athletes, like those basketball players who were recently selected in the NBA draft.  They have left their amateur lives behind and are now heading into the pros.  But really, what does turning pro mean?

Pressfield describes both amateurs and professionals - and the act of moving from one to another - by telling stories about himself and others.  For him, an amateur is stuck.  Fear of what lies ahead may be inhibiting the person.  The person may also be stuck because she is comfortable with the way things are, and turning pro would mean real work and could be uncomfortable.  And everything distracts the amateur.

When a person turns pro, the work becomes a true practice.  The work has focus.  It is done with intention.  It is a habit.  And by doing the work, the professional continues to improve how the work will be done.  For Pressfield, this act of turning pro is a difference of mindset.  The mind of a professional is resolute.

Reading the book, people came to mind, who struggle in their work.  Yes, they are employed.  Yes, the are doing what they love. Yet they haven't quite risen to the level of expected proficiency.  Look you know someone like this?  The person has the best of intention, but is still an amateur.  The mindset of being a pro - and the resolve to be a pro - is not there.

If you think a pro is someone with a desk job, then you would be wrong.  There are mechanics, factory workers, and migrant workers that are all professionals.  (One of Pressfield's best stories is about a migrant worker.)  There are many waitresses and bartenders that are professionals.  Conversely, there are consultants, office workers, and the like who are amateurs.  They have plans that would lead them to the life of a professional, and they will implement those plans tomorrow (a day that never comes).

Every once in a while, I read a book that I want to recommend to the world.  The E-Myth Revisited, Six Thinking Hats, and How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day are books like that...and so is Turning Pro.  Pressfield has written  Turning Pro using very short chapters and lots of stories.  He doesn't come right out and say "do this".  Instead he teaches through his stories, which I find much more thought provoking.  It is a book that could be a very quick read, yet reading it slowly allows you to think about it all and how to apply it to your own life.

If I've inspired you to read Turning Pro, it is available in hardcopy and as an ebook.  And remember that your library might even have a copy that you can borrow!

Yes, the links above for the books will take to Amazon.  If you follow the link, then happen to purchase something, I'll get a very small commission.  The commissions allow me to occasionally purchase a book or some music.


Paul Signorelli said...

Thanks, as always, for leading us to wonderful resources--including Borek's book on professionalism. The challenge, I suspect, is to hang on to that all-encompassing passion and sense of wonder that comes from amateur-level engagement while applying, at the same time, a professional's dedication to the deepest possible explorations of a topic--something you and other colleagues seem to accomplish with incredible ease.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

I think you mean Pressfield's book. (With two Steves in one post, even I was getting confused!)

I like your idea of combining a sense of wonder with professional dedication!