In the world of creative work, there are amateurs and then there are professionals.
Professionals show up every day. The amateurs wait for inspiration
Professionals act on their ambition — a primal and sacred fundament of our being.
Amateurs dwell on their ambition.
The artist is the professional. The addict is the amateur.
Addiction becomes the surrogate for our calling.
We are scared to face our true life’s task. We are consumed with our shadow career.
Deep down we know what we must do.
The life of a professional awaits us.
♦ Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. One of the best books for creatives is Pressfield’s The War of Art and Turning Pro is made to highlight the struggle of the amateur. It gets to the root of all of creative problems, with each page explaining an idea that is relevant to creative work. Pressfield is obsessed with the amateur and the professional, where the amateur is plagued by the haunt of the resistance. The amateur is weak and powerless and chooses to dabble, to extend, to think, to wait, to plot, to do everything except the work. Doing the work every day, regardless of one’s feelings, is the answer to the resistance and is the gatekeeper to turning pro. A professional no longer fears the resistance or is powerless in its wake; the professional welcome the daily challenge and overcomes it through consistent effort (every single day).
Some of the work created through daily effort may not be that good but that is the key: there is no special moment where our best stuff manifests; our greatest work, our Magnus Opus, comes from the daily grind.
The process is a long and grueling road that only rewards those that keep showing up.
The Professional: shows up every day, stays on the job all day, is committed for the long haul. He is patient, seeks order, demystifies, acts in the face of fear, accepts no excuses, plays it as it lays, is prepared, does not show off, dedicates himself to mastering techniques, does not hesitate to ask for help, does not take failure or success personally, does not identify with his or her instrument, endures adversity, self-validates, reinvents herself, is recognized by other professionals.
The professional artist and entrepreneur enter [a lion’s den] alone.
♦ How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis. There are lots of entrepreneurs online that recommend this book as a must read. Dennis is a bootstrap entrepreneur, the Megamind behind the popular men’s magazine Maxim. However, I didn’t find it to be all that compelling and Dennis’s style is pretty straightforward: work hard, be bold when making deals, confidence, and execution. “The key, I think, is confidence. Confidence and an unshakable belief it can be done and that you are the one to do it.” There isn’t much to it, according to Dennis. The points he makes does have some value: time is critical, so execution is key. Never give in and surround yourself with enormous talent. And never stop learning:
Anyone not busy learning is busy dying. For as long as you foster a willingness to learn, you will ward off sclerosis of the brain and hardening of the mental arteries. Curiosity has led many a man and women into the valley of serious wealth.”
♦ Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. He is perhaps my favorite author and most beloved fellow in the pursuit of knowledge. He is a voracious reader, able to recall what he has read to a level of a precision that is unmatched. He is rooted in Stoic philosophy, which is the guidepost for most of his books, including Ego. Holiday packs another masterpiece into such a small punch. An easy to carry, easy to read bestseller delving into the enemy of the world’s most successful and the everyday layman.
Pursuing great work- whether in sports or art or business- is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. It’s a salve to that insecurity. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear when we want to hear it. But is a short-term fix with long-term consequence. Perhaps the most important lesson is that ego can blind and damage us, especially when we are looking for internal support to pursue tough challenges. We need ego to win but ego will handicap us if we are not aware of its omnipresence.
The basic way to approach challenges is to go small- attack at the edges. Be action and education focused; forgo validation. Learn and grow and put in the time, so we are absorbed in the process, without the need to step back and observe our success. To gloat and celebrate. It is not necessary. Only the constant and consistent pursuit of our goals is necessary.
Holiday also highlights the genius of Genghis Khan, not as a barbarian conqueror, but as a perpetual student in the Art of War:
Genghis Khan was not born a genius but it was his persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision drive by his uniquely disciplined and focused will. He was the greatest conqueror the world has ever known because he was more open to learning than any other conqueror has ever been.”
♦ Bounce by Matthew Syed. I listened to this book as part of my deep dive into all things associated with Mastery. Syed does a great job of recapping stories and conclusions from previously published works, rehashing stories from Talent is Overrated, Outliers, and The Talent Code. However, what makes Bounce different is Syed’s personal expertise in sport: he meshes scientific theory with his own experience as an Olympic table tennis player with lifelong experience.
Additionally, Syed delves into Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset and talks of other keen psychological skills that are necessary for success in sport. Most notably, was his idea of “doublethink,” adopted by the science fiction novel 1984. Finally, Syed makes a case against genetics and the idea that some athletic skills (such as the connection between Kenyans and long-distance running) are not so transparent. Much of the genetic potential that exists is teased out after years upon years of intensive practice, the single most important factor for determining success in any field. Check out A Glimpse Into Mastery for a review of the best book on the topic thus far, or this post for some of the books mentioned.
♦ Originals by Adam Grant. Subtitled: How Non-Conformists Move the World. I am a fan of non-conformity because it is where great things come to fruition. Great things do not come through idleness. It is the non-conformists that move the world. They are the shapers of technology and the visionaries that power the future. When the experts say it can’t be done, a non-conformist does it anyway. Grant showcases stories of those that have chosen to take action against the status quo despite many of the normal challenges that we all face: weak and uninspiring bosses, bureaucracy, politics, shame, fear, doubt, and procrastination. If you have an idea to shape the world, you must stand and fight for it. You must be willing to stand before the gods, naked.
Amid the numerous stories of non-conformity and then ample explanations (backed with study upon study), my favorite was the story Lewis Pugh, the best cold-water swimmer on the planet. In a similar vein to the idea of doublethink in Bounce, there is a power to negative thinking. Optimism is best suited for long-term strategic thinking, whereas negative thinking helps in the moments before an activity. Considering the worst case scenario, Pugh formulated the plans required to survive long, cold water swims, where death was just as likely as survival.
Read More: The Pursuit of Excellence
♦ Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins. Robbins is a self-development expert (he hates the term guru) that has spent years studying the absolute 1%. He has been asking fundamental questions, such as, “why do some people respond positively to failure while others do not?” and, “what is the difference that makes the difference?” Decades later, armed with more insight then anyone else in the field, he has come up with very precise answers. The reoccurring theme of Unlimited Power, which is Robbins’ first book, is the way we communicate: with ourselves and with others in the environment. The crux of success mostly lies in how we communicate with ourselves. How do we perceive problems and then how do we get ourselves to take action? What are things that we say to ourselves in victory and defeat? Success leaves clues and the most successful always respond to problems in ways that enable them to overcome. They are masters of internal communication, they are masters of action, and they understand the soft skills that emanate power. My post for the Outwork Book Club is here.
♦ The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. It a similar vein to The Secret, this is one of those wildly popular books on the mainstream. It is a story of one’s personal legend and the journey that we must endure to discover our treasure. It delves into the self-doubt that we all face and it talks about the possibility of settling down, despite the deep desire continue on our quest. It is hard to avoid falling into the trap of settling down when we are comfortable and happy. We sometimes quell the voice inside of us that says to keep going. We must seek out our personal legend and we must find our treasure. But just as Santiago must dwell on a life with Fatima, where he is happy and comfortable in love, we must choose to find a way to answer our true calling by persisting, regardless of circumstance. We must also learn to deal with failure and loss, doing whatever is necessary to be successful. Resist & Persist.
Read More: The Outwork Book Club
♦ Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby. Jordan is, without a doubt, the greatest basketball player of all-time and among the greatest athletes to have ever played a professional sport. He redefined the game, shaping generations of players to follow. In today’s game, it is not uncommon to see giants over 6’8 that are able to move swiftly and handle the ball with ease. These players all grew up watching Jordan, emulating his style, one day hoping to “be like Mike.” Lazenby delves deep into Jordan’s life, uncasing some of the hidden factors that drove him to immense success. The famed story of Jordan being cut by his high school basketball team is false; his coach decided that Jordan would do better with more playing time on the JV squad, as opposed to competing with an already stacked varsity lineup, which included Jordan’s older brother. This is a routine decision that coaches make every day but has spiraled out of control due to media influence and internet memes.
The true story of Jordan’s rise to fame is that he is flawed. His flaw is an uncommon passion for winning and a desire to outperform. Lazenby’s detailed account of his childhood indicates that his drive is partially due to a desire to impress his father. Not at all uncommon for a kid with an athletic older brother. More flaws: he was restless, overly driven, and often angry with himself and his fellow players. Jordan was undoubtedly a terrible teammate. His image will forever be preserved as a great man because he was a leader in the world of self-promotion, skillfully crafting his image through TV commercials and the Jordan brand. Become great at what you do and then use that as leverage to create and build. This was my first book on the world’s most accomplished athlete and I learned that flaws, drive, passion, and unbridled energy can bring with it: greatness.
In Pursuit of Excellence
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