turning pro by steven pressfield book summary

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

Summarized by Vishal Kataria

The Book in One Paragraph

Most of our mental “suffering” is not because we’re ill or because we must atone for our sins. It’s because we live our lives at amateurs, ambling from one point to another without knowing what makes us feel fulfilled. The only way to achieve true happiness and fulfillment in life is to “turn pro,” where we leave our amateur ways behind and begin to live our lives as professionals. Not doing so is turning our backs on our true selves and the reason for our existence.

Turning Pro Book Summary

This is my book summary of Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. It’s a collection of quotes from the book and my own thoughts. This summary includes key lessons and takeaways from the book as well as my personal notes.

  • “Turning pro” means to leave behind our amateur ways and announcing, if only to ourselves, that we’ve earned our battle scars and learned from our wayward ways to brand ourselves as professionals, and that we’ll live as pros for the rest of our lives.
  • The biggest enemy to turning pro is the “Resistance.” It’s the emotion that stops us from committing to the important work in our lives. Resistance has all sorts of glamorous names: writer’s block, artistic agita, procrastination, and any other name you use to not just avoid committing to what’s important but also fighting like hell to get it done.
  • Turning pro is:
    • Free, but it’s not easy. You have to change your mind.
    • Free, but not without cost. You have to give up your comfort zone, which could include friends, lovers, or even spouses who hold you back from discovering who you are.
    • Free, but it demands sacrifice. The passage is a painful metamorphosis, messy and scary, one that feels like you’re treading in blood.
  • But it will also help you find your power, self-respect, and voice. You discover who you are but were too afraid to embrace and live out.
  • Ambition is the most primal and sacred fundamental of humans. To act upon the ambition you feel is to embrace your true calling. To turn your back on it is to turn your back on your true self and your raison d’être.
  • Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we pursue a shadow calling instead. This is a metaphor for what we want to do minus the risks and consequences. But each mile we travel on this road takes us further away from where we need to go and who we need to be. Adolf Hitler was frightened to pursue to turn pro at his calling as a painter. So he resorted to the shadow career of being a dictator who stoked a World War.
  • The difference between amateurs and professionals lies in their habits. Amateurs have amateur habits while professionals have professional ones. As Will Durant wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
  • An amateur is addicted to instant gratification, extrinsic rewards, and validation. He keeps drawing attention to himself, his “life,” “character,” and “personality.” The pro is an artist who is sick of this bullshit. Instead, she has stepped back and can see it for what it is — a bunch of excuses to avoid putting in the effort.
  • Who decided that a 9-5 job, a spouse, children, and mortgage… is life? Who says there isn’t more? What’s “normal” about sitting in a factory or an office cubicle?
  • Addicts call pros “boring” because they do the same things over and over again. But the true definition of “boring” applies to addicts. They are people who:
    • Embody repetition without progress.
    • Produce the inability to manage their state of affairs as an outcome.
  • The obsessive pursuit of sex is an attempt to distract the monkey mind that tortures us with restlessness, fear, anger, and self-centeredness. What we seek union with is not another body, but with ourselves. For this, we don’t need sex to gratify us.
  • The amateur sees himself as a hero, not just of his own movie, but of others’ movies as well. He insists others share the same view.
  • The amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two: silence and solitude. He has to stay busy so that he doesn’t encounter any of these, otherwise, the voices in his head will get too loud to bear.
  • The amateur has millions of plans, all of which will start “tomorrow.” When you live in the past or the future, you never have to do the work in the present. Thus, you can keep talking about your regrets and dreams, but you’ll never be happy.
  • Choose between the life you want for the future and the life you’ve left behind. (VK: Define both of them in as clear and unapologetic terms as you can. These definitions are only for you, so you don’t have to be ashamed of what others will think. But clarity and honesty will help you figure out the direction you want to move in.)
  • We think epiphanies are moments when we discover an amazing side to ourselves. We’ll rip off our clothes to reveal our inner Wonder Woman or Superman. But epiphanies are actually the opposite. They’re painful and feel like hell because they strip away our self-delusion.
  • Real epiphanies show us that we’re not as strong, disciplined, or dedicated as we thought, or our current path is not the one that will lead to fulfillment. We thought we were X; now we’re not X+, but X- or X/∞. That’s why they trash us, expose us, leave us feeling naked. And to avoid such epiphanies, we badly try to escape solitude and silence.
  • The resulting shame and disgust can produce the element we need to change our lives: willpower. Either way, epiphanies can make great stories at seminars, campfires, and AA meets, but there’s nothing glorious about them when they happen.
  • Don’t make changes to your life to earn money, achieve greatness, or sell more records. Make them out of respect for your craft.
  • The amateur often gives up after staring at the empty box for a few moments because he can’t find inspiration. But the pro trusts the mystery that the emptiness engulfs. She knows the Muse will deliver like she always does. She might surprise us or give us something we don’t expect, but she will always put something inside the box.
  • The three tenets for days when Resistance is strong:
    • Take what you can get and stay patient. No matter how your day is, you can score tiny wins and walk away.
    • Play for tomorrow. Regardless of how you feel, you can make it to bed tonight. And tomorrow is a new day.
    • You’re in it for the long haul. In the ten-year game, a day or even a week of poor performance won’t make a difference.
  • Even as a pro, there will be times when you will panic or feel terrified. Instead of running away, sit tight. Hang in there and keep your seat.

About The Author

Vishal Kataria is a writer and podcaster who shares lessons he has learned about productivity, learning new skills, and self-improvement.

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