Book Review: Turning Pro

by Scott Manning on November 7, 2012

Turning Pro

Author Steven Pressfield published a short, powerful book earlier this year, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. The blurb caught my attention, as he sought to explain how he moved from being an amateur to being a professional.

Addressing anyone with artistic aspirations, Pressfield emphasizes there is a stark difference from being an amateur and being a professional. Accomplishments do not delineate the two, but instead one’s way of life does. Pressfield offers some stories of his life, as he wandered through his mid-thirties as an amateur working in a “shadow career.” Then he “turned pro,” which did not immediately equate to success. Far from it. He suffered numerous failures well after turning pro. Yet, he continued to push, keeping his life professional.

The concepts he offers are simplistic, yet powerful. He cuts to the chase, as points out that amateurs are addicts, looking for something to take up their time and attention until they reach incapacitation. Drugs and booze are the obvious examples, but it can be texting, browsing the Internet, sex, or whatever. Instead, artists need to replace their bad habits of addiction with good ones that push them toward their potential.

Much of this book spoke to me, as the author points out that amateurs and professionals are both faced with crippling fears. However, the professionals seek them out and confront them daily, but the amateurs shy from them, even secretly preferring failure as an easy out to avoid facing them. As he puts it in the shortest chapter, “The amateur tweets. The pro works” (p. 93).

If you are an aspiring artist, writer, or historian, this is well worth the cheap price. The book is short, but it will keep you thinking for days.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Collins November 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM

“Accomplishments do not delineate the two, but instead one’s way of life does.”

So this comment interests me; almost enough by itself to warrant a book purchase, so that I can better understand the context of this statement. It seems like neither society or culture would agree with that. Perhaps I’m thinking too narrow on this, but it has seemed that people “generally” only tend to take notice of an individual once some sort of unexpected or epic “accomplishment” has taken place; whether in present or post-mortum. Once the accomplishment is acknowledged, then an in depth study of the person’s way of life and how they got there shows up.


2 Scott Manning November 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM

Michael, I think you have captured what makes this short book unique among the many that purport to provide insight on success. Sometimes, we can measure accomplishments very easily (e.g., I built a bridge and now people drive across it. Add it to the resume!). In the arts, it is not always so clear-cut. The author describes how he wrote “professionally” for roughly a decade before he was ever published. Yet, this lifestyle of being “pro” was the same before and after that first publication.

A better example might be with someone like Emily Dickinson, a nineteenth-century poet that we consider an American treasure today. Yet, she wrote her nearly 2,000 poems in secret. While she published a few under a pseudonym during her lifetime, no one ever knew she was a poet. She had no “accomplishments” to her name. However, with that many poems, many of them classics, she is the prime example of someone who “turned pro” through her lifestyle and accomplishments had nothing to do with it.


3 Michael Collins November 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Interesting. Once I finish up what i’m reading right now I think I’ll take a look at this. I probably said it best when I suggested that I am thinking too “narrow” on this. For the last umpteen years I have worked within roles where compensation/accolades have been awarded solely based upon my ability to drive revenue. Being a “professional” was reflective of acquiring enough achievements to warrant no longer being viewed as an amateur. It may be the field I’m in, where finite, definable, measurable goals are in place. It likely creates a filter where everything is measured by “building bridges”. Interesting-thanks for the dialogue. In my next life; assuming I don’t return as a cow or field mouse, I’d like to be a historian or a forest ranger. So, naturally I find your articles and perspective really interesting.


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