Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Professional Mindset

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 11, 2012

Have you ever wondered why so many CEOs and high-achievers (including sports superstars like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky) are so taken with the game of golf? It’s not just because they get to wear white belts and plaid pants.

MJ

Michael Jordan on the links. Even His Airness has fallen under the spell of the game.

(With apologies to everyone who lives along the banks of the Cuyahoga, here is Tom Wolfe’s definition of a white belt and white shoes worn as part of the same outfit. Mr. Wolfe calls it a “full Cleveland.”)

But back to golf.

The reason high-performance professionals are often smitten with golf is that golf, more than almost any other sport, requires the player to perform over and over the following mental/emotional action:

To focus exclusively on the shot in front of him, no matter how horrifically he has just screwed up the previous shot(s).

This exercise is identical to what the World Bank President or the NBA champ have to perform in their day jobs.

Golf makes performance of this action particularly difficult because unlike full-speed sports like basketball, football, tennis or hockey (where the player is in motion), golf makes the competitor execute each stroke from a standing start. As anyone who has ever tried to sink a three-foot putt under pressure knows, this is where the mental game (aka psyching yourself out or “choking”) rears its ugly head.

All this is a long wind-up to the concept of the professional mindset.

Mental toughness.

What exactly is mental toughness for the artist and the entrepreneur?

Let me offer a definition based on our previous discussions about Track #1 and Track #2, i.e. our pure-soul trajectory versus our commercial trajectory.

The professional mindset means being able to maintain your focus on Track #1, no matter what is happening on Track #2.

Or, expressed a different way:

The professional does not react emotionally to success or failure.

The professional maintains, as her touchstone, the trajectory of her lifetime practice as a pure artist or entrepreneur. She follows her bliss. She serves her own Muse.

The pro may have to work on Track #2 to put food on the table (or she may sell her Track #1 work to those who are buying it for Track #2 purposes). But she never loses sight of her Track #1 trajectory, the path of her artist’s heart.

Consider Bruce Springsteen. Or Neil Young or Martin Scorsese or Toni Morrison. These artists’ careers have been blessed in that, almost from the get-go, their Track #1 work—i.e., what they were doing from the heart, pursuing their own Muse—has paid off on Track #2 as well.

The Boss

The Boss's work is so strong it pulls Track #2 over to Track #1

These artists’ voices have been so authentic and their points of view so powerful that they have pulled Track #2 (the commercial world) over to their Track #1.

They are lucky—and they are good.

You and I may not be able to travel that same happy highway. I can tell you, I’ve sold out so many times I’ve lost count. My railroad car has bounced along Track #2 for many a mile. At the same time, I have had my Track #1 work flamed and flogged and given up for dead. And occasionally the opposite has happened: Track #1 has paid off big-time on Track #2.

Which brings us back to the Pro Mindset.

No matter what happens, up or down, in the world of the marketplace or the sphere of “what other people think of our stuff,” we as professionals must keep our eyes on the prize—and that prize is what WE OURSELVES think of our best stuff and what trajectory our true-heart work is propelling us upon.

A career like Springsteen’s or Neil Young’s unfolds organically from album to album, each one different and yet each one hewing to its distinctive Springsteen-ness or Young-ness. Their Muse is leading them. They are not following the market, the market is following them.

You and I must keep our eye on the same ball. Our own ball. No one said this was easy. All of us have fallen on our faces again and again trying to do it. But the objective remains the same:

To permit ourselves neither to be cast down by failure nor over-elated by success, but to judge by our own standards and no one else’s how true we have been to our heart’s calling—and to never take our eyes off that star.

To quote the Old Philosopher:

“As you travel through life

Let this be your goal:

Keep your eye on the doughnut

And not on the hole.”

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

15 Responses to “The Professional Mindset”

  1. Basilis
    April 11, 2012 at 3:06 am

    Always astonished by your thoughts…
    Nothing else to add but great article!

  2. April 11, 2012 at 3:15 am

    I was thinking of this just today but this post expresses it brilliantly. The pro mindset does not worry unduly about blips on Track 2. The pro mindset knows they have produced a fine book or article on Track 1 and moves on to the next big thing.

  3. April 11, 2012 at 5:13 am

    I love Wednesdays more, because of your posts, Steven!;-)

    You are so right with a golf analogy. Michael Jordan was my hero during my pro basketball career. 4 yew years back I happened to be on a golf course and I got totally hooked up to this game for the same reasons, which you said.
    In golf, it is just you and the ball. Every shot is different. You have no one to blame. It is just you and yapping lizard brain. Plus walking and solitude of greenery around is simply magical. Coordination of moves and realizing how important and difficult it is to synchronize one’s thoughts with solid body and transforming it into action, whether it is golf hit or rock star gig or a blog post… I believe, that only then, after many many hits we can truly appreciate artists, pros and see the beauty of art around us.
    Thank you again, Steven!

  4. April 11, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Are you reading my mind? :) Somehow, you have been able to put into words exactly my feelings and experience as a writer. Well, to be honest, I haven’t hit it big on track #2 yet but hey, perhaps when my next book comes out! :) Onto the next…Thanks

    P.S. I wrote an article and mentioned you in it Steven. :) Are we trackin?

    http://summerville.patch.com/blog_posts/the-first-rail-to-success

  5. April 11, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Chess is like golf in that way, only there’s no physical release to the tension. (Well, there is body movement, but there’s no swinging a club – though sometimes players want to. And they do slam down pieces, but that’s like shouting on a golf course.) Chess players must focus on the next move, and forget the quality of the one before. And they must do it move after move for up to four hours without a break. It’s like going from one shot to the next without any breather, without anyone else taking a shot.

    And I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Beatles, both as a group and individually. Aren’t they the paradigm of musicians pulling #2 into #1?

  6. April 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks so much for this Steven, I really needed it today. I’m a medical doctor yet my track 1 work is of a more inspirational or philosophical nature. If someone reads the stuff I like to write most, they’d usually never guess a doctor wrote it unless I mention it or they see it in my byline. I love best to write about life, living your dreams, happiness, creativity, miracles and God.

    That said, for many high-paying track 2 gigs I’m asked to put on my doctor persona (and even pose for pictures with my stethoscope around my neck!). I don’t necessarily mind this. I like helping people with their health, especially from a holistic approach – and I love getting paid well for related writing, speaking or media work – but it’s not my soul’s work. For practical reasons as well my medical side is a key part of my commercial “brand”, combined with the other elements I love.

    I’ve had a hard time navigating this perceived conflict between my two selves/fields. Now I understand that they’re really just two tracks and that it’s fine to go between the two as long as track 1 is my life’s work and isn’t compromised at its core.

    THANK YOU.
    Susan Biali

  7. Sonja
    April 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you for the reminder, Steven!

    Mental toughness is necessary and I find it gets better over time. (when I’m not psyching myself out.)

    I also liken it to a pro pitcher—each ball/pitch is the most important. : )

  8. April 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sharing and inspiring…

  9. April 12, 2012 at 5:01 am

    So until a person gets the sway to have the money come to his art, how does he eat? I’ve been a janitor and a computer analyst (I prefer janitor, pay aside) but neither pulls my chain like the attempt to express myself. Ego maybe more than art. I know I need to learn more about grammar and work hard at improving the skill. Where does one find the time when driving a cab 12 hours? My point and real question here is a practical one, I think, What are some tried and true track 2 ways to make money (EAT!) while practicing writing? I have a long way to go, maybe endless before the “Springsteen Effect”. Meanwhile, I’d just be happy making a living, comparable in wage to the janitor or cabbie job. Any suggestions.
    Oh yea, great job Steve, just what I needed. Kudos. Bravo! Made my day!

    • April 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      Hey john and everybody – I’m just now realizing I am ‘living the life’ I want but not the one I wanted-broke,ex-drunk,Irish-You talking to ME!,moved to small town to get out of my childhood Atlanta,You name it-I got it(bad),If it happened-It happened to ME(bad)Like george when I drank ‘I drink alone’ and when i write well same thing.The Grim Reaper aint got shit on my anal wannabe Ernest Hemingway dreams.I got the intellect of God and all the Muses if they wanted to be a writer! Mr. P helps me more than he’ll ever know or have time to comprehend! I am Alexander reincarnated and I can take this shit Mr. Pressfeild is writing straight to the Track One Bank

      • April 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

        I just meant, what are some tips to make small change writing, while ‘waiting for the big one” or medium one.
        Dogs and cats to feed, utilities to pay.
        After all, if I can’t even sell the cheap stuff, then thanks for the pinch, I must’ve been dreaming.
        Just directions to shallow waters?

  10. April 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

    For once something I don’t quite agree with. Practically all sports require mental toughness. I like to shoot – very much like golf in that regard, I think. What sets golf apart, to me, is the obvious networking possibilities. The walk’n’talk built in.

  11. ajar
    April 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Seriously? I thought those people were taken with golf because it was a meaningless way to spend GDP-equivalent sums of money before they stroll back into their offices, impress their friends with lines like, “OH! Is it 11am already!? I must have lost track of time around the 16th hole. Hopefully the Yen is still alive,” and then go yellf*ck a secretary.

  12. May 3, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Soothing and travel-appetite-awakening story of your travels. Truly enjoyed this.