By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 26, 2012
If you’ll forgive me for quoting myself, here is a (very short) chapter from The War of Art:
A PROFESSIONAL IS RECOGNIZED BY OTHER PROFESSIONALS
The professional senses who has served his time and who hasn’t. Like Alan Ladd and Jack Palance circling each other in Shane, a gun recognizes another gun.
Skill, yes. Experience, no doubt. But more than any other quality, I believe, it’s depth of commitment.
How do we sense this quality in another person? Body language? A look in the eye? I’m not sure. But we recognize the real thing when we see it. And we can smell a fake a mile away. Applicants for a job, candidates for office, students seeking admission … we review their resumes, we evaluate their grades and awards. But in the end, we say yea or nay based on a quality we can’t quantify.
Do you remember the story I told a couple of weeks ago about Hermes Melisannidis, who, at age nine, went on a four-day hunger strike to convince his parents to let him study gymnastics? (He went on to win gold for Greece at the Atlanta Olympics.)
That’s depth of commitment. At nine years old, Hermes was a pro—and he would have been recognized by other pros.
But let’s break it down even further. What is depth of commitment, seen through the lens of Resistance?
Depth of commitment is that state, which is only possible when one has learned to recognize Resistance and to overcome it. (Or, if he’s nine years old, when he has vaulted past it without giving it a thought.)
Shallowness of commitment, on the other hand, is a symptom of Resistance. Shallowness of commitment is a response to fear of failure, fear of success, fear of exposure. To protect ourselves against the pain of risking and flopping, we stay shallow. I know. I’ve lived that scam-on-myself for years.
Irony and slackerdom are symptoms of Resistance. They’re poses. Defense mechanisms. They take shallowness of engagement and elevate it to an ethos, to a way of life.
If that’s shallowness, what is depth?
Depth comes when we have put those terrors behind us. Depth of commitment comes when love and enthusiasm for the work override fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of exposure. Maybe it helps to be nine years old. A child can’t imagine crashing off the uneven bars or failing to stick the landing. He’s not afraid. He sees magic only.
If someone were to ask me to identify the single primary quality that an artist or entrepreneur should cultivate in himself, I would say depth of commitment. Because depth of commitment either embodies all the other virtues or establishes the fertile field in which they can take root and grow. Depth of commitment presupposes courage, passion, recklessness, capacity for self-discipline, and the ability to have fun. It implies perseverance.
And it mirrors Resistance in its relentlessness.
Ask yourself from time to time, Where do I stand on the Shallowness/Depth meter? We’re all happier in the deep end.