Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

A Pro Recognizes Another Pro

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.

I’ve been thinking about this in light of our last two weeks’ posts on depth of commitment. What exactly is it that a pro recognizes in another pro?

Jack Palance as the gunfighter Wilson in "Shane"

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.)

Jack Palance shows no mercy for Elisha Cook in "Shane"

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.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

14 Responses to “A Pro Recognizes Another Pro”

  1. Basilis
    December 26, 2012 at 5:43 am

    A Pro recognizes another Pro and also recognizes where he/she stands (and perhaps where he/she should be standing).

    Merry Christmas to the clan!

  2. December 26, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Wonderful post! I agree. A pro persists no matter the resistance, no matter how many times you get knocked down by the market and have to get back up again, no matter how many times you have to tweak and change your strategy. No matter what a pro PERSISTS! That’s because we know we will eventually succeed. In our drive to persist we learn the skills we need to craft good stories, learn to dance with change in our market niche, we learn as we persist. We never ever accept failure, even in the face of countless rejections. And that’s why we are still around decades later, succeeding in what we do. We learn and persist and NEVER give up! Thanks again for an awesome post!!

  3. Ryan Vallan
    December 26, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Love it!

  4. Bill Long
    December 26, 2012 at 9:50 am

    After reading Turing Pro and The War of Art a couple months ago I love this series keeps me motivated to push on!

  5. December 26, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I recently wrote an essay on “anxiety vs. anticipation,” inspired by a blog post by Seth Godin of that name. “Depth of commitment” vs. resistance phrases it from a different, equally important angle. Interestingly, in Kabbalah (which I know you’ve studied a bit), you’re talking about Netzach – Perseverance or Victory.

  6. December 26, 2012 at 10:14 am

    “Slackerdom.” Definitely adding that word to my mental dictionary. :)

  7. Amy
    December 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I can sense when others have faced their fears – squared their shoulders and faced resistance head on. And it helps me to do the same.
    Thank you for this post :)

  8. December 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

    At the risk of waxing too autobiographical, I’d say commitment is continuing to write even when: 1) The folks who read your book tell you it’s great, but hardly anybody buys it anyway, 2) Your family talks more about the expletives of your minor characters than the redemption of your protagonist, and 3)You announce the self-publication of your book to the writing organization to which you belong, but you don’t hear from a soul.
    In a similar vein, last year about this time I extracted some New Year’s resolutions out of lines from the movie Finding Forrester. If you wish, feel free to check them out here.

  9. December 26, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Wonderful post. Now when I find myself not doing the work, I say the words “depth of commitment” to myself, and it helps a great deal. I’m learning to recognized that resistance can be subtle and disguise itself. I also have the words posted near my work space.

  10. December 27, 2012 at 2:43 am

    I’d like to add to the shallowness issues that they may also be on purpose, not only because somebody has something that draws her/him back.
    This shallowness on purpose may happen for example if you are not confident with the way your firm works – and its perfectly understandable that not everybody wants to be a pro then :)

  11. December 29, 2012 at 6:14 am

    You can’t fake commitment, you cannot cheat the amount of time you’ve served. Time served = stronger foundations, and no matter what industry, it’s easy to recognise the professionals via their foundations.

  12. Pete L
    December 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    So… uhm, I’m confused…

    What is it that stops us from ‘getting committed’?!

    • Pete L
      December 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      …ok, let me expand on that.

      I have something I’ve always loved for 25 years and will always be enthusiastic about, yet for some reason I’ve never become a Pro.

      What is it that you’re referring to that is stopping me from ‘getting committed’ to become a pro?!

      I know I want to, but can’t seem to ‘get committed’. How come?

  13. January 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Brilliant!