By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 19, 2012
We were talking last week about depth of commitment. I was saying that the main difference between an amateur and a pro is their depth of commitment. The amateur’s commitment is shallow. The professional’s is deep.
The question then becomes: Can depth of commitment be increased? Can we move from shallow to deep?
My answer is an emphatic yes.
If fact I believe that’s how we all learn. That’s what improvement is. It’s not only an increase in skill or knowledge. It’s a deepening of commitment.
I have a friend at the gym named Craig. He’s not a gigantic bodybuilder, just a regular athletic guy. He told me the following story:
See that machine there, the iso-lateral arm press? I’ve been stuck at 110 for weeks. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t lift more than 110 pounds.
Then one morning I happen to glance over just as that tiny blonde, Jeannie—you know the one I’m talking about: 5’4″, 140 pounds?—heads over to that machine. I watch her slap a 45-pound plate and a 25-pounder onto each side, 140 total. She sits down and bangs out three sets like there’s nothing to it.
I said, Are you kidding me? I was blushing. I’m not kidding. My heart stopped. I thought, How can this little girl, who is seven inches shorter than me and sixty pounds lighter, make me look like an absolute punk?
I asked Craig how much weight he was doing on that machine now.
One-fifty, man. Took me a few weeks but I got it. All because of that cute little Jeannie. After watching her, I said to myself, “I will burst a blood vessel, I will pass out, I will make my heart explode … but I will get that weight up!”
That’s called increasing your depth of commitment.
I’ve thought about it a lot. There seem to be several stages to the process.
The first is shame.
We fail at some endeavor and we feel terrible about ourselves.
Shame leads to self-respect.
Our toes touch bottom. We say, “I know I can do better. I cannot accept defeat in this endeavor.”
With that, our depth of commitment increases.
We resolve to overcome. We make up our minds. We gird our loins.
My first real job was as a junior copywriter at an ad agency in New York called Benton & Bowles. My boss was a very smart, very ambitious guy named Ed Hannibal. One day Ed quit. He was going to write a novel. Sure enough, he did—and it was a hit.
The book was called Chocolate Days, Popsicle Weeks and it was a real-deal success, not just critically but commercially.
I was twenty-two years old. I thought, “Hell, if Ed can do it, I can do it.” So I quit too.
Cut to seven years later. I’m dragging myself out of divorce, poverty, despair, blah blah etc., thinking, “Am I ready to try to try this same stunt again?”
I was. But the difference, this second time, was depth of commitment. The first time around, I thought writing a novel would be easy. The second time I am suitably chastened. I have had my butt handed to me and I know now, a little at least, how hard the job is and how much it is going to demand of me.
I finished that second novel (unlike the first), but I couldn’t find a publisher. Two years later: try again? Okay, but now with even greater depth of commitment.
That one flops too. Try again? Okay, now even deeper.
In a way, failure is fuel for depth of commitment. It raises the stakes. When our history is constituted entirely of Failure #1, Failure #2, and Failure #3, what else can we say to ourselves except, “I will burst a blood vessel, I will pass out, will make my heart explode … but I will NOT crap out a fourth time!”
What we’re really talking about here is cluenessness.
I was just plain dumb. Most of us are. We have no idea how hard things are. We think we’re bulletproof, we believe we’re invincible.
I think about Lebron James and how bad he felt, after all that “taking my talents to South Beach” stuff, when he and the Miami Heat flamed out in their first try at an NBA title with Lebron on the team. Next year they won. Why?
Depth of commitment.
Lebron went back to the drawing board. He looked in the mirror and realized that what he thought was good enough, wasn’t. He had to take his game to the next level, and he did.
Depth of commitment can be learned.