By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 12, 2012
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The question is, “What’s the main difference between a pro and an amateur?”
My answer: depth of commitment.
I’ve always wanted to meditate. But my depth of commitment is unbelievably shallow. I can’t count my breaths past twenty. And pain in the knees? At the first twinge I’m up and outa there. It’s pathetic. I’m ashamed of myself. I’m an amateur. I will never succeed on my meditation cushion, and I don’t deserve to.
I lack depth of commitment.
One way to measure depth of commitment is to ask yourself of any calling, “How much adversity am I willing to endure to pursue it?”
Can you stand being broke? Can you live in a garret? Are you willing to work through pain—emotional, psychological, spiritual? Can you weather doubt, fear, despair?
The artist or entrepreneur must be like the hero of a movie. He has to be the protagonist of his own life, meaning be willing to pursue his objective (rescue his daughter from kidnappers, save the earth from vampires, kill Osama bin Laden) to the ends of the earth and then catch a ride on a rocket and keep on pursuing.
Humpty Dumpty, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, is considering taking Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) as a partner on his dream of climbing Jack and Jill’s beanstalk into the clouds and stealing the eggs of the Golden Goose.
I need to know if you can commit.
PUSS IN BOOTS
Si, I can commit.
In real life, depth of commitment is more important than talent. It’s more important than beauty or skill, more important even than luck, because its produce is perseverance, endurance, tenacity.
My friend Hermes Melissanidis won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Atlanta Olympics. (Here’s his final performance if you want to see something amazing.)
When Hermes was nine, he saw gymnastics on TV for the first time. He knew at once that this was what he wanted to do.
I went to my parents and told them I wanted to dedicate myself to training and win a gold medal in the Olympic Games. Would they let me? I promised to work and pay them back.
My family are all doctors. The idea that I would pursue gymnastics instead of medicine was out of the question. I was nine years old. My mother and father refused to even hear of it.
I decided to go on a hunger strike. I don’t know how I even knew what a hunger strike was. But I announced that I would not eat until my family agreed to let me study gymnastics.
After four days, they caved. Not all the way though. They made me promise that, along with training as a gymnast, I would continue my studies and become a doctor. I agreed.
Hermes did both.
That’s depth of commitment. You can possess it at nine years old.
Another way to measure depth of commitment is to ask yourself, “How much am I willing to sacrifice to pursue my calling?”
Will you give up one hour a day? Can you pass on watching the Steelers down at the sports bar? How about creature comforts? Can you do without?
Can you give up financial security? Can you leave your boyfriend? How about your whole family?
Depth of commitment is critical on the artistic level. We can never fool the Muse. She knows when we’re faking it.
But depth of commitment is make-or-break too in the real world of commerce and career. Do you dream of being a ballet dancer but you’re not willing to move to New York City? The screenplay that gets mailed in to Tinseltown from Madison, Wisconsin is rejected before it’s even out of the slush pile. The producers think (and rightly so), If this writer is not committed enough to even move here, why should we respond to his submission with our own commitment of time and attention and energy?
The third test of depth of commitment is this:
How crushed will you be if you never fulfill your dream or live out your calling?
This is the big one, because there’s only one answer and all of us know what it is.
[Next week: Can depth of commitment be learned? If we don't possess it now, can we build it up and increase it over time?]