Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Principal and the Profile

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 20, 2013

My friend Jane worked for years for a legendary personality of the 20th century. I’m respecting her wishes by not using the gentleman’s name. Let’s call him Michael.

"Michael"

Fans even came after Michael by sea

Michael was a target for the tabloids and the paparazzi. He was besieged relentlessly by fans and admirers, cranks, crazies, and outright stalkers. He lived on an estate. The place became a fortress. It got so bad that Michael had to employ bodyguards and a professional “threat assessor.”

The threat assessor wound up teaching everyone on Michael’s staff how to respond to a certain type of persistent assailant. The dynamic was so universally-encountered in the security field, he said, that it even had a name.

It was called the Principle and the Profile.

In this case the “principal” was Michael. The “profile” was the assailant.

The profile was anyone who sent repeated notes or letters or packages, who left phone messages and e-mails, who used the web and social media to bombard Michael with requests for favors and meetings, samples of writing or music, diatribes, harangues, manifestoes, sob stories, etc.  Sometimes the profile showed up in person. Jane told me that Michael’s security men had to chase people off Michael’s roof; they repelled invaders climbing over Michael’s walls, even using boats to reach him by sea.

I suspect you know where I’m going with this.

Resistance.

The phenomenon of the Principal and the Profile is fascinating to me because I have found myself in different eras playing both roles. I’m ashamed to confess I have been a profile. With me it’s not with famous people; it’s in relationships.

I’ve been a principal too.

Both roles really suck.

What exactly does a profile do when he assaults a principal? What is he after? What does he want?

The profile can be charming or the profile can be snarky. Either way, he puts out what psychologists call a “hook.” The aim of the hook is to engage the principal. One type of hook is a guilt trip. “You have marched against poverty but you won’t help out your fellow starving artists.” The profile is trying to get the principal to respond by defending himself. Often the profile will accuse the principal of something. “You’re a hypocrite, you don’t live up to what you preach.”

Sometimes the profile attacks the principal’s work or family or reputation.

The profile is like the Nigerian prince we all find in our inboxes. He’s trying to elicit a reaction. He’s seeking to suck us in.

Here’s my character assessment of the profile (remember, I’m speaking from having been there myself):

The profile is not without talent. He’s smart. He’s ambitious. The profile, in his own way, is an interesting person. But the profile is terrified. He is a frustrated artist or entrepreneur. His demons are devouring him. He is lost and desperate. And he’s unconscious. He is mired so deeply in Resistance that he could not see it if you pointed him straight at it.

What the profile wants from the principal is distraction. He wants a connection to something that works. The troubled young man who shot John Lennon wanted to be John Lennon. He loved John Lennon. He hated John Lennon. John Lennon’s existence was to him simultaneously a beacon of salvation and a crushing reproach.

The profile is dangerous to himself and to others. He is drowning; he’s in hell. He may reach out to others but he cannot see them as human beings, only as icons and archetypes. The profile is narcissistic to the point, sometimes, of sociopathy.

We all, I suspect, have tendencies to profile-dom. Just as we all have been hit on by profiles.

The cardinal rule, Michael’s threat assessor declared, is Never Engage the Profile.

That’s what the profile wants. He’s looking to pick a fight or start a “relationship.”

Don’t answer his e-mails, don’t return his calls, don’t respond to his heart-wrenching appeals.

The profile is bad news.

In my own profile days, I was as cunning as a junkie and as full of shit as a telemarketer. Sometimes I amazed myself at the BS I could come with, without a second’s rehearsal or a moment’s forethought.

When we are mired in Resistance (as the profile always is), we can spew self-exonerations and self-justifications like candy. We can be charming, we can be seductive, we can connive and cajole and manipulate. It’s terrible.

From time to time in my profile days, someone would call me on my bullshit. A guy would throw me out of his office, a girl would slam a door in my face and triple-lock it behind me.

I always respected those people.

It took me years to see through my own profile tendencies.

Now that I’m on the other side, I have no mercy for profiles. I hate ‘em. I can smell them a mile away. They are poison.

The kindest thing a principal can do for a profile is to ignore him utterly. Have compassion if you can. But don’t try to help. Don’t get mad. Don’t engage. Don’t seek to counsel or correct or proffer guidance.

The profile is dangerous. He is locked in battle with his demons. He won’t listen. He can’t hear you. Steer a wide berth around him. The profile is a sociopath and a vampire, and no one can save him but himself.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

22 Responses to “The Principal and the Profile”

  1. February 20, 2013 at 4:42 am

    I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I can’t help but wonder what urged this particular post today? It strikes me as story, a mask, over a deeper story. In any event, I always enjoy your posts, Steve. Keep’em coming!

  2. February 20, 2013 at 4:48 am

    The website is my ‘beloved’s’ training stable. I love your work and strive diligently to avoid your wisdom and lessons on resistance. As you have yet to read my Novels ,my persistance is still paying vs. recieving royalties. This latest is as accurate as the predicessors. Thank you sincerely for spot lighting the demons. Now if you would just shoot the suckers as well …. Take care and best with all your Ventures. Just a tiny question, Surely there is some history betwixt Alexander and Rommel? Ever hear of the Enigma that is Maj. Patrick Ferguson. New experimental archeology proves his rifles work.

  3. Basilis
    February 20, 2013 at 5:25 am

    I’m sure that we all have played somehow both roles, and both of them are horrible!

    In fact, as I think it now after reading this post, when Resistance takes us over, she turns us to a zombie seeking principals to devour!

  4. Kent Faver
    February 20, 2013 at 6:01 am

    This is very powerful. I told my wife I was being unbelievably cynical this week – almost bitter. I can see why now to some degree. Thanks!

  5. February 20, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Steven,
    This material that you come up with every week is brilliant. As a wanna-be writer I feel like I am in some sort of brief seminar, weekly, with the master. Your topic of “understory” has stuck with me the entire week. Thank you.

  6. February 20, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Conversely, it seems to me that fear of being regarded as a “Profile” may also represent a form of Resistance. For us creative types that think we have something good to share with the world, the only way to entirely avoid being seen as a Profile is to hide under a rock. No matter how politely and unassumingly a relatively unknown artist attempts to engage others, she or he will sometimes be seen as the Profile. If others are to see an artist’s work, it’s a necessary risk. Of course, it helps if the artist is indeed polite and unassuming.

  7. February 20, 2013 at 9:20 am

    “John Lennon’s existence was to him simultaneously a beacon of salvation and a crushing reproach.”

    Seems like the Principal and the Profile dynamic takes unhealthy, Resistance-inspired thought and behavior patterns that pop up in all of us and Godzilla-fies them to pathological levels. There’s also a hint of Girardian Mimetic-Desire-to-Scapegoating thing going on, too.

    An inspiration to strive and get off your own ass is great — unless you refuse to get off your ass and do the work… then what does it become? A principal, I’d guess. Or rather, it stays the same and you transmogrify into the profile.

    OK… off to do my work : )

  8. February 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I’m gonna play the devil’s advocate here and suggest that to an extent the Profile has the right to want to engage you, because he feels he had been sucked in and often transformed by your work. Artists create a lot of engaging work, art that touches people on a very personal level and it is often strange to the average member of the audience when an artist pleads for privacy.

    In a way – by playing contrarian here – I am also trying to engage one of my favorite authors. At the same time I know that I am right when I say that the average member of the audience is really misrepresented here. We buy the art, allow our emotions to go on an often unexpected and life-changing roller-coaster and at the end we feel so “at one” with the author that we want to reach out to him … or her. Especially when the author provides so many good medicines against the Resistance.

    I for one always feel inspired to write after each writing Wednesday post – thank you Steven.

    • February 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Thanks, Vlad. I knew I was venturing into murky waters with this post. The subject goes deep. It could probably be a book (though I’m NOT going to write it.) Thanks for your insight.

  9. February 20, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Thanks, as always. Much food for thought here.

  10. February 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Great post. Very astute. I esp enjoyed this, “What the profile wants from the principal is distraction.”

    When we’re being a profile we are like a leech, and we use the principal’s response or non-response — it doesn’t matter which — to “prove” something.

  11. February 20, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Well, that took some courage. As one ashamed of having been a profile, with a tendency to hide any hint of profile, now writing a book about the why’s of profile, and who sees black silk threads of profile-like insecurity stretching from unmentionable need into even casual encounters, I really admire you.

    Yes, it’s a spectrum, but I saw more than a shadow in that mirror. Yesterday an old post by you and Shawn reminded me why it was important to be true to oneself in a business full of those willing to take advantage of the uncertain. Today you show that honesty matters. Thank you.

  12. February 21, 2013 at 4:52 am

    The goal should not be to meet a person you admire. The goal should be to be a person the person you admire would like to meet. That way, it’s a meeting of equals.

  13. SJB
    February 21, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I think the Profile always feels powerless and believes they need the Principal. These people can come across as bullies or victims.

  14. February 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    I agree with Erik that it took courage for you to admit to your own past profiler life, but of course, your books about the true nature of resistance could only come from personal experience. Hence, why most of us are reading this blog in the first place–we identify with you and appreciate your honesty. When I first finished Turning Pro and found WW I was vomiting up all my exuberance in finally making the decision to quit farting around and get serious about writing and found myself writing long comments to your posts instead of attaching the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and getting on with it! In other words, wasting creative energy in a place that got me nothing in return. Even this comment is way too long, but I only gave myself five minutes to make this confession, and that time is now up.

    Keep the truth coming, Steven!

  15. klvcanuck
    February 25, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Thank you so much for this post. What I think some of your readers don’t understand is that while all chocolate chip cookies are cookies; not all cookies are chocolate chip: what differentiates a fan from a profile is what this article was describing. So some of your readers stayed too long at gallery opening and spoke too pretentiously about whatever they thought was going to serve to gain the attention of the artist; big deal! I have had to change my phone, enlist the help of a male friend to intercept and respond with threat of legal action, filter my email, and my friends have had to take evasive action due to the relentless, angry actions of a person undergoing psychiatric care, who thinks that attention from me would change everything that he dislikes about himself. The good news is that he lives in another country, a few thousand miles away. And you are right, this is about the profile; not the principal. He has done this to other people, and admitted to having had to move to different communities because of this. There is no reason to believe he won’t find a new distraction once he tires of me. People don’t hire “threat assessors” to dissuade fans from admiring and effusing. They are hired to evaluate and contain real threats.

  16. February 25, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Steven,

    Exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks to you, I’ve once again kicked Resistance out the door! He does keep pounding, you know.

    So brave of you to confess your own profiling history. “In my own profile days, I was as cunning as a junkie and as full of shit as a telemarketer. Sometimes I amazed myself at the BS I could come with, without a second’s rehearsal or a moment’s forethought.” Priceless.

  17. February 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Makes me think of Krishna’s statement about having a right to our labour but not the fruits of our labour. As an audience member — whether listening to music, reading a book, watching a film, studying a painting — I acknowledge that the art I admire and the artist who produced it are two separate entities. Once the art is shared with me, it’s no longer a living part of the artist. It might represent what he or she felt or thought at the moment, but it does not equal that person.

    The profile must either not understand this or must refuse to acknowledge it. “This person’s art has affected me, therefore he and I are intimates.” This is no more the case than me and the sun being bosom buddies just because it tanned me. I love the sun to death, sure, but there’s no question that it’s a one-way relationship.

    Vlad above argued for the devil’s sake that the audience has a right to engage the artist. I can’t agree. The audience has a right to express their gratitude, yes. But to engage? To expect some kind of exchange? No. In my heart of hearts, I know when I think “I should write a fan letter to Portishead”, or whatever, I’m being the profile. What I really want is that distraction, or some kind of validation. I want to feel like a fellow artist. These feelings are strongest always when I’m faltering in my own commitment to art. No coincidence.

    An artist engaged in his or her own work doesn’t require that validation. Instead they understand that the best show of gratitude for someone else’s work is to get on with creating our own.

  18. March 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I was wondering how this works regarding a collaboration or is that a different ball game? Can there ever be two principals or can that role switch between the two?

  19. Brian
    April 14, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Yikes, I’ve been the profiler. Need to make a reminder to read this blog every Wednesday. I haven’t completely absorbed the idea of “Resistance” to the point that it I have an intrinsic response to distraction.

    I was thinking about it this way the other day, “Anything that brings me pleasure (other than a shared intimate moment with someone I care about) is likely to degrade my overall happiness. Pleasure is distraction, and does not lead to happiness. Happiness is only found in the places I least like to look–that is very hard, purposeful work. Happiness is found while noticing the change in color of the sky during an early morning run. It is noticing the beauty of the silhouette my fellow Soldiers make on the horizon at 0230 doing night land-navigation. It is in the nuances I notice in those that I love, after I have served them in some capacity.” Everything else is a distraction. Solitaire on my phone, mindless phone calls, any lure of an ‘ism’, food, another cup of coffee…or trying to reach out to a principal…they are all Resistance in the ever-mutating form.
    Good stuff.
    bsn

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