The War of Art: Be a Professional, Not an Amateur

by Ronnie Nurss on June 25, 2012

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, breaks down the difference between an amateur and a true professional.

An amateur is an artist who loses out to Resistance.

A professional is an artist that beats Resistance, daily.

Everyone reading this blog post wants to to be a Pro. Right? Well, let’s check out what a real Pro does, day in and day out.

Pressfield says the key differences between the amateur and the pro are:

  • The amateur plays for fun.  The professional plays for keeps.
  • The amateur plays part-time. The professional plays full-time.
  • The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional shows up seven days a week.

Pressfield says that the Professional is so in love with his art, or work or career or whatever you would like to call it, that he dedicates his life to it. He fully commits to his purpose and passion.

OK, so what does this mean?

The Professional sits down and works, every day

In terms of Resistance, the Professional will wake up every morning and sit down to work. Real work. No BS like checking email for 2 hours or sifting through Twitter feeds or looking at funny pranks on YouTube for just a few minutes.

A Professional dedicates herself to her work for X amount of time per day. You have to put in the hours. During these hours, the Professional sits down, free from distractions, and works.

The Professional accepts no excuses

Pressfield uses an example of how an amateur can “give in” to Resistance, which keeps the amateur from working. In this case, he used how an amateur permits the flu to keep him from writing his chapters.

The Professional knows better and acknowledges the Resistance. If he caves in today, no matter what the circumstances or reason, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The Pro just keeps working.

The Professional does not take Failure or Success personally

The way a Pro handles Fear is completely different from an amateur. Pressfield states that evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts….and fear of rejection isn’t just psychological but also biological.

Resistance knows this and will use it against us to make us feel paralyzed. It prevents us from finishing our work and then exposing it to the public. It’s a scary thing to give your art to the world. It’s a scary thing to see if you can actually live up to your dreams.

One strategy to combat this is just removing yourself–your ego–from your art or work. Pressfield writes, “A Professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul.” He compares this to sports: All the athlete can do is leave it all out on the field.

Win or lose, you give it all, and that is all the professional worries about. Get success? Sweet. Get Failure? Oh well, on to the next thing. The Professional doesn’t focus on results. He focuses on his art, his work and the process.

A Professional self-validates

This is loosely connected to the previous point. An amateur lets the negative opinion of others get to him. He takes other people’s brain farts about his work to heart, which in turn, trumps his own belief and confidence in himself and his work.

Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t take things personally.

Pressfield says, “The Professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality.” Reread that sentence at least 5 times, seriously.

To be a Pro, learn to blow off critics, daily. Critics are just Resistance. They’ll never go away. Get your validation from yourself, your work….not your critics–good or bad ones.

In conclusion

These are just a few tips that Pressfield gives to aspiring professionals. There’s a ton more of good ones that you should definitely check out if you have the book. We’ll discuss them in the Book Club Pub Crawl on Thursday. Others include:

  • A Professional is always reinventing himself
  • A Professional recognizes her limitations (build a team)
  • A Professional endures adversity
  • A Professional is patient


We are looking forward to seeing you and fellow Pros this Thursday at ThinkHouse for the Book Club Pub Crawl, 7 p.m.!

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