MY LIFE AS AN AMATEUR
Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.
The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.
ART AND ADDICTION
The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a “life,” a “character,” a “personality.” The artist and the professional, on the other hand, have turned a corner in their minds. They have succeeded in stepping back from themselves. They have grown so bored with themselves and so sick of their petty bullshit that they can manipulate those elements the way a HazMat technician handles weapons-grade plutonium.
PULLING THE PIN, PART TWO
You and I, who are artists and entrepreneurs, live a life that’s closer to natural, if you ask me. We migrate, too. We follow the Muse instead of the sun. When one crop is picked, we hit the road and move on to the next. It’s not a bad life. It’s lonely. It’s tough. It ain’t for everyone. But, like the life of a migrant on the road, it has its compensations.
THE DEFINITION OF BORING
Something that’s boring goes nowhere. It travels in a circle. It never arrives at its destination.
ADDICTED TO FAILURE
There’s a glamour to failure that has been mined for centuries by starving poets, romantic suicides, and other self-defined doomed souls. This glamour inverts failure and turns it into “success.”
ADDICTED TO SEX
“I don’t see what all the fuss about sex is,” said the comedian. “It’s only friction.”
MY YEAR OF TURNING PRO
I read all the stuff that you’re supposed to read in college but never do, or if you do, you’re not paying attention. I read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Turgenev. I read Cervantes and Flaubert and Stendhal and Knut Hamsun, and I read every American except Faulkner.
A DEFINITION OF THE AMATEUR
The amateur is young and dumb. He’s innocent, he’s good-hearted, he’s well-intentioned. The amateur is brave. He’s inventive and resourceful. He’s willing to take a chance. Like Luke Skywalker, the amateur harbors noble aspirations. He has dreams. He seeks liberation and enlightenment. And he’s willing, he hopes, to pay the price. The amateur is not evil or crazy. He’s not deluded. He’s not demented. The amateur is trying to learn. The amateur is you and me. What exactly is an amateur? How does an amateur view himself and the world? What qualities characterize the amateur?
THE AMATEUR IS TERRIFIED
The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of.
THE AMATEUR LIVES BY THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS
Though the amateur’s identity is seated in his own ego, that ego is so weak that it cannot define itself based on its own self-evaluation. The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others. The amateur craves third-party validation. The amateur is tyrannized by his imagined conception of what is expected of him. He is imprisoned by what he believes he ought to think, how he ought to look, what he ought to do, and who he ought to be.
THE AMATEUR SEEKS PERMISSION
The amateur believes that, before she can act, she must receive permission from some Omnipotent Other —a lover or spouse, a parent, a boss, a figure of authority.
HOW YOUR DAY CHANGES WHEN YOU TURN PRO
We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim.
A PROFESSIONAL IS COURAGEOUS
The linebacker and the Army Ranger go into action as part of a team. But the artist and the entrepreneur enter combat alone. I take my hat off to every man or woman who does this.
THE PROFESSIONAL DOES NOT GIVE HIS POWER AWAY TO OTHERS
When we make someone into an icon, we give away our power. We say to ourselves (unconsciously), “This person possesses a quality I wish I possessed. Therefore I will worship this person in the hope that that quality will wear off on me, or I will acquire that quality by virtue of my proximity to this mentor/ sensei/ lover/ teacher/ hero.”
The amateur is an acolyte, a groupie. The professional may seek instruction or wisdom from one who is further along in mastery than he, but he does so without surrendering his self-sovereignty.
A MARINE GETS TWO SALARIES
When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.
THE PROFESSIONAL TRUSTS THE MYSTERY
She asks her students to imagine a small white box. Imagine a lid on this box. Now lift the lid. What do you find inside? Sometimes students say a diamond. Sometimes a frog. Sometimes a pomegranate. The trick is, there is always something inside the box.
TAKE WHAT THE DEFENSE GIVES YOU
Two key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong: 1. Take what you can get and stay patient. The defense may crack late in the game. 2. Play for tomorrow. Our role on tough-nut days is to maintain our composure and keep chipping away. We’re pros. We’re not amateurs. We have patience. We can handle adversity. Tomorrow the defense will give us more, and tomorrow we’ll take it. There’s a third tenet that underlies the first two: 3. We’re in this for the long haul. Our work is a practice. One bad day is nothing to us. Ten bad days are nothing.
A MODEL OF THE UNIVERSE
“There is a second self inside you —an inner, shadow Self. This self doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t love you. It has its own agenda, and it will kill you. It will kill you like cancer. It will kill you to achieve its agenda, which is to prevent you from actualizing your Self, from becoming who you really are. This shadow self is called, in the Kabbalistic lexicon, the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara, Steve, is what you would call Resistance.”
WHO IS ALL THIS FOR?
I will gladly shell out $24.95 or $9.99 or 99 cents on iTunes to read or see or listen to the 24-karat treasure that you have refined from your pain and your vision and your imagination. I need it. We all do. We’re struggling here in the trenches. That beauty, that wisdom, those thrills and chills, even that mindless escape on a rainy October afternoon —I want it. Put me down for it. The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns. You are that hero.
- Monomania – exaggerated or obsessive enthusiasm for or preoccupation with one thing.
- Surfeit – an excessive amount of something
- Gnostics – relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge.
- Dint – an impression or hollow in a surface
- Proffer – hold out (something) to someone for acceptance; offer
- Anathema – something or someone that one vehemently dislikes
- Neophyte – a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief