In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield brilliantly contrasts the mindset of the professional and the amateur. He writes:
The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after. To be clear: When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of “the professions.” I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur.
Pressfield then draws these comparisons:
- The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
- To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
- The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.
- The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
For me, the journey to becoming “professional” has been vague, intangible. Even if I was paid for certain skills, it was hard to consider myself a pro. Perhaps it was because of what Pressfield says above. I knew I didn’t always practice (as a verb) the passion, precision, and pursuit behind-the-scenes like the true pros.
Going pro was a mindset shift that developed over time. I don’t recall a “go pro” date. But I do know that in my work, these 3 things were the minimum price to developing a professional mindset.
1. Be Obsessively Great.
Jonathan Ive, chief of design at Apple, described his work with Steve Jobs like this:
Steve and I spent months and months working on a part of a product that, often, nobody would ever see, nor realize was there. It didn’t make any difference functionally. We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.
2. Be Predictably Punctual.
It is your professional responsibility to manage your time well. Your habits, discipline, and efficiency need to be maximized so you can deliver obsessively great content and service, ON TIME. One of the greatest compliments a client or my CEO can give me is that I deliver by the date promised.
This is one time-management tactic I use everyday. The other? Creating a shared calendar of due dates. It’s simple but effective, because it keeps me accountable to my clients. Nothing kills credibility like tardiness. Shoddy work is one thing. But delivering even great work a day late and a dollar short can be crippling to your client, and ultimately you.
I also use self-imposed deadlines, like days I will post a new blog article or release a podcast episode. I’ve recorded some of my episodes at 2:00AM, and one even at 4:00AM just to get it out on the day I promised. It’s a steep price to pay (and I moved the release date to Thursdays) but that commitment has taught me a lot about delivering consistently.
3. Be A (Good) Cause of Separation Anxiety.
I once hired a freelance designer based on merit rather than personal recommendation. It was a disaster. He under-communicated, rarely responded to my inquiries, and was months late on delivering the final product. All I got were excuses. Ultimately he delivered a good (late) product, but the client experience was so poor that it’s all I remember. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to get the contract done and get this person out of my life.
Your goal: Be such a pleasure to work with that your clients, colleagues, and superiors will have separation anxiety when the project ends.
These three things are the professional’s par for the course; the minimum price for admission into the sanctum of the specialist. Start today. It’s time to go pro.
Question: What are you doing behind-the-scenes to “go pro” in all your endeavors? Leave a comment below.
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