Now that life is settling down a little bit, I’m able to play around more with building things that I both want to build and want to learn more about. Today was taking the awesome jquery plugin Tubular and tweaking it so that instead of just displaying one youtube video, it will show a new video on each refresh of the page. I wanted to make something that could be a self-contained little break for me when I need a minute of resetting my brain, so of course I stocked it full of Monty Python videos.



Make an Appointment. Keep that Appointment.


The Day 8 section of reading for the digital book club I’m in has a couple of great sections on the idea of developing a practice. Although he doesn’t specifically use this word, I think a concept Steven Pressfield is trying to describe in his book Turning Pro is the concept of a kata. I’m not one of those weird white dudes creepily obsessed with Japanese culture (seriously, dudes, cut it out!), so allow me to mangle the definition by saying kata is basically the idea that there is a right way to do something, and you should practice doing it that way over and over.

I think the part that makes this an Eastern rather than a Western concept is that even once you feel like you’ve “got it” you keep doing it. Mastering a practice means that you find satisfaction in doing something well. It becomes its own reward. In the West, I feel like the moment we master something, it’s time to move on to the next thing we can become “experts” at.

Pressfield puts his own spin on this concept in his chapter entitled “The Professional Mindset as a Practice”:

A practice implies engagement in a ritual. A practice may be defined as the dedicated, daily exercise of commitment, will, and focused intention aimed, on one level, at the achievement of mastery in a field but, on a loftier level, intended to produce a communion with a power great than ourselves — call it whatever you life: God, mind, soul, Self, the Muse, the superconsicious. (p. 108)

He continues with this theme in his chapter, “A Practice Has a Time”:

The monks in their saffron robes mount the steps to the zendo at the same hour each morning. When the abbot strikes the chime, the monks place their palms together and sit.
You and I may have to operate in a more chaotic universe. but the object remains the same: to approach the mystery via order, commitment and passionate intention. (p. 110)

There was a time in my life I would have found this concept so boring I might have fallen asleep in the mddle of it. I was raised in a situation that wasn’t exactly chaotic, but wasn’t exactly the most orderly existence either. So to engage in this kind of ordered practice, day in and day out, seemed like a death sentence. Where’s the inspiration? Where’s the spontaneity??? I had gotten a little too used to the drama of it all. In Pressfield’s terminology, I was still an amateur.

My first steps towards this “turning pro” life came a few years ago when I came across this quote by Gustave Flaubert:

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

I’ll leave you with that, because it kind of says it all.

The Life-Giving Nature of Work

dirty dishes

I’m on Day 7 of the community’s digital book club, going through Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro. In the section we read for this day, Pressfield shared his own moment of turning pro, and I think it illustrates perfectly that dedicating your life to this kind of idea is as much about blue-collar work ethic as it is lofty artistic ideals. I’m not sure why I’m so sensitive to this idea, but I just want everyone to know that life can be lived well and a big part of that comes from doing work you feel called to do.

This work might not actually be your job, and if you have a job that funds your work, great! If you have a job that is also your calling, great! I truly want all of us to see taking that next step and doing that thing we’ve avoided forever isn’t like climbing that huge wall in a military bootcamp, it’s like stepping over a speed bump. The constant running from what you feel called to do is climbing the huge wall, even though you convince yourself that you’re taking the easy way out.

Pressfield tells the story of when he finally, in a fit of almost frustration, broke out his typewriter and started writing. For a grueling two hours, he typed away, producing work that he would almost immediately toss into the trash (p. 83). But then a curious thing happened. He was filled with energy and finally washed those dishes that had been in the sink for 10 days, whistling away the whole time.

This is what it means to do the work you feel called to do. It bleeds over to every other part of your life and invigorates you to tackle the “jobs” in your life. This happens even when what you produced won’t be seen by anyone else and won’t fulfill whatever grandiose fantasy you concocted in your head as reward for finally sharing your brilliance with the world. In fact, those fantasies of grandiosity were just one more way to talk yourself out of starting. As Pressfield puts it:

It hit me that I had turned a corner.
I was okay.
I would be okay from here on.
Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything tood. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work. (p.84)

Turn that corner! Do the work!

Your Instincts are (Probably) Not Wrong

When Steven Pressfield quotes Roseanne Cash quoting Linda Ronstadt there are too many levels to ignore! You can check out the chapter called “Roseanne Cash’s Dream” in Turning Pro for the whole story, but one thing she said really stuck out to me:

Just as I was beginning to record [King’s Record Shop], I had read an interview with [Linda Ronstadt] in which she said that in commiting to artistic growth, you had to “refine your skills to support your instincts.” (p. 78)

When you’re in this process of “turning pro” there may be a lot of new aspects to your life. Who you hang out with, where you live, and how you spend your time may all change, but the process is actually more revelatory than it is transformational. It’s not a process of the ugly caterpillar becoming the beautiful butterfly, but actually the amateur caterpillar becoming a super awesome caterpillar willing to use its gifts to contribute to the world.

You’re supposed to be YOU, nothing more, but also nothing less.

From now on, aim all your efforts towards becoming yourself, who you were always meant to be. Even if you don’t buy into the idea that you were created for something, you have to admit you’re not living up to the potential of the human animal. There are some disciplines and practices we all need to adopt, but I think it’s important to pause here and state outright that the goal isn’t for you to become a totally different person.

For some people that may be a disappointment. Pressfield notes often that the amateur is using fantasy as distraction, and I would add that often this fantasy is one where you prove to yourself that you can’t do it (whatever “it” is). “If I were only _____ enough, I would do _____!”

If we’re talking about playing professional basketball, then yes, there will be some reasons you can’t do that thing, but I would argue that even being a professional athlete is a means to an end and not an end in itself. There is a tight window to that career and any job where you’re washed up in your early thirties should give us a major clue that it’s possibly not enought to truly build an identity on.

I would actually assert that being an athlete, or any “job” is actually your grad school for turning pro. It’s not so much about the career itself as much as applying tools of discipline and hard work (labor and love, as Pressfield quotes earlier). We (desperately!) need each other to approach life with maturity and depth, no matter what they are doing, and this is the essence of what I think life — and especially life in community with others — is all about.

Sorry for that quick rabbit trail, but this is where I see myself and so many people going off the rails. They convince themselves they are a certain job, or they convince themselves that they are wrong. You can do a lot of wrong things, and we should maybe not trust the addict to follow every “bliss,” but by and large, your instincts are right. If something feels off, or wrong stop and ask yourself why that may be. If something feels really great, do the same thing.

The process of turning pro will not be easy, and even thought at times it will feel counterintuitive or even fill you with fear from head to toe, it should always feel right in your gut. You’re finally “refining your skills to support your instincts.”

**Note: check out the digital book club for Turning Pro to read tons of great insights on the book and on life in general!

Silence, Solitude and Turning Pro

Day 5 of the Turning Pro digital book club has intersected wtih one of my favorite topics: Spiritual Disciplines. In his chapter “The Amateur is Easily Distracted”, Steven Pressfield notes:

The amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two:

Solitude and silence.

The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction.

The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur. (p. 58)

Solitude and Silence are not only the amateurs deepest fears, but to the writer and professor Dallas Willard, they are the two first steps toward a life of discipline.

Willard passed away in 2013, but I got to meet him and spend a few brief moments with him on three separate occassions. I’m sure he would not have remembered me, but each of those meetings showed a man who just exuded peace and attention to whomever was right in front of him. I default to his writings a lot in my quest to pursue a better personal and spiritual life because I actually saw him living the kind of life I want to live.

Whenever he writes to those taking their first steps towards spiritual formation, he will invariably bring up Solitude and Silence, sometimes alone or sometimes with one or two other discipllines as in his article “The Key to the Keys of the Kingdom.” The article isn’t too long, but for the sake of brevity I want to pull out two paragraphs he wrote on Solitude and Silence and comment on why I think these two, especially, are terrifying to the amateur.

Regarding Solitude, he writes:

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on you shoulders after all. You will find yourself and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. The soul anchor established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.

And on Silence:

When we stop talking we abandon ourselves to reality and to God. We position ourselves to attend rather than to adjust things with our words. We stop our shaping and negotiating, or “spinning.” How much of our energy goes into that! We let things stand. We trust God with what others shall think.

I don’t know if Pressfield is familiar with Willard, but I love when two completely separate people arrive at the same solutions from seemingly completely different starting points. Solitude and Silence are terrifying to the amateur because that’s where you only have yourself to observe. You can’t be distracted by anything except what’s coming from you, and you also can’t manipulate the way others see you (not that most people are as successful at this kind of manipulation as they think they are anyway).

So, if you’re looking to “turn pro,” two out of two authors agree. Get away, even if it’s just closing a door, and get quiet, even if it’s just for a few hours. Let your journey towards being a pro, or an artist (or a mother, or any of the roles I quoted in yesterday’s post) begin by knowing you have enough to get started within you. And know, too, that you don’t have to manipulate what anyone thinks of you anymore, just do the work and let it do the talking.

The Artist is Not the Addict (But Sometimes They Are)…

I’m catching up on writing down my reflections on Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro. I’ll keep referring to “Day 4”, “Day 5”, etc., just to keep these posts in line with the digital book club (and to keep these posts from being crazy long).

Day 4 of our reading left me with a few good clarifications, and “clarifications” is a great word for what this book is doing for me. I’ve noticed over all that it is refining a lot ideas that have been jumbling around in my head for a few years.

The Addict, The Artist, and the Tunnel of Chaos

Since it’s the premise of the book, I’m sure this first clarification has come up before and will come up a few more times, but I thought Pressfield had another great delineation between the behavior of the artist and the addict:

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways — by transcending it or by anesthetizing it… The artist takes a different tack. She tries to reach the upper realm not by chemicals but by labor and love. (p. 47)

A pastor I used to spend a lot of time with would often refer to the “Tunnel of Chaos” when it came to having hard conversations with those you love. When you have to ask forgiveness, or confront, or just have that conversation you’d rather not have in any way shape or form, you have to admit you don’t know how this interaction will turn out. You have to travel from one side of the conversation to the other with the knowledge that the conversation is the important thing, not the outcome.

That kind of conversation is a “pro” move, one where you choose labor and love to move forward instead of avoiding it altogether like an amateur. And this isn’t just about conversations but about life in general. There will always be painful situations, or even just situations you’d rather not deal with, and you can honestly avoid them for a while, sometimes forever. But you’ll never grow if you don’t push through, and you can’t push through without realizing that living your life with labor and love is way more important than relying on any specific outcome (especially an outcome that you can’t really control anyway).

Who’s an Artist? Who’s an Addict?

Young woman? Old lady? Both?
Young woman? Old lady? Both?

Turning Pro has been really good for me, but it’s also dealing with a lot of issues I’m either currently working through or have so recently worked through there’s not much difference. I’ve had to constantly ask myself, “Am I still an amateur? Have I really moved forward?” It was comforting, then, to read this quote from Pressfield:

(When I say “artist,” I mean as well the lover, the holy man, the engineer, the mother, the warrior, the inventor, the singer, the sage and the voyager. And remember, addict and artist can be one and the same and often are, moment to moment.)

The first point I want to make is to acknowledge that the minute you mention the word “artist,” a large percentage of the people you’re talking to will stop listening because they think you’re not talking to or about them. I think at least a small part of this is that a lot of families aren’t passing down “trades” any more. A lot of us have lost the idea of teaching our children how to do what we do, and that there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. That may be for a later post, but I like that Pressfield spends time articulating what he means by “artist.”

Simply put, whatever you’re doing, and I do mean whatever you’re doing, can be done well (with labor and love, as Pressfield says above).

You are a craftsperson of your life, and while you’re life being whittled away from a block of wood to something that will bring delight or utility to those around you, you have to remember not to judge yourself too harshly in the process. Are you the block of wood or are you the finished product? The answer, of course, is, “Yes.”

In the moment it’s easy to forget that you’re an actual person, not simply something to be produced. You’re never just one thing or another, you’re the product of decades of living and generations of lives before you. Of course I’m addict and artist, amateur and pro, how could I be anything less than human?

The Cure for Failure Addiction

Day 3 of our digital book club reading through Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro and it’s still inspiring a lot of thoughts. I feel like this book is encapsulating the last 3-4 years of my life (yeah, changing your life just won’t happen instantly), and so it’s hard to separate the the “amateur life” I lived for so long versus the “professional life” I’m almost fully into.

One of Pressfield’s main points in the book is that when we choose not to pursue our callings, to remain amateurs, if you will, we find a shadow career, a twisted version of what we should be doing with our lives. The shadow career is what we think we haveto do because “the best” is just not an option instead of what we need to do deep within our souls. When we start to recognize that we’ve turned away from our callings, we can either “turn pro” or we can cover the fear and unhappiness that come with remaining amateurs by developing addictions.

I’m going to leave the term “addiction” fairly broad, since Pressfield does as well. But we all know those who struggle with myriads of addictions and we’ve all struggled with them on some level. We’ve all been right on the brink of a breakthrough, only to have a distraction lead us away on a merry path of drama or numbing or excitement.

Whichever addiction path we choose, they all end up the same way, which is why Pressfield comments on page 26:

That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time.

They’re interesting because they’re called to something — something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation.

At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.

This theme just doing the work keeps coming up in so many different ways, it’s been hard for me to ignore. I think the mentality of the amateur is to become convinced that there is some secret formula to success that people are keeping from you.

I listen to a lot of podcasts hosted by comedians, and every one of them has a story about some fresh-faced youngster asking them for advice about how they can have a career like the comedian has. And every one of them has said the same thing: Get on stage, a lot. Don’t quit. And in a few years, you’ll be sort of good and someone will notice you and you’ll get opportunities. Needless to say, every one of those youngsters walk away thinking they’ve been rebuffed, that they’ll never learn “the secret”.

But that’s just it. There really is no secret, you just have to do the work.

One of the most subtle addictions Pressfield talks about in the section our book club read today is an addiction to failure, because failure comes with the territory for anyone seeking to do amazing things with their lives. Since it’s so subtle, I think a good way to spot you may be addicted to it is that it no longer “sticks in your craw” when you fail. Sure, it’s inevitable at some point, but you don’t have to like it. Ever.

On page 37, Pressfield puts it this way:

When we’re addicted to failure, we enjoy it. Each time we fail, we are secretly relieved.

Its payoff is incapacity. When we fail, we are off the hook. We have given ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but one of the best portrayals I’ve seen of a person failing and working their way back is Don Draper’s story arc in the last two seasons of Mad Men. This is kind of a quiet show that almost none of my friends are into (so you get to read about it here!), but it’s one of my favorite shows. And yes, if you’re wondering, a lot of Don’s failure comes from his addictions.

He’s essentially lost his job as a partner in a Madison Avenue advertising firm, but he’s still receiving a paycheck due to businessy/political reasons. This is where the rubber meets the road as far as failure addiction. What would you do if you received a paycheck but didn’t have to do any actual work?

Would you coast?

Is this your dream come true?

Or would it eat at your insides that you’re being prevented from doing the thing you do best, the thing you were created to do?

Whenever I get frustrated at where I am and where I’m not, this scene pops into my head. A despondent Don Draper is helping his friend Freddy Rumsen pitch ideas to advertising agencies and pass them off as his own. Draper can’t not do this, he is truly a pro.

But he’s frustrated at not being where he wants to be: back in his office thinking up great taglines and pictures to sell products to the American people. We can debate the morality of this job later, just know a man is being paid NOT to work, and it’s eating him up inside. And the way he can claw back to where he wants to be is the same way you and I accomplish anything we’re dreaming of accomplishing:

Do the Work.

(Did I set this scene up enough? Maybe I need to write a few more paragraphs haha)

Adulthood is Not Lame… I Think…

Day 2 of Reading Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro and all I want to do is quote the whole thing in block form, while interjecting a, “See!” or a “Right?” every now and then. But I’ll spare us all and try to whittle it down to an idea or two that has stuck with me. On page 16, he sums up quite nicely what the title of the book really means:

Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.

That’s really it, isn’t it? I’m currently writing on a red-eye bus heading to Louisiana from Texas and the wifi is spotty at best. (So get ready for some amazing half-remembered quotes!) Richard Foster opens his great book Celebration of Discipline by saying that we don’t need more talented or gifted people, we need deeper people. We need mature people.

French sociologist Jean Baudrillard offers a criticism of Western culture in his book Simulacra and Simulation by zeroing in on Disneyland as an amazingly intricate cultural camouflage. It serves us all as an example of what it means to be a child: wonder, imagination, and believing your dreams really can come true. To be clear, I’m not against any of these things, but Baudrillard states that being childlike is actually to be filled with selfishness and tantrums. And as long as Disneyland exists, we’re free to be as childish as we want to be when we’re adults, becuase we changed the meaning of the word.

Whomp whomp. What a downer!  Give that dude a baguette and some wine and tell him to pipe down!

Except that I think he’s right. When I think about who I want to be and who I want to surround myself with, it’s actually mature people, not childish people. And mature doesn’t mean “not fun” because some of the most fun people I’ve ever spent time with are those that are humble and know themselves well enough to poke fun at themselves as well as at others.

So just as ambition and greed are not the same things, I need to remember that being an adult and being dull are not the same things, either. I remember so much of my twenties were spent thinking amazingly disciplined people were somehow lame. It’s taken me until well into my thirties to realize how ridiculous that was and to being the process of yanking those harmful thoughts out by the roots. This book is reminding me of what I did to begin changing my thinking, but that’s for another post.