How do you go from being a cabbie and scratching out a living, to a bestselling novelist? From someone kicking around at odd jobs and grabbing sleep in the back of a van, to a Hollywood screenwriter?
Some would call it a radical reinvention. Steve Pressfield calls it "Turning Pro."
Pressfield's novels include The Legend of Bagger Vance, later turned into a movie starring Matt Damon and Will Smith. He also penned Gates of Fire, a tale of the ancient Spartans that is a staple of military training at West Point and Annapolis. His non-fiction book, The War of Art is a trusted reference for working artists.
But before he was a successful author of those and other books, Pressfield was a lot of other things, including truck driver, advertising copywriter and schoolteacher. So how did he pull off such a reinvention? Pressfield will tell you he turned pro.
And Turning Pro is the title of his latest nonfiction book. In an email interview he described what the term means.
"Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we're thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don't show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin', no matter what."
We all know the usual advice for those looking to reinvent and searching for a second act. Learn new skills. Retrain. Maybe go back to school. All good, practical tips, but there's another set of skills that need to be developed.
"Long-term, we must begin to build our internal strengths," Pressfield said. "It isn't just skills like computer technology. It's the old-fashioned basics of self-reliance, self-motivation, self-reinforcement, self-discipline, self-command.
With the seismic changes shaking up industry after industry, individuals in every profession are discovering what working artists have known for decades, Pressfield said.
"Artists, writers and people in creative fields are entrepreneurs by necessity. Nobody gives them a paycheck or picks up their medical insurance. The ones who succeed learn to think and act like "independent operators." I think people who are technically "employees" have to think this way as well.The company is not looking out for you. The organization does not have your best interests at heart."
In the weeks and months ahead thousands of individuals will discover that last point the hard way. Some will be luckier than others and offered voluntary buyouts. Those tend to be better than most ordinary severance packages. But plenty of workers, white and blue collar, will be seeing pink, as in slips, before the end of the year. All will be faced with an opportunity to reinvent, to turn pro.
"Big changes are taking place in the global economy today that tell us over and over that we cannot rely on any force that we ourselves can't control," Pressfield said. "No industry is immune and no occupation is safe. All of us need to begin to think in terms of our own inner strengths, our resilience and resourcefulness, our capacity to adapt and to rely upon ourselves and our families.
So know that if you find yourself staring at the prospect of reinvention and the pursuit of a new calling, there is a low cost way to getting started.
"Turning pro is free," Pressfield said. "You don't need to take a course. All you have to do is change your mind." And the results can be well worth the decision, as Pressfield says in Turning Pro.
"I wrote in The War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better."