Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work By Steven Pressfield

Description: Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work By Steven Pressfield

Pressfield, S. (2012). Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. New York: Black Irish Entertainment, LLC.

Would-be rockers might argue Born to Run is one of the greatest albums of all time; easily Bruce Springsteen’s opus. This marked the turning point in his career when he made the decision to commit his energy and talent to the universe.  Indeed, some of the most haunting and powerful lyrics on the album lie in the song Thunder Road, “the door is open but the ride, it ain’t free.”  According to the boss himself, “so this was my big invitation to my audience, to myself, to anybody who was interested.  My invitation to a long and earthly, very earthly, journey.  Hopefully in the company of someone you love, people you love, and in search of a home you can feel a part of” (Springsteen, 2005). 
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield, is a non-fiction book about the seminal moment when an individual makes, what Pressfield calls, “a monumental, life-overturning decision” (Pressfield, p. 5).  In other words, the moment one makes the decision to stop fooling around, to become the creative person he was born to be; the point in which one draws a line in the sand. Springsteen’s storytelling encapsulates Pressfield’s thesis regarding why some individuals are able to embrace their true creative calling in life, while others merely tip- toe along the edges, seeking distractions to silence that tiny voice inside. It’s not easy to turn pro.  Yet at the same time, it’s much more difficult, and mentally painful not to.
Reading Turning Pro is not about identifying a true calling. Pressfield asserts that for the amateur it’s already there, hiding under the surface. Rather, Pressfield suggests there is a stark difference between the amateur and the professional and dedicates the book comparing and contrasting the mindset and behaviors of the two archetypes. He purports turning pro – consciously leaving the amateur behind – represents a model for self-transformation (Pressfield, p. 5).   
Self-transformation begins by acknowledging and pushing through what Pressfield terms, “resistance,” a force of fear, self-doubt and self-sabotage.  The amateur allows resistance to stymie creativity, by providing all too tempting distractions.  For some it might be addictions to food, alcohol or even making money.  To others, resistance takes the form of the need for instant gratification or the approval of others.  According to Pressfield, “addictions take on two primary characteristics: they embody repetition without progress and they produce incapacity as a payoff.”  Addictions are boring; they travel in a repetitious circle that goes nowhere.  “We are stuck in the same endlessly repeating loop. That’s what makes addiction like hell” (Pressfield, p. 34).  
The professional faces the same types of resistance; the difference being he recognizes it for what it is and has committed to stepping through it. Being a professional is an act of courage. “The professional knows that in the course of her pursuit, she will inevitably experience moments of terror, even panic. She knows she can’t choke that back or wish it way. It’s there, it’s for real.”  (Pressfield, p. 123).
The Pressfield suggests the professional gets to this place because of a commitment to mastery, to leaving the trappings of the amateur. Turning Pro is not easy. Turning Pro means, in a sense, growing up, leaving youth (metaphorically) behind.  It may necessitate finding a new set of friends, a new career, a new way of life.  In other words, “the ride, it ain’t free.”  Old, comforting habits must be jettisoned.
The book has a touch of “zen.” Turning professional leads to a more spiritual place with one’s art (however defined), by finding one’s personal power. Ironically, turning pro is not easy, but being pro is. Pressfield (p. 90 – 91) does a wonderful job of bluntly stating the qualities of the professional, who:
·       Shows up everyday
·       Stays on the job all day
·       Is committed over the long haul
·       Knows the stakes are high and real
·       Is patient
·       Seeks order
·       Demystifies
·       Acts in the face of fear
·       Accepts no excuses
·       Plays it as it lays
·       Is prepared
·       Does not show off
·       Dedicates himself to mastering technique
·       Does not hesitate to ask for help
·       Does not take failure or success personally
·       Does not identify with his instrument
·       Endures adversity
·       Self-validates
·       Reinvents herself
·       Is recognized by other professionals

In Summary – Relationship To Creativity
Turning Pro is not a guide to finding one’s artistic (big C, little c) calling.  For this type of personal journey, I recommend Sir Ken Robinson’s, “The Element.” Dr. Robinson asserts The Element is found at the intersection of natural aptitude and personal passion (Robinson, p 21). Pressfield targets the individual who hears his calling yet is scared to act. The person who may, on a conscious or sub-conscious level, know the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of changing. 
As students of creativity, Pressfield lays out the very simple choice – we can sit on the sidelines and dabble in Creative Problem Solving and creative leadership or fight our way into the game, grab the ball and run like heck to the goal post.  We must choose to lead creatively.  We must declare ourselves creative leaders and own it.
The book is a quick, yet powerful read that I found to be very self-motivating. It has evolved my thinking on creativity, offering insight regarding the blocks to creative commitment. For readers, the idea of naming the force of resistance and identifying it on a personal level might evoke a new level of self-awareness, leading to self-transformation.  
Those interested in the concept of resistance and its relationship to developing one’s creative calling should consider reading Pressfield’s 2002 work, The War of Art.

About the Author
Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, Tides of War, The Afghan Campaign, The Profession, The Warrior Ethos and The War of Art.


Aronica, L., and Robinson, K. (2009). The Element: how finding your passion
changes everything. New York: Penguin Group.

Robinson, K., and Aronica, L. (2009). The Element: how finding your passion
            changes everything. New York: Penguin Group.

Springsteen, B. (1975). Born to Run. New Yor: Columbia Records.

VH1 (April, 23, 2005). Storytellers: Bruce Springsteen. Distributed by Viacom

Alison Murphy – Biographical Sketch 
Alison Murphy is a founding partner of Murphy Marketing Research/TRENDTOWN, an insights consulting firm dedicated to applying creativity tools to traditional market research methods. Alison and her husband, Tom, formed the company 18 years ago and employ six professionals.  Throughout her career, Alison has worked with Fortune 100 consumer and business-to-business organizations.  She works closely with clients including Grainger, Allstate Insurance and Revlon to gain insight, identify customer needs and develop new products and marketing and advertising programs.  
Areas of expertise include developing innovative and creative methodologies for capturing consumer insights on deeper, more emotive levels and facilitating ideation and brainstorming sessions.  Throughout her career, she has moderated hundreds (and hundreds) of focus groups.  
A specific area of accomplishment is MMR/TT’s Sparks® ideation program that features a panel of over 400 creative consumers who brainstorm new products for leading manufacturers.   In 2012, the Sparks® program won a coveted Ogilvy Award for Innovation Excellence and in 2009, MMR/TT’s Sparks® program was awarded the Milwaukee Small Business Times IQ (Innovation Quotient) Award.  
Prior to forming MMR/TT, Alison worked for several leading advertising agencies in Chicago and Milwaukee and held the position of Market Research Director for Stokely USA, a division of Del Monte.  She holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an MA from Marquette University. 
As a life-long student, Alison is currently completing a Master of Science degree in Creative Studies and Change Leadership through SUNY New York.  She attends the annual Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) sponsored by the Creative Education Foundation.  She is very active in the Qualitative Research Consultant’s Association, having served on the Board of Directors as Vice President for this global, 1,000 member organization.    In addition, she is involved in the PTA for her son’s high school and conducts strategic planning sessions for the school board. 
She’s a passionate bread baker (no bread machines allowed!) and recently won a blue ribbon for her Jackson Harbor Killer brownies at the Washington Island fair. 

Contact: Alison Murphy
Murphy Marketing Research/TRENDTOWN
161 North Green Bay Road
Thiensville, Wisconsin 53092
262-236-0194 ext. 229 

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