Turning Pro: embrace the calling of your soul

It doesn’t happen that often. But sometimes you meet someone or read a book that cuts through all your bullshit. And sometimes what they suggest is not that big a deal. Except that it is. To act in spite of what I’m thinking or feeling in the moment may seem straight-forward and easy. Until I’m thinking: no, the wind is blowing… it will not be nice outside when I go for my walk…. Just one more chapter before I go to sleep… I want to know what happens next even though I have to get up early tomorrow… Wow, I’m really craving something sweet now… let’s make something with lots of sugar in it… so what my clothes are tighter every time I put it on…

According to Steven Pressfield in Turning Pro there are two frameworks that we traditionally use to transform ourselves: We hate ourselves because we believe there’s something wrong with us that needs fixing or we hate ourselves because we believe we’ve done something wrong and need to be punished and forgiven to be fixed. Pressfield discusses a third option: we hate ourselves because we’re living life as amateurs. To change our minds, we need to turn pro. Similar to athletes turning professional (probably without receiving a big financial compensation, though).

As amateurs we have a few things “going” for us:

We’re terrified. We’re afraid of failure, of success, of looking foolish, of being excluded from the tribe, afraid, afraid, afraid. We permit that fear to stop us from acting. We take ourselves so seriously that we paralyse ourselves. We fear being different from others. And therefore end up being inauthentic. Because we remain someone other than who we really are. We continuously rate ourselves in relation to others. We lack compassion for ourselves. We live in denial and act by addiction.

Addiction doesn’t necessarily refer only to the usual culprits drugs and alcohol. Addiction is anything that you keep on doing without it moving you forward. What you get from your addiction, is an inability to do what needs to be done.

To feel ambition and to act on it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act means you turn your back on yourself and the reason for your existence.
Steven Pressfield Turning Pro

How do you turn pro? Here are some of his ideas:

Show up and do the work every day. Do the work for the work’s sake, not expecting financial reward or future fame. Be committed over the long haul. Forget about instant gratification… Act despite fear. Accept no excuses. Be dedicated to master the techniques. Don’t take failure (or success!) personally. Don’t wait for inspiration. Do it.

It seems clear that having a habit of doing and acting is the best way of transforming oneself into the best version of oneself. I find it ironic that even though I get an enormous burst of energy when I follow that unique calling of the soul – be it going for that walk in the gushing wind or sitting down for a session in front of the computer despite a yearning for vegging in front of the television – I still some days turn my back on myself and give in to the resistance.

This is a battle that needs fighting every day. There is no finish line. When you turn pro you get to recommit to your decision every day.

Elizabeth Gilbert calls the trusty kitchen timer an important tool in a creative person’s life. Set the timer for 30 minutes and do some focused work for that period. Do it every day. That’s how you learn discipline.

Right, so I’ve done my 30 minutes writing. Off to do some quilting for 30 minutes! 🙂



Second fiddle-itis vs offering my contribution whether I think it makes a difference or not

Unbelievable the number of stuff I can find to do to prevent me from actually sitting on my butt and finishing this blog. Oh! To face that empty space where I don’t know what I’m going to write/paint/create … The battle of the blank page/canvass.

I’ve just made myself two ponytails, after French plaiting from the top and then from the bottom and making a variety of hair styles …

I also battle with “second fiddle-itis”, I think. It’s Ben and Ros Zander’s term (The art of possibility) for “the habit of thinking you make no difference”. So why bother? In one of the chapters they argue that if we think of the world in a competitive frame of mind, there is automatically a winning and a losing side. However, when you use a contributing framework, there is no other side. You are giving/contributing what you can and as such are making a difference even though you may not understand how or why.

So here is what I contribute today. Take it or leave it. 🙂

The more I read about writing, the more I get the impression that the creative process behind writing is similar to painting and making collages. And the crucial aspect is to show up. The stories/collages/art pretty much make themselves once you get past the plaiting of the hair, the cleaning of the toilet, the reorganising of the desk, another cup of coffee…

I don’t often show up for any type of creative process these days. I don’t find the time. But to rephrase Stephen King (On Writing): “How many JAG and CSI reruns does it take to make one South African life complete?” [*hanging my head in embarrassment*] Watching television seems to gobble up time as fast as the wink of an eye. Talk about wasted time.

Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) calls the watching of television and finding other stuff to do symptoms of Resistance. Resistance shows its head for anything that you want to do where you work against immediate gratification in favour of long-term plans such as writing, losing weight, working on improving your fitness…

Pressfield says with regard to writing: It is not the writing part that’s hard. What is hard is sitting down to write. So plait your hair, make your pony tails [men with short hair: substitute your own postponement devices here], but stay on your bum and do what needs to be done.

How to become a superhero underneath

Talked about just doing it and habits yesterday. Starting with small steps are effective “because they cannily sidestep that primitive part of your mind that senses change, or difficult task ahead, and so slams on the brakes and spins you toward some stress-relieving activity”, like watching tv. Just write down what you eat? The lizard brain laughs at this because it’s no threat. So you write down what you eat each day and without even noticing begin to eat slightly more healthy the next day and the next, until after a while you notice that eating six portions of veggies and fruit has become a habit. The principle behind this is apparently called kaizen, the Japanese word for progress through tiny but steady improvements. Justine Musk write more about this with regard to writing a novel: How to get out of your own way and quit procrastinating on your novel.

On the repetitive nature of building habits, I found Victoria Moran’s words (in Living a Charmed Life) motivational:

You can’t buy muscle. The only way to get it is to build it yourself.

By becoming as strong, flexible and fit as is possible for you, taking the whole package that is you (heredity, age, lifestyle up to now, physical limitations) into account, might have positive physical manifestations like trimming down and having muscles that make other people envious.

But the cherry on the cake is that when you KNOW you have “strength and endurance and flexibility beyond what’s expected, you may appear to be a mild-mannered hairdresser or physician or second-grade teacher, but there’s a superhero underneath.”

Maybe I’ve been under my son’s influence too long, but being a superhero underneath seems to resonate with me. Knowing something positive about yourself – holding yourself in high esteem – that’s where your power is.

(Lack of) Progress Report: my lizard brain to the rescue!

Our reptilian brain’s job (Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain in Linchpin) is to keep us safe. But since our whole environment has changed and this part of the brain has stayed the same, we now experience resistance to doing things that our reptilian brains experience as unsafe (such as being open to things). The lizard brain’s main function is to keep us alive; the other parts of our brain are there merely to make us happy, successful and connected to society. But as the lizard brain has the most important and most urgent of the job descriptions (you can’t be happy if you’re not alive), the lizard brain will always win – unless you train it with new habits and patterns.

I identified some of my lizard brain’s habits that need some retraining (if I ever want to be wearing that red robe at a graduation ceremony, that is):

Lizard brain habit 1: Don’t ship on time and Lizard brain habit 2: Procrastinate, you need to be perfect.
I have “missed” at least five opportunities to submit a research proposal. First because I just HAD to check one more time whether somebody else did not register something similar to what I was planning (surprise, surprise!). Second time, because I didn’t want to waste another year on something and then finding it’s been registered, I dragged my feet. Third time, because now nothing seemed to be original enough. Fourth time, because it’s not quite right, etc. etc.

Lizard brain habit 3: Do excessive networking with the goal of having everyone like you and support you.
I don’t HAVE to get to know students from other universities working in my field. I don’t need their approval or their help or suggestions, for that matter.

Lizard brain habit 4: Spend hours on obsessive data collection and Lizard brain habit 5: Start a never-ending search for the next big thing, abandoning yesterday’s thing as old.
My personal favourite. No, I can’t write a proposal yet. I just need a bit more information. Let me just quickly Google “translator’s fingerprint”. Then I read through each and every article and each and every reference in the article, highlight significant terms, Google them and start the cycle again. No, I can’t use what I researched yesterday, that’s old news, maybe something else is more recent. Reminds me of a quote by Peter Drucker:
There’s nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Lizard brain habit 6: Being snarky. [I had to look up “snarky”: it means being critical, cutting, testy, irritable, short, snide, rudely sarcastic or disrespectful, short-tempered.]
If you’ve been the recipient of me being snarky, I’m sorry. The worst of it, though, is being snarky to myself and my work.

Lizard brain habit 7: Excessively criticize the work of your peers, thus unrealistically raising the bar for your work.
This come from being snarky, you see.

Lizard brain habit 8: Manufacture anxiety about people stealing your ideas.
Oh, I shouldn’t have used “translator’s fingerprint” above, now some other translation student is bound to highjack this idea! [This person will absolutely use exactly the same methodology and theoretical framework as me…]

So how to retrain the lizard brain? It is possible, but difficult. Nike apparently had the answer all along: Just do it!

This means pushing through the resistance: 1) set the target date (could be this month, could be next year, but set the date); 2) start now, and 3) deliver on time, no excuses.
[I’m scared of this one. Last year I reset my target date to this year. The January registration date is long gone. The 29th of March is a bit too close for comfort. The next dates are 14 June and 27 September. – Smaller steps, maybe?]

It also means acting in spite of negative feelings or thinking. By not giving in to the inner voice of anxiety, the more resilient you become. I’ll start with something unrelated to the proposal: Next time I will not give in to the habit of rechecking whether I locked my car. I’ll park my car, walk to the shop, and not turn back halfway to recheck whether I did, in fact, lock my car… 🙂 If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on having the same results you’ve always had.

It also means not being attached to the outcome. How to achieve this? By not having all your eggs in one basket. As my whole life is not dependent on this proposal, my reptilian brain would not, supposedly, experience it as life-threatening and would therefore stop trying to save my life and stop resisting so much… That’s the theory, anyway.