When I first told people that I was going to leave college, they would usually ask something like, “Oh, what’s your idea?” or “Are you going to make the next Facebook?”
But, I'd watched a few friends graduate and try to pursue their big idea - as soon as it started to unravel, their passion for forging their own path went with it. They're entire sense of creative confidence was attached to that single project.
This is not what Mike and I were planning. It was difficult for people to understand that there wasn’t some big idea. That instead we had a range of projects we wanted to be working on and a totally different lifestyle in mind.
Up until recently, I thought it was a good thing to totally sacrifice oneself for the projects they're working on.
Then I read the War of Art. One of the most difficult parts for me to swallow was:
“[Pros] do not over-identify with their job...[The amateur] defines himself by it...the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.”
As I read that, I felt part of myself rejecting it so hard that the other part knew it had to be true. As I played with the thought more over the coming days, I began to embrace it.
The amateur is in love with an idea, a project, a single vision - these are inherently on dynamic, on edge and unstable.
The professional is in love with their craft, applying and honing it everyday no matter the conditions, regardless of the state of any one piece of work. This is their foundation and it's rock solid.
I’ve been doing freelance design since high school but always struggled through it, to be honest. I tried to love and treat the projects like my own, but that always ended badly because they weren’t.
When I’d inevitably lose control of a project I’d come love, it would be ruined for me. No matter how much was left on it, I’d simply feel done with it.
And although I still don’t have a huge appetite for this type of work, I’m able to imagine myself working on others’ projects now that I understand the root of the problem was the same over-attachment that equally stalls my own projects.
It’s most empowering when my attachment and love is to my craft, not to any singular expression of it.
This allows me to work hard, use my existing skills while developing other ones and not get so trapped inside of a project that it drags me up or down all on its own.
This is the mark of a professional. It is a simultaneous connection and detachment from work. It allows a creator to be as connected as necessary but also to temporarily disconnect, reevaluate and regroup.
Seth Godin perfectly captures this in Linchpin, “The linchpin is able to invent a future, fall in love with it, live in it - and then abandon it on a moment’s notice.’
What makes the true artist so great isn’t a single future, it’s their ability to create new futures over and over again.
There are two reasons why I found this hard to accept.
The first is because I recognized that I was displaying traits of Pressfield's "amateur" and that my fear was holding me back from accomplishing my work. Overcoming this meant simply being aware of it.
The second, though, was a more substantial concern: does becoming a professional take the excitement, passion and love out of a project? All of this sounds very strict and straight-laced. As opposed to spontaneous, adventurous and fun - the things I love about how I work.
But if you’re pursuing your work for the right reasons, you simply can’t take the adventure, the fun or the love out of it. I don’t love my projects any less than I used to, but I am much more in control of how they affect me.
This allows me to love and experiment with them more because I am much less afraid of them failing.
Let them fail, I’m here for the craft.
Sign-up for email updates
Submit your email address below and you'll never miss a new article.