In his book Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield determines the clear line between the amateur and the pro. The amateur is not living to his full potential, put simply. The pro makes the choice every day to work on his calling, and he’s in it for the long haul. Probably the most striking feature of the book is how understanding Pressfield is of the amateur. He’s been there himself before becoming a bestselling author. In his twenties and thirties, he was a tractor-trailer driver and an apple picker. Pressfield has a very clever concept that rings very true called “the shadow life”. The shadow life is what we live instead of working on our calling. The shadow career is what we engage in when in denial of what we are truly capable of. My shadow career was private investigation.
I enjoyed it for a couple of years. It was a way to immerse myself in the lives of others, even to attempt to gauge my normalcy in comparison to them. I’ve always been hyper-aware of the ways in which I’m different from other people. I perceive the world in a tremendously different capacity, so I’m very careful when I speak with people. During my period of private investigation, I got a pleasurable, removed point of view of how other people were living. I did not personally know these people, but I knew something about them, including their medical conditions and their deposition statements. I also knew where they ate lunch on a given day, who they met with, and where they got their nails done. Predicting their moves and their modes of expression was thrilling, especially when my predictions turned out right, which was more often than not. I learned about human behavior in an absurd way.
Pressfield says “Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career.” My shadow calling was something of actually creeping in the shadows. I crafted narratives about people, albeit regimented versions of their lives. Clinging to the job, I convinced myself that I was cut out for this work. Some realities shook hard but I stayed as detached as I could – deaths, drownings, and murder – were just content in a report. They had to be.
I tried to write when I got home from work, but I’d throw all of it away. It was junk. I was writing about things that didn’t matter because I was doing my absolute best to avoid the only things that did matter. I focused on the exterior and I focused on moving ahead through time but not moving ahead with my potential. I sought and attained distractions, one after the other. My biggest vice was my past. As Pressfield points out, “The payoff of living in the past or the future is you never have to do your work in the present.”
The past is a cloying parcel. Tug at the string, slip your finger under the wrapper, and you see the box. It’s merely a representation of what’s inside. Your mind teases around every corner and flat surface, but the contents remain inside. The memory cannot fathomably recall all of the innards. So resting outside and calling repeatedly on the representation – the sick feelings, repetitive phrases, faces – takes moments of the present away. Pressfield’s pro lives in the present, “He loses himself in the work and in the moment.” He sets the tempting box aside. He may glance over at it briefly before setting to work, but he smirks, reaching for the pen rather than the string. Tomorrow he’ll do the same.