There’s a big difference between being a professional writer and being an amateur. The amateur chooses the safe path and gives himself an out when it comes to writing. Often when the moment comes to choose between writing and to do something else he will choose to do something else.
The amateur does not have his heart into his choice to become a writer.
This isn’t an easy choice nor is it one that you make by simply declaring to the world “I am a professional writer.” Really it’s a paradigm shift that may require you to change the way you approach the decisions that you make.
I say this because you don’t make the choice to become a professional writer one time. I make it perhaps hundreds of times in a week. Writing is a choice that I make every day that isn’t motivated by paying the bills or making an honest living for myself. It’s the simple fact that I have something to say and I believe it’s worthwhile to share it with other people.
The reasons I write are important to me and the only way to show that commitment is by doing.
John Wooden, the great UCLA baksetball coach had a saying “Little things done well.” The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the pro makes the right choice on all the little decisions that they have to make.
Consider all the decisions I have to make each day: Sleep in or get up early and read, watch television after breakfast or write this post, plod around on facebook or start writing this short story, Watch a movie after work or spend an hour or two plotting my novel.
Those are all very small decisions, ones that are made every day without much thought, but they are important because they are choice to act.
The first step in becoming a writer has nothing to do with learning any particular skill or taking a specific class. It comes down to making that choice— are you a professional or an amateur?
The Personality ethic
I’m a big fan of success literature and a big chunk of my reading time is devoted to books on personal development. What I’ve found is that the true mark of a professional is the same whether you want to be an artist, writer or the head of a Fortune 500 company.
Professionals are people that let character dictate personality. To be clear, character is the way we truly are while personality has to do with perception. Indecision, regrets and negativity— all the things that hold you back— stem from trying to live based on perception rather than character.
The emphasis these days is on the personality ethic meaning we strive to project a certain image of ourselves based on the way we want people to see us.
The basis of a job search is selling your potential to prospective employers. So you acquire skills and learn specific techniques with the idea of becoming attractive to future employers. Employers looking to hire the type of personality that fits in with their company.
We project that image of ourselves in several ways. The obvious one is our cover letter and resume. Others include personal websites, blogs and social media. Even certain face-to-face interactions are often done with an air of projecting a certain personality.
When you go in for a job interview or meet with a client there is a certain decorum that is expected that is different from meeting with friends or family. When an employer asks you for an interview what they really want to know is if the person you exhibit on paper is the same one that is standing right in front of them.
The personality ethic does not just apply to your job search.
Marketing campaigns are built on selling you on the fact that their product fits in with the specific image you have of yourself. Social media like Twitter, LinkdIn, Pinterest, Facebook and many others are built on the principle of sharing your personality with others.
Personality is just the tip of the iceberg though and where people miss the mark is not taking the time to figure out who the real person is underneath all the layers of personality.
Living from the inside out
Personality is easy to fake. The easiest way to lose credibility among your peers is to expose yourself as a phony. The best example of this is Tiger Woods. Think about the way you viewed him 10 years ago then now.
It’s almost like looking at two different people, but really what happened is that his character came to the surface in a very public way. He was an untouchable personality for nearly a decade–at least that was the image fans and the media came to know.
The error was ultimately believing that he actually was untouchable in all aspects of his life.
Woods could not live up to the personality other people created for him and ultimately that wasn’t necessarily the man he was or wanted to be. The results speak for themselves.
Think of character, or the person we really are, as a series of concentric circles much like a dart board. At the heart of it are your values, which is the relative worth you hold for yourself.
The values you regard highly form the core of your character. Love, hard work, perseverance are positive values while on the opposite end are greed, selfishness and laziness. These values in turn drive our beliefs, which is the next ring on the circle.
Beliefs are our opinions and convictions about ourselves and others. If you value hard work, then you will believe that others are hard working as well. If you love yourself then you will believe others are loving as well.
Beliefs lead to the next ring, which are our expectations. If you really believe that you will persevere through anything then you will expect that out of yourself in every situation. Contrast that with the person that believes that they will fail, chances are they will enter a situation with the same expectation.
The outermost ring are our actions, which is the one that we ultimately judge ourselves and others by. What we do is a reflection of our expectations, beliefs and values.
In the end, character is the basis of personality or the image we hold of ourselves and others. Anytime we are dealing with other people, what we are really doing is taking it on good faith that personality and character are one in the same.
When we say one thing and do another then we are violating that basic agreement that who I think you are is the same as who you really are. Once that happens it’s very hard to to get that trust back.
Negative emotions happen when what we are doing is not in line with our core values. When somebody is not happy with their job, what they are really saying is that deep down the work that they are doing does not have much personal value.
Clarify, Clarify, Clarify
The professional strives to be clear about every aspect about their lives. If they don’t know something then they strive to learn about it so they can be clear about what they are getting into. This is what people call being solution oriented.
If you are thinking about switching careers or making a life altering decision, the best place to start is within. Clarify your values and figure out what is really important.
Love, perseverance and hard work are just concepts, but what do they really mean to you? How do they apply to your work?
Choose the values that are important to you then apply them to your own life by working outward on each ring of the character circle. Inevitably you will reach the outmost ring. At that point you will be thinking of actions that will embody the things that are most important to you.
Clarifying your actions is the process of planning and goal setting. If you’ve worked from the inside out then this is the process of constructing a personality that is in line with your true character.
If in the end this means you need to change careers or pursue something different, then you have a decision to make. If not, then at the very least you will feel much better about the job that you are doing right now. Gaining that kind of clarity over your work situation is enough to give you peace of mind and in turn you will do your current job better.
Clarifying your true values is ultimately fruitless if you don’t take the steps necessary to achieve them. The steps you come up with may not be easy and ultimately it’s your decision to do them or not.
Perhaps what you truly want is to pursue a career in writing, but quitting your current job would make it difficult to support your family. That is a difficult choice and one you would have to think very long and hard about.
This is different from choosing not to do something out of fear. This kind of resistance is mental and stems from worrying more about the perceptions of others then what we truly want. If you truly seek to live from the inside out then your actions will be the measure of the values you hold dear.
That might mean standing up to your parents who think that giving up a steady job is foolish, or making the decision to give up a certain lifestyle in order to make room for the career of your dreams.
Sacrifices and change go together, but the professional is an expert at dealing with failure.
Our current culture equates success with winning and that goes hand-in-hand with our obsession with personality and image. If that is what you truly value then in the end you will never be happy or content with your life.
The moment money, fame and glory are gone then what is left for you? Only amateurs strive to hold on to things that that are beyond their control. The real professional measures success by the quality of effort they put into their actions at that moment not by winning or achieving the end goal.
When I sit down to write, my goal is to put forth maximum effort in the time allotted. Whether that’s a 15 minute session or six hours of straight writing I am happy and feel successful at the end.
The reward is in the process and in the end that means I never really fail.