On Amateurism v Professionalism, and Fear

This morning, I read this Farnam Street Blog post about the difference between amateurs and professionals. What I was going to write today went out the window.

I know lots of people, especially (but not exclusively) creative people, who call themselves professionals but who act and think like amateurs. It’s something I wrote about often when I was a rep and consultant; now that I’m an attorney, I see it all the more. The gist: fear versus reality.

As Mr. Parrish points out in the piece, people working from a fear-based mindset rather than a reality-based one make poorer choices and behave in limiting ways. I know this from personal experience. I was reared to respond to fear (risk-averse is an understatement!) rather than accept reality and use that reality to reach and work for more. In fact, the first half of my life (so far) was lived that way.

Then, I made a conscious change. It started small but, as Dr. Seuss might say, it grew and it grew. Now, when I look back on my life, I see that I have accomplished a lot and been more successful in many ways than I ever thought I would be. Why? Because I took risks and I pushed myself to do new things. I didn’t let the fear win.

With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks Im going to re-publish some of my previous writings on fighting fear and being a successful creative. I hope you’ll find them helpful. I’ll warn you, sometimes the language will not be entirely safe for work and some of you may not hire me because of it.

But, I’m not going to be afraid of that.

Here is the first, from June 19th, 2013:


What Are You Waiting For?

Yesterday, I saw that a promising reporter was killed in an auto accident in Los Angeles. He was 33. This morning, there was news a best-selling novelist had died of an aggressive cancer. He was 47. And now, as I sat down to begin writing this piece, the news confirmed that James Gandolfini (star of The Sopranos) had died. He was 51.

I share this data with you not to depress but to remind you that life is unpredictable and often way too short. So, what are you waiting for?

Are you afraid of failing? Why? What is the worst that will happen? You’ll lose your home and end up living under a bridge someplace, and you have kids?

Lame excuse.
You read me right, that is just lame.
Guess what, you can do everything right and that dark future can still happen.

Or you can do everything right and get hit by a bus. Or have a heart attack or get cancer or, well, just about anything.

You have one chance at this life (well, one conscious one, if the Hindus and Buddhists, et al., are right) and you have no control over when it will end. So, I ask again, What are you waiting for?

You chose to be an artist and with that came the requirement that you have faith. Not faith in a god (not that you cant have that) but faith in yourself, in your art, and that somehow you’ll make it all work. That’s fabulous. It’s amazing. It’s actually empowering, if you stop shaking in your boots and look at it.

Being an artist requires you actually acting on that faith. You can’t say I choose to be a photographer/designer/writer and then play it safe. You have to do. You have to leap. You have to try and fail (or succeed) and try again and fail (or succeed) and keep doing that over and over again.

For the rest of your life.
That is the bargain you agreed to when you chose to be a professional artist. You have to make, and do, and (sometimes) make do.

The one thing you cannot do is wait for things to be perfect before taking the next step. I’m sick of hearing artists say I can’t send the promo because the site isn’t perfect or I’m not sure my list/promo/portfolio/edit/studio/haircut is perfect so I can’t____. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

If you make some excuse for not doing, then get a real fucking job because you dont deserve to be an artist. You dont have the guts.

I say that with love (you know that, I hope, by now).
But it is true.

Frankly, it’s true for any profession. It’s as true for me as it is for you. We have to get out there and do. We can’t be bound up by the fears of getting stuff wrong (which, by the way, is much worse in my profession than yours) or failing. We have to do and leap and try. Every bloody day.

Not only will doing this give you your best shot at being successful (and it will), it will make you happier in the process. Following your dream, doing what you love, isn’t that worth the risk of trying? Why be an artist if you never get to make your own art?

Life is (sadly) short for too many people. We don’t know when our last breath will come. No matter how well we treat our bodies, it is ultimately out of out control when Death will come. And each of you deserves to have loved the life you have. The only way for that to happen is to try, to do, to make your art, to follow your dream, to risk, to fail, and to do it all again the next day.

So, what are you waiting for?