Going Pro

What would happen if, starting today, you lived your life as a pro?

Before you read on, let me say that this question is worth indulging in. It might reveal areas of your life that you've been neglecting, areas where you could be more efficient, and areas that are better left to the past.

How does a pro live?

In posing this question, the stereotype of a pro athlete comes to mind.

We all know the stereotype of the pro athlete. The pro athlete gets up at 4:30am, cracks four raw eggs into a glass, downs them, trains all day, protein shake, high fives, then repeats tomorrow.

The jockish image of the pro is an obvious over generalisation, but its the first thing that enters the minds of most people. In reality there are pros in every discipline because being pro is a mindset.

Indeed there are pros all around us. Pro business people, creatives, athletes, scientists, fishermen, writers. Name any field, there will be people who care enough about it to focus everything on it. Sometimes to a fault.

Show up every day

Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline.

Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual

If we could extract the essence of the pro it would look something like extreme focus.

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield's solution to creative block is as simple as showing up every day. The premise of the book is that, by exercising discipline over yourself every day, you will eventually tune your brain to perform well at that task every day.

This isn't that surprising when you think about it. Your brain is already structured to favour predictability. As an experiment, think about something you do at the same time every day (checking email is a good one). Then try delaying it. Do something else instead... checking your email will be all you can think about.

This is the reason Steven King writes in the morning over coffee, as he always has.

Systems > Goals

Goals are what we tell people we're going to do. Systems are how we actually do them.

Go ahead and set the goal to point you in the right direction. But without a system in place to move you towards it, the goal will stay out of reach forever.

A pro is already willing to get after it every day, so they can implement systems with ease.

Want to learn a new programming language? No problem, use it to make something small every day.

Want to make a successful SAAS product? Show up every day and ship features that make it indispensable to users.

Want to lose 15lb? Go running every morning and try to beat your previous record.

Want to get better at writing? Publish something on the same day every week for a year. Tell everybody you know to keep yourself accountable.

The most successful systems feature a feedback loop so that information can flow back into the system and improve it. Incidentally, this is why it's better to compare yourself to your past self, and not to strangers on the internet.

Help the tribe

But I need living companions who follow me because they want to follow themselves – and who want to go where I want to go.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

You can't choose the tribe, the tribe chooses you. By offering sincere advice about what you know, you're standing in the public square waiting for people to emerge from the crowd and gravitate around you.

Most of you who are reading this will probably think "but I have nothing to offer...". This is naive. We all have something to offer. All of us – even if you share the process of learning something new, or share a failure.

The pro will see what they are in an honest light. They see their flaws, their gaps, and where they shine, and they don't let ego deceive them about these things. They see they're not perfect so they're fine with putting themselves out there.

To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.

Kevin Kelly: 1,000 True Fans

Get used to the fact that you hold within your mind information that could change people's lives, then spread that information far and wide.

Problems are opportunities

No, this is not Orwellian doublethink.

I'm unsure if our attraction to problems and our ignorance to solutions is a hardwired feature of brains or a cultural phenomenon, but for whatever reason, we want to see the world through problem glasses.

Like many human behaviours, this is really dumb. If a problem has a solution and I can only see the problem, then I'm going to be a slave to that problem until somebody solves it.

The pro sees the problem but they don't let it bog them down; the pro thinks about solutions to the problem, and if they can, they make the solution a reality.

If you're lucky enough to be reading this in a capitalist country, the solution you think of could also make you rich.

Why I wrote this post

I've been writing this post in my head since 2016 when it occurred to me how much more productive I'd be if I had the discipline of a pro athlete.

Since before that I've been interested in the asymmetry between setting goals and achieving them. It's one of the many reasons I find New Years resolutions cute. Sure, you might know what you want, but have you thought for one second how you're going to move towards it?


While writing this, books that I read years ago came back to me like repressed memories. These are a few that contributed to me writing this:

  • Essentialism
  • Extreme Ownership
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  • Tribes
  • War of Art
  • The Startup Way

There will soon be a books page on my website (I'll be using it as a system to make me read more) where I'll list all of these titles and more.