Passion, Addiction, and Art

Who you calling an amateur? Huh? Huh?

Author Steven Pressfield

Are You Trapped in a “Shadow Career”? The Artist vs The Addict – Jocelyn K. Glei

A few months ago, a colleague of mine told me about meeting a young woman who was “passionate” about writing. He asked her what she had written recently, and she said nothing. In recounting the story to me, he said, “How can you say you’re passionate about something if you’re not doing anything about it?” Good question.

And yet, this is a common affliction. Many of us feel passionate about a particular job or creative project or cause, but we don’t take action on it. Why? Are we addicted to failure? Addicted to distraction? Addicted to money?Novelist and War of Art author Steven Pressfield gets at the crux of this conundrum in his excellent new book, Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. I was particularly struck by his distinction between “the artist” and “the addict,” wherein the former is living out a productive, creative career, while the latter is caught in an endless loop of aspiration and yearning that never gets backed up with meaningful action.

In short, Pressfield calls bullshit on those of us who are passionate about our ideas, but aren’t acting on them. It’s bracing stuff:

Many artists are addicts, and vice versa. Many are artists in one breath and addicts in another.What’s the difference?The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.Both addict and artist are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage. But the addict/amateur and the artist/professional deal with these elements in fundamentally different ways…

Distractions.

Displacement activities.

When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling – meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.

Addiction becomes a surrogate for our calling. We enact the addiction instead of the calling. Why? Because to follow a calling requires work. It’s hard. It hurts. It demands entering the pain-zone of effort, risk, and exposure. 

So we take the amateur route instead. Instead of composing our symphony, we create a “shadow symphony,” of which we ourselves are the orchestra, the composer, and the audience. Our life becomes a shadow drama, a shadow start-up company, a shadow philanthropic venture.

Is this for reals? Or merely a matter of definitions? ‘Cuz we’re really getting nervous here. Don’t you hate when you read something that turns out to be a mirror, showing a version of yourself that gives you the shakes?