I enjoy listening to podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is The Art of Manliness. I must mention this from the start because, in listening to a recent broadcast called Overcoming the Resistance, it propelled me to write this post. This particular podcast’s guest was Stephen Pressfield. Some of you might now him as the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, among many other great books.
Most of us who call ourselves cyclists probably believe that you are deemed a professional when you are paid, as your profession, to ride a bicycle for a team. There is some credence to this idea. I remember when I attended a junior college on an art scholarship and had my first showing in the college gallery, and I sold a piece to someone. At that point, the art director reminded me that I was now considered a professional artist. Okay, so being paid is the marker to being considered a professional? According to Stephen Pressfield, it is not the deciding factor. Being a professional at anything is overcoming the resistance.
What is the resistance? It is best explained with a few examples. The person who buys a very expensive treadmill only to have it become a clothes hanger. The person who obtains a gym membership only to slowly fade after a few days never darkening the doors again. The person who sits down to write a short story or a novel only to peck out a few paragraphs or pages only to wind up surfing the web and never returning to piece. The resistance is in all of us. Something inside of us resists the proverbial mountain that is before us. We can be forced to believe that we will never make it to the top, that it is not worth the effort, that we are not good enough, or that we lack the talent or skill to accomplish our goals. Sometimes the resistance comes in the form of other people. No, they are not our enemies, but actually people who are close to us. They will see that we are attempting to change something in our life or accomplish a goal of some kind, and these people will start trying to sabotage you. They are not doing this in a vindictive way but will pull you down with little comments because they are dealing with their own resistance and subconsciously hate to see someone else break through and leave them on the other side.
Amateur vs. Professional . . . a professional person shows up every, single day. A professional plays hurt. A professional focuses on the weak areas and works to improve his game, whether it is on a bicycle or presenting closing arguments in a courtroom. A professional can accept defeat, because he learns from it. A professional has a level of excellence and will not accept anything below that line. On the other hand, an amateur quits when faced with an obstacle, by checking out mentally, physically or both. An amateur looks for a way out. An amateur is never committed 100%. An amateur thoroughly loves certain aspects of his venture but is not willing to give when he has to dig deep or experience the less pleasant side of things. Even the word amateur derives from the Latin word for love, to which Stephen Pressfield makes a good point. Love is a feeling and feelings are fleeting. One day you love it, but the next day . . . meh. Being a professional requires something much, much deeper. A professional is driven, to a point of compulsion, never settling for average. Does the resistance stop when someone gains a professional mind frame? Absolutely not. As matter of fact, this is where the resistance will come at the professional, time and time again, with one main point (for me anyway): with a comparison to others . . . with all of the time you have invested and sacrifices made, you are still not promoted or you are still slower than the other riders or you are still as weak as last month or you are still not a published writer. And on and on.
Turning PRO . . . many of you who have followed sports know that a person does not conduct themselves as professional just by signing a big contract deal. It is the exact reason why a major league baseball team will sign a kid out of high school because he can paint the corners at 96 mph but keep him down in the minors for a couple of years (well, the really good teams anyway). We have seen the young man who is brought up too soon with too much money, lacking professional maturity. He is generally the train wreck whom we talk about later and scratch our heads why. Turning professional has to do with a mental switch, according to Stephen Pressfield. In cycling, I have witnessed many people ride their bicycles very hard week after week and stay in, pretty much, the same place. “Why can’t I get better?” they ask. Well, within the triangle of training (Sleep, Diet and Riding), where do most people have a lack of discipline? Being a professional at anything requires focus and dedication. Stay up until midnight watching a movie that you been excited to see the night before a big training ride or race? Absolutely not. Eat fried foods, cake and sodas because it is your neighbors birthday party? Not today! Ride your bike when it is pouring rain outside or freezing cold and everyone else is on the trainer? Yes, please. It is resisting what you want to do and doing what you know will make you better, from being a great parent to being an awesome manager to being a terrific bike rider. The switch is finally deciding which road you will take and being dedicated to stay on that road. It is cliché, but an amateur finds an excuse and a professional finds a way.
Some of you might laugh at the thought of being a professional cyclist and even point out that all of the training, sleeping and diet will not help the average Joe in a UCI peloton. You are correct, but that is not the goal. Anyone can live an average life, but why go through the motions? What could you achieve in a disciplined and professional frame of mind?