How to Be a Professional

How to Be a Professional

I spent the weekend with David Deida. What a tornado!

One of the things he said that really resonated was about how does someone internalize and get really fucking good at something. Some people are one hit wonders.

He shared a story of how 999 out of 1000 of Michaelangelo or Van Gogh’s art pieces were thrown away.

The public only saw the 1% that was their best.

There are 3 levels for being like them.

1- Amateur – You try something out and give up or do it occasionally

2- Hobbyist – You do it regularly and maybe make money but you don’t do it consistently

3- Professional – You are doing the work even when you don’t feel like doing it.

This was something Mike Tyson said as well when I saw him in New York.

He showed us some of the top boxers ever. EVER!

Tyson mentioned how all of them lost at least one fight. BOOM. We all fail.

That really stuck with me. The point that everyone starts somewhere and it’s the perseverance and practice that will separate out the winners from the losers.

What do you want to be?

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22 responses to “How to Be a Professional”

February 28, 2014 at 3:34 am

Got one more rule to add: Don’t be stupid.
If you’re banging your head against a brick wall because you fail to assess what you actually need to do to have success, perseverance is stupid. You will never get anywhere, no matter how hard and fast you bang. Don’t let naysayers bring you down, but do make sure that you have concrete and close goals in place that make it possible for you to track whether you are actually going anywhere. Also, make sure that these goals serve a real purpose. Becoming the best graphic designer is not a business goal. Getting commissioned within the first month is.

Josh Maitland
October 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

Steven Pressfield hammers on this point in his book “The War of Art” – totally worth checking out to anyone who wants to ‘go pro’ with whatever they’re working on.

Kartika Angkawijaya
March 4, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I’m at hobbyist most of the time because I’m afraid to get out my box (and put a price on what I’m doing), then as a result I feel less appreciated.
I always hesitate to be real professional of what I like doing.
Thanks Noah, your post help me to confirm what I’ve been thinking lately. Great post!

Charlie Zha
November 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

I am in total agreement. I am sure you’ve heard 10,000 hours rule and deliberate practice.

There is a story about Li Po (modern translation is Bai Li) the most famous Chinese poet. At a kid, Po skipped school one day and was wandering around. He came upon an old lady who was milling a iron rod on a rock. Po was curious and asked her what she was doing. She said she was making a needle out the rod. Po laughed and wondered how long that would take. She stated she would keep at it until she attained her goal.

Supposedly, Po was very inspired by her, studied hard, and became the most famous poet in China. Whether true or not, here is a simple story that conveys importance of deliberate practice and power of persistence.

For those of you who read Chinese, the saying in Chinese is ?????????????Iron rod could be milled into needle as long as you keep at it)

Insiya Hussain
September 7, 2012 at 6:28 am

Hey Noah, great to see you writing more. Loved this piece – just the thing I needed to get out of my headspace and get going in the morning. Thanks.

Nate Shivar
August 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I like the 3 divisions – and that quote about Michelangelo. Whenever I go and see a really good band – I think about how many thousands of hours and thousands of shows they’ve done to get to where they are at – when no one was cheering and they really didn’t want to play that one song one more time.

As a trivial aside, OkDork and NevBlog were both highlighted in Google Reader. I clicked OkDork first.

August 27, 2012 at 6:13 am

Sorry! Meant to share this link but forgot.

Here it is:

Its a page from Joel Runyon’s ‘blog of impossible things’
Check out the videos of Giavani Ruffin working out (and the soundtrack) – pretty inspirational!

August 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Welcome home.

August 27, 2012 at 6:02 am

Noah! It’s great that you’re back! I had only just discovered your blog when I learned that you hadn’t been updating it. That put me off checking this out properly, but then today I thought I’d just get to your blog and read the stuff you’d put up ages ago and voila! You’re back! Keep it up!

I turned 39 recently and decided that I really wanted to shake things up and reinvent myself. I had let fear of failure and other things like that act as barrier to creating the kind of life I wanted for myself, but no more! So I started hustling… 3 solid weeks already and it keeps getting better. Turns out that dogged determination to do my best and keep going no matter how epic the failures would be, is all I needed to overcome fear and inertia.

Keep posting Noah, you’ve got a community here that wants to hang out with you.

Best regards to you all!

Devin Reams
August 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

Welcome back to OKDork!

I think the Apple v Samsung lawsuit has shown this, too. Device makers have put I’m a lot of time, money, prototypes, etc. and all we see is the very best. That’s not to say bad ideas were never made or designed… Persistence (not “settling”) pays off.

Aaron Wulf
August 25, 2012 at 5:16 am

Nice to see this post from you, Noah.

There is much to be said about just surviving the initial ups and downs of tackling a new endeavor. It is apparent that winners don’t pack up and go home when things get tough.

You’ve got a ton of knowledge to share, and we’re all ears! Look forward to reading your next posts.

Take care, Aaron

August 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

@riley It’s all in having a why to stick with to persist during the hardest times. Thanks for sharing that Mixergy interview.

@Berta. I went into hibernation, now I’m back weekly (to start). Definitely need to clean the site up.

August 24, 2012 at 10:26 am

So glad you’re posting again! I had JUST subscribed and was anticipating frequent email delivery when the blog went quiet.

Look forward to more great posts!


Riley Dallas
August 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

Great post…I have a huge respect for talent that is born from perseverance.

Assuming that all talent happens naturally is such an easy trap to fall into. I find myself doing it when trying to rationalize perceived gaps in success.

I watch a lot of Mixergy interviews, and my favorite one is from a kid who merely hustled (albeit in a very deliberate, “lean startup” way) with almost no technical skills.

Tony Perea
August 24, 2012 at 8:43 am

Welcome back Noah! I do agree with this, I believe that if you are a goal oriented person with strong enough will, eventually you can achieve anything you want. But, as you said, the truth is that most people quit. Maybe we just don’t have strong enough reasons to make it through the tough days, other times maybe we are probably just lazy or scared I think.

August 24, 2012 at 8:35 am

Actually found an even more on point video that absolutely nails the importance of perseverance and how inextricably linked it is to passion when it comes to success. Steve, take it away…

August 24, 2012 at 8:01 am

@RV Great video!! thanks for sharing.

August 24, 2012 at 8:01 am


So freaking true. Most people just give up or don’t hit the gym the moment they don’t feel like it. Separates the 99% vs the 1%. What do you think pushes you beyond that? A bigger purpose?

August 24, 2012 at 8:00 am

Thanks Sam.

Been wanting to do this for awhile. Will aim with 1 post a week.

Freeman LaFLeur
August 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

I think the key here is definitely perseverance. We live in an age where anyone who is dedicated enough can become really good at almost anything but it takes a lot of perseverance. More than I think the majority of people are willing to put in.

Nice post Noah!

August 24, 2012 at 7:26 am

Totally. Jordan said it best: (I watch this video every few days just to remind me of the possibilities of human potential when you’re committed and never, ever give up).

August 24, 2012 at 6:34 am

Made my day to see a new post from you in my RSS reader – I hope that you can start posting here again more frequently!