The Real Secret to Turning Pro

I’ve written before about how I became a full-time writer and what it takes to get paid for your passion. But if I didn’t tell you the true secret to turning pro, I wouldn’t be doing my job.

Turn Pro
Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

There’s an important truth that few people who’ve “made it” in their industry want to talk about. But in my experience, it’s essential to success.

What is it? Mindset.

Success is first experienced in the mind before it becomes a reality. This may sound kind of metaphysical, but all I mean is: Before you start acting like a pro, you will have to think like a pro.

Mindset matters

For me, this meant calling myself a writer, even though I was scared to do so. It meant stepping out in faith, forcing me to rise to the occasion.

And it worked.

Having spoken to numerous professional artists, some of which have reached the peak of success in their fields, I’ve found this to be a universal characteristic for almost every person. Before they succeeded, they had an idea of success and how they would achieve it.

Turns out, what we actually think — about ourselves and our professions — plays an important role in how we act.

The application

So what does this mean for you? Simple: If you are longing to do or be something, you may need to first change the way you think.

As an exercise, why not try something different, possibly scary? Change your mind. Think differently about yourself. This often has a few important outcomes:

  1. You will take the work more seriously. If you want to be a writer, start calling yourself a writer. It will force you to write. But even more than that, it will require you to think like a writer when you actually put pen to paper or lay fingers to keyboard.
  2. Your confidence will grow. You will also learn that the most powerful affirmation is internal. Most of us get praise from friends and family that we don’t accept. But once we start believing something ourselves, confidence tends to skyrocket.
  3. Others will treat you differently. As you begin taking your work more seriously, you tend to do better work. And as your confidence grows and you begin acting more like a pro, the world will have no choice but to start treating you like one.

Of course, there will still be doubters and skeptics, even those who hate you. But that’s okay. There will always be those people. So it’s a good thing you made a decision a long time ago to love the work and believe in yourself, no matter what.

What this doesn’t mean

Real quick: before you pick up those tomatoes, please understand that I’m not saying if you simply believe something, it will happen. That’s absurd. Nor am I saying that you won’t have to work hard, struggle, and hustle to achieve your dreams. You will.

But I am saying the fight begins in your mind. So if you find yourself in a losing battle with the world to claim your dreams, maybe you need to go back to where it all started: in your mind.

Have you always thought negatively of yourself? Been embittered towards those who succeeded? What if you made the decision to change your mind? If all that negativity and cynicism hasn’t worked out for you, then what harm could this cause?

Time to turn pro

This is what it means to be a professional. It’s all it’s ever meant — someone who takes the work seriously enough to do it well and doesn’t look to others for qualification. You are qualified because you believe you are. Or as Steven Pressfield says:

You are when you say you are.

Are you ready to start acting like a pro? To do the work that matters and stop apologizing for the art you owe the world? Then it’s time to start.

You will begin where all pros do: with the mind. By changing the way you think today so you can leave a legacy tomorrow. It may be uncomfortable, even painful. But it will be good.

And you just might be surprised at how much a simple shift in mindset can affect everything.

What’s your experience been with thinking like a pro? Share in the comments.

67 thoughts on “The Real Secret to Turning Pro

  1. The more I intentionally think about being pro, the more I find myself putting in the time and doing the work. I’m noticing more time in the day to accomplish certain tasks, especially writing. For instance, that free 15 minutes I’ll have later today, instead of wasting it, I’ll write a few lines or edit a bit.
    I’ve also found this mindset to help me with my focus on social media. It’s becoming less of a time sucker and more of an engagement tool to build real community which helps me to serve others through my writing.
    I always appreciate your encouragement, Jeff.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Jeff. You hit the nail on the head with this one. I teach a course on public speaking and the 1st of my 3 Ms that I teach is Mindset. It controls our life. It governs our actions. And it separates the successful from the mediocre. Thanks for all that you contribute and I hope to you on my podcast someday.

  3. My biggest problem is not thinking of myself as a writer. It’s thinking of myself as a professional. I still fight this all the time, and it’s really difficult. I have low moments where I am resentful of successful authors and think ‘they have it easier than me, they get all the breaks, they have more time than me, God has opened all the doors for them’, and of course they are just lies and excuses.

    Being a pro is not easy at all, and for me the biggest battle of all in my writing, apart from overcoming fear of writing a book itself, is the fear of being a pro, and fear of admitting I am a pro, and stating it as a truth. Inside I still really struggle to see myself as a pro. I’m getting there, but it’s tough.

    Thanks for sharing this Jeff.

    1. You’re right, James. Being a pro is hard, because you put yourself out there in the public eye, open to scrutiny. Nobody criticizes the amateurs (or at least, no one takes them seriously). But a professional? You’d better believe they’re going to be critiqued more harshly than the rest of us. It’s a risky place to be, but it’s the only place you can succeed. Good luck; you’re doing great!

    2. I hope that you can James.

      I had a realization recently about “turning pro.” I love doing yard work. I know a lot about agronomy and I love the results from a job well done. We have 2 acres and I can spend 14 hours on a weekend doing it.

      But I would never want to do it professionally.

      With writing it is different…I HAVE to do it. I can’t stand taking 2 days off in a row. One day is fine (Sunday) but more than that is hard.

      I realized then and today that I have to do this. I have to be a pro at it.

  4. I am a writer.

    Well, that was a first. Let’s see…I’ve been published in magazines, write a daily blog, been published in a book…yeah I am. Weird. Until now, I’ve never written, said, or even thought that seriously.

  5. When I think about what it takes to turn pro, I realize that mindset is very important as you said. But, there’s also the determination to not judge, compare or make up stories about what going pro means for others. It’s different for each person and each person will have their own journey. So I focus on what going pro means for me, and try to stay focused on my own life, work, goals and the work I want to contribute to the world. This has helped to build my confidence and personal brave, going pro moves. Thanks Jeff

  6. I have considered myself a writer for a long time. I studied great songwriters for years and I can write songs with some of the best. More recently I started blogging and writing books and now I consider myself an author as well as a writer. I reach a higher level of writing every day. Others have started looking to me as an authority and coming to me for advice. I do the best quality work possible. Yes, I look at myself as a professional, but I’m still learning the ropes to the marketing and promotional aspects.

  7. For a long time I was an ‘aspiring writer’ which meant I was always aspiring. Once I started calling myself writer I wrote; and got more and more work.

  8. Jeff, it’s amazing how others respond to certainty. When I first started calling myself a career coach I hadn’t been paid to coach a single person. But I knew I could do it well so I knew I was a coach. This made me think about Jon Acuff’s latest book START where he has a section about what to say when someone tells you “but you’ve never done this before.” Jon says the response should be “no, but I’m about to.” I love that.

  9. So true! And very helpful today, as I work on my PR campaign for my new book, due out this summer. As a self-publisher, I wear many hats, and the “think like a pro” advice fits generating PR materials every bit as much as the writing itself. Thanks for writing a great blog!

    1. Very interesting perspective, Reba. Makes complete sense. You have to be all things for your book, and if you don’t believe it, who else will?

  10. I made the mindshift about six months ago. I didn’t tell anyone out loud. But my actions and attitude must have shifted as well because my husband started making comments like “Don’t bother mom right now, she’s working” and my son started telling friends writing was my job. People have started coming to me for advice. (after three years of lurking in the shadows, barely being noticed at all.) On one level this is terrifying! But on another I know it’s a chance to help people.

  11. I didn’t stop to think about it until now. It makes a lot of sense: how can I become a writer if I don’t start thinking that I already am? It makes no sense to “wait until I become a real writer” to actually start believeing that I am.

    Thanks again Jeff. Your blog posts are really helping me out on this “new journey”.

  12. Jeff, how do you do this? Your blog always arrive with the topic I struggle with addressed. Thank you. Saying I am a writer is easier than believing it every day.I must work on that bit.

  13. Carol Dweck has done a lot of research about mindsets (see her book or her website: ). In essence, she says that a fixed mindset means that we think we are what we are, so we are stuck there. But a growth mindset means that we believe we can develop our personality, talents, and intelligence through effort and hard work. Thinking of yourself as “whatever” and then working toward becoming “whatever” means that you can change your mindset to reach your goals over time. So if you want to be a writer, think of yourself as one, work hard at it, and surround yourself with people who won’t bring you down, but challenge you to reach higher.

      1. Ditto to Deborah’s suggestion for Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” As a parent, Jeff, you’ll also appreciate her information on the difference between giving praise or encouragement to children. It really hit me between the eyes! It helped me change how I encourage and inspired me to write about raising praise junkies.

        So much goodness in your post and interview, and especially this: fear of saying it out loud and then failing, having the starving artist mentality. Eeeek. Those hit home with me. I am finally calling myself a writer, although it has been challenging. Part of that discomfort of stretching my comfort zone. 🙂

  14. This is great! This post totally put words to some of my thoughts. I totally agree with how the challenge starts in the mind. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Before I started thinking of myself as a writer, I struggled to write, and I’d look for every excuse not to do it. The day I left my job and began to identify myself as a Writer, an Author, I found that all I wanted to do was write. Now, I struggle to do the necessary things of life that keep me from writing. What a turn-around!
    Thanks, Jeff, for your blogs. They always motivate.

  16. Great points Jeff. I posted something a couple weeks ago about Romans 12:2 and that while almost every translation of the Bible uses the phrase “…renewing your mind…” the New Living uses the phrase “…change the way you think…” the context was different but the idea is the same. If we stop looking at our lives the way we always have and look from a slightly different perspective – not changing our core beliefs – we my discover things we’ve been wasting a lot of time looking for have been right in front of us the whole time.

  17. Very Inspiring Jeff.
    Your points are so clean. practical. and motivate to move forward.
    You make me fall in love with you!

      1. lol. Deal. Till you keep writing like this (and of course you will.. as you’re the writer.) btw, most of the time I refer my fiancee to check your post, pray for me 😉 😀

  18. Dave Ramsey always say that if you want to be rich, do what rich people do. That mindset is very crucial and if you don’t believe it, why would anybody else? I like how you talk about taking it serious, even if you you’re just starting out, take it serious from the beginning!

    1. Love that quote Kimanzi.

      If you want to be a writer, do what writers do.

      That’s why I love what @jeffgoins:disqus does here so often, sharing what writers like him are doing. I get a good glimpse at a day in the life of Jeff.

    2. “even if you you’re just starting out, take it serious from the beginning!” your thought reminds me of this pearl of wisdom “Don’t despise the days of small beginnings!” That’s where it all begins 🙂

  19. This is such a helpful post and I just love the video! Maybe I’ll start calling myself a writer– just in my head to start. Don’t want to get carried away! 🙂

  20. I attended Dan Miller’s Coaching With Excellence last week in Franklin – and this echos exactly what I heard there for two days. You are successful just for starting and making progress – and you need to start talking and thinking that way early.

  21. You are absolutely right. It was so tough to put myself out there when I first started my blog and began teaching others about personal finance. It was a battle of the mind that I overcame the more I wrote and the more I taught.

    It didn’t take me long to develop the mindset of being a pro thanks to a lot of writing, dedication, and people like yourself who are leading the way.

  22. For some reason, this post takes me back to 2011 (i think) when i began reading your blog. Your advice to call start calling myself a writer had a huge impact on me, turned my writing life around. I totally agree with you, turning pro begins in the mind. Honestly when you don’t see it, it’s hard to get it.

    I love this too “Before they succeeded, they had an idea of success and how they would achieve it.” I have a good (as good as it gets anyway, at this level) picture of our dream and how to get there. It takes grace and hard work but slowly it’s coming alive.

  23. Here’s a high five and an Amen! I agree the initial battle and forthcoming resistance is mental. I will venture to say this: If the art you create is a gift to the world to honor the Maker–resistance is often spiritual. Owning your calling as a writer is essential to endure the pain writers often experience–emotional. And I cannot deny your comments re: working hard–Calling yourself a writer, but not doing a writer’s work is lazy. That speaks to the physical.

    God has used your words to help me embrace one God-knit piece in my personal Lego package: I am a Writer. Likewise He taught me through you about “butt glue.”

    Quick story: One night after working on the design of my website I cringed at the slithering whispers. “You’re being too visionary.” Immediately I turned to God in a desperate prayer, “God, am I? Am I being too visionary?” I saved my work. Headed downstairs. Hurried to get ready for bed so I could read one chapter in Angela Thomas’ book, Do You Know Who I am: And Other Brave Questions Women Ask.

    Stunned. Awed. Relieved. Inspired, I read God’s answer to my trembling prayer, ” Thanks, Jeff. 🙂

    1. “I am called to dream big. And so are you. Here is the reason: Our God is worthy.” -Angela Thomas, Do You Know Who I Am: And Other Brave Questions Women Ask

      From that day forward, I believed God called me to bigger dreams. No, not too visionary. Changed mindset.

      Good word, Jeff.

  24. The more I write the more I’ve gained confidence calling myself a writer. The first time felt a little awkward, but the more I say it the more ownership I have over the idea.

    More than that I’ve been reluctant to call myself a leader. I know leadership is a popular topic and “everyone’s a leader”, but I really want to influence men specifically to be great men.

    Over the last 2 years I’ve worked on the weekends for our church leading a 90 person volunteer team of ushers and greeters. I didn’t really see myself as a leader, but many encouraging people have built me up and are excited to see me grow.

  25. I was going to say that “Before you start acting like a pro, you will have to think like a pro” was false. I recently interviewed Robert D. Smith for my podcast last week, and he says that thoughts and feelings follow actions. In other words, act even if you don’t think or feel like you can or want to do something. There is merit in that.

    The more I thought about it, I realize that what you’re saying doesn’t contradict his powerful lesson, and in fact deepens it. I believe what you are saying is that sometimes even if you can’t think or feel a way to act, having the mindset of knowing you NEED to act, and then having the courage to act, even against feelings or thoughts of fear and resistance, you can then act. That’s where Robert’s lesson comes in.

    In other words: I’m scared to be a writer. Mindset comes in and you choose to call yourself one. You then act like one, thus becoming one.

  26. Hey Jeff, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I saw your interview on Platform U (I’m a member and love it) and it was very helpful. (Thank you.) It’s been messing with me too, because for some reason I’m having a hard time calling myself the “w”-word (writer), even though I want to preach and write full-time. I’m working up the courage, though. It really helps to hear stories from folks like you, about how they reached their dream… because a lot of the time we only see the ones who have already arrived, and we have no idea how to make it happen ourselves. Thanks for being so open.

  27. Great thought Jeff. I know you have eluded to this in previous posts, but it is always good to hear it straight forward. I never have liked the term ‘fake it til you make it.’ Before you have your first subscriber or reader, you have already determined your success in your mind. Good stuff!

    1. It does get easier with time. I think the more you write, the easier it is to tell people who you are.

  28. I never thought of myself as a professional writer at first. When I pursued my Creative Writing degree in college, my professor wanted us to write at the top of our journal pages, ” I AM A WRITER” to get us into that mindset. I got out of the practice after I graduated. I told people I was a writer, but didn’t truly believe it because I wasn’t doing anything with my degree.

    Now, when I tell people I am a writer, I believe I am. I think like a writer, keeping an eye for opportunities and note story ideas. I had people, especially in my own family who doubt and discourage me from writing. It hurts, but I don’t let them deter me from what I believe I am called to do.

  29. Hi Jeff, First of all, I’m REALLY SORRY this is off topic, but I don’t know how else to contact you. I’m wondering if there is any possible way to get the recording from Jonathan Mead and yourself that you made the last week? I didn’t make it on the live call, and have listened to the 1/2 of the replay and it was SO AMAZING – but I got called away from the call and wasn’t able to make it back on time, so I’m left hanging wondering what came next! If there IS a way, I would so much appreciate it…..if there is any way, my email is… (and plse delete this message when you read it, as it is not in keeping with the topic)!

    Thanks so so much!


  30. The other Jeff in the world, Jeff Bezo started Amazon with a email to a group of people saying if they want any book to email him and he will get it for them. But for all this time he has a vision for what Amazon for be and acted in accordance with this. He is regularly noted for his ’10 year plan’.

    I think it is important to separate this from ‘fake it till your make it’. Thinking like a pro involve truly embodying what you are being pro in while faking it till you make carrys a notion that you are attempting to avoid being caught out.

    I work everyday and thinking like a pro; some days it works other days I need more practice…but being a pro’s all about continual practice, right?!

    Aaron Morton

  31. Another great post, Jeff. I have read a post like this before from you, but it never gets old. This reminder always comes from you when needed. The more I write, the easier it is to say that I am a writer, so I will just keep practicing.

  32. I agree totally with your advice. Becoming a writer or an artist of any kind requires that you take yourself and your work seriously. Telling yourself that you are a writer is a bit like admitting to a fact about yourself that is hard to believe. The mind will adjust itself accordingly and the body will follow suit – like sitting down to write without self consciously questioning , “am I up to the task?” questions to distract from the real work of creativity.

  33. Dreams. Fear of failure, judgement, or rejection. I preach and teach in jails and prisons, but I can’t seem to put anything on paper. I just have to get over it already! It’s all in my head anyway, right? I tell myself every day that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Getting it from my head to my heart (thought turned belief) is an entirely different thing. But the sooner I get it there, the sooner I can be free to be myself. Thanks for a great post!

  34. ” Before I started thinking of myself as a writer, I struggled to write, and I’d look for every excuse not to do it” i agree with this quote,

  35. This first time I heard you say this, I wrote down on a piece of paper -“I am a writer!” Even that changed my WHOLE perspective. It took a while to tell my family. They knew writing was my passion, but I had never said I was actually going to DO IT! When I took that plunge and told them, the first response from my family was: “That’s great!! What will you do for money?” ha ha ha!

    I had to laugh when you mentioned in the video that everyone you knew that called themselves a writer… was broke! Luckily, my family does not know what I know (because of you) and time will tell!! Loved the post, Jeff!

  36. This works even if you are a dog. I say it all the time, “I am a writer.” Now, if you said. “I am a dog,” it only works if you are a dog.

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