The Price of Being a Professional (Succession, Steven Pressfield, and, of course, Buffett)
"The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day." Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
My post on Falling Out of Life generated a lot of feedback. Thank you all for actively engaging with it. Several readers pointed out that the question of a work’s importance is in the eye of the beholder and not at all correlated with financial success. That’s very true and we can observe it in many crucial but poorly paid professions. I wanted to clarify: the question of importance was triggered by a conversation about financial success but it stuck with me because it touches on meaning.
And to be clear: the fact that I am able to make a living ‘writing on the internet’ in a language that is not even my own blows my mind every day and I am profoundly grateful for that — and for all of you.
But it’s a serious question and whatever answer you come up with can profoundly alter your life. As I wrote in The Gift That Cannot Be Given, I believe we all carry within us a potential to enrich the world and the lives of those around us. The search for that gift and what feels important can be disorienting, disruptive, and profoundly uncomfortable. (You could say it’s Scary As Hell.)
The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away. — David Viscott (h/t Jawad)
Once uncovered, it is up to us to take the gift seriously, to develop it, and to share it. No matter if it’s well paid or not.
I would underline the word ‘seriously’ if it was possible in Substack. It makes a huge difference whether we get serious about the work, whether we become professionals, or whether we remain amateurs. This was the highlight of a recent episode of one of my favorite shows, Succession. Every one of its characters is hilariously flawed which I find very relatable. But what keeps me engaged is the theme of the hunger for money and power and the sacrifice that is demanded in their pursuit. Ambition and its price tag, a favorite interest of mine.
Minor spoiler alert if you haven’t caught up on Succession (season 4, episode 2, The Rehearsal; NYT recap).
Ok, let’s talk about the epic karaoke scene. Logan confronts his children who, having overpaid to buy Pierce and get back at their dad, are now threatening to muck up the sale of his company. Finally, Logan articulates a key idea behind the show:
I love you. But you are not serious people.
What Logan means is that the kids are not professionals.
And I don’t mean professional in the sense of ‘wears a suit and tie’ or works in what we’d conventionally refer to as ‘the professions’ (say a lawyer or accountant). I mean professional in attitude. Professional as in: they chose the game they play and are prepared to sacrifice in the pursuit of their goals. They take what they do seriously. In that sense, Kerry and Tom are professionals but so is Willa.
These characters have at least an idea of the price they’re paying in the pursuit of their ambition. They show up every day for battle because failure could be catastrophic.
The Roy kids are not like that. They play the game not because they must, not because they have a burning ambition to succeed in it, but because they really don’t have anything else to do. It is their father’s game and they made it a part of their own identities. They think they play to win, but really they play for emotional reasons.
👉 This post is for subscribers. If you enjoy my work, consider supporting it.