Turning Pro: Shadow Careers

An excerpt from Steven Pressfield’s book, Turning Pro:

Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.

Are you pursuing a shadow career?

Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk becoming an innovator yourself?

If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for.

That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.

This excerpt was used with permission from Steven Pressfield. If you love what you just read, you can read Turning Pro cover to cover by purchasing it at Black Irish Books or on Amazon, or check out Steven Pressfield Online to hear more from the author.

Image credit: Martin Whitmore

About Martin Whitmore

Martin Whitmore is a professional illustrator who specializes in book promotions & visual marketing. He also has an unhealthy love for zombies and pinup girls, more of which you can see with all his other work at his page on Ideaschema. (His doctors say that his obsession is subsiding... but that's only because he's been lying to them.)


  1. I have definitely experienced this.

    • Me too, Vasa! I worked for years at a company, printing other peoples’ designs and artwork. Looking back, it’s obvious now. But when you’re stuck in that place, it’s easy to keep your head down and just keep working away. I hope more people will see this, and break out of their shadow careers!

      • Fantastic stuff. I worked for several years as an artist manager, when what I really wanted to be was the artist. Mainly fear held me back. Then I considered doing entertainment law, but that’s the same shadowy thing; it felt safe, as opposed to the risk of embracing my inner calling. No more sitting on the sidelines for me.

        • So great to hear you’re throwing your hat into the ring, David! If you liked this excerpt, then I really can’t recommend Steven’s book Turning Pro highly enough. If you relate to this small part of it, I’m certain that a lot of it will resonate with you, and hopefully give you more insight into how to really push yourself the extra mile.

    • Yeah, it’s so easy to fake yourself out. I have done a LOT of faking myself out over the years, and it’s still sometimes difficult to pull out of it, even when you can see that it’s happened. Reminders are so good!!

  2. One has to keep on pushing on and net let the risk of failure and the comfort of their shadow career hold them back. A little steps over time towards the direction of your real passion will be miles over time.

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