What separates professionals from amateurs

Read this if you want to learn one of the most important skills in life: being able to tell who’s the real pro, and who’s just faking it.

By Ed Latimore Last modified

It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do.

Being able to separate the wheat from the chaff…

The pros from the amateurs…

It’s paramount to achieving success in life.

In fact, it’s one of the most powerful skills you can have.

Let me explain.

There are two levels to everything. There’s the sandbox, where no one takes anything seriously. Then there’s the battlefield, where the soldiers of the craft — the pros — operate. The big boys’ club.

A lot of people call themselves pros. Most of them are just amateurs waiting to get exposed.

How do you know if you’re dealing with a professional, a wanna-be, or an amateur? It ain’t about the money. It ain’t about the prizes. It ain’t about the titles.

It’s about the mindset.

Now, no matter how much you practice, you will never be able to read someone’s mind. But figuring out someone’s mindset is totally possible. Just watch how they behave.

Ed Latimore after sparring
As a boxer you really learn how to size people up.

A person’s approach to their craft says everything. You can fake a lot of things, but your habits and behavior are on display for the whole world to see. Anyone who’s been through the grind can spot a faker from miles away.

If you want to learn how to spot the fakes and separate the wheat from the chaff, this article is a must-read. It’s a list of lessons I’ve had to learn through trial and error throughout my life:

From growing up in the ghetto… to being a high-ranking professional fighter for Jay-Z’s sports agency.

Professionals rely on habits and systems, amateurs depend on motivation

This is one of the most significant differences.

Everyone has bad days. Ups and downs. And yet, some are able to power through, regardless of mood or weather. Are these people some kind of übermensch?

In a sense, they are. But in another, more important sense, they’re like everyone else.

They’ve just figured out what most people haven’t: that systems and habits are the key to reliable success. The path to improvement entails working even on the days you don’t even feel like getting out of bed. Making progress when you’d rather be resting. And overall refusing to submit to the monkey inside your brain telling you to be lazy.

Put succinctly: pros possess self-discipline.

They keep training, practicing, and learning as much as they can. To the genuine professional, improvement is the only metric that matters.

Amateurs, on the other hand, rely on inspiration and motivation to get things done. But inspiration and motivation are fleeting emotions, which is why amateurs never come close to maxing out their potential.

Professionals possess patience, amateurs are always anxious

This ties into my previous point. Because pros develop habits and systems to help them get to where they want to be in life, they’re more focused on the process than the end goal.

That is the source of their patience.

Entrepreneur and social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk
Gary Vaynerchuk ran Wine Library TV for 19 months with no viewers before it started taking off. Photo credit: RISEConf.

Amateurs, however, are extremely impatient. Because they’re so dependent on motivation, and because they seldom manage to do anything consistently over a long time period, they’re way more concerned about short-term progress.

The problem with short-term progress, of course, is that it’s harder to come by reliably — and unlike long-term progress, it doesn’t build up exponentially.

Think of it like money.

Let’s say I give you $10,000. You could go to the casino and put it all on red. Most likely you’ll lose all your money, but even if you do win, you have no reliable way of reproducing those results.

Or you could put the money in an index fund. At a conservative 7% annual return on investment, you can fairly reliably double your investment in 10 years, quadruple it in 20, or nearly 8x it in 30 years.

It’s slow in the beginning, but the more patience you have, the greater the results.

The same principle applies to most things in life. The better you are at delaying gratification, the likelier you are to win.

Science backs this up. Studies by Mischel, et al. tested children’s ability to delay gratification by letting them choose between eating one marshmallow now or two marshmallows 15 minutes later. As they grew up, the children who had chosen the latter were more successful in school, reported higher incomes, and healthier lifestyles. Seems stupidly simple, but it makes sense.

In short, professionals plan for the future.

They know that by working hard now, they’re making things easier for themselves later.

They hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. 

Amateurs only care about feeling comfortable in the moment. That is why they always get taken by surprise when unexpected things happen to them.

Professionals are the most humble learners

If you want to get better at something, you better be prepared to swallow your ego.

A person doesn’t need to be superior in position or accomplishment in order to teach you something. The most important lessons can come from the most unexpected people.

The amateur thinks he knows everything. If he listens, it’s only to someone who has the external markings of achievement. But the best teachers aren’t going to repeat the same lesson over and over until you finally listen. The amateur, in his lack of humility, will remain forever ignorant.

Because he is humble, the professional loves constructive criticism. He knows that there are things others see that he can’t, no matter how self-aware he is. And he knows that hearing what those people have to say is incredibly valuable. He doesn’t even care if the criticism is mean — so long as it’s truthful.

The amateur, meanwhile, hates criticism. Because of his ego, he takes everything personally. Because he lets emotion control his life, he cares less about being great and more about feeling good.

Amateurs are “well-rounded”, professionals prefer mastery

Amateurs like to be “well-rounded”, because being a jack of all trades is a convenient excuse not to put in the hard work required to achieve mastery. It doesn’t take much to reach an intermediate or above-average level in something — be it a career or a sport. But to win, you have to be willing to make the sacrifice. Blood, sweat, and tears.

Of course, amateurs don’t really want to win. Hell, they don’t even want to compete. Sure, they might think they’re competitive, but really they just enjoy crossing the finish line — not the agony of preparing for and then running the race.

Professionals, on the other hand, love to compete. They enjoy the thrill and agony of battle. They know that the process is more important than the thrill of victory.

Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart in his studio
The Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart dedicated his life to mastering the art of classical sculpture.

Professionals focus on what they can control

In books about psychology, leadership, and management, one concept that keeps reoccurring is “locus of control”.

What does this mean?

I’m not a psychologist, but what follows is my amateur (ironic, I know) understanding of the concept.

Some people have an external locus of control. This means that they tend to think everything happens to them and that very little is within their control. As such, they’re fundamentally reactive and tend not to take responsibility for events.

Others have an internal locus of control. This means that they tend to think everything is up to them. That they can change anything, and that everything that happens is their responsibility.

Obviously, the truth isn’t so black and white.

Some things are within our control, other things are not. It’s hard to overstate the importance of knowing how to tell the difference between the two.

This is something pros tend to be really good at. They identify what is within their control, and then they focus only on that. They don’t worry about anything else, because it would only drain them of energy that could be used to make an actual impact.

The amateurs of the world love to talk and worry about things they have no stake or influence in.

Amateurs believe in talent and dumb luck

If you can’t identify what is within and outside of your control, you probably have poor grasp of causation in general.

That’s definitely the case with amateurs.

They think talent and dumb luck are big factors in achieving success.

Sure, talent and luck exist. But how many super talented people let their talents go to waste because they’d rather watch Netflix than work hard at cultivating their gift? And how many lottery winners end up broke only years after their big win?

As it turns out, a lot. A study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics in 2010 found that lottery winners were twice as likely to go bankrupt as the general population.

If you think your talents on their own will get you far, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you think the guy living in the million-dollar mansion and driving that brand-new Ferrari “just got lucky”, you’re fooling yourself.

Sure, luck and timing are helpful. But if you don’t put in the work, no amount of luck in the world is going to save you.

Professionals have an abundance mindset

This is the final point I’m going to make in this post.

Because they don’t believe in pure luck, and instead develop habits and systems to achieve success, professionals have an abundance mindset.

Pros understand that there is enough success to go around. They know that they have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from helping others — even if it’s just in the form of refinement of their own abilities and knowledge.

Amateurs, on the other hand, have a scarcity mindset. They don’t believe in helping others, because they don’t want to create potential competitors.

Wrapping up…

Again, what separates the pro from the amateur isn’t money, success, or talent.

It’s the mindset.

This is great news for you, especially if you identified more with the amateur in this post. Though it’s not always easy, you can change your mindset.

You have to deal with both internal and external obstacles:

  • Negative self-talk
  • Skewed self-perceptions
  • People in your life who don’t want you to change

But in the end, it will all be worth it.

I should know. I grew up in the hood and managed to get away. I fucked around all throughout my twenties and then I joined the National Guard, pursued a degree in Physics, and became a successful professional athlete. So in other words, I know a thing or two about overcoming both internal and external obstacles.

I even wrote a book about it. It’s called “Not Caring What Anyone Thinks is a Superpower”, and I know if you enjoyed this post, you will love my book.

In fact, I am so sure of it, I am prepared to give you the first chapter for free. To download it, click this link.

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