It is not that I am so smart; it is that I stay with problems longer.
—Albert Einstein

A professional and an amateur are states of mind. By professional, I don’t mean “the professions” such as doctors and lawyers. The professional is an ideal, a contrast to the amateur. The transformation from amateur to professional is a significant, life-changing passage. Consider some differences.

The professional works from love, passion, and dedication; failure is information to guide proceeding. The amateur may be sidetracked by setback; failure is validation not to proceed.

The professional loves and pursues the game, whatever the game is, with total dedication and passion. The amateur pursues it as a sideline, part-time, like a weekend warrior.

The professional keeps going, no matter what. The amateur is dissuaded by setback and adversity.

The professional does what is important first. Amateurs do what is urgent first. Sometimes a football team can do more in the final two minutes of a half than in the previous 28, with imminent clock and finite time remaining can focus energy, attention, and concentration. The professional operates for the entire game in this zone. The amateur waits for the two-minute warning.

The professional is on a mission, knows that fear can never be overcome, and recognizes that the best indication of what we next need to do is what we’re most afraid of. The professional knows that once action has begun, fear will recede, like your lap when you get up to walk. The amateur must first overcome the fear, and then does the work; fear stops the amateur.

The professional knows that “fair” is a childhood wish; that there is not even an ultimate arbiter of fair. The field is never level, there is always adversity, bad hops, rotten calls, injustice, unfairness. The amateur seeks fairness, and is set back at what does not seem fair.

The professional does whatever it takes, even what never could have been imagined. The amateur needs predictability, consistency, assuredness of results.

The professional respects the craft but is not superior to it, recognizing the contribution of those who have gone before. The amateur believes in inherent luck, intelligence, and waits for inspiration to come.

The professional dedicates to mastery. The amateur dedicates to proving himself or herself, to consistently demonstrating superiority or competence.

The professional does not take things or people personally, recognizes that others always make self statements, and does not succumb to criticism, envy, or idealization by others. The amateur is subject to the perception of others, to rejection, and reads the responses of others as if looking into an accurate mirror with a valid reflection of self.

The professional self-regulates and self-validates, takes in new information but does not let it determine meaning. The amateur becomes an extension of the interest, desire, and needs of others, is vulnerably reliant on the perception and feedback of others.