Cupcakes, Spreadsheets, and Turning Pro

Last year, I got really into The Great British Baking Show.

Is that something that I should admit? Probably not, no. But after a stressful day, there is something bizarrely relaxing about watching people frantically bake Cardamom-Vanilla Cupcakes With Raspberry Coulis Filling.

If you're not familiar with the premise of the show, it's pretty simple: a group of amateur bakers compete each week on both their technical and creative baking skills. At the end of each episode, one baker is the "star" and one goes home. It culminates, of course, in the episode that picks the final winner.

It’s fascinating to watch the evolution of the bakers over the course of the episodes. At first, everything is a bit of a hot mess.

And, honestly, that's why it's so fun to watch the first several episodes of the season. It's a hilarious mix of potential and chaos and joy and epic failure. Cakes fall on the floor, bakers laugh and cry, things freeze and shatter, and flavors are sometimes so creative they are completely inedible.

Many of the bakers are frantic, but they're also, in some way, still not taking the competition seriously. They're certainly not taking themselves seriously -- showing both a sense of ego as well as a lack of confidence. What they bake is really inconsistent, sometimes marvelous and other times a complete mess. Oddly, many of the bakers also don't practice or plan, although there is time to do so between episodes. Many of them are winging it, perhaps because they don't really believe they can win the competition and aren't sure they want to invest in it. They're definitely not "all in." And they don't seem to be using all the tools or techniques or planning structures that they could.

“The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow.” 
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

Later in the season, the bakers start to get serious. As the number of remaining bakers dwindles, they sense that there is a real possibility they could win the competition. And as they see the impact of their hard work, they start to realize that a lot more of their success is in their hands than they thought. 

They start to practice more during the course of the week (between episodes.) The look both more relaxed and more serious. They are more calculated with their plans and flavor combinations. They have a better sense for timing, using timers to keep them on track and balance complexity. 

It's a shift that the author Steven Pressfield calls "turning pro." The bakers have an internal transformation that bumps them to a completely different level with their work. 

“What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.” 
― Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro

One of the bakers exemplifies this "turning pro" moment so beautifully. An engineer by trade, Andrew is a bit anxious throughout the season. Despite his training and perfectionism, he's haphazard and there is a randomness to how he seems to be approaching things. But by the last episode, he becomes so organized that he creates an intricate spreadsheet to keep track of the bakes and their timing.

It's the ultimate example of something all of the bakers are doing -- becoming so serious about what they are doing, that they don't allow themselves to risk their passion to a lack of planning.


I've seen this with both my own work and the work of our makers. At first, as creative business owners, we're kind of winging it. We can't quite believe we're really running a business or doing our art, so some days are marked by brilliance and others are frantic failures. We don't use all of the structures or supports or systems that would help us be successful. And we don't plan in the ways we should. 

Eventually though, either in a swift change or over the course of years, many of us turn pro. We, indeed, stop fearing spreadsheets. We get better photographs. We finally learn to really understand our business finances. We hire help. We hire professionals. We become professionals, both taking ourselves less seriously but taking our work and potential more seriously. 

So, as silly as the parallel to a baking reality show seems, I really encourage you to consider this dynamic in your business. Where do you need to turn pro? Where are you letting yourself off the hook, and in doing so, holding yourself back from your fullest potential creatively and financially? Where are you playing small and letting yourself be disorganized and letting things be haphazard? 

We don't need to turn pro all at once. But each day, we can take a small step towards that pro version of ourselves. The important thing is to keep moving toward it.

And for further investigation on this topic, check out: 

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