“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
Resistance. Defining the Enemy.
Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.
Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.
Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.
The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire. The best thing you can do for that friend (and he’d tell you this himself, if he really is your friend) is to get over the wall and keep motivating.
The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.
Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.
The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.
Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance.
Depression and anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance.
A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.
Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.
As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture.
He truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.
Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.
Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.
If you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.
Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you — and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.
Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.
The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
In order for a book (or any project or enterprise) to hold our attention for the length of time it takes to unfold itself, it has to plug into some internal perplexity or passion that is of paramount importance to us. That problem becomes the theme of our work, even if we can’t at the start understand or articulate it.
The part that needs healing is our personal life. Personal life has nothing to do with work. Besides, what better way of healing than to find our center of self-sovereignty? Isn’t that the whole point of healing?
Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.
The only exception is, you may share it with another comrade-in-arms, if sharing it will help or encourage that comrade in his or her own endeavors.
Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.
Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.
Combating Resistance. Turning Pro.
Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?
- We show up every day.
- We show up no matter what.
- We stay on the job all day.
- We are committed over the long haul.
- The stakes for us are high and real.
- We accept remuneration for our labor.
- We do not overidentify with our jobs.
- We master the technique of our jobs.
- We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
- We receive praise or blame in the real world.
The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t devote his life to it of his own free will.
The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.
Technically, the professional takes money. Technically, the pro plays for pay. But in the end, he does it for love.
The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work.
The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.
His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.
The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.
A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul.
The professional cannot let himself take humiliation personally. Humiliation, like rejection and criticism, is the external reflection of internal Resistance.
Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can.
The professional does not permit himself to become hidebound within one incarnation, however comfortable or successful. Like a transmigrating soul, he shucks his outworn body and dons a new one. He continues his journey.
If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves. We’re less subjective. We don’t take blows as personally. We’re more cold-blooded; we can price our wares more realistically.
The pro keeps coming on. He beats Resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and even more implacable than it is.
Beyond Resistance. The Higher Realm.
As Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it. These are our allies and angels.
When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens. A crack appears in the membrane. Like the first craze when a chick pecks at the inside of its shell. Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius.
When we make a beginning, we get out of our own way and allow the angels to come in and do their job. They can speak to us now and it makes them happy. It makes God happy. Eternity, as Blake might have told us, has opened a portal into time.
I think angels make their home in the Self, while Resistance has its seat in the Ego. The fight is between the two.
The Self wishes to create, to evolve. The Ego likes things just the way they are.
The Ego is that part of the psyche that believes in material existence.
The Ego’s job is to take care of business in the real world. It’s an important job. We couldn’t last a day without it. But there are worlds other than the real world, and this is where the Ego runs into trouble.
Here’s what the Ego believes:
- Death is real.
- Time and space are real.
- Every individual is different and separate from every other.
- The predominant impulse of life is self-preservation.
- There is no God.
Here’s what the Self believes:
- Death is an illusion.
- Time and space are illusions.
- All beings are one.
- The supreme emotion is love.
- God is all there is.
The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego.
We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.
Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.
In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.
What are the qualities of a territory?
- A territory provides sustenance.
- A territory sustains us without any external input.
- A territory can only be claimed alone.
- A territory can only be claimed by work.
- A territory returns exactly what you put in.
When the artist works territorially, she reveres heaven. She aligns herself with the mysterious forces that power the universe and that seek, through her, to bring forth new life. By doing her work for its own sake, she sets herself at the service of these forces.
Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?
Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue. By confining our attention territorially to our own thoughts and actions — in other words, to the work and its demands — we cut the earth from beneath the blue-painted, shield-banging, spear-brandishing foe.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.