January 1, 2012
This is a TOP 10 book for me. Pressfield is one of my favorite writers. His (historical) fiction writing was one of the catalysts that resulted in me going back to school to complete a degree in (Ancient) History. In this work, Pressfield names the nagging, critical voice in our heads “The Resistance.” You will read this again and again. In fact, stop reading this and go buy your own copy.
It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
Every sun casts a shadow, and genius’s shadow is Resistance.
Do we have to stare death in the face to make us stand up and confront Resistance?
Resistance will bury you.
Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
RESISTANCE IS FUELED BY FEAR 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.
Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives.
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.
Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of 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.
RESISTANCE AND UNHAPPINESS What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.
We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
RESISTANCE AND CRITICISM 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.
The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
RESISTANCE AND FEAR Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. 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.
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.
RESISTANCE AND BEING A STAR 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.
The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.
The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes. The part that needs healing is our personal life. Personal life has nothing to do with work.
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. Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.
Resistance is fear.
Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor.
It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life. — Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C.
I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.
What’s important is the work. That’s the game I have to suit up for. That’s the field on which I have to leave everything I’ve got.
An hour passes. I’m warmer now, the pace has got my blood going. The years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know how to shut up and keep humping. This is a great asset because it’s human, the proper role for a mortal. It does not offend the gods, but elicits their intercession. My bitching self is receding now. The instincts are taking over. Another hour passes. I turn the corner of a thicket and there he is: the nice fat hare I knew would show up if I just kept plugging. Home from the hill, I thank the immortals and offer up their portion of the kill. They brought it to me; they deserve their share. I am grateful. I joke with my kids beside the fire. They’re happy; the old man has brought home the bacon. The old lady’s happy; she’s cooking it up. I’m happy; I’ve earned my keep on the planet, at least for this day.
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist.
The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey.
What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?
1) We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
2) We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.
3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.
4) We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.
5) The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
7) We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
8) We master the technique of our jobs.
9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
10) We receive praise or blame in the real world.
The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love.
Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.
The professional, on the other hand, understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare.
The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash.
A pro views her work as craft, not art.
The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.
The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
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.
The professional understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious. It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before.
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.
A PROFESSIONAL DEDICATES HIMSELF TO MASTERING TECHNIQUE The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.
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 student of the game knows that the levels of revelation that can unfold in golf, as in any art, are inexhaustible.
What he did do was maintain his sovereignty over the moment. He understood that, no matter what blow had befallen him from an outside agency, he himself still had his job to do, the shot he needed to hit right here, right now. And he knew that it remained within his power to produce that shot. Nothing stood in his way except whatever emotional upset he himself chose to hold on to.
Remember, 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.
A PROFESSIONAL REINVENTS HIMSELF
As artists we serve the Muse, and the Muse may have more than one job for us over our lifetime.
A gun recognizes another gun.
Resistance is a bully.
The first duty is to sacrifice to the gods and pray them to grant you the thoughts, words, and deeds likely to render your command most pleasing to the gods and to bring yourself, your friends, and your city the fullest measure of affection and glory and advantage. –Xenophon, The Cavalry Commander
Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.
The Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, the T. E. Lawrence translation.
Here’s the start of Homer’s Odyssey, the T. E. Lawrence translation:
O Divine Poesy, goddess, daughter of Zeus, sustain for me this song of the various-minded man who, after he had plundered the innermost citadel of hallowed Troy, was made to stray grievously about the coasts of men, the sport of their customs, good and bad, while his heart, through all the sea-faring, ached with an agony to redeem himself and bring his company safe home. Vain hope — for them. The fools! Their own witlessness cast them aside. To destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun, wherefore the Sun-god blotted out the day of their return. Make this tale live for us in all its many bearings, O Muse. . . .
I love the summation of Odysseus’ trials that comprises the body of the invocation. It’s Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey in a nutshell, as concise a synopsis of the story of Everyman as it gets.
These are serious fears. But they’re not the real fear. Not the Master Fear, the Mother of all Fears that’s so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don’t believe it. Fear That We Will Succeed.
We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us.
We can’t be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become.
Someone once asked the Spartan king Leonidas to identify the supreme warrior virtue from which all others flowed. He replied: “Contempt for death.”