For a fledgling writer like me, Steven Pressfield's The War of Art has been the single most significant source of inspiration. Pressfield frames the artistic quest as a struggle to overcome internal Resistance.
How can we recognize Resistance? Pressfield provides some clues.
- Resistance is not a "peripheral opponent". It is always internal. More critical an action is to self-evolution, more Resistance you will face.
- Resistance stems from fear of the unknown. The panic from fear is at the highest level closest to the finish line.
- Procrastination is a form of Resistance. The consumer culture facilitates procrastination by providing a cheap fix for your time.
To combat Resistance, the aspiring artist has to Turn Pro (Professional). Pressfield calls it "staging your internal revolution".
Pros show up and focus on doing their work. All successful creative people emphasize that there is no magical tactic. You have just to put in the work.
Pressfield says it very eloquently:
"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."
Pressfield encourages aspiring artists to embrace self-doubt. It comes from the love of what you want to do. Real innovators get scared. It only means you HAVE TO DO it. But he also warns that if you find yourself fantasizing about some grand success, it is a sign of Resistance. Professionals do their work because they love it - not to achieve some imagined outcomes.
Pressfield quotes from Bhagwad Gita:
"We have rights only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor."
Ideal pros shows up to their work every day. They commit for the long haul under real and often high stakes. Pros focus on improving their craft (How). They leaves What and Why to the reality and believe in intangibles of inspiration.
A Pro only works for "You, Inc.", but is humble to accept praise or blame from the real world.
Perhaps the most important of Pressfield's prescription is the discovery of self.
"We don't need to shape ourselves into something. But to discover who we are. And become it."
Because a fully-realized self is the seat of all art. Pressfield's prescription is similar to one of my favorite quotes from author Anna Quindlen.
“Nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations. The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
In the age of social media, the desire to build online following quickly can take us away from the most valuable work each of us can do before we can realize it.
Creative work has to be viewed as a gift to the world, first and foremost. It shouldn't be a bid for attention.
Soul of an Engineer
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