Whereas The War of Art deals with the real enemy of work and creativity (i.e. Resistance), Do The Work by Steven Pressfield takes you through a step-by-step blueprint for how to defeat that Resistance and actually accomplish the work.
The book has a very simple structure. It starts with a short introductory section on Resistance—I assume it was written for people who haven’t read The War of Art—and presents a list of enemies that stand in the way of doing the work, as well as allies that actually help us in our endeavors and projects.
After the introduction, the book divides into three sections: Beginning, Middle, and End.
The Beginning section shows you how to start whatever work you’ve been dreaming of accomplishing (e.g. write a novel, direct a movie, start a charity, launch a business). It helps you clarify what your work is actually about and then shows you how to lay its foundation and structure.
The Middle section shows you how to take the structure and fill its gaps. It stresses the idea of working without any self-judgment or self-editing since that’s what kills creativity and momentum. The section also talks about the obstacles and challenges that you’ll inevitably face no matter what type of project you’re working on and shows you how to deal with them.
Many people get stuck in the end by falling for the trap of perfectionism, so the final section (End) is about the importance of shipping your final work no matter how imperfect you think it is. The section also stresses starting your next project as soon as possible.
Do The Work can really be described as a nice and short blueprint for getting things done, especially the things that truly matter to us.
The following summary of Do The Work by Steven Pressfield is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.
Orientation: Enemies & Allies
• The following is a list of the forces arrayed against us as artists and entrepreneurs:
- Resistance (i.e., fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing, perfectionism, etc.)
- Rational thought
- Friends and family
Resistance’s Greatest Hits
• The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:
- The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
- The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
- Any diet or health regimen.
- Any program of spiritual advancement.
- Any activity whose aim is the acquisition of chiseled abdominals.
- Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
- Education of every kind.
- Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
- The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
- Any act that entails commitment of the heart—the decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
- The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.
In other words, 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 acts will elicit Resistance.
The Characteristics of Resistance
• Resistance Is Invisible: Resistance cannot be seen, heard, touched, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential.
Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.
• Resistance Is Insidious: Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form if that’s what it takes to deceive you.
Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.
Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.
Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
• Resistance Is Impersonal: Resistance is not out to get you personally. It doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care. Resistance is a force of nature. It acts objectively.
Though it feels malevolent, Resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as stars. When we marshal our forces to combat Resistance, we must remember this.
• Resistance Is Infallible: Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.
We can use this.
We can use it as a compass.
We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or purpose that we must follow before all others.
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 Is Universal: We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.
• Resistance Never Sleeps: Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.
In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
• Resistance Plays for Keeps: Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable.
Resistance aims to kill.
Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on this earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business.
When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.
• Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneur’s worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.
• When an artist says “Trust the soup,” she means let go of the need to control (which we can’t do anyway) and put your faith instead in the Source, the Mystery, the Quantum Soup. The deeper the source we work from, the better our stuff will be—and the more transformative it will be for us and for those we share it with.
Friends and Family
• The problem with friends and family is that they know us as we are. They are invested in maintaining us as we are. The last thing we want is to remain as we are.
• If you’re reading this book, it’s because you sense inside you a second self, an unlived you.
With some exceptions (God bless them), friends and family are the enemy of this unmanifested you, this unborn self, this future being.
Prepare yourself to make new friends. They will appear, trust me.
• Let’s consider the champions on our side:
- Blind faith
- Assistance (the opposite of Resistance)
- Friends and family
• Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.
How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think.
• A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.
Don’t think. Act.
• We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.
• Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.
What will keep us from stopping? Plain old stubbornness.
• I like the idea of stubbornness because it’s less lofty than “tenacity” or “perseverance.” We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.
• Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.
Resistance wants to rattle that faith. Resistance wants to destroy it.
• Picasso painted with passion, Mozart composed with it. A child plays with it all day long.
You may think that you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.
• As Resistance is the shadow, its opposite—Assistance—is the sun.
Friends and Family
• When art and inspiration and success and fame and money have come and gone, who still loves us—and whom do we love?
Only two things will remain with us across the river: our inhering genius and the hearts we love.
In other words, what we do and whom we do it for.
Start Before You’re Ready
• Don’t prepare. Begin.
• Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.
The enemy is Resistance.
• The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.
• Start before you’re ready.
Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage. The gods, witnessing our boldness, look on in approval.
• “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Begin it now.” — W. H. Murray
A Research Diet
• Before we begin, you wanna do research? Uh-unh. I’m putting you on a diet.
You’re allowed to read three books on your subject. No more. No underlining, no highlighting, no thinking or talking about the documents later. Let the ideas percolate. Let the unconscious do its work.
• Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work.
(Later we’ll come back and do serious, heavy-duty research. Later. Not now.)
• Two quick thoughts as we begin:
- Stay Primitive: The creative act is primitive. Its principles are of birth and genesis. Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms. Conception occurs at the primal level. I’m not being facetious when I stress that it is better to be primitive than to be sophisticated, and better to be stupid than to be smart. The most highly cultured mother gives birth sweating and dislocated and cursing like a sailor. That’s the place we inhabit as artists and innovators. It’s the place we must become comfortable with. The hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain, and blood.
- Swing for the Seats: My first job was in advertising in New York. I used to bring ideas to my boss that were so tiny, they made him apoplectic. “This idea is the size of a postage stamp! If it were any more miniscule, I’d need an electron microscope just to see it! Go back to your cubicle and bring me something BIG!” If you and I want to do great stuff, we can’t let ourselves work small. A home-run swing that results in a strikeout is better than a successful bunt or even a line-drive single. Start playing from power. We can always dial it back later. If we don’t swing for the seats from the start, we’ll never be able to drive a fastball into the upper deck.
• Don’t overthink. Don’t overprepare. Don’t let research become Resistance. Don’t spend six months compiling a thousand-page tome detailing the emotional matrix and family history of every character in your book.
Outline it fast. Now. On instinct.
Discipline yourself to boil down your story/new business/philanthropic enterprise to a single page.
• Break the sheet of foolscap into three parts: beginning, middle, and end.
This is how screenwriters and playwrights work. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
That’s Why They Call It Rewriting
• The old saw says there’s no such thing as writing, only rewriting. This is true.
Better to have written a lousy ballet than to have composed no ballet at all.
Get your idea down on paper. You can always tweak it later.
Next question: How do you get it down?
Start at the End
• Here’s a trick that screenwriters use: work backwards. Begin at the finish.
If you’re writing a movie, solve the climax first. If you’re opening a restaurant, begin with the experience you want the diner to have when she walks in and enjoys a meal. If you’re preparing a seduction, determine the state of mind you want the process of romancing to bring your lover to.
Figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there.
Yes, you say. “But how do I know where I want to go?”
Answer the Question “What Is This About?”
• Start with the theme. What is this project about?
What is the Eiffel Tower about? What is the space shuttle about? What is Nude Descending a Staircase about?
Your movie, your album, your new startup … what is it about? When you know that, you’ll know the end state. And when you know the end state, you’ll know the steps to take to get there.
• End first, then beginning and middle. That’s your startup, that’s your plan for competing in a triathlon, that’s your ballet.
Thoughts and Chatter
• When I say “Don’t think,” what I mean is: don’t listen to the chatter. Pay no attention to those rambling, disjointed images and notions that drift across the movie screen of your mind.
Those are not your thoughts. They are chatter.
They are Resistance.
• Chatter is your mother and father’s well-intentioned expressions of caution, seeking to shield you from hurting yourself. Chatter is your teachers’ equally well-meaning attempts at socialization, training you to follow the rules. Chatter is your friends’ regular-Joe buddy-talk, trying to make you like them and follow the rules of the pack.
Chatter is Resistance.
Its aim is to reconcile you to “the way it is,” to make you exactly like everyone else, to render you amenable to societal order and discipline.
Where do our own real thoughts come from? How can we access them? From what source does our true, authentic self speak?
Answering that is the work you and I will do for the rest of our lives.
Ready to Rock and Roll
• We’ve got our concept, we’ve got our theme. We know our start. We know where we want to finish. We’ve got our project in three acts on a single sheet of foolscap.
Ready to roll? We need only to remember our three mantras:
- Stay primitive.
- Trust the soup.
- Swing for the seats.
And our final-final precept: 4. Be ready for Resistance.
The Universe Is Not Indifferent
• When you and I set out to create anything—art, commerce, science, love—or to advance in the direction of a higher, nobler version of ourselves, we uncork from the universe, ineluctably, an equal and opposite reaction.
That reaction is Resistance. Resistance is an active, intelligent, protean, malign force—tireless, relentless, and inextinguishable—whose sole object is to stop us from becoming our best selves and from achieving our higher goals.
• The universe is not indifferent. It is actively hostile.
• The aim of every axiom set forth thus far is to outwit, outflank, outmaneuver Resistance.
• We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.
• One thing we can never, never permit ourselves to do is to take Resistance lightly, to underestimate it or to fail to take it into account.
Fill in the Gaps
• On our single sheet of foolscap we’ve got the Big Beats. Now what?
Fill in the gaps.
David Lean famously declared that a feature film should have seven or eight major sequences. That’s a pretty good guideline for our play, our album, our State of the Union address.
Do Research Now
• Now you can do your research. But stay on your diet.
Do research early or late. Don’t stop working. Never do research in prime working time.
• Never forget that research can become Resistance.
• Soak up what you need to fill in the gaps. Keep working.
• Any project or enterprise can be broken down into beginning, middle, and end. Fill in the gaps; then fill in the gaps between the gaps.
• When we’ve got David Lean’s eight sequences, we’re home except for one thing: The actual work.
Cover the Canvas
• One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP.
Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything.
• Get the first version of your project done from A to Z as fast as you can. Don’t stop. Don’t look down. Don’t think.
Suspend All Self-Judgment
• Unless you’re building a sailboat or the Taj Mahal, I give you a free pass to screw up as much as you like.
The inner critic? His ass is not permitted in the building.
• Set forth without fear and without self-censorship. When you hear that voice in your head, blow it off.
This draft is not being graded. There will be no pop quiz.
Only one thing matters in this initial draft: get SOMETHING done, however flawed or imperfect.
You are not allowed to judge yourself.
The Crazier the Better
• Suspending self-judgment doesn’t just mean blowing off the “You suck” voice in our heads. It also means liberating ourselves from conventional expectations—from what we think our work “ought” to be or “should” look like.
Ideas Do Not Come Linearly
• Remember when we broke our concept down into beginning, middle, and end? Rational thought would tempt us to do our work in that order.
Ideas come according to their own logic. That logic is not rational. It’s not linear. We may get the middle before we get the end. We may get the end before we get the beginning. Be ready for this. Don’t resist it.
• Do you have a pocket tape recorder? I do. I keep it with me everywhere. (A notepad works, too.) Why do I record ideas the minute they come to me? Because if I don’t, I’ll forget them. You will, too.
Nothing is more fun than turning on the recorder and hearing your own voice telling you a fantastic idea that you had completely forgotten you had.
• Let’s talk about the actual process—the writing/composing/ idea generation process.
It progresses in two stages: action and reflection.
Act, reflect. Act, reflect.
NEVER act and reflect at the same time.
• “Reflection” means evaluating what we have on paper.
For this first draft, we’ll go light on reflection and heavy on action.
Spew. Let ’er rip. Launch into the void and soar wherever the wind takes you.
When we say “Trust the soup,” we mean the Muse, the unconscious, the Quantum Soup. The sailor hoists his canvas, trusting that the wind (which is invisible and which he can neither see nor control) will appear and power him upon his voyage.
You and I hoist our canvas to catch ideas.
When we say “Stay Stupid,” we mean don’t self-censor, don’t indulge in self-doubt, don’t permit self-judgment.
• Why does this purely instinctive, intuitive method work? Because our idea (our song, our ballet, our new Tex-Mex restaurant) is smarter than we are.
Our job is not to control our idea; our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be)—and then bring it into being.
The Answer Is Always Yes
• When an idea pops into our head and we think, “No, this is too crazy,” … that’s the idea we want.
When we think, “This notion is completely off the wall … should I even take the time to work on this?” … the answer is yes.
Never doubt the soup. Never say no.
The answer is always yes.
The Opposite of Resistance
• I said a few chapters ago that the universe is not indifferent; it is actively hostile. This is true.
But behind every law of nature stands an equal and opposite law.
The universe is also actively benevolent. You should be feeling this now. You should be feeling a tailwind.
The opposite of Resistance is Assistance.
• A work-in-progress generates its own energy field. You, the artist or entrepreneur, are pouring love into the work; you are suffusing it with passion and intention and hope. This is serious juju. The universe responds to this. It has no choice.
• Your work-in-progress produces its own gravitational field, created by your will and your attention. This field attracts like-spirited entities into its orbit.
You started with a few scraps of a song; now you’ve got half an opera. You began with the crazy notion to restore a neglected park; now the lot is cleared and you’ve got volunteers tweeting and phoning at all hours. Your will and vision initiated the process, but now the process has acquired a life and momentum of its own.
• The un-indifferent universe steps in to counter Resistance. It introduces a positive opposing force.
• Assistance is the universal, immutable force of creative manifestation, whose role since the Big Bang has been to translate potential into being, to convert dreams into reality.
• Stephen King has confessed that he works every day. Fourth of July, his birthday, Christmas.
I love that. Particularly at this stage—what Seth Godin calls “thrashing” (a very evocative term)—momentum is everything. Keep it going.
• How much time can you spare each day?
For that interval, close the door and—short of a family emergency or the outbreak of World War III—don’t let ANYBODY in.
Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.
• Sometimes on Wednesday, I’ll read something that I wrote on Tuesday and I’ll think, “This is crap. I hate it and I hate myself.” Then I’ll re-read the identical passage on Thursday. To my astonishment, it has become brilliant overnight.
Ignore false negatives. Ignore false positives. Both are Resistance.
• Did I forget to say?
Act/Reflect, Part Two
• Until now, our motto has been “Act, Don’t Reflect.” Now we revisit that notion.
Now that we’re rolling, we can start engaging the left brain as well as the right. Act, then reflect. Act, then reflect.
• Here’s how I do it:
At least twice a week, I pause in the rush of work and have a meeting with myself. (If I were part of a team, I’d call a team meeting.)
I ask myself, again, of the project: “What is this damn thing about?”
Keep refining your understanding of the theme; keep narrowing it down.
This is the thorniest nut of any creative endeavor—and the one that evokes the fiercest Resistance.
It is pure hell to answer this question.
• Paddy Chayefsky famously said, “As soon as I figure out the theme of my play, I write it down on a thin strip of paper and Scotch-tape it to the front of my typewriter. After that, nothing goes into that play that isn’t on-theme.”
Have that meeting twice a week. Pause and reflect. “What is this project about?” “What is its theme?” “Is every element serving that theme?”
Fill in the Gaps, Part Two
• Ask yourself, “What’s missing?”
Then fill that gap.
What’s missing in the menu of your new restaurant? What have we left out in planning our youth center in the slums of São Paulo?
Now We’re Rolling
• We’re weeks into the project now. Good things are happening. We’ve established habit and rhythm. We’ve achieved momentum.
Ideas are flowing. Our movie, our new business, our passage to freedom from addiction has acquired gravitational mass; it possesses energy; its field produces attraction. The law of self-ordering has kicked in. Despite all our self-doubt, the project is rounding into shape. It’s becoming itself.
People are responding to us differently. We’re making new friends. Our feet are under us; we’re starting to feel professional. We’re beginning to feel as if we know a secret that nobody else does. Or rather, that we’ve somehow become part of a select society. Other members recognize us and encourage us; unsolicited, they proffer assistance—and their aid, unfailingly, is exactly what we’ve needed.
Best of all, we’re having fun. The dread that had hamstrung us for years seems miraculously to have fallen away. The fog has lifted. It’s almost too good to be true.
And then …
• And then we hit the wall.
Out of nowhere, terror strikes. Our fragile confidence collapses. Nighttime: we wake in a sweat.
That “You suck” voice is back, howling in our head.
Did we stand up to someone in authority over us? Now we crawl back and grovel to him. Did we face up to someone who was treating us with disrespect? Now we beg him without shame to take us back.
We’re poised at the brink of a creative breakthrough and we can’t stand it. The prospect of success looms. We freak. Why did we start this project? We must have been insane. Who encouraged us? We want to wring their necks. Where are they now? Why can’t they help us?
We’re halfway, two-thirds through. Far enough to have invested serious time and money, not to mention our hopes, our dreams, our identity even—but not far enough to have passed the crisis point, not far enough to glimpse the end.
We have turned round Cape Horn and the gales are shrieking; ice encases the masts; sails and sheets are frozen. The storm howls dead in our faces. There’s no way back and no way forward.
We know we’re panicking but we can’t stop; we can’t get a hold of ourselves. We have entered …
The Belly of the Beast
Welcome to Hell
• Now you’re in the shit.
Now you’re feeling the symptoms. Now you’re ready to listen.
The next ten chapters are the most important in this book.
They’re the movie within the movie, the dance within the dance. If you take away nothing else from this document, take this section.
It delineates the Seven Principles of Resistance and the two Tests.
These principles govern and underlie everything you’re experiencing now. These tests are being set for you.
This is your trial by fire.
What follows is what you need to know to get to the other side.
Principle Number One: There Is an Enemy
• The first principle of Resistance is that there is an enemy.
In our feel-good, social-safety-net, high-self-esteem world, you and I have been brainwashed to believe that there is no such thing as evil, that human nature is perfectible, that everyone and everything can be made nice.
We have been conditioned to imagine that the darkness that we see in the world and feel in our own hearts is only an illusion, which can be dispelled by the proper care, the proper love, the proper education, and the proper funding.
There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us.
Step one is to recognize this.
This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.
Principle Number Two: This Enemy Is Implacable
• The hostile, malicious force that we’re experiencing now is not a joke. It is not to be trifled with or taken lightly. It is for real.
This enemy is intelligent, protean, implacable, inextinguishable, and utterly ruthless and destructive.
Its aim is not to obstruct or to hamper or to impede. Its aim is to kill. This is the second principle of Resistance.
Principle Number Three: This Enemy Is Inside You
• Pat Riley, when he was coach of the Lakers, had a term for all those off-court forces, like fame and ego (not to mention crazed fans, the press, agents, sponsors, and ex-wives), that worked against the players’ chances for on-court success. He called these forces “peripheral opponents.”
Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. It does not arise from rivals, bosses, spouses, children, terrorists, lobbyists, or political adversaries.
It comes from us.
You can board a spaceship to Pluto and settle, all by yourself, into a perfect artist’s cottage ten zillion miles from Earth. Resistance will still be with you.
The enemy is inside you.
Principle Number Four: The Enemy Is Inside You, But It Is Not You
• The fourth axiom of Resistance is that the enemy is inside you, but it is not you.
What does that mean? It means you are not to blame for the voices of Resistance you hear in your head.
They are not your “fault.” You have done nothing “wrong.” You have committed no “sin.” I have that same voice in my head. So did Picasso and Einstein. So do Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga and Donald Trump.
Principle Number Five: The “Real You” Must Duel the “Resistance You”
• On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.
You are the knight.
Resistance is the dragon.
There is no way to be nice to the dragon, or to reason with it or negotiate with it or beam a white light around it and make it your friend. The dragon belches fire and lives only to block you from reaching the gold of wisdom and freedom, which it has been charged to guard to its final breath.
The only intercourse possible between the knight and the dragon is battle.
The contest is life-and-death, mano a mano.
This is the fifth principle of Resistance.
Principle Number Six: Resistance Arises Second
• The sixth principle of Resistance (and the key to overcoming it) is that Resistance arises second.
What comes first is the idea, the passion, the dream of the work we are so excited to create that it scares the hell out of us.
Resistance is the response of the frightened, petty, small-time ego to the brave, generous, magnificent impulse of the creative self.
Resistance is the shadow cast by the innovative self’s sun.
What does this mean to us—the artists and entrepreneurs in the trenches?
It means that before the dragon of Resistance reared its ugly head and breathed fire into our faces, there existed within us a force so potent and life-affirming that it summoned this beast into being, perversely, to combat it.
It means that, at bottom, Resistance is not the towering, all-powerful monster before whom we are compelled to quake in terror. Resistance is more like the pain-in-the-ass schoolteacher who won’t let us climb that tree in the playground.
Principle Number Seven: The Opposite of Resistance Is Assistance
• In myths and legends, the knight is always aided in his quest to slay the dragon. Providence brings forth a champion whose role is to assist the hero. Theseus had Ariadne when he fought the Minotaur. Jason had Medea when he went after the Golden Fleece. Odysseus had the goddess Athena to guide him home.
In Native American myths, our totemic ally is often an animal—a magic raven, say, or a talking coyote. In Norse myths, an old crone sometimes assists the hero; in African legends, it’s often a bird. The three Wise Men were guided by a star.
All of these characters or forces represent Assistance. They are symbols for the unmanifested. They stand for a dream.
The dream is your project, your vision, your symphony, your startup. The love is the passion and enthusiasm that fill your heart when you envision your project’s completion.
Sometimes when Resistance is kicking my butt (which it does, all the time), I flash on Charles Lindbergh. What symphony of Resistance must have been playing in his head when he was struggling to raise the funding for his attempt to fly across the Atlantic solo?
“You’re too young, you’re too inexperienced; you’ve got no credentials, no credibility. Everyone who’s tried this has failed and you will, too. It can’t be done. Your plane will crash, you’re going to drown, you’re a madman who is attempting the impossible and you deserve whatever dire fate befalls you!”
What saw Lindy through?
It can only have been the dream.
Love of the idea.
The seventh principle of Resistance is that we can align ourselves with these universal forces of Assistance—this dream, this passion to make the unmanifest manifest—and ride them into battle against the dragon.
Resistance’s Two Tests
• Resistance puts two questions to each and all of us.
Each question has only one correct answer.
Test Number One
“How bad do you want it?”
This is Resistance’s first question. The scale below will help you answer. Mark the selection that corresponds to how you feel about your book/movie/ballet/new business/whatever.
Dabbling • Interested • Intrigued but Uncertain • Passionate • Totally Committed
If your answer is not the one on the far right, put this book down and throw it away.
Test Number Two
“Why do you want it?”
- For the babes (or the dudes)
- The money
- For fame
- Because I deserve it
- For power
- To prove my old man (or ex-spouse, mother, teacher, coach) wrong
- To serve my vision of how life/mankind ought to be
- For fun or beauty
- Because I have no choice
If you checked 8 or 9, you get to stay on the island. (I know I said there was only one correct answer. But 8 and 9 are really one.) If you checked any of the first seven, you can stay, too—but you must immediately check yourself into the Attitude Adjustment Chamber.
The Attitude Adjustment Chamber
• You don’t get to keep anything when you enter this space. You must check at the door:
- Your ego
- Your sense of entitlement
- Your impatience
- Your fear
- Your hope
- Your anger
You must also leave behind:
- All grievances related to aspects of yourself dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how neglected/abused/ mistreated/unloved/poor/ill-favored etc. you were when you were born.
- All sense of personal exceptionalness dependent on the accident of birth, e.g., how rich/cute/tall/thin/smart/ charming/loveable you were when you were born.
- All of the previous two, based on any subsequent (i.e., post-birth) acquisition of any of these qualities, however honorably or meritoriously earned.
The only items you get to keep are love for the work, will to finish, and passion to serve the ethical, creative Muse.
The Big Crash
• We were doing so great. Our project was in high gear, we were almost finished (maybe we actually were finished).
Then inevitably …
If our project is a movie, the star checks into rehab. If it’s a business venture, the bank pulls our financing. If it’s a rodeo, our star bull runs away with a heifer.
The Big Crash is so predictable, across all fields of enterprise, that we can practically set our watches by it.
Bank on it. It’s gonna happen.
The worst part of the Big Crash is that nothing can prepare us for it. Why? Because the crash arises organically, spawned by some act of commission or omission that we ourselves took or countenanced back at the project’s inception.
Ringing the Bell
• Navy SEAL training puts its candidates through probably the most intense physical ordeal in the U.S. military. The reason is they’re trying to break you. SEAL trainers want to see if the candidate will crack. Better that the aspiring warrior fails here—at Coronado Island in San Diego—than someplace where a real wartime mission and real lives are at stake.
In SEAL training, they have a bell. When a candidate can’t take the agony any longer—the 6-mile ocean swims or the 15-mile full-load runs or the physical and mental ordeals on no sleep and no food … when he’s had enough and he’s ready to quit, he walks up and rings the bell.
You and I have a bell hanging over us, too, here in the belly of the beast. Will we ring it?
There’s a difference between Navy SEAL training and what you and I are facing now.
Our ordeal is harder.
Because we’re alone.
We’ve got no trainers over us, shouting in our ears or kicking our butts to keep us going. We’ve got no friends, no fellow sufferers, no externally imposed structure. No one’s feeding us, housing us, or clothing us. We have no objective milestones or points of validation. We can’t tell whether we’re doing great or falling on our faces. When we finish, if we do, no one will be waiting to congratulate us. We’ll get no champagne, no beach party, no diploma, no insignia. The battle we’re fighting, we can’t explain to anybody or share with anybody or call in anybody to help.
The only thing we have in common with the SEAL candidates is the bell.
Crashes Are Good
• Crashes are hell, but in the end, they’re good for us.
A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers.
A crash means we have to grow.
A crash means we’re at the threshold of learning something, which means we’re getting better, we’re acquiring the wisdom of our craft. A crash compels us to figure out what works and what doesn’t work—and to understand the difference.
We got ourselves into this mess by mistakes we made at the start. How? Were we lazy? Inattentive? Did we mean well but forget to factor in human nature? Did we assess reality incorrectly?
Whatever the cause, the Big Crash compels us to go back now and solve the problem that we either created directly or set into motion unwittingly at the outset.
Panic Is Good
• Creative panic is good. Here’s why:
Our greatest fear is fear of success.
When we are succeeding—that is, when we have begun to overcome our self-doubt and self-sabotage, when we are advancing in our craft and evolving to a higher level—that’s when panic strikes.
It did for me when my book crashed, and it was the best thing that happened to me all year.
When we experience panic, it means that we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.
Have you ever watched a small child take a few bold steps away from its mother? The little boy or girl shows great courage. She ventures forth, feels exhilaration, and then … she realizes what she has done. She freaks. She bolts back to Mommy.
That’s you and me when we’re growing.
Next time, the child won’t run back to Mommy so fast. Next time, she’ll venture farther.
Her panic was momentary, a natural part of the process of growth.
That’s us as we rally and re-tackle the Big Crash. This time we’ll lick it. We’ll fix this jalopy and get it back on the road.
Panic is good. It’s a sign that we’re growing.
Back to Square One
• In the belly of the beast, we go back to our allies:
- Blind faith
We are too dumb to quit and too mulish to back off.
In the belly of the beast, we remind ourselves of two axioms:
- The problem is not us. The problem is the problem.
- Work the problem.
The Problem Is the Problem
• A professional does not take success or failure personally. That’s Priority Number One for us now.
That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem—and a problem can be solved.
Now we go back to our sheet of yellow foolscap.
Where did we go wrong? Where did this train go off the tracks?
Somewhere in the three sections on our sheet of foolscap—beginning, middle, and end—and in the final section, the summation of the theme … somewhere in there lies the answer. Why is it so hard to find? It’s hard because it’s hard.
I’m not trying to be cryptic or facetious. We went wrong at the start because the problem was so hard (and the act of solving it was so painful) that we ducked and dodged and bypassed. We hoped it would go away. We hoped it would solve itself. A little voice warned us then, but we were too smart to listen.
The bad news is, the problem is hell.
The good news is it’s just a problem.
• Work the problem.
That’s Why They Call It Rewriting, Part Two
• No matter how great a writer, artist, or entrepreneur, he is a mortal, he is fallible. He is not proof against Resistance. He will drop the ball; he will crash. That’s why they call it rewriting.
The Point for Us
• The point for you and me is that we have passed through hell. We have worked our problem. We have solved it. We have escaped from the belly of the beast.
• Finishing is the critical part of any project. If we can’t finish, all our work is for nothing.
When we ship, we declare our stuff ready for prime time. We pack it in a FedEx box and send it out into the world. Our movie hits the screens, our smartphone arrives in the stores, our musical opens on Broadway.
It takes balls of steel to ship.
Here’s a true nugget from The War of Art:
I had a good friend who had labored for years and had produced an excellent and deeply personal novel. It was done. He had it in its mailing box, complete with cover letter to his agent. But he couldn’t make himself send it off. Fear of rejection unmanned him.
Shipping is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart. It requires killer instinct. We’ve got the monster down; now we have to drive a stake through its heart.
• Resistance is strongest at the finish. You need to do what you have to do, no matter how nutty or unorthodox, to finish and be ready to ship.
Fear of Success
• I’ve never read anything better on the subject than this from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
• When we’re offered a chance at heaven, what diabolically craven force makes us want to back off—just for now, we promise ourselves—and choose instead heaven’s pale reflection?
Fear of success is the essence of Resistance.
It’s silent, covert, invisible … but it permeates every aspect of our lives and poisons them in ways we’re either blind to or in denial about.
• In mountaineering, there’s a technical term called “exposure.” A climber is exposed when there is nothing but thin air beneath her.
When we ship, we’re exposed. That’s why we’re so afraid of it. When we ship, we’ll be judged. The real world will pronounce upon our work and upon us. When we ship, we can fail. When we ship, we can be humiliated.
• So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.
• That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.
• When we ship, we open ourselves to judgment in the real world. Nothing is more empowering, because it plants us solidly on Planet Earth and gets us out of our self-devouring, navel-centered fantasies and self-delusions.
One Thing I Can Promise You
• Here’s one thing I can tell you—and you can take this to the bank:
Slay that dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.
Yeah, he’ll still be there. Yeah, you’ll still have to duel him every morning. And yeah, he’ll still fight just as hard and use just as many nasty tricks as he ever did.
But you will have beaten him once, and you’ll know you can beat him again. That’s a game-changer. That will transform your life.
• From the day I finally finished something, I’ve never had trouble finishing anything again. I always deliver. I always ship.
• Just because you’ve shipped doesn’t mean Resistance is finished. Like the Terminator, it’s morphing into an even crueler and more diabolical form. It’ll be back.
Kudos to You
• I stand in awe of anyone who hatches a dream and who shows the guts to hang tough, all alone, and see it through to reality.
• You can be proud of yourself. You’ve done something that millions talk about but only a handful actually perform. And if you can do it once, you can do it again.
• I don’t care if you fail with this project. I don’t care if you fail a thousand times. You have done what only mothers and gods do: you have created new life.
Start (Again) Before You’re Ready
• I was living in a little town in northern California when I finally, after seventeen years of trying, finished my first novel. I drove over to my friend and mentor Paul Rink’s house and told him what I had done. “Good for you,” he said. “Now start the next one.”
That’s what I say now to you.
Take the rest of the day off. Take your wife or husband out to dinner. Pop some champagne. Give yourself a standing ovation.
Then get back to work. Begin the next one tomorrow.