This edition of Kathy’s CliffNotes is on the book The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. I read this gem of a book while iced into my house this weekend. I’m a super slow reader, but this was a fast read and well worth it. This book is relevant to anyone that is creating something new. Whether that person is an artist, an entrepreneur, a visionary, or someone trying to find a new approach to tackling an unsolved problem.
Before we get started, for your enjoyment, here's an artistic dog to brighten your day...
This book examines the internal obstacles to success, and shows readers how to identify, defeat, and unlock the inner barriers to creativity. The author ties all internal distractions (and the external distractions we let in) into the concept of Resistance. Resistance is what is trying to keep us from creating something beautiful. Resistance is what is trying to keep us from following our calling, which will most likely lead us away from our comfort zone. This book provides a unique perspective on the internal struggle every person faces when trying to create something new, and provides some tips and tricks on how to spot what’s going on, how to defeat it, and how to reframe the internal dialogue into something beneficial.
This quote by author William Faulkner is a great summary of the book and what’s needed to overcome Resistance: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”
The bottom line: Resistance will never go away no matter how experienced you are at your work or craft. But you need to show up every day and do the work. This practice, habit and dedication is what will ultimately enable you to create something great and overcome resistance.
The War of Art is an inspirational, funny, and a well-aimed kick in the pants guaranteed to galvanize every would-be artist, visionary, or entrepreneur.
There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: 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.
Book One: Resistance. Defining the Enemy
“The enemy is a very good teacher.” - the Dalai Lama
Resistance has Allies: We are wired to want easy and immediate gratification. This goes against the process needed to create, and it will pop up and try to distract us from the creative and highly unpleasant “sausage making”. Be weary of the distraction of easy gratification, which can take many forms (chocolate, social media, alcohol, etc.)
Resistance & Fear: 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.
Resistance & Isolation: Sometimes we balk at embarking on an enterprise because we’re afraid of being alone. We feel comfortable with the tribe around us; it makes us nervous going off into the woods on our own. Here’s the trick: We’re never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly. The act of courage calls forth infallibility, that deeper part of ourselves that supports and sustains us.
Resistance & The Choice of a Mate: Sometimes if we’re not conscious of our own Resistance, we’ll pick as a mate someone who has or is successfully overcoming Resistance. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s easier to endow our partner with the power that we in fact possess but are afraid to act upon. Maybe it’s less threatening to believe that our beloved spouse is worthy to live out his or her unlived life, while we are not. This is how Resistance disfigures love. If we’re the supporting partner, should we face our own failure to pursue our unlived life, rather than hitchhike on our spouse’s coattails? And if we’re the supported partner, shouldn’t we step out from the glow of our loved one’s adoration and instead encourage him to let his own light shine?
Book Two: Combating Resistance. Turning Pro
“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.” - Telamon of Arcadia (mercenary of the fifth century BC)
Professionals and Amateurs: The amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full time. That’s what I mean when I say turning pro. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.
Principles of Priority: Which states 1) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and 2) 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.
Learn how to be Miserable: 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, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
Qualities that Define us a Professionals:
We show up every day.
We show up no matter what
We stay on the job all day
We do not over identify with our jobs. This might seem counter intuitive. We may take pride in our work, but we recognize we are not our job. Resistance knows the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously that it paralyzes him.
We master the techniques of our jobs
We have a sense of humor about our job
Nothing is more empowering as real world validation, even if it’s for failure.
Keep things in perspective. Be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’ve taken a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.
A Professional is Patient: 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.
A Professional Seeks Order: He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind.
The professional doesn’t wait for inspiration, she acts in anticipation of its apparition.
A Professional Does Not Hesitate to Ask for Help: He seeks out the most knowledgeable teacher and listens with both ears.
A Professional Does Not Take Failure (or Success) Personally: 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. The foe is strong enough already. The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow. The professional will work harder. He’ll be back tomorrow.
The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field. Don’t do the work only because you expect a reward, since the reward may never come.
You, Inc. I like the idea of being Myself, Inc. That way I can wear two hats. I can hire myself and fire myself. Making yourself a corporation (or just thinking of yourself in that way) reinforces the idea of professionalism because it separates the artist-doing-the-work, from the will-and-conscious-running-the-show. No matter how much abuse is heaped on the head of the former, the latter takes it in stride and keeps on trucking.
Book Three. Beyond Resistance. The Higher Realm.
“The first duty is to sacrifice to the gods and pray to 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)
The Magic of Making a Start: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.” - W. H. Murray (the Scottish Himalayan Expedition)
The power to take charge was in my hands. All I had to do was believe it.
Fear: we know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us.
The Authentic Self: At birth, we show up already possessing a highly refined and individual soul. Another way of thinking of this is: We’re not born with unlimited choices. 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. 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 image we ought to be, but to find out who we already and are become it. (Builds on the concept of playing to your strengths)
The Definition of a Hack: When a hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.
Do what you, yourself, think is interesting and leave its public reception to the gods.