Achieving Your Unlived Life Article by: Steven Pressfield
DEFINING THE ENEMY
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever resolved on a diet, a course of yoga, and then quit on it? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and dysfunction. Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mown down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest problem: We don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age 24 to 32, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again 13 times, and I never even knew it existed. I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.
Look into your own heart. Even though you’ve only read a few paragraphs into this article, unless I’m crazy, right now a still, small voice is piping up, telling you as it has 10 thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you!
You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At 18 he took his inheritance, 700 kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
Are you with me? Okay. Let’s start by defining the characteristics of Resistance.
RESISTANCE IS INVISIBLE
Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. It is experienced as a force field emanating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its intention is to shove the creator away, distract him, sap his energy, incapacitate him.
If Resistance wins, the venture doesn’t get started.
RESISTANCE IS INTERNAL
Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids, distractions. “Peripheral opponents,” as Pat Riley used to say when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers. Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
RESISTANCE IS IMPLACABLE
Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It cannot be reasoned with. It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object only: to prevent us from doing our work. Resistance is implacable, intractable, indefatigable. Reduce it to a single cell, and that cell will continue to attack. This is Resistance’s nature. It’s all it knows.
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 other individual has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.
RESISTANCE IS INFALLIBLE
Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true north â€” 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 action 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 realizing it.
RESISTANCE NEVER SLEEPS
The actor Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each curtain, even when he was 75. In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of honor, which declares that the battle must be fought anew every day.
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.
RESISTANCE RECRUITS ALLIES
Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. But there’s a parallel peril that must also be guarded against â€” sabotage by others.
When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance, in other words when she actually starts to write, she may find that those close to her begin acting strangely. They may become moody or sullen; they may get sick; they may accuse the awakening writer of “changing,” of “not being the person she was.” The closer these people are to the awakening writer, the more bizarrely they will act and the more emotion they will put behind their acts.
They are trying to sabotage her.
The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they?
The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn back for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire. The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.
RESISTANCE & SELF-DRAMATIZATION
Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance. Why put out years of hard work designing a new software interface when you can get just as much attention by bringing home a boyfriend with a prison record?
Sometimes entire families participate unconsciously in a culture of self-dramatization. The kids fuel the tanks, the grownups arm the phasers, the whole starship lurches from one spine-tingling episode to another. And the crew knows how to keep it going. If the level of drama drops below a certain threshold, someone jumps in to amp it up. Dad gets drunk; Mom gets sick; Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a darn thing done.
RESISTANCE & PROCRASTINATION
Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
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.
RESISTANCE & SELF-DOUBT
Self-doubt can be an ally. Because it serves as an indicator of something unseen, something in the soul. It reflects love, love of the work, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Can I really be an entrepreneur? Am I really a writer?,” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
RESISTANCE & FEAR
Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, it’s an indicator. Fear tells you what you have to do.
Rule of thumb: The more scared you are of a work or a calling, the more sure you can be that you have to do it. Remember, Resistance feeds off fear; Resistance is experienced as fear. The degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.
Therefore, the more fear you feel about a specific enterprise, the more important that enterprise is to you and to the growth of your soul. That’s why there is so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to you, there’d be no Resistance.
So if you are paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.
RESISTANCE & ‘HEALING’
Have you ever spent time in Santa Fe? There’s a subculture of “healing” there. Artists and aspiring artists are drawn there. The concept seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work. This way of thinking (are you ahead of me?) is a form of Resistance.
What are we trying to heal anyway? The athlete knows the day is never going to come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.
Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. 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.
I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making 20 bucks a night driving a cab and running away full-time from doing my work. One night alone in my $110-a-month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn’t rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of. For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the trash can. That was enough. I put the machine away. I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat 10 days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack. To my amazement I realized I was whistling.
It hit me that I had turned a corner. I was okay. I would be okay from here on.
Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever would at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work. That night I had beaten Resistance.
RESISTANCE & RATIONALIZATION
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. But rationalization has its own sidekick. It’s that part of our psyche that actually believes what rationalization tells us.
It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.
Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if 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.
Resistance doesn’t want us to do this. So it brings in rationalization. Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.
What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate. Our wife really is in her eighth month; she really does need us at home. Our department really is instituting a changeover that will eat up hours and hours of our time. What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that they all mean diddly. Tolstoy had 13 kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France six years and counting.
COMBATING RESISTANCE: TURNING PRO
PROFESSIONALS & AMATEURS
Aspiring achievers defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.
The moment an achiever turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. Nothing is the same. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro and after.
To be clear: When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of “the professions.” I mean the professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences.
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 word amateur comes from the Latin root amare, meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, 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.
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine sharp.”
That’s a pro.
In terms of Resistance, what Maugham was saying was, “I despise Resistance; I will not let it faze me; I will sit down and do my work.”
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible chain of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his.
Now let’s consider: What are the aspects of the professional?
WE’RE ALL PROS ALREADY
All of us are pros in one area: our jobs. We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals.
Now, are there principles we can take from what we’re already successfully doing in our workaday life and apply to our artistic aspirations? What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We are committed over the long haul. 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.
- The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
- We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for love. We work for money.
- 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 an entrepreneur, 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. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
- 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.
Now consider the amateur: the aspiring painter, the wannabe playwright. How does he pursue his calling?
One, he does not show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his dream. He does not have a sense of humor about failure. You don’t hear him bitching, “This @#$$%& trilogy is killing me!” Instead he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.
The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. You can tell this by how readily he offers instruction. The fool knows everything.
Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. If you show your poem to your friend and your friend says, “It’s wonderful; I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback; that’s your friend being nice to you. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure. That’s how it was for me.
The first professional writing job I ever had, after 17 years of trying, was on a movie called King Kong Lives. I and my partner-at-the-time, Ron Shusett (a brilliant writer and producer who also did Alien and Total Recall), hammered out the screenplay for Dino De Laurentiis. We loved it; we were sure we had a hit. Even after we’d seen the finished film, we were certain it was gonna be a smash. We invited everyone we knew to the premiere, even rented out the joint next door for a post-triumph blowout. “Get there early,” we warned our friends. “The place’ll be mobbed.”
Nobody showed. There was only one guy in line besides our guests, and he was muttering something about spare change. In the theater, our friends watched the movie in mute stupefaction. When the lights came up, they fled like cockroaches into the night.
Next came the review in Variety. ” … Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield; we hope these are not their real names, for their parents’ sake.” When the first week’s grosses came in, the flick barely registered. Still, I clung to hope. Maybe it’s only tanking in urban areas; maybe it’s playing better in the burbs. I motored to an Edge City megaplex. A youth manned the popcorn booth. “How’s King Kong Lives?” I asked. He flashed thumbs-down. “Miss it, man. It sucks.”
I was crushed. Here I was, 42 years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to pursue the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production starring Linda Hamilton, and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony, my life is worthless and so am I.
My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell, no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being on the field 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.
A PROFESSIONAL IS PATIENT
Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses her own enthusiasm against her. 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. She is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare. Have you heard the legend of Sylvester Stallone staying up three nights straight to churn out the first Rocky? I don’t know, it may even be true. But it’s the most pernicious species of myth to set before the awakening success, because it seduces him into believing he can pull off the big score without pain and without persistence.
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. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much.
The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the 60-yard dash. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He conserves his energy. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can keep those huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.
A PROFESSIONAL SEEKS ORDER
When I lived in the back of my Chevy van, I had to find my typewriter beneath layers of tire tools, dirty laundry, and moldering paperbacks. My truck was a nest, a hive, a hellhole on wheels whose sleeping surface I had to clear each night just to carve out a foxhole to snooze in.
The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.
A PROFESSIONAL ACTS IN THE FACE OF FEAR
The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a fearless artist.
What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified, but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.
A PROFESSIONAL ACCEPTS NO EXCUSES
The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s 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.
The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.
A PROFESSIONAL PLAYS IT AS IT LAYS
My friend the Hawk and I were playing the first hole at Prestwick in Scotland; the wind was howling out of the left. I started an eight-iron 30 yards wide, but the gale caught it; I watched in dismay as the ball sailed hard right, hit the green going sideways, and bounded off into the cabbage. “@#$$%&!” I turned to our caddie, “Did you see the wind take that shot!?”
He gave that look that only Scottish caddies can give. “Well, ye’ve got t’ play th’ wind now, don’t ye?”
The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops, and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.
A PROFESSIONAL IS PREPARED
I’m not talking about craft; that goes without saying. The professional is prepared at a deeper level. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.
The professional understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious. It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before.
The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them. His aim is to take what the day gives him. 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 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.
A PROFESSIONAL DOES NOT TAKE FAILURE (OR SUCCESS) PERSONALLY
When people say the professional has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this, because our deepest instincts run counter to it. Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion.
Resistance knows this and uses it against us. It uses fear of rejection to paralyze us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation. I had a dear friend who had labored for years on an excellent and deeply personal novel. It was done. He had it in its mailing box. But he couldn’t make himself send it off. Fear of rejection unmanned him.
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.
The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.
A PROFESSIONAL ENDURES ADVERSITY
I had been in Tinseltown five years, had finished nine screenplays on spec, none of which had sold. Finally I got a meeting with a big producer. He kept taking phone calls, even as I pitched my stuff. He had one of those headset things, so he didn’t even have to pick up a receiver; the calls came in and he took them. Finally one came that was personal. “Would you mind?” he asked, indicating the door, “I need some privacy on this one.” I exited. The door closed behind me. Ten minutes passed. I was standing out by the secretaries. Twenty more minutes passed. Finally the producer’s door opened; he came out pulling on his jacket. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
He had forgotten all about me.
I’m human. This hurt. I wasn’t a kid either; I was in my 40s, with a rap sheet of failure as long as your arm.
The professional cannot let himself take humiliation personally. Humiliation, like rejection and criticism, is the external reflection of internal Resistance.
The professional endures adversity. He lets the bird crap splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it.
I saw a fat, happy old guy once in his Cadillac on the freeway. He had the A/C going, Pointer Sisters on the CD, puffing on a stogy. I checked his license plate: DUES PD
The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
A PROFESSIONAL SELF-VALIDATES
The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working. Short of a family crisis or the outbreak of World War III, the professional shows up, ready to serve the gods.
Remember, Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, entirely on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can.
The professional blows off the naysayers. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unconscious mouthpieces of Resistance and as such can be truly clever and diabolical. They can articulate in their criticisms the same pernicious venom that Resistance itself concocts inside our heads. That is their real evil. Not that we believe them, but that we believe the Resistance in our own minds, for which critics serve as unwitting spokespersons.
The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
A PROFESSIONAL RECOGNIZES HER LIMITATIONS
She gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant, a manager, an agent, a publicist. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing. She brings in other pros and treats them with respect. She knows there’s enough glory for everybody.
A PROFESSIONAL IS RECOGNIZED BY OTHER PROFESSIONALS
The professional senses who has served his time and who hasn’t. Like Alan Ladd and Jack Palance circling each other in Shane, a gun recognizes another gun.
A CRITTER THAT KEEPS COMING
Why does Resistance yield to our turning pro? Because Resistance is a bully. Resistance has no strength of its own; its power derives entirely from our fear of it. A bully will back down before the runtiest twerp who stands his ground.
The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else. The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them. In The Searchers, (written by Frank S. Nugent), John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter pursue the war chief, Scar, who has kidnapped their young kinswoman, played by Natalie Wood. Winter stops them, but Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, does not slacken his resolve. He’ll return to the trail in spring because he knows that, sooner or later, the fugitive will relax his vigilance.
As Ethan says, “Seems he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that might just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ‘em in the end, I promise you that. Just as sure as the turning of the earth.”
The pro keeps coming on. He beats Resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and even more implacable than it is.
There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO CONQUER RESISTANCE?
In my late 20s I rented a little house in Northern California; I had come there to finish a novel or kill myself trying. By that time I had blown up a marriage to a girl I loved with all my heart, screwed up two careers, blah blah etc. all because (though I had no understanding of this at the time) I could not handle Resistance. I had one novel nine-tenths of the way through and another ninety-ninehundredths before I threw them in the trash. I couldn’t finish ‘em. I didn’t have the guts. In yielding thusly to Resistance, I fell prey to every vice, evil, distraction, youname- it mentioned heretofore, all leading nowhere, and finally washed up in a sleepy little town, with my Chevy van, my cat Mo, and my manual Remington (typewriter, not shotgun).
In my little house I had no TV. I never read a newspaper or went to a movie. I just worked. One afternoon I was working away in the little bedroom I had converted to an office, when I heard my neighbor’s radio playing outside. Someone in a loud voice was declaiming ” … to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I came out. What’s going on? “Didn’t you hear? Nixon’s out; they got a new guy in there.”
I had missed Watergate completely.
I was determined to keep working. I had failed so many times, and caused myself and people I loved so much pain thereby, that I felt if I crapped out this time I would have to hang myself. I didn’t know what Resistance was then. No one had schooled me in the concept. I felt it though, big time. I experienced it as a compulsion to self-destruct. I could not finish what I started. The closer I got, the more different ways I’d find to screw it up.
I worked for 26 months straight, taking only two out for a stint of migrant labor in Washington State, and finally one day I got to the last page and typed out:
I never did find a buyer for the book. Or the next one either. It was 10 years before I got the first check for something I had written and 10 more before a novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was actually published, and later made into a major movie. But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.
Rest in peace, you @#$$%&!
Next morning I went over to my friend’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”
And that’s the way of Resistance … You can never truly conquer Resistance … but you can win the day!
THE AUTHOR’S ‘WAR OF ART’
Steven recounts his own war with Resistance: In 1966, as a $150-a-week copywriter for Benton & Bowles, one day while rewriting the justadd- water text for the back label of Gravy Train dog food, Mr. Pressfield asked himself, “Shouldn’t I be doing something a little more worthwhile?” He decided to quit and write a novel.
Big mistake. Within three years Mr. Pressfield was divorced, broke, and living in a van down by the river. He drove cabs and tended bar in New York, taught school in New Orleans, drove tractortrailers in North Carolina and California, worked on oil rigs in Louisiana, picked fruit in Washington State, and in general worked all the jobs that writers work when they’re running away from writing.
Somewhere in there he completed three novels, none of which saw the light of publication. When the last one crashed and burned, in New York in 1980, Mr. Pressfield was faced with a choice between hanging himself and bolting for Tinseltown. The coin came up heads.
Over the next 15 years, Mr. Pressfield wrote or co-wrote 34 screenplays, several of which got made into extremely forgettable movies. (Mr. Pressfield refuses to name them.) He did, however, finally succeed in turning pro and becoming a worldrenowned author, with such classics as The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, for which the city of Sparta made Mr. Pressfield an honorary citizen.
Like all writers, Mr. Pressfield doesn’t know where his next idea may take him, but he does know one thing … that anyone who wishes to achieve success, in whatever chosen arena, must do so by winning the day against the enemy, Resistance.
Learn more about Steven Pressfield.