As a creative, I am constantly seeking out books that can help me stay motivated and inspired. A close friend had recommended ‘The War of Art‘ by Steven Pressfield years ago and I finally got around to reading it as part of my personal growth process to becoming a better writer. Here are a couple of my take-aways.
The overarching theme of the book centers around the idea of a negative force that emanates from inside us called the Resistance. The goal of this force is to “shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” It’s this force that makes us check our email instead of writing that report, or looking at Pintrest instead of doing the million things on your to-do list for today.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate;
“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.” Pressfield mentions this in the context of the amount of Resistance you feel towards a project is directly proportional to how much you care about it and how important it is that you complete the work. If you don’t really care about a project, you won’t feel any Resistance at all. I think of it like this – the more important something is, the more reasons will crop up to not do it. Which means it’s really important and you should double down on your efforts to get it done.
Pressfield’s advice on the best way to combat the Resistance is to ‘turn pro.’ Unwavering commitment to your craft and your work, without any room for doubt. You always show up, you always put in your time, you always do the work, regardless of the Resistance.
Another part of the commitment of ‘turning pro’ is concentrating on the techniques of your craft, mastering a “full arsenal of skills” to have ready when you’re inspired. Like having all the paintbrushes at your fingertips when you’re painting ‘happy little trees.’ But most important, in my opinion, a professional recognizes that there are always new techniques new to be learned.
One of the biggest factors of Resistance is criticism and rejection. Through fear, it can paralyze you and keep you from doing your work, or from showing it to other people. That’s my biggest fear – fear of rejection through public evaluation. Which is one of the reasons why I have this blog – to get over that fear by constant exposure. That way I can eventually share my actual writing with more people.
“The professional self-validates.”
The professional listens to criticism to make their work better and to grow as a creative (personally, I have a lot of ‘growing’ to do just to get to this level). Ultimately, the professional doesn’t need external affirmation to feel that their work is valuable. According to Pressfield “The professional self-validates.” I think this is an attainable goal and something that I strive for in my own work (even if I do fall short).
Outside of talking about Resistance and ‘turning pro’, Pressfield has a section in the book called ‘The Higher Realm.” There wasn’t much that I could take away from this section, except for one particular part wherein Pressfield postulates that we are all born with an established personality. If you’re a parent, you understand this – your child is born with their own personality and attitude regardless of what we do or don’t do as parents.
As a result of this predetermined personality, we really don’t have unlimited choices in who or what we’ll be when we grow up. Therefore, “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we are and become it.” To me, this is somewhat liberating – I don’t have to shoehorn myself into anyone’s expectations – not even my own. All I have to do is keep trying new things and eventually I’ll discover what my ‘thing’ is supposed to be. I don’t have to force anything, I just have to find it.
One of the final thoughts in the book, I feel, is the most important. To me, this is paramount in my personal definition of a professional. The work itself is the most important thing. More important than the fear, the praise, the self-doubt, the rewards, the isolation, or the popularity. And I think that’s really the point of the entire book.