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A powerful and potentially life-transforming book!
on September 10, 2004
Know the enemy, know yourself, wrote Sun Tzu in his classic The Art of War, and your victory will be certain. For anyone who is stuck at a level below their God-given potential, who can't seem to get on track to do the things they need to do in order to achieve their most authentic goals, knowing the enemy and knowing yourself are one and the same.
Steve Pressfield's magnificent little book The War of Art is about being more creative - but more important, it's also about fulfilling your potential as a human being. To do this, he says, you must overcome Resistance (the "R" is capitalized be Pressfield to represent the fact that it is a very real entity - as real to your authentic Self as Charles Manson or Genghis Khan were to their victims).
The whole aim of Resistance, says Pressfield (who is the bestselling author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire), is to prevent you from doing the work you are called to do. Resistance wants you to take it easy, to be ordinary and mediocre, to take the low road. Resistance is the reason so many people place a basket over the brilliant candle that shines within them. The fight against Resistance is, Pressfield says, a war to the death.
Pressfield disputes the standard motivational cliché that you can have, do, or be anything if you follow the right formula and just work hard enough. Rather, he says: "We are not born with unlimited choices... Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal that we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."
There are two occasions when Resistance will be the most relentless, and they are related. The first is when something really matters to you. "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." If your lifelong goal is to be a writer, a rejection letter from a publisher will hurt a whole lot more than if you submitted your manuscript on a dare.
The second occasion that Resistance is most dangerous is related to what Pressfield calls "the mother of all fears," namely the fear that you will actually succeed. Resistance builds as you get closer to the finish line. "At this point, Resistance knows we're about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it's got." There is a real paradox here: the closer you get to reaching that proverbial tipping point, where things are really starting to click, the more likely you are to engage in the self-sabotaging behavior that is the calling card of Resistance.
Pressfield offers a prescription for defeating Resistance. You must, he says, become "a pro." But he does not mean that in the sense of earning a living at the work, in the sense of being a member of a certain profession, or in the sense of being looked up to by your peers. Rather, he simply means showing up every day with your lunch pail and getting to work. Much of the book has to do with how you make this transformation so that you can do the work that you are called to do.
I have made a small poster with this quote from Steve's book and placed it prominently above my computer: "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." My own next book has been on the back-burner for far too long, victim to Resistance. But now I have a weapon: Every time Resistance stands between me and doing my work, I pull Steve's book from out of my bookshelf and beat Resistance over the head. Then in that very second, I sit down and do my work. And it's working.