“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” — Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
This book continues to have a profound impact on me and remains one of the best reads on how to conquer fear and unleash growth. While originally intended for creatives, the book’s lessons apply equally to entrepreneurs.
Pressfield wrote ‘The War of Art’ as a manifesto to creators. After struggling with his own fears of failure and of not being good enough as a screenwriter and novelist, Pressfield set out to instruct with his own experience. The result is a how-to on overcoming fear to pursue one’s calling.
Pressfield’s premise is that fear (and our relationship with it) is our primary obstacle to success. While that may not seem ground-breaking, how Pressfield labels that fear and its many manifestations is informative. He calls it the Resistance. The Resistance is amorphous.
I used to give credence to the idea of writer’s block until I read Pressfield. Now I call it what it is — an excuse. After all, writer’s block is a story that starts with ‘I can’t’ or ‘I don’t know how’. Those are words and constructs that stall forward progress. They limit our potential before launch. No different when it comes to business ventures.
For a writer, a blank page is an invitation. Fear and anxiety will try to stand in the way, but that tension and resistance is a sign we are barking up the right tree.
There are a lot of things we hold off doing in a business because we feel we can’t or simply don’t want to. Writing to our email list. Digging through our numbers and invoices to create clear financial projections for the future. Raising our prices and presenting those to new clients. Sketching and developing that new service line that you know you’ll need to get to the next level.
“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.” —Pressfield
The Resistance is comes in many forms.
Procrastination is the most common culprit, but not the only one. What else prevents us from sitting down in the seat and doing the hard thing? What prevents us is whatever we choose to do in that moment instead of the hard thing.
Sometimes it’s just inaction. Other times it’s trivial like online shopping or surfing the web. Responding to those overdue items in your inbox. Cleaning the kitchen. Calling your friend or family member. It might constitute burying yourself in client work to avoid setting up new ads.
In all of these cases we choose something easier instead of something harder and more important.
It’s self-sabotage. The Resistance comes from within; its power fueled by us feeding the flames of our own fears. The avoidance of the hard thing further fans those flames. We never accomplish the task or move ourselves forward, thus exacerbating the fear and reinforcing the idea that we can’t do something or aren’t good at it.
Sometimes the toughest part of the battle is just identifying and naming the manifestation of our fears. Awareness of Resistance in the moment can be enough to get past it, but Pressfield also offers a useful framing for how we break through.
The amateur vs. the professional.
The amateur has a hobby. He works on it during the weekends. It is distinct from and not considered his real vocation.
The professional, on the other hand, dedicates her life to her craft. She is committed full-time, 7 days a week.
Which are you?
Whatever that hard thing is that sits in front of you stubbornly avoiding getting done, it holds the key to unlocking the full potential of your craft. Overcoming the Resistance in its varied forms is what stands between freelance projects and a firm with employees and 10x the revenue and impact. As professionals, we see ourselves in the same light as successful people in other endeavors and pursuits. Artists, athletes, CEOs, and political leaders all honed their craft and reached their heights because they ‘sat down to write’. They pushed the Resistance aside and got the thing done.
The framing is merely an approach. The battle never becomes easy. In fact, the more important the work, often the greater the Resistance.
“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” — Pressfield
The Resistance doesn’t go away. We fight the battle anew every day.
Most of us are in various stages of the unlived life. We’re still putting the pieces together but we’re headed in the right direction. But we’re ready to label and blow past what’s resisting faster forward progress.
For others, we have the compass but we haven’t set out on the path yet. We haven’t sat down in the chair yet to write.
Today is the day we sit down to write.
Wes Melville is the Vice President of BGSD Strategies. You can learn more about his work here.