Claim Back Your Unlived Life
A Discussion of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”
When was the last time you created something meaningful? In fact, when was the last time you created something at all? When was the last time you could step back and say with pride, “I made that”? It could have been a painting or a symphony, or it could have been a new business or product, or a new system at work that changed the status quo.
When was the last time you did something that terrifies you? And I’m not talking about skydiving when you’re afraid of heights. I’m talking about the thing that really scares you, the one you’re passionate about, but can’t seem to find the courage to do. I’m talking about the podcast you haven’t started, the app you haven’t designed, the business idea you’re still just talking about.
Why is it so much easier to slog away at a 9 to 5 than to create something new?
The answer is . . . Resistance.
Resistance / / We are all fighting what Pressfield has termed ‘Resistance’ whether we’re aware of it or not. He writes:
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
In Are You Indispensable? I talked about the Lizard Brain; this is where Resistance lives. Coming from a primal instinct of survival, it advocates complacency and mediocrity, it prevents us from standing up and standing out. I’ve heard writers say, the hardest thing about writing isn’t the writing, it’s sitting down to write. This is because they are fighting Resistance. Any act that ignores immediate gratification and supports long-term growth, health, or integrity will elicit a response from Resistance.
Procrastination / / The most common manifestation of Resistance is procrastination. It makes it so easy for us to rationalize that we don’t even realize we are losing. After all, it’s not that I’m never going to create my charity, I’m just going to do it tomorrow. When we tell ourselves this, we’ve failed and don’t even realize it. Continuing to give in to Resistance stunts us, it prevents us from growing, from bettering ourselves and improving the world around us. We all have something to contribute, we all have something the world needs, and when we give in to Resistance, we withhold our contribution from the world. We need to understand Resistance, it will keep coming for us, and if we cave in today (no matter how good of an excuse we have), we’re twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.
Self-Doubt / / The idea that we all have something to contribute to the world is one that I’ve heard many people scoff at—they respond to that statement with an awkward laugh and self-depreciating comment. Everyone tells their children that they “can be anything they want to be,” but don’t believe that for themselves. Somewhere along the way we believe Resistance and allow our self-doubt to guide us. Experiencing self-doubt is nothing to be embarrassed about, but allowing ourselves to be stopped by self-doubt is.
When we can learn to recognize and identify self-doubt we can use it as an ally because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. Pressfield writes how self-doubt “reflects love of something we dream of doing and the desire to do it.” Where do you feel overwhelming self-doubt? Would you love to start a photography business, but feel you’re not good enough? Have you thought of a new way to improve customer satisfaction at work, but not presented it to your boss because you worry it is actually a stupid idea? This self-doubt indicates a passion for this area of your life, don’t let yourself and those around you be robbed!
The more fear and self-doubt we feel, the more sure we can be that something is meaningful and important, both for those around us, but also for our growth, development, and well-being. If it means nothing to you, there would be no Resistance, so learn to use it as an indicator. If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, look for the fear. Your greatest fears and self-doubt will most likely be hiding your greatest passions.
Your Turn / / The term Resistance is something Pressfield has created in this book, but whatever you want to call it, we can all identify Resistance in our lives. If you feel like you struggle to identify the things you’re passionate about, change the question—what are you most afraid of?
As you look back through your life, when did you achieve your greatest breakthrough? What are you most proud of? I would wager that it was a time where you overcame a lot of fear and self-doubt. Use that memory to motivate yourself to do it again!