By Steven Pressfield
Date Read: December 2017
Read more details or purchase on Amazon: Do the Work
In his best-selling The War of Art, Steven Pressfield introduced the world to “The Resistance.” The Resistance is that “thing” inside us that prevents us from doing the things we really want to do. It comes in the form of self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, distraction, and rationalization. And those are all symptoms of one thing: fear.
In Do the Work, Pressfield introduces us to the best weapon for fighting The Resistance. He argues that we don’t need to search for the perfect idea or map out a detailed plan. That we shouldn’t critique our rough draft or edit as we write. And it’s a waste of time to create a 5-year business plan because we don’t know how year one will turn out.
The answer is to just do the work. Make a simple product and try to sell it. Write the rough draft, and don’t read or edit until it’s finished. Stop thinking and start doing.
And after that project is finished, don’t dwell on it. It’s done. Start the next one.
It’s a good thing this book is short — it only takes an hour to read. Then we can move on to doing something.
“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.”
Maybe that’s how we discover exactly what it is we’re supposed to do. Figure out what project, goal, business idea, or career move scares us the most, and then do that. If we question ourselves that much — if our resistance is that strong toward something — then it must be important.
“Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.”
This is sobering for someone who overanalyzes everything (ahem). We spend so much time planning out a project or idea that we never actually start it. We think we have to figure everything out up front in order to succeed. Worse — we think we CAN plan everything. We think we can control everything that happens. That’s definitely our ego talking.
Ryan Holiday wrote an entire book about this struggle: Ego is the Enemy.
“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be — and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.”
It’s hard enough when outside forces tell us we can’t do something, but we also have to deal with the voices in our heads. We have to learn how to silence all of this “chatter.”
“Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.”
“…it is better to be primitive than to be sophisticated, and better to be stupid than to be smart.”
More sobering advice for perfectionists. It’s called a “rough draft” for a reason.
“Figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there.”
This seems like common sense. We should have an end goal before we start anything. Once we know exactly what we want to accomplish, we can reverse-engineer a plan to get there. Easier said than done.
And this doesn’t conflict with the “just do the work” theme of the book. Once we know what the goal is, we can put together a quick outline for how to get there — “quick” being the key word.
“I was thirty years old before I had an actual thought. Everything up till then was either what Buddhists call ‘monkey-mind’ chatter or the reflexive regurgitation of whatever my parents or teachers said, or whatever I saw on the news or read in a book, or heard somebody rap about, hanging around the street corner.”
We are completely shaped by our surrounding environment. Before we’re old enough to think for ourselves, we’re influenced by all the people that invest in us. As we grow older, that circle of influence expands: friends, books, news, TV, blogs, etc. And we have limited time and brainpower, so we only spend it on things that further reinforce the worldview that took us so long to develop. Because this is easy.
Thinking for ourselves is hard.
“That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem — and a problem can be solved.”
It’s hard to separate ourselves from our work. We take things personally, especially when we pour ourselves into something. But when it doesn’t work out, we can figure out where we went wrong. Then we can try again.
“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.”
This is hard to fathom because we want to be humble. But if we’ve done something good — something worth sharing and talking about — we shouldn’t hide it.
That voice of fear inside us says otherwise. We convince ourselves we didn’t do a good job, and that everyone is going to judge us poorly. In reality, it’s never as bad as we think.
We can’t control how other people feel, so why worry? Be a light to the world.