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Pursue Your Life’s Calling Using “The War of Art”

For those that have who have found it difficult to proceed along the path of their calling, there isn’t a better book than The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  Although geared toward authors, I consider this an essential read for anyone attempting to create something of their own that they feel is true to themselves, outside the guidance of a boss or other figure we typically rely on to keep us on track.

This book as highly complementary to Beyond Success and Failure which is all about self-reliance by breaking free of your child-like dependencies.  If you’re ever going to live up to your true potential you’re going to have to quit paying attention to outside forces and summon the bravery to undertake your true calling.

I have seen the enemy and his name is Resistance

Pressfield introduces the concept of “The Resistance” which in my mind is a way to visualize some of the shit that goes on in the subconscious that serves to work against us – those things have caused you to stop a project in the middle or perhaps never try a project in the first place.

Within the mind, this is a battle of the ego trying to protect your identity that has been built up over the years.  The pull of the calling of our true selves can be a threat to the ego so it bring out the big guns with “The Resistance”.

The Resistance are your rationalizations for why you couldn’t possibly follow your true calling, at least not for today.  Many times these rationalizations sound perfectly reasonable and the right thing to do. The problem is, the more you give into the resistance the strong it becomes, which means the more is between you and your true self.

Pressfield goes to great lengths of showing you how strong The Resistance can be, the many forms it takes and how you can overcome it.

Select quotes

  • “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write”
  • “The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance”
  • “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the un-lived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance”
  • ‘To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”
  • “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”
  • “Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”
  • “The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.”
  • “Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.”

The counter to Resistance? Be a professional.

Pressfield says in order to get over the dreaded resistance, you must take up the role the professional. A professional is one who is the fearless knight who battles the dragon resistance and feels so strongly in the cause that he willing to die in the process if need-be.

Select quotes

  • “The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.”
  • “Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.”
  • “Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
  • “The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.”
  • “Nothing matters but that he keep working. Short of a family crisis or the outbreak of World War III, the professional shows up, ready to serve the gods.”
  • “Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work.”

Our calling

Each one of us has a True Self and that True Self has a calling – something that is specific to you.  Most of us bury this true self upon leaving childhood, but it’s always there beneath the surface waiting to break free.  As long as we are following a path that is not aligned with at calling we’ll experience frustration, irritation and a feeling of a mis-lived life.

Pressfield reminds us of this calling and lets us know that we must have the courage to directly battle resistance if we are to ever live this calling.

Select quotes

  • “We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.”
  • “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 already are and become it.”
  • “So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.”
  • “…those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”

Hard work is fertile soil for inspiration

Many people wait for the correct time, wanting to be inspired.  Pressfield thinks this is bullshit – this waiting around for inspiration is nothing more than the resistance giving us yet more excuses why we can’t do our work.  Once you start working day-in and day-out along your true path inspiration will show up automatically.

Select quotes

  • “when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”

Conclusion

I love this book.  Before I quit my corporate job I read it and liked it, but it was only when I re-read it after I was working on my own did I find it to be an absolutely essential read which I re-visit from time to time.  The more you learn to become self driven the better and something you’ll have to battle with is Resistance. Arm yourself with Pressfield’s book. You won’t be sorry.