Steven Pressfield’s War of Art should be on everyone’s bookshelf. Everyone, full stop. Go and buy it now. (Left Bank Books, Powell’s Books, and Barnes and Noble) I first heard of this book from an author friend who also runs a reading group for writers at my local independent bookstore Left Bank Books. I was intrigued but hesitant because writing advice that works for some might not for others. Then I heard Joe Rogan discussing the book on his podcast. Joe gives the book out to some guests and friends, which is a powerful recommendation. But when he discussed the book, it seemed a bit woo woo and too mystical for me. Finally, Mr. Pressfield was on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Listening to Mr. Pressfield tipped my interest toward reading the book. wonder what sold it to me? Listen to the podcast.
The War of Art is a creative goldmine. It is organized into three books. The first deals with Resistance, which is a term for obstacles to whatever you want to do. Book two deals with the difference between professionals and amateurs. Book three is a bit of the abstract about how to persevere. I cannot do justice to the concept of Resistance in a few words. It sounds a bit mystic, but it’s really about practical obstacles that tend to be internally created. Resistance isn’t just fear, but fear is a part of it. Resistance is a catchall term for whatever impedes us from pursuing that which we want to accomplish. The solution isn’t mystical or new age woo. Simply put, it’s do the work despite the fear. Easier said than done, yes.
This quote has been applicable to me this year. I’m working towards completing a goal I set out five years ago. I’m training towards my first degree black belt, and I’ve noticed that solo training has been difficult. I’m hesitant to do it. Ryan said to me that we were focusing on his material and not working mine very much. I feel this resistance. This is a big milestone in my martial arts journey, and my inner critic has been talking. My inner critic knows how important Counterpoint Tactical System is to me, and it whispers self-doubt. It is a self protection mechanism to avoid the pain and humiliation of failure. This Resistance follows the philosophy that you can never fail if you never try. So, it urges me to not try. This is where the second book comes in. It inspires you to do the work.
Book two discusses the differences between a professional and an amateur. Most people define professional as someone who gets paid for their efforts, but Mr. Pressfield describes it in a new way. The difference between a professional and an amateur is how each conducts herself. The best piece of career advice that I ever got was to follow my passion, to find work that I enjoy, and then the money would follow. In book two, Mr. Pressfield shows why this is good advice. Money shouldn’t be the focus; the work should be the focus. This doesn’t mean give away your work for free. It means value the work. The money is just an extra benefit for doing good work. To oversimplify the whole concept, he says act like a professional, and you will be a professional. Or another way of looking at it: if you don’t view yourself as a professional, why should anyone else?
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to view yourself as a fighter if that’s not your goal. Fighter’s benefit from acting like a professional from the start, but all students can benefit as well. Being a professional doesn’t mean being all serious, all the time. Set goals, seek feedback, and put the work in. Also, find a mentor, and if you can’t, you can always learn from the leadership in your art. The CTS senior students and club leaders have been examples to me of how to conduct myself both on and off the mat. Book 2 gives strategies for how to deal with all of this.
The best martial artists that I’ve seen both inside and outside of Counterpoint Tactical System have all lived by that first line in the above quote. The dedication to the craft of martial arts is evident. The hours spent on basics shines through; the care in teaching is evident. I consider myself lucky that I know many martial artists who are not content with what they know. They are continuing to learn; they continue to push their own boundaries. Artists, even the martial kind, succeed when they continue to work at mastering their skills. Their shining example is inspiration for me. I’ve also noticed that while these artists don’t downplay their own accomplishments, they are quick to recognize and give thanks to their teachers and to those that helped them. These are the professional skills that I seek to emulate.
I originally purchased this book to help with my creative writing, but it was immediately obvious that its lessons went beyond writing. Any artistic endeavor can benefit from this book. I reference it quite often because I fight Resistance every day. Whether it’s sitting down to write this blog, to start a new project at work, to get to work in the gym, or to pick up sticks and train, a mental inertia must be overcome. This book defines the fear holding you back, gives strategies for “acting in the face of fear and failure” (1), and even how to stay inspired. The difference between who you are and who you want to be is the work required to get there. This book isn’t a magic cure. It won’t tell you shortcuts; it won’t lie to you. The work has to be done, and this book will provide inspiration when the work gets tough. I know. When sitting down to write another blog entry, I face the same fears Mr. Pressfield discusses. What if I have nothing to say? What if everything I say is wrong? What if I’m not good enough? I think of Mr. Pressfield’s advice that the fear is because this blog is important to me. Then I sit down and do the work.
1.) Robert McKee writes this in the introduction.