Allies In The War Against Failure

In this excerpt from his new book Do the Work!, author Steven Pressfield examines the six things that help us tackle big ideas.

Do the WorkWhen you undertake a project (a book, a ballet, a new business venture, a philanthropic enterprise) you'll hit predictable Resistance. But let's consider the champions on our side:

  1. Stupidity
  2. Stubbornness
  3. Blind faith
  4. Passion
  5. Assistance
  6. Friends and family

1. Stay Stupid

The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began.

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.

How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think.

A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It's only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.

Don't think. Act.

We can always revise and revisit once we've acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.

2. Be Stubborn

Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.

What will keep us from stopping? Plain old stubbornness.

I like the idea of stubbornness because it's less lofty than "tenacity" or "perseverance." We don't have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt.

When we're stubborn, there's no quit in us. We're mean. We're mulish. We're ornery.

We're in till the finish.

We will sink our junkyard-dog teeth into Resistance's ass and not let go, no matter how hard he kicks.

3. Blind Faith

Is there a spiritual element to creativity? Hell, yes.

Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.

Resistance wants to rattle that faith. Resistance wants to destroy it.

There's an exercise that Patricia Ryan Madson describes in her wonderful book, Improv Wisdom. (Ms. Madson taught improvisational theater at Stanford to standing-room only classes for twenty years.) Here's the exercise:

Imagine a box with a lid. Hold the box in your hand. Now open it.

What's inside?

It might be a frog, a silk scarf, a gold coin of Persia. But here's the trick: no matter how many times you open the box, there is always something in it.

Ask me my religion. That's it.

I believe with unshakeable faith that there will always be something in the box.

4. Passion

Picasso painted with passion, Mozart composed with it. A child plays with it all day long.

You may think that you've lost your passion, or that you can't identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.

Fear saps passion.

When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.

5. Assistance

If Resistance is the shadow, its opposite—Assistance—is the sun.

Your work-in-progress produces its own gravitational field, created by your will and your attention. This field attracts like-spirited entities into its orbit.

You started with a few scraps of a song; now you've got half an opera. You began with the crazy notion to restore a neglected park; now the lot is cleared and you've got volunteers tweeting and phoning at all hours. Your will and vision initiated the process, but now the process has acquired a life and momentum of its own.

Assistance is the universal, immutable force of creative manifestation, whose role since the Big Bang has been to translate potential into being, to convert dreams into reality.

6. Friends and Family

When art and inspiration and success and fame and money have come and gone, who still loves us—and whom do we love?

Only two things will remain with us across the river: our inhering genius and the hearts we love.

In other words, what we do and whom we do it for.

Excerpted from Do the Work! by Steven Pressfield, The Domino Project, 2011.

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