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 Work

When 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

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.