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Book Summary: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Nov 11, 2020
6 minutes read

First published: 2002

Author: Steven Pressfield

Genre: Self-help book

Where to get it: Amazon

How I discovered the Book: Sean Tucker’s YouTube Channel

The book starts by talking about Resistance, the force within us that prevents us from doing our work. It is an evil presence that shows up whenever we want to do something that is beneficial to us and it manifests itself in various forms.

You will notice the presence of Resistance anytime you start doing something that benefits you in the long-term. Things like starting a new project or exercise routine. You won’t see or hear anything, but you will feel the pressure of the force as it comes and distracts you from your work.

Resistance most often appears in the form of procrastination. Putting off important tasks until later and preferring the instant gratification of unimportant but easier tasks.

We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Rationalisation is another major tool employed by Resistance. It tries to convince us that backing out of our work makes sense with excuses that sound legitimate so that we don’t feel the shame that we would feel if we faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

Characteristics of Resistance

  • Resistance only has one goal: to stop you from doing your work. It uses any means possible to achieve its goal.
  • Resistance is a force of evil. It is implacable and cannot be reasoned with.
  • Resistance manifests itself mostly as self-sabotage, but it can also use the people around you to stop you from working.
  • Resistance uses addictions to sap your energy and keep you from working. This includes sex, porn, drugs, gossip, TV, food, games, social media and other addictions.
  • Criticising others excessively is a sign of Resistance. Most people criticise because they don’t have the guts to do the work.
  • Resistance feeds on your fears especially the fear of proving worthy of your ideals.

You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.

How to use the presence of Resistance to your advantage

  • If you don’t notice any Resistance in your life, it means you’re probably wallowing in mediocrity. It kicks in only when you attempt to move to a higher level in any area of your life.
  • The higher the calling, the stronger the Resistance. This lets you know what action you must take before all others.
  • Resistance is strongest at the finish line. You’re probably at the edge of breakthrough if you encounter a sudden and forceful attack.

How to defeat Resistance

In this very moment, you can decide to fight against Resistance and win. The only way to beat Resistance is to sit down and do your work. If you don’t do this — short of a family tragedy or World War Three — Resistance has won.

Beating Resistance is a daily struggle. It’s not something transient. If you beat it today, don’t relax because it’ll come back even stronger tomorrow with an improved attack strategy aimed solely at preventing you from working. Before you can conquer Resistance consistently, you have to turn pro.

Resistance hates it when we turn pro

The professional and the amateur

You are a professional if you can identify with the following characteristics:

  • A professional gets his work done as at when due.
  • A professional is not proud. He does not show off.
  • A professional does not have zero days. He knows that if he caves today, he’s twice as likely to cave tomorrow.
  • A professional separates himself from his work. He keeps his identity small.
  • A professional does not let criticism get to him. He knows that taking a few blows is the price of being in the arena and not on the sidelines.
  • A professional delays gratification.
  • A professional does not look to others to validate his efforts or calling.
  • A professional focuses on the mastery of his craft.
  • A professional is surrounded by other professionals. He recognises his limitations and does not try to do it all by himself.
  • A professional is organised. He avoids creating drama in his life.
  • A professional does not take rejection personally.
  • A professional learns from other professionals who came before him.
  • A professional is constantly seeking out new projects that take him outside of his comfort zone.
  • A professional keeps his ego in check. He knows he is not the source of the creations he brings into being.
  • A professional gets paid for his work, but that’s just a side effect. He does his work for its own sake.

Let’s contrast those characteristics with those of an amateur. Consider the differences.

  • An amateur is highly motivated at the start of a project but quickly fades out after the initial burst of enthusiasm.
  • An amateur always tells you about what he is going to do.
  • An amateur starts many projects, but never finishes any of them.
  • The amateur quits at the slightest sign of difficulty.
  • The amateur is easily distracted by the goodies of life. He cannot delay gratification.
  • The amateur fantasizes about being rich and successful, but he does not want to do the work that will make it so.
  • The amateur seeks support from friends and family before taking steps towards his goals.
  • An amateur blames society for his problems. He allows the actions of others to define his reality and refuses take responsibility.

The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.

How to turn pro

Decide you want to be a pro, then sit down and do your work.

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.”

That’s a pro.

What happens when you turn pro

  • You’ll beat Resistance consistently by becoming even more resolute and unrelenting than it is.
  • When you sit down and do your work, inspiration strikes and gives birth to truth and beauty.
  • You will lose some friends. They won’t recognise you anymore. But you will find better ones in places you never thought to look.

What happens if you don’t turn pro

  • You deprive the world of your unique gifts and hurt yourself and others as a result.
  • Your lack of contribution tilts the world a bit more toward hell and a bit more away from heaven.
  • You won’t fulfill your potential and you will have regrets on your deathbed because you’ll know that you could have been so much more.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

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