In the last several months I’ve talked a lot about doubts and fears — my personal challenges and those of my clients. I’ve talked about where those fears come from and what to do about them.
But you know what? They’re never going to stop. And here’s the thing: You don’t want them to stop. I believe they come from your deepest desires. The thing is, if you didn’t have that contrast — between what you don’t want and what you do want — and all the “stuff” associated with it, you’d probably be dead.
My goal is not to get rid of this stuff. You see, I want to be like Bruce Lee who counsels, “Use your opponents strength against him.” I want you to see your fear and regard it as a worthy competitor, and use every face-off between the two of you to get stronger and better.
What I call fears or doubts or “stuff,“Steven Pressfield –author of the masterpiece The War of Art–calls Resistance. When it comes to doing our great work, Steven Pressfield (in his book, Do the Work) states that the “enemy” is not our fears or our doubts or any other excuse we could possibly come up with.
Instead, it’s Resistance. Interestingly, he says that Resistance is not us, but rather thoughts like “you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what you need to do” –thoughts you must not believe.
You see, very often we respond to Resistance by saying, “Yes, true. I’m not ready. I’m not qualified.” But here’s how Pressfield says you should respond, “Start before you’re ready.”
Pressfield wants you to commit, not prepare to commit. As you may have guessed, I’m a sucker for any metaphor that revolves around pregnancy, labor and birth. Pressfield seems to like them, too, with a vengeance-he starts at conception.
The creative act is primitive. Its principles are of birth and genesis. Conception occurs at a primal level… the hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain, and blood.
I hear some of you saying, Commit, right. Got it. How do I prepare to commit again?
You don’t prepare. You commit. Sound scary? Not really: Steven recommends getting out a legal sheet of paper and drafting an outline for your idea. Break the sheet into three parts: beginning, middle and end. Don’t go into particulars, don’t overthink, just write. At the conception stage, you work by instinct.
Then do that first item in the “beginning” section. There. You’ve begun.
Resistance, or the Inner Critic (as I like to call it), will come out. That’s a given. I’ve already taught you my process for dealing with it, but here’s Pressfield’s.
Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything. If there’s a magic formula it’s this: Create, launch, test often, fail fast. Just. Don’t. Stop. Unless you’re performing brain surgery or piloting a plane, you’re allowed to mess up.
There’s a time for reflection, of course, but it’s after you have produced something. You cannot act and reflect at the same time.
And here’s another thing: Do not wait for the Muse to arrive. It is very unlikely that you will be kicking around, waiting for inspiration, and find that the Muse taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, I’m ready to give you a great idea now.” No: first you sit down and show up and then your Muse will.
And here’s what I really want you to know: The #1 antidote to Resistance is knowing your WHY.
I mean, you’re staring at a legal pad sheet full of Your Brilliant Plan. You could start and then stop. You could just ball it up and throw it away. You could file it somewhere that you won’t look into again for ten years. But not if you answer one question: Why are you doing this?
When you can really get clear about your why, when you take the time to think about who will be affected-perhaps in a profound way –by your great work, Resistance melts away. Because then it’s no longer about you-it’s about getting your great work into the hands of those who need it.
So why do you want to bring this thing into the world? It has to be because you love it so much you’ll do anything it takes to make it happen. But make no mistake: it will be painful and challenging. Here’s what’s more: when it seems the hardest, when you doubt yourself the most, that’s when you know you’re almost there.
Every mother who has given birth (without medical assistance), has reached the same point in labor. (If Pressfield is going to use birth metaphors, then I will as well. I think I’m entitled.) This phase of the birth process is called Transition.
Transition can be the hardest stage of labor, not because the pain is greater than at other times, but because after having labored for so many hours, a woman is tired-and because the actual birth still seems so far away, she has yet to get the charge of energy that comes from knowing the birth is imminent. During transition, a woman will often say that she just can’t do it anymore.
Yes, transition pushes you to your limits, but women still do it. How could they not? There’s a new life coming out of them, a new chance to have an impact on the world. And when you reach transition in your life, you will-if armed with the knowledge of where you are and what you need to do, and why you’re doing it-you will meet the challenge.
And at the end you will have given birth to that which you love the most — not a baby — but your great work. And you made it possible because you were willing to start, labor hard (even under tremendous duress), and never, ever, give up.
So what do you think? Why are you doing your great work? Do you have jujitsu moves for dealing with Resistance? Please share your thoughts in the comments!