5 Lessons from The War of Art (book review)


After seeing The War of Art by Steven Pressfield come up time and again at 27 Good Things and having an Amazon shopping cart that needed one more item for free shipping, I bought the book.  It was as good as everyone says it is, but not perfect.  For me, it served as a the spark for a fire that I will need to stoke.  Here are five things I learned from reading The War of Art.

Life has Resistance.  That’s a term Pressfield uses throughout the book as a force that is working against us when we create art – but not just art. I feel Resistance on taking the dogs out in the rain or going for a run. I feel Resistance planning dinners for our family and cleaning the house.  I felt Resistance writing this.  Like a lack of oxygen or change in pressure, we can’t see Resistance, it’s invisible, insidious, and internal.

Resistance is omnipresent, but so is our ability to push back.  Pressfield calls this “A power of creation” that we can call on.  Like a workhorse in a field or horsepower in an engine, we just need to take action and use this force of pushing back.  Resistance is the hill to climb, our legs are the ability to climb it.  If we had no way of getting up the hill, the hill wouldn’t be there.  When there is Resistance, there is always a way to push back.

We should think territorially, not hierarchy.  The idea of resistance was easy to wrap my head around, thinking of it like a headwind on a run or gravity when trying to jump – the idea of territories and hierarchies more nebulous.  Pressfield explains it like this:

In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hund ground, a turf).

Pressfield is trying to suggest that we grow up in a hierarchical set – I’m a father, brother, cousin. I’m an instructor in a school of education and a pleb to the college elite.  This is hierarchical thinking.  Alternatively to this, we can define our territory.  Instead of being a father, brother and cousin, I’m a lover of man.  Instead of being an instructor in the school, I’m ever learning and sharing that.  Someone living territorially gets sustenance “from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others.”

We have a right to our labors but not to the fruits of our labor.  This fits with Pressfield’s other idea of acting territorially and focusing on what we do and doing that for ourselves, rather than finding what to do because of the effect it will have on others.  I have the right to write this blog post, but not that anyone will read it.  I write it not because people will read it, I write it because the act of writing makes me better.  I’m enjoying the labor for the sake of it.

To turn Pro you must defeat resistance.  The book is about becoming an artist in a broad definition of the word, but I took this idea even broader.  What am I a Professional at in life?  I don’t want – and in some cases can’t – to be paid, but I want to act like one.  First, what is a Professional?  Pressfield writes:

When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of ‘the professions.’ I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur.

Professionalism is a mindset.  Resistance is always there and we always have the tools to work against it.  Do what you enjoy for you, not for others.  Read the book, Pressfield says it all better than I do.  He is after all, a professional.

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