Advice for Winning the War on Art

I just finished ready an extraordinary book, “The War of Art: Break through the blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”, by Steven Pressfield. It is all about how to battle what Pressfield calls “Resistance” and conquer it. Resistance is that part of us that keeps us from doing the things we were put on this earth to do. It is that constant, very loud voice in our head that finds other things for us to do, or tells us it can wait till tomorrow. It is also that thing that makes us jealous of real artists.

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the sercret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

Resistance in the part of our brain that does not want us to take risks, that prefers conformity and following the rules. It is the thing that keeps us at work and working. As Seth Godin puts it, it is the lizard brain that fears, or as Julia Cameron says, it is the critic says we not worthy or not good enough. It is that part of our brain that does anything it can to prevent us from doing what we are meant to do.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

The idea of Resistance that Pressfield is talking about is the thing that keeps us from showing up. And the secret to conquering Resistance is to “turn pro”. It is the idea that we don’t wait for inspiration, but we show up everyday, sit down, and do our job. Whether that job be writing, painting, or building a new business. Because once we sit down and put in the time and effort, then the inspiration comes, then the universe opens and blesses us.

This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writes don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favour in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

Both Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Outliers”, and Julia Cameron in, “The Artists Way”, echo this idea that work comes first and then inspiration comes out of that work. We need to show up, put in our time before we can expect the ideas to come. Pressfield recounts the 10 years he struggled as a write before anything was published and a mentor that he met along the path that encouraged him to show up and work.

I don’t think I am alone in believing that you have to wait for inspiration to strike before you can begin and letting myself give into resistance far too often. The more I read about this idea of “showing up”, the more I am convinced that I need to start. I need to start writing more and I need to start doing more art. I need to start showing up, putting in the work, and seeing what happens.

Before the universe can respond, I need to do my part. And that needs to begin today.

Wasted Time

Have you ever woken up and realized that what you thought your life was about, the thing you have been doing for the last x number of years, that thing that you thought was your career; that you thought defined you was wrong? That you had, somewhere along the road, made a terrible mistake? Somewhere, without you realizing it, your life had turned left when it was suppose to turn right.

The problem is that it isn’t just one day. When it happens, you fight it, you dismiss it, you rail against it, you simply can’t believe it. And it stays there, in the back of your mind like a splinter slowly eating away at everything you do. The idea that what you are doing is wrong. The idea that the reason you hate your job and your life is because you made a mistake.

Slowly, over the course of months or years, your confidence, your self-worth, your soul are eaten away and all that is left is an angry, depressed shell of what you used to be. And one day, some day, you need to make a decision. Hopefully, …hopefully, you make the decision to change. Hopefully you decide that life is to short to live doing something you hate.

This has been my life for the last 8 years or so. I started out as a web designer and then went to school to study computer science. And that was the mistake. Instead of staying with design, I tried to make the change to programming. And every job I had after leaving school was an exercise in frustration, anger, and a complete lack of success.

It has only been recently that I have awoken and realized that I need to figure out what I really want to do instead of doing something I thought I should be doing. Thankfully, I have had an employer that has allowed me to explore a few possibilities. Instead of programming, I tried testing for a bit (I hated it) and am now an Agile Coach. I take care of and look after our processes and our software development teams. And I am having fun. I get to learn, mentor, teach, and introduce new ideas. Things that are much closer to my natural strengths.

I also have another opportunity coming up (that I can’t talk about quite yet) to put my years of experience as a software developer to good use.

And I am trying to get back into design and art.

We spend so much time working, a lifetime is a long time to do something you dislike. For me, this transition is just beginning. I am nowhere near where I want to be yet, but as Neil Gaiman said, from now on, I will choose things that take me closer to the mountain and reject those things that take me away from it, regardless of the consequences.

The universe provides us with a finite number of days to live, why spend them doing something you hate. Start living, start risking, and start doing something you love.