“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
It’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got a great book in your hands when you can’t stand reading it without a pen close by. The War of Art is one of those books. It’s a quick read with lots of wisdom packed into its pages.
has been reaching out to bloggers, and I got a chance to lob a few questions
1. I’ve only read part of the book so far, but in the part I’ve read, you approach the idea of “life’s work” and “resistance” from the perspective of someone who knows his life’s work is to write. What about those people who have a lot of creative talents and they’re not sure what to focus on for their life’s work? What suggestions do you have for them?
Remember that old Lovin’ Spoonful song, Heather?
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
To say yes to one and leave the other behind?
It’s not often easy, not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
It’s really hard when one is multi-talented and pulled in multiple directions. It was easier for me because I can’t do much of anything except write. What I would say is this:
If we find that we’re pulled in multiple creative directions–start a business, write a screenplay, move to India and work for the Mother Teresa Foundation–the key question to ask ourselves is, “Which one am I most afraid of?” Put another way: “Which one elicits the most powerful Resistance?”
I say in The War of Art that Resistance can help us in a weird way in that it can tell us what we have to do. If Resistance is our enemy (and it is) and if it wants us NOT to tackle Project X, then…
2. What advice do you have for parents trying to foster creativity in their children? Can we do things to help them grow into adults who give in to resistance less?
That’s a great question. I’m not a parent so I can only answer theoretically. One thing I heard once that made a lot of sense to me was on a disk called “An Interview with the Coach,” which was an interview of Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach by Joe Polish of the Genius Network Interview series. It’s worth tracking down, this disk, by logging onto “Strategic Coach” or “Genius Network.”
What Dan Sullivan was saying was that our schools don’t teach the entrepreneurial mind-set. And they should. Instead our schools regiment our children. They prepare them to be cogs in a machine, to work for organizations, etc. Nobody teaches us the skills of self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation that are necessary to succeed as an artist or an entrepreneur or anybody who follows his or her own heart and who values the work for its own sake and for the joy it brings us, rather than just chasing a paycheck.
I think a parent should identify in her own mind the virtues that she’d like to teach her children and then teach them just like she would anything else–i.e., reward them when they appear spontaneously, reinforce them in all ways, talk equal-to-equal to the child about the reasons why these qualities are virtues and why they’ll pay off. And be alert to counter-conditioning, to nip it in the bud or to amplify it in the proper way. For instance, if your kid is on the football team and the coach is hammering him to work hard, be tough, fight till the bitter end (all good things, in my opinion), amplify this by highlighting for your child the difference between externally-enforced motivation (what the coach is doing) and internally-enforced motivation (what the child will need when he goes out on his own.)
What virtues and what skills am I talking about? They’re the virtues of self-reliance (see the famous essay by Emerson): patience, kindness to oneself, self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation, generosity toward others, ability to endure hardship, delayed gratification, the talent of listening to one’s own heart and trusting one’s own intuition.
3. Do you think the proliferation of blogs and social media networks is fostering more creativity in our culture or less? (ie. Do you think this is offering more writers and artists the opportunity to try out their craft or is it just giving us more opportunity for resistance?)
Great question, Heather! To me, the qualities of mind that produce really good work (and also, in my opinion, produce happiness) are focus, concentration, the ability to go deep, and perseverance over time. Things like Facebook and Twitter promote the exact opposites–shallowness, distractability, short attention spans, etc.
That being said, the one person in ten thousand who starts a blog and really goes deep with it may take the skills that she develops from this pursuit and use them at the next level–starting a business or non-profit, writing a novel, getting a Ph.D.
Note: I’ve got an extra copy of The War of Art, so if you’re interested in it, leave a comment by Monday, Nov. 30 and I’ll pick a winner.