Book Review: Do The Work!

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Among creative freelancers, Steve Pressfield is well-known for a book called The War Of Art. A nice title to wave in the face of someone who thinks that we enjoy an easy life.

Now he’s back with another tough-talking title: Do the Work. With the subtitle “Overcome Resistance and get out of your own way,” you can pretty well guess that this book isn’t about what’s out there. Nope. It’s about you and how you resist doing the things you need (or want) to do.

Learning to Overcome Resistance

This slender book is largely about overcoming resistance. That task is a lot tougher than it looks. It’s also easier.

Why? Because resistance is always there. It’s impersonal. It never goes away. Or, as Pressfield puts it, “Resistance Never Sleeps.” To illustrate this point, he notes that “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five.”

That’s Henry Fonda. One of the greatest actors America has ever produced. Tossing his cookies long past the age that most people retire. Still have your lunch on board? Let’s keep going.

First big do the work tip: Start before you’re ready. Pressfield says,

Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage. The gods, witnessing our boldness, look on in approval.

Want to hear something really spooky? Day after Halloween, I sit down for yet another round of cold calls. It’s a list of local leads, and I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to these people. I hadn’t slept well, and I was sure that my fatigue was zapping right through the phone line.

Those calls were really feeling like a waste of time until I hit the next-to-last name on my list. Yes, I do websites. Uh-huh, I’ve done sites for university laboratories before. With that, the professor on the other end gets her calendar. We set a meeting.

Okay, that’s getting started on a day when you really feel like staying in bed to reclaim that lost sleep.

On to the next stage of that thing you’ve reluctantly started, but look at you now! You’ve arrived at The Middle. What a lovely place to be. So cue up Pressfield’s rhapsody:

Ideas are flowing. Our movie, our new business, our passage to freedom from addiction has acquired gravitational mass; it possesses energy; its field produces attraction. The law of self-ordering has kicked in. Despite all our self-doubt, the project is rounding into shape. It’s becoming itself.

Hitting the Wall of Resistance

Then you hit the wall. That thing’s hard as a rock. And it hurts when you hit it. Time for Pressfield’s Seven Principles of Resistance and the Two Tests:

  • Principle Number One: There Is An Enemy
  • Principle Number Two: This Enemy Is Implacable
  • Principle Number Three: This Enemy Is Inside You
  • Principle Number Four: This Enemy Is Inside You, But Not You
  • Principle Number Five: The “Real You” Must Duel The “Resistance You”
  • Principle Number Six: Resistance Rises Second (not first!)
  • Principle Number Seven: The Opposite of Resistance is Assistance

Principle Number Seven could be summed up in one word: HELP! As in, reach out and ask for it. Or just reach out.

That’s what I did this morning. I’ve been trying to get media coverage for the photography book I launched at the end of the summer. The editor of one local blog e-mailed a set of interview questions five weeks ago. I answered them the same day. And I waited for the story that never came.

Late last week, I re-sent my original e-mail. After all, that first message could have been eaten by a spam filter.

No reply from the editor and still no coverage on the blog.

I was growing ever more resentful. I mean, look at all those other things that have gotten coverage on this blog! When’s my turn? So, I re-sent that e-mail again this morning. First thing this morning, in fact.

Mid-morning e-mail check reveals a message from the blog’s editor. My story’s about to run. Woo-hoo!

The Two Tests

Which leads to those Two Tests:

  1. How bad do you want it? You’d better be totally committed or else you won’t keep plugging away at this project.
  2. Why do you want it? Because it’s fun! Beautiful! And you have no choice but to keep going.

Battling resistance and passing the Two Tests is no guarantee of success. Pressfield lets you into his personal Big Failure Club by sharing the story of his wonderful novel that flopped like a dead fish. Your project could do the same thing. Even after you go back to the proverbial drawing board and make it better than it originally was.

Slay the Dragon

Now we come to the end, or as Pressfield calls it, shipping. This is when you send your beloved novel, product, or painting gets sent out into the world.

It may succeed. It may fail. But you did it – you finished a project. As Pressfield says, “Slay the dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.”


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