Know the enemy, know yourself, wrote Sun Tzu in his classic The Art of War, and your victory will be certain. For anyone who has yet to reach their full potential creatively and who struggles to find a path to realize their most authentic desires and goals, the enemy and the self are one in the same.
In Steven Pressfield's (author of Legend Of Baggar Vance) book, The War Of Art, he makes the compelling case that what holds most of us back from reaching our true potential is our own inner resistance to stepping up and doing the work required to reach our goals. Pressfield calls resistance the enemy of creativity. In Pressfield's words, "Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the un-lived life within us. Between the two stands resistance."
Resistance is the voice inside us that tells us we shouldn't even try to pursue our dreams because we're not good enough. Resistance is the urge to just relax and watch TV instead of writing new songs or making that important phone call we've been putting off. Resistance is the voice inside that says we probably wouldn't make it even if we tried so we mine as well just enjoy ourselves and go get drunk instead. Basically, resistance is the part of you that is holding you back.
According to Pressfield the more important something is to our evolution as humans, the more resistance we have around it. That's why we feel so much resistance. If it meant nothing to us, we wouldn't feel anything. There would be no resistance. This rings true in my own experience. I have no resistance to putting out a new product for my website or entering into a new business deal. But when it comes time to play a new song for someone, or send my music to an important contact, I can feel the resistance come up. It's more important to me and I'm much more invested in my art emotionally, so there's a resistance to moving forward sometimes, even though I love writing and playing music.
Resistance and wanting to be a star
Pressfield writes, "Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a byproduct of work. The professional concentrates on the work, and allows success to come or not come, whatever they like."
When you're overly focused on pursuing success it can be very distracting to the creative process. This has probably been one of the biggest hurdles for me personally, at times success has seemed and felt very elusive and I go through periods of questioning what is the point of it all. Other times I think maybe if I dressed this way or wrote this type of song, success would be forthcoming. Approaching it from either angle is a distraction that takes me further away from the creative process of simply writing the best music I'm capable of.
Resistance And Procrastination
Procrastination, Pressfield claims, is the most common form of resistance because it's the easiest to rationalize. Pressfield states, " We don't tell ourselves, I'm never going to write my symphony. Instead we say, I am going to write my symphony, I'm just going to start tomorrow." This form of resistance is particularly insidious because it can become a lifelong habbit. How many people, I wonder, go through their entire lives putting off what they know they should be doing deep down simply due to their habit of procrastination.
In about two weeks, I'm headed to LA to record ten new songs. In the days leading up to my trip, I've been busy getting ready; making demos of the songs, re-writing lyrics, practing the songs and so on. But I have to admit, I occassionally, for no good reason, procrastinate. I tell myself, I can wait to work on my songs until tomorrow, there's a movie I want to check out. Or, I think I've done enough today, I'll put in twice the hours tomorrow. I find the best way to overcome these urges is to make daily to do lists that I hold myself accountable to. If I have a clear idea of what I need to accomplish each day it's much more easy to stick to my goals and avoid procrastinating.
Resistance Is Fear Disguised As Rationalization
Resistance, at the end of the day, is simply fear. It's the fear we have about not being able to reach our goals. Or it's the fear we have about not being good enough. Or the fear of not being able to pay our bills if we pursue our true calling. However, most of us are too proud to admit and own our fears so we rationalize them through stories and excuses we tell ourselves.
According to Pressfield the solution to resistance is what he calls, "going pro". By this he doesn't mean pro as in a professional, like a doctor or lawyer. Pressfield is refering instead to a level of commitment and determination that is beyond that of the amateur. Pressfield writes, "The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur the game is his avocation. To the professional it's his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week. "
Becoming a pro is about developing habits that will lead to greater success over time. As opposed to just writing when inspiration strikes, it's about writing every day so that when inspiration does strike you'll be ready to capture it. As opposed to just waiting for lucky breaks to happen, it's about working every day so that you'll see opportunities when they do come along and be able to capitalize on them.
So many artists and musicians I know obsess about becoming successful before they even produce great work. Going pro is about developing the habits that will lead to writing your great masterpiece. Going pro is about developing a routine. It's about setting aside time, every day, to create the best music, art or literature you can create.
Sam Beam, aka, Iron And Wine, had a great quote about music and having a strong work ethic, he said, "If you treat it (music) like a job. They'll pay you like it's a job".