By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 26, 2010
This is an important post. I say that because this piece addresses (after procrastination, which is the #1 champ), the single greatest excuse/reason/cop-out that prevents aspiring writers, artists and entrepreneurs from taking action to pursue their dreams.
That excuse is, “First I have to _____________.”
“___________” can be anything from “finish my research” to “pay the rent” to “get rid of my slacker boyfriend.” I’m not saying such excuses can’t be real or serious. “Stop drinking,” “get out of rehab,” “recover from suicide attempt.” They can be absolutely valid and true. But they’re still Resistance. They’re still bullshit.
Here’s the counter-mantra: “Do it anyway.”
Am I being overly hard-core to assert this? No. I’m being kind.
The surest antidote to the state of misery and paralysis that we find ourselves in when we’re under the spell of “First I have to _________” is to sit down and do our work anyway.
Tales from the trenches
This past year hasn’t been the worst of my life—but it’s right up there. I’ll skip the personal details because of the pain it might cause to people dear to me, but suffice it to say that my head, my heart and my butt have been swimming for their lives this past year. My artistic self-confidence, which has been bedrock for me for years, took a major hit about six months ago. I’m still not out of the woods. At the same time, outside commitments (most of which, to be honest, are voluntary and positive), family emergencies and other imperatives have whacked the hell out of my working time.
But here’s the weird part: my work has never been better. I’ve got three projects going, and they’re all hitting on eight cylinders. Yeah, it’s slow. Yes, it’s hard. But the stuff is good.
It’s saving my life. Certainly it has preserved my sanity.
In other words . . .
In other words: Do it anyway.
We don’t have to do anything else first. We don’t need to cure our neuroses, conquer our fears, overcome our bad habits. We don’t have to be sane; we don’t have to be solvent. We can be totally screwed up. None of these real-world troubles has anything to do with our creative selves.
The part of our psyches that we write from, or paint from, or conceive new entrepreneurial or philanthropic ventures from . . . that part exists in a wholly different dimension from the part of us that is mucking up our personal lives. There’s no connection. The twain don’t meet. No matter how balled-up we may be in our outer world, our internal fortress of solitude remains waterproof, soundproof, bulletproof.
A bank account in the Caymans
Songs and software concepts, new plays and novels and business ventures . . . they all derive from some mysterious source that isn’t us. And they have their own trajectories and power sources, independent of us. War and Peace and Beethoven’s Sixth, in my view, had their genesis on another sphere and kept germinating under their own power, despite Tolstoy’s troubles with his thirteen kids and Ludwig van’s loss of hearing.
The process, as I see it, is kind of like a womb with the baby growing inside—or like the “cloud” where we save our computer files. It’s safe. It’s in the Cayman’s somewhere.
We’re insulting this mysterious process (and ourselves) when we say we’ll get to work, “but first we have to _________.” And we’re cutting ourselves off from our own deepest sources of creativity.
Stay alert. Any time you catch yourself saying, “First I have to ______________,” know that that statement is 100-proof, Prime Resistance. No matter how real the reason or how plausible the excuse, it’s still bogus.
Save yourself the torture. Turn to the work. Do it anyway.