Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Thinking A Career

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 15, 2012

Once we turn pro (and even before we do), our Muse has plans for us. Those plans are our career-in-potential. They exist, whether we choose to believe in them or not. And they’re operating upon us, influencing us like the gravitational pull of an enormous invisible star.

"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." Neil Young has put out a lot of albums since then.

If you’re a writer, your career-in-potential is a shelf of books. Your books. Books you’ve written. They exist now, even if you haven’t started Book #1. Just as your family exists, even if you haven’t yet met the mother of your children.

It helps, I believe, to think in these terms.

Seventeen years ago, I wrote a book called The Legend of Bagger Vance. I thought it was a one-shot. Today I’ve got twelve books with my name on the spine, and more coming. I wish I had known that at the start. It might have saved me some dark hours.

I’ve got an old vinyl 33 of Neil Young’s album, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. It was released in 1969. I just tried to google all of Neil Young’s albums since then. I had to give up. There were too many.

If we’re going to think like professionals, we have to think in career terms.

Album #1 does not exist in a vacuum. It leads to Album #2, which in turn sets the stage for #3.

Which each album, book, film, business enterprise we learn more about who we are. Almost every book I’ve written has arrived out of nowhere. I didn’t see it coming. I had no idea why the subject grabbed me. I started each one knowing nothing about the subject and finished as an uncertified Ph.D.

Then that book went away and another one appeared.

Our Muse has plans for us.

The most difficult part of this journey is, in my opinion, to believe it. To believe in it.

What makes this difficult is Resistance.

Resistance tells us that we have no right to a career in a field we love. One lucky shot maybe. We might be worthy of being a one-hit wonder. But a full career?

If Resistance can’t kill you on Work #1, it will wait patiently and kill you on  Work #2. It will never let up. It will be as strong on Work #27 as it was on Work #3.

A career progresses by stair steps. Each achievement elevates us to a new plateau, upon which newer, more difficult challenges present themselves. Resistance follows. It becomes stronger too.

As our Muse calls us forward in our career, teeing up the next album or film or business venture, Resistance stalks alongside like a shadow—the anti-matter version of the bright star of our career-in-potential.

Here are the forms it has taken in my life:

Depression.

Anxiety.

Panic.

Malaise.

Self-doubt.

Anger (at myself and others).

Complacency.

Despair.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, ask yourself these two questions: “Do I have a work-in-potential ‘out there’?”  “Am I doing all I can to bring it into material form?”

In Joseph Campbell’s schematic of the Hero’s Journey, there’s a stage named “the Call.” The Call is the invitation to the journey. It’s the next phase of the fulfillment of our career-in-potential.

In Joseph Campbell’s study of myths, he found a second, darker theme that mirrored “the Call.” He named it “the Refusal of the Call.”

It’s just as possible to freeze as it is to go forward, just as common (maybe more so) to yield to Resistance and play small as it is to rise to the occasion and sally forth.

In my experience, there is always a Call. Sometimes it’s hard to hear. Often it’s obscured or occluded or shrouded in haze and miasma. But it’s there. It’s Neil Young’s next album, it’s my next book, it’s your next movie.

The cure for depression/anxiety/panic/malaise etc. is to, first, believe you have a career-in-potential (I guarantee that you do) and, then, act upon it.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

30 Responses to “Thinking A Career”

  1. August 15, 2012 at 6:12 am

    This is good medicine. Thanks for the uplifting shot to my day, and wishing you continued success. :)

  2. August 15, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Perhaps there is particular hope for me. My first novel, soon to be released for Kindle and epub readers (Nook, etc.), also happens to be set in the world of golf. I doubt it cooks up nearly as much fanfare as The Legend of Bagger Vance, but hey, it’s a start. And no, the Muse ain’t done yet.

    • August 15, 2012 at 11:19 am

      Congrats, S.J. It takes a brave man to write a book about golf. I have never seen so many eyeballs rolling as when I’ve mentioned that four-letter-word.

  3. August 15, 2012 at 6:29 am

    I am printing this out to read over often! I spend so much energy just trying to keep my head above the waters of self-doubt – the Resistance. Thank you for a new perspective.

    • August 15, 2012 at 7:33 am

      I hear you, Jonnia. Sometimes I feel like the whole path to this career (and a good life) is completely shrouded to me. I write (in part) to outrun that feeling.

  4. August 15, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I had a funny moment when my father read my latest book. He said, “No offense, but this is better than the last one.”

    None taken! I hope each one is better than the previous as I climb those stairs. Thanks Steven.

  5. August 15, 2012 at 8:20 am

    A few years ago I was feeling scattered and not sure of what my next art work was going to be. I had a destructive person in my life and someone advised me not to tell her about my work. The thought of having a secret is what almost immediately kicked off the ideas for my next three illustrated books/graphic novels. The muse seemed aware of these books that I was keeping secret even from myself! I have now finished the first of these books and am well along in working on the next two. This also reminds me of some of your recent blogs in which a writer writes in an “unacceptable” voice that is new even to her.

  6. August 15, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Thank you Steven.
    This really explains where I have been past couple of weeks, wandering in the desert (fortunately not 40 years)!!

  7. August 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Steven, thank you for your wise advice and the encouragement you give writers like myself. I took your advice immediately after I sent off my novel “Shadow of the Lion” (which is now in the hands of an agent) and have been working on the Celtic novel I had abandoned in favour of Shadow. All of Shadow is cleared away now and I am immersed in Olwen’s world, Celtic Britain 335 BC (yes, with a link to Alexander eventually). And I also have a third novel in mind but it’s on the back-burner stewing while I complete work on this half-finished one.

  8. Basilis
    August 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Oh yes, I know the forms!

    But except of the work I have manage to produce (while trying to make the famous “breakthrough”) dealing with Resistance, I somehow have always ideas for future projects.

    So, something is taking me to the place of “ideas”. Perhaps I’m just taking me to the place of “ideas”. Anyway, I’m grateful for that. And I have to do my best to honor this trust.

  9. August 15, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I have sometimes woken up to what I thought was the sound of a telephone ringing, alerting me to — you guessed it — a calling.

    Gregg Levoy quotes The Gospel of Thomas in his book, Callings: “If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

  10. August 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Perfect timing as I wait for the next novel or screenplay to “arrive.” Thank you. Brahm, I feel like I’m in the desert as well (at least I have a camel!) 😉

  11. Jeremy
    August 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for this and all of your books Steven. I am struggling with identifying what my career-in-potential is. How can I figure that out? My Resistance is supremely clever and has put forward several ideas as good options – watching as indecision stops me in my tracks.

  12. August 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Wow; you have the knack of slapping a chap upside the head with exactly what he needs to hear!

    “It’s just as possible to freeze as it is to go forward, just as common (maybe more so) to yield to Resistance and play small as it is to rise to the occasion and sally forth.”

    Playing small doesn’t come up around here, but standing up and blinking while rubbing the lower back and noticing that you’ve worked/grazed your way into a verdant field of minutia happens often…and I suspect that resistance has a hand in this…

  13. August 15, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    I appreciate this post as well as the responses. Sitting on the lanai working on my second novel can sometimes be a very lonely place. Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone. Keep letting your souls sing and I’ll do the same.

  14. August 16, 2012 at 2:44 am

    These are great words to believe in, Steven. With absolutely no music background, I decided to become a songwriter. Within 4 months of this decision, I released my first co-written track ‘Childhood Dream’ which is now on iTunes. Success only comes if you believe it will come. Things happen to those who want things to happen, that’s my motto.

  15. Harlan Gleeson
    August 16, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Thanks Steven. This is what I needed, for the day. It feels as if I have one foot in and one foot out and though I know the choice is clear, the fear is near. Having a family and all that comes with it checks me. Hard. I feel the muse calling me, loudly. But I continually hesitate and retreat. Money or potential lack therein (resistance) has me always half-lifting the white flag. Ughh! But I come to work, keep my head up and do my best to slog through the shit. Thanks so much for your guidance and support in the soulful endeavor, the hero’s journey. Here’s to it!

  16. August 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Tweeted, Facebooked, Pocketed, Bookmarked – shared, saved and appreciated!!

  17. Torsloke
    August 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I’m always mindful of a quote by Henry Miller from the diaries of Anais Nin. I’m paraphrasing here because I’m not in front of my Writer’s wall where I’ve had it pinned for fifteen years: “The important novel is not this one, it’s the next one. The same way a snake sheds its dead skin to get to the new skin beneath, the writer must shed the old novel to get to the new.”

  18. August 17, 2012 at 5:15 am

    I replaced the word “app”, which is my art, everywhere you used the words “book” or “movie”, and you really picked me up, dusted me off, and set me in the right direction.

    Thank you Steven, for reminding me of what’s already inside me waiting to be brought forth.

  19. August 17, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Steven, thank you for all that you do. I read “The War of Art” a year ago and it had a profound impact on me. A few weeks ago (and one year later) a friend of mine let me know about “Turning Pro” and I read it just in time for my 32nd bday. That was the moment for me and I, too, will never forget when I decided to turn pro. I’m a singer/songwriter and a writer. Thank you on behalf of my Book # 1 and Album # 3.

    Looking forward to your weekly blog.

    All the best,

    Chris

  20. August 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks Steven, that’s exactly how it is. Cheers.

    • August 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm

      I just realised, I too am one of the Black Irish. Grins.

  21. Joe Tribby
    August 19, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Steven,

    Have just read The Warrior Ethos and The War of Art, much of both twice. I have been following this ‘blog’ for almost a year, love it all, it has all offered me new/different ways of viewing life and the truths of it. (Now the point of my post) Last year I watched a program on a local PBS station called ‘A Celtic Pilgramage with John O’Donohue’. John O’Donohue was a Irish writer. I enjoyed it so much I found it online and ordered it. I just watched it again earlier this evening and was nearly startled at some of the similarities in the meanings of his message about inspiration/creativity and yours (from War of Art and some posts on here). His is also a different way of looking at it, but the bases are seemingly the same. Two great creative insights of our times, I feel lucky to know of both. I highly recommend that program to you and to anyone who would care for about an hours worth of peaceful reflectiveness.

    Just wanted to share

  22. Linda
    August 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Wow Steven! Here is the process that just unfolded whereby I stumbled upon your blogpost.

    1. Last year, after making some huge life-changing decisions, I decided to turn my somewhat new found passion for exercise into a career.
    2. Qualified as a Personal Trainer in Nov 2011 and I now work for the PT gym where I was once a client. I earn a very small wage, and my Muse keeps telling me to just get out there and start up my own business, rather than sit complacently in the gym, being paid an hourly rate. Resistance however is bigger, better, stronger and way more louder than Muse. So I sit, waiting, for what I’m unsure – for me to be ‘better’, ‘perfect’, ‘experienced’, perhaps ‘Ready’? The list is quite endless so I won’t bore you with it – but it is paralysing. Quite ironic given the industry of my career choice.
    3. So it’s almost a year since I qualified, and I have a ‘few’ private PT clients, but most of my working time is still in the gym, earning about 1/3 of what I could be. Meanwhile Muse seems to have grown some muscle, and a voice, and is almost louder than Resistance. In fact it’s hard to hear much of anything else at times – because Muse and Resistance are in the biggest bout of their lives, and neither seems to be backing down.
    4. I seem to be hearing Muse way more than ever before though, because I’m quietly making some steps towards creating my own PT business. Today I bought some extra gear for my PT ‘toolbox’, yesterday I signed up a new client.
    5. I’m in the process of designing new business cards and was just now looking for a decent quote to add to it. I found one of yours on a motivational website, I hope you will allow me to use it: “Start before you are ready”. It kind of punched me in the face – because it speaks to me just as much as it would to any of my potential new clients.
    6. Before committing to use the quote, I googled you, and found this post.
    I love how the Universe works like this. I think Muse just won today’s bout. Don’t you?
    Thank you for this post.

  23. August 22, 2012 at 10:45 am

    What I love so much about your writing, Steven, is that it’s so applicable to the art of building a business. My work-in-potential is the thousands of clients I’ll be serving. It does start with the first, and I love creating space for the Muse to visit me often!

  24. August 27, 2012 at 6:55 am

    thanks steve. I always look forward to your wednesday posts!

  25. September 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    OK…. I’m diving off the board. I’ll let you know when I hit the water!

  26. October 31, 2012 at 3:29 am

    I hope Joe Campbell will remember . . . . (sorry, it’s early AM here in Ohio, and I’ve had no java, so I mix not my metaphors but my musicians and authors): anyway, I hope J. C will remember, as you go through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye on the donut, not on the hole. This is an affirming chunk of philosophy you’ve shared, channeling Neil Young. That . . . about the donut . . . was mine. After the call, as Joe says in his fabulous book, we must bring it all home. Powerful.