Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Why #5

By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 3, 2014

Continuing our exploration of why I write this blog and why anyone might read it.

Jay-Z has a culture.

Let’s consider a topic we’ve discussed previously in this space: the idea of personal cultures.

We’re all familiar with the idea of institutional cultures. Apple has a culture. The New York Yankees have a culture. The Marine Corps has a culture.

You and I have one too. We might not realize it. We might not be aware of it. But each morning when we wake up, a pattern of thought boots itself up in our minds. This pattern is habitual. It has evolved within us by our own acts of commission or omission. We have manufactured it deliberately or it has established itself by default.

Bob Dylan has a culture.

Jay-Z has a culture.

Hillary Clinton has a culture.

This interior culture, more than anything else, determines if we are happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, healthy or unhealthy.

What this blog is trying to do, among other things, is to explore the idea of personal culture, specifically the personal culture of the artist.

What is Resistance?

It’s the universal nemesis of every artist or entrepreneur. Laziness, jealousy, fear, anger, self-doubt, self-sabotage, self-conceit, self-satisfaction.

What weapon(s) do you and I possess to combat and overcome Resistance?

We have our interior culture.

When I use the phrases “turning pro” or “the professional mindset,” I’m describing a specific type of interior personal culture. It’s not the only type that works. But it’s the one that I myself, for whatever reasons, have glommed onto over the years.

One of the things a culture does for us is it lays out the actions and behaviors that someone “like us” would do or not do. On Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, one does not crap out in the fourth quarter. At Steve Jobs’ Apple, we come up with original ideas or we keep our mouths shut.

A personal culture defines our attitude and our point of view. It tells us how we view ourselves and how we view our challenges. When we look outward at the world, do we see “every man’s hand against us?” Are others always wrong, never ourselves? Or do we always discover blame at our own doorstep?

Our interior culture defines what’s possible for us. We can do X, say, but not Y. When we come up against Y, is it really impossible? Or are we in possession of a faulty culture?

Who has set up our culture? Did we breathe it in from American Idol or Keeping Up With The Kardashians? Do we inhabit a Twitter culture or a Harvard culture or a World Wrestling Federation culture?

Have we examined our interior culture? Is it visible to us, or do we act reflexively and unconsciously, following its dictates without even realizing that it exists?

Of what does our habitual behavior consist?  Does the first contrary breeze knock us off-course? If we succeed, do we become arrogant and self-satisfied? How much is a dollar worth to us? More than our work? More than our integrity? Or are we so proud that we won’t stoop to perform labor that’s honorable but menial?

Will we lower the ladder to help those coming up behind us?

How hard is it to get through the day? Does it leave us bleeding and bereft? Or do we finish with excess of energy, full of hope and confidence for tomorrow?

My own feeling is that we build our personal culture every day, minute to minute, by what we do and what we think.

You and I chose a long time ago (or maybe not so long) to make our way in life as artists and entrepreneurs. These fields demand certain mindsets. They demand specific types of personal cultures.

When Seth Godin advises us, “Don’t wait to get picked; pick yourself,” he’s suggesting a tenet of the personal culture of an artist or an entrepreneur. An attitude. A point of view. An act that “people like us” perform habitually.

The principles that this blog returns to over and over are my own (perhaps nutty) principles. I’m constantly testing them and re-assessing them and taking them apart to try to understand them better. I’m asking myself, “What is my personal culture? Is it working? What’s missing? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong?”

I’ll bet you’re doing the same thing for your own personal culture.

There’s a story from ancient Greece. At the games at Olympia, the spectators from each city-state sat in their own section—Corinthians all together, Athenians all together and so forth.

An old man entered the packed stadium, seeking a seat. No one would get up for him. The elderly gentleman passed through the section of Argos and the section of Epidaurus. Not a single person stood up to offer a seat. The eyes of the whole stadium followed the old man, laughing at his predicament and mocking him derisively. Finally he reached the section where the men of Sparta sat.

At once, every Spartan stood and offered the old man his seat.

At this, the stadium burst into applause.

An observer said later, “Do you see, the Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans practice it.”

You and I know “what is right.” We know the elements that should constitute our personal culture.

Are you embodying them?

Am I?

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

26 Responses to “Why #5”

  1. barry
    September 3, 2014 at 6:21 am

    What’s the phrase, ‘to know and not to do is not to know.’

    I’ve been reading and listening to Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer Wright. It’s a book about organizational cultures. The audio version has an interview with Tony Hsieh of Zappos. They’re talking about personal core values and how it can be helpful, in learning what one’s own values truly are, is through having a conversation with a triad. You speak to one person, and the third is listening to your language and in the process helps you uncover your values. While I haven’t tried it yet, they also have another process called Word Mapping… http://www.culturesync.net/csacademy/wordmap/

    I put this out there because, at least for me, it can be hard to “pick yourself” when you keep bumping into your internal walls while striving to do the work.

  2. September 3, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Makes me suddenly fond of the Spartans – whom I’ve admired from a distance, but never wished to emulate.

    You judge a people by how they handle their vulnerable members, the weak, the young and old, the sick.

  3. September 3, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Every day I show up to the blank page, I’m trying to embody this culture. Thanks for today’s reminder.

  4. September 3, 2014 at 6:27 am

    As an “olde man” of 72, and proud to be there, this is encouraging me forward. As a international ledership mentor, this will be passed on. As one who is still hungry to learn and grow and help others become who they were intended to be, this will assist the process of exploring and discovery. Thank you for your life-giving, life-challenging words!!!

  5. September 3, 2014 at 7:06 am

    I’m listening to a book called “Make it Stick” by Peter Brown. Just like it sounds, but it is about education and training. The main points are: spacing, retrieval practice (quizzes, tests), interweaving, and harder is better than easier.

    Describing our inner thoughts/mindsets/personal dialogues as a culture is a perfect example of interweaving. We understand culture from a different perspective, and then framing in terms of the inner struggle with Resistance brings other frames of reference in for a fuller understanding.

    For what it is worth, I’m going to add a link. I think this may help. It is the values in action survey from UPENN. Martin Seligman started this whole thing, he does a very good TED talk on Positive Psychology. In fact, Angela Duckworth’s TEDx talk on Grit is in the same school at UPENN.

    One link to take survey: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/The-Survey

    UPENN’s Link: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter

    The point? You take this 20 minute survey to find your ‘Signature Strengths’. These are the strengths/behaviors you exhibit at your best. They renew you. They fill your cup. The remaining 19 generally take energy from you.

    Here is the idea. When you’re empty–and Resistance is about to hammer you, spend 5-10 minutes doing something in your Signature Strengths–and you’ll be renewed. All the studies on Willpower suggest the term ‘ego depletion’. In the Army we say ‘muscle failure’, both are accurate, except with willpower we are describing our ability to avoid temptations, stay on task, live according to our values. Tests have shown a short drink of sugar water renews ego depletion, and test subjects will power is renewed.

    Doing something in your strengths is a ‘no-calorie’ way to do the same thing.

    Seligman wrote “Flourish” in which he describes UPENN’s entire program and ideas surrounding Positive Psychology, it is a good read.

    The Army has embraced Resilience training, and I thought it appropriate to share. I think this type of work helps us continue to refine and improve our internal culture.

    Great post again Steve. I love this stuff.
    bsn

  6. September 3, 2014 at 7:14 am

    That’s the thing about personal culture, we all have one, but few truly understand what it is. Many of us dream that our culture(identity) were like that of Bob Dylan, or Hillary, or Jay-Z; but chances are that it’s far from any of those. It’s usually something more unique and weird and beautiful.

    Jay-Z found his culture by simply doing the work, and doing so much of it that he had no energy to “rein” in his art it towards what was sexy at the time. He just let go and let his muse lead the way. (Fact: he was giving up music before finally breaking through, he even “killed” himself in the intro to the album that was gonna be his last shot at stardom.) That’s why he stopped writing down lyrics before recording, he found that whatever comes out on the spot says much more about how he’s feeling that day.

    That’s my goal: to do so much work that the work reveals to me what my culture is, as opposed to fantasizing I have the strength to tame this mighty beast.

  7. Mary Doyle
    September 3, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Thanks for a valuable reminder – as our personal culture continues to evolve we need to check-in with ourselves about what is working and what is not working.

  8. September 3, 2014 at 7:35 am

    I’m not sure the interior culture can determine if we’re healthy or not, as external factors affect that. But it can and does determine how we respond to the exigencies of life. There is the story of Rabbi Zushe who, though poverty-stricken and with other ills (a shrewish wife), saw only the blessings and goodness in his life. He wasn’t fooling himself – something we can do if we don’t honestly examine our inner culture. He knew exactly what his situation was. But he recognized that the negative responses one would expect it to evoke – jealousy of others, etc. – were not his inner culture. It’s what Resistance (only he’d call it the yetzer hara – the evil inclination) wants.

    And as you point out, we know what our inner culture truly is by what we do when confronted with a challenge.

  9. September 3, 2014 at 8:04 am

    “We have manufactured it deliberately or it has established itself by default.”

    After half a century I’ve realized that my personal culture (thanks for the phrase) has evolved by default.

    After reading Seligman’s “Learned Optimism” last year, I determined to choose a personal culture I’d be proud to wear.

    And now, I’ll know what to call what I’m creating.

  10. September 3, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Brilliant. I’m constantly working on my culture, but never hear it expressed in that way before. Thank you for your insight.

  11. BING
    September 3, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Three day ago I got hit by the Big ‘R’, it had the strength of an 18 wheeler, I’m talking bad, maybe the worst ever. I leaned over and picked up “Do The Work”, I was brought back to life in a matter of minutes and back on course. I see this blog as an unstoppable, totally kick ass culture. The best people of the best in my book. I have a #1 on my bucket, a very large project and guys like Steven and Seth have the unstopable tools to get the job done.

    Thank you Steven for this awesome blog.
    Codger Bing

  12. Barbara Allie
    September 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Applause!

  13. September 3, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Steve, I’m in art school and I continually tell people about your blog and your book. It is extremely helpful to me. You might be happy to know they sell War of Art in the college book store, where space is usually reserved for $200 text books.

    • September 4, 2014 at 4:31 am

      Thanks, Erika. So that’s where we’re getting that spike in sales …

  14. September 3, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Today was a good day to read this!

  15. KP
    September 3, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I am always amazed by your ability to distill the murkiness of art and life into simple clear truth. Thanks Mr Pressfield.

  16. Amanda
    September 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Personal Culture is a great idea, who do we say we are and what we do. It is often that we allow our own emptiness or mindless habits and behavior become our personal culture. Often I wished that I had one that was focus on positive factors and not negative ones. It seems that I can find fault with everyone and am constantly finding what is wrong. There was a time when i would ask what is right? How to keep doing it?

    That would be my personal culture,refining the process and reinforcing the good parts instead of falling to the fail-safe of this is what i do. Or as stated in the article x implies x.

  17. September 3, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Wonderful post! Actually I’d love to know the source of that story about the Spartans. I’d love to use that in something I’m currently writing.

    • September 4, 2014 at 4:30 am

      Wish I could remember, Jen. Sorry. Possibly Plutarch’s “Moralia.” It certainly sounds like him.

      • September 7, 2014 at 10:53 pm

        Thanks for your response Steven. I appreciate it and will investigate! Best wishes, Jen

  18. Tony Derbyshire
    September 4, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Man, did I need to hear this today. Thanks!

  19. September 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Thank you for your blog and your leadership in defining this internal culture.

    I first read War of Art two years ago, and immediate read it again. Then I went and bought Turning Pro and Do The Work. I had read close to a hundred self-help books prior to these, but I still felt an emptiness in my life, and every day I struggled with my “thirty-something” angst, not clearly understanding my purpose, and far from being a Pro in my mindset.

    Something strange happened after I read your books – I stopped reading these types of books. I set a goal to write 1000 words a day, even if no one ever read it, and it’s been a rare day that I’ve missed since.

    It’s strange that I read this blog post today. I was reflecting this afternoon that, although I haven’t achieved all of my literary goals, as of yet, I still feel at peace with my life.

    I’m 100% convinced that it’s because I’ve taught my mind to shut the hell up, and I’ve taught my body to sit down until my work is done. I’ve learned not to focus on the reward, or the fruits, but instead I’ve built a simple habit of daily doing my work. It’s really changed my psychology and my outlook on life.

    So I can’t thank you enough. Funny – with all that money spent on silly books the answer was always right in front of me, and totally within my power the whole time.

    All it required was for me to do my work.

    Appreciate you leading the battle!

    Ryan

  20. September 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Thank you for your Blog and regular posts, Steven!

    This idea of INTERIOR CULTURE is a vital concept to explore. It is one that I am personally investigating, so I am glad to see lead this insight/inquiry.

    Might I suggest that you look at Tim (W. Timothy) Gallwey’s work on the INNER GAME… his work has really helped illuminate this concept for me.

    Warm regards,
    Wayne

  21. September 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Why is the blog titled as ‘Why #5’?

  22. September 15, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Awaiting for an answer for the question as to why is the blog titled as ‘Why #5’?

  23. September 15, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    How to get the free ebook of the Authentic Swing?