Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

You, a Lion

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 12, 2017

 

You were born for adversity. It’s in your DNA as much as it’s in the DNA of a shark or an eagle or a lion.

Our hero

Our hero

You were made for hard times. The species of Homo sapiens has survived and prevailed not because we are faster or stronger than all the competing creatures. Every one of them is better equipped by nature with fangs and claws and wings and fur. Every one is better adapted to hunt, to kill, to survive drought and heat and cold.

Yeah, our race has a better brain. And yes, we figured out the advantages of hanging together into a hunting band. But that’s not what got us to the top of the food chain, and it’s not what undergirds you and me thirty-six months into a 1200-page epic when Con Ed cuts off our power in January in Bensonhurst.

The central tenet of the Professional Mindset is the willing embrace of adversity.

Most people spend their lives avoiding adversity. The pro sees things differently. She understands the inevitability of opposition, of tribulation, of Resistance.

She knows that the gold is always guarded by a dragon.

The pro accepts adversity the way she accepts gravity and the changing of the seasons.

Adversity, she understands, is not just part of life. It is life.

You are a lion.

You are an eagle.

Coded into your genes is that strand of orneriness and mulishness that refuses to quit, that keeps coming back for more. That’s your birthright, sent down to you from those wily hominids who hunted and trekked across the African savannah back when humankind was little more than an appetizer for the dominant predators.

We were hors d’oeuvres.

We were finger food.

How easy must it have been for a saber-tooth tiger to run down a three-foot-six, seventy-pound homunculus who had nothing to protect herself with except a stick and a stone?

Where are those saber-tooths now?

Are you a novelist? A screenwriter? Are you a long-form nonfiction writer, a blogger, a dancer, an actor, a painter, a filmmaker, a video game creator? Then give thanks to that runty, naked, slow little proto-human who bequeathed to us something more valuable that fangs or claws or cheetah-like speed.

She gave us guts.

Forget brains.

Forget adaptability

Forget tribal cohesion or language or the capacity to cooperate.

Our stubby little ancestor left us not just the ability to endure adversity, but the capacity to thrive under conditions of adversity.

The famous Ernest Shackleton newspaper ad for the Antarctic expedition of 1913 has been cited a million times, I know. Still it stirs our grubby Neanderthal hearts:

 

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.

 

To the professional, the field is adversity.

Inside and out, she looks and sees opposition. She sees difficulty, hardship, tribulation. She sees Resistance.

She accepts it.

Her mindset is not, How do I avoid adversity? Her mindset is, What is my plan to deal with adversity and overcome it? What’s my objective? What are my resources? What’s my attitude?

The professional faced with tribulation takes a deep breath and offers a prayer of thanks to her hairy, near-sighted, bow-legged foremother of the savanna for the gift of grit and tenacity and fortitude.

She is an artist.

She is a lion.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

29 Responses to “You, a Lion”

  1. April 12, 2017 at 6:39 am

    “The gold is always guarded by a dragon.”

    Love that!

  2. April 12, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Interesting side bar:

    The minds evolution was driven to better predict the future, we alone of all animals have this capacity, prognostication.

    It’s one of the reasons we love stories so much (I credit Lisa Cron, story guru, for this insight into the whys and hows of brain evolution).

    What I’ve realized reading today’s blog post is this:
    The most likely outcome of adventure, trying to become an artist, conquer a new world, or circumnavigate the earth, is failure (and in evolutionary terms that means death).

    Our minds know this. Our prognostication abilities tell us we will fail (never start a land war in Asia) and that’s where Resistance gets us most of the time: using our own evolution against us.

    How often have we been told by others that our project is doomed? How often has someone told us the statistics about how few (artists, writers, dancers, actors) make it?

    When someone surrenders and gives up, they confirm their sanity, they are welcomed back to the tribe, they are once again safe.

    So, my trick–since I’m thinking about it–is to continue to imagine a fantastical future.

    I imagine Andy Weir walking down the red carpet with the supermodel on his arm and the millions of dollars in his bank account and all the accolades and praise.

    This is, perhaps, a pure fantasy. But it doesn’t matter because it’s (for me) the way to condition my brain to want to fight the saber toothed cat.

    Otherwise, why bother?

    For others, I know, the fantasy is different, but I think (my theory here) is that if an artist doesn’t prognosticate something other than failure (and that something might just be finishing a project) then the adversities overcome the willingness to continue fighting.

    • jake
      April 14, 2017 at 11:43 pm

      always hard to relate when grammatical errors present

    • Nik
      April 19, 2017 at 8:46 am

      Interesting thoughts about evolutionary programming, Michael. Selection favors the cautious, as Neil Degrasse Tyson is fond of reminding people, but clearly that can be harmful for creative endeavors or anything involving risk to ego and emotion.

      I had a teacher who told me not to waste my time entering a certain fiction contest because only the top talents, the best of the best, have a chance at winning. When I win it I’m going to send that teacher a thank you note.

  3. April 12, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Dear Steve,
    In the US Army, we often heard-then adopted, “embrace the suck”. At Basic Training I thought it a cruel joke, but eventually the Army values sink in. In fact, during one of our more miserable exercises, we devised a ‘suck contest’, a way of turning this adversity into a competition. My squad won because after our 12-hour shift (we were intelligence weenies, working inside with computers), we had to dig the other teams fighting positions. It sucked. Sucked more than the other squad, so we won…and we were so proud to have won.

    It is infinitely easier to endure suffering on a team. I was actually thinking about this yesterday while doing 50m sprints in the pool.

    I think the psychological term is ‘hot cold empathy gap’. It is impossible for us to bring to mind the how we will actually feel under different circumstances, one of those less than helpful heuristics/biases hard-wired into our operating system. It is easy to say you will diet on a full belly. We get hungry each day, a few times, but when satiated we are incapable of understanding how it feels to be hungry and how that hunger will influence our behavior.

    I like to do 20 sprints. They hurt. A lot. I give myself 35 seconds rest, and at the beginning of the rest all I can think about is getting out of the pool. It seems impossible that I will be able to catch my breath within 35 seconds, only to repeat and ‘feel the same pain’ I am in. The irony is that I have 1000s of pieces of evidence to counter what I feel or intuit–but in the moment it is impossible to believe that. All I want to do is quit.

    We cannot always trust how we feel. We are left to our values, values we decided to embrace with a full belly. Those tell us that we will catch our breath within 35 seconds, no matter what it feels like at 29, and we push off at 35 without regard to our present feelings.

    I think it must be my inherent stubbornness, but I have to first learn these lessons in my body before I can transfer them to other domains. Actually it is more honest to say practice these lessons instead of learn them, because I don’t think they are ever truly learned.

    This blog is now my virtual team. Not quite the same as doing the rucksack flop, digging out our MREs, and sharing the misery with fellow Soldiers–but it is almost as effective. Simply knowing that others hurt as well is helpful.
    Thanks again.
    bsn

    • April 14, 2017 at 11:52 pm

      loser

    • Bane
      April 15, 2017 at 11:49 am

      “there is no cure for hot and cold” Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

  4. April 12, 2017 at 6:54 am

    Thriving under adversity. Yes! Nassim Nicholas Taleb addresses this well in his epic “Antifragile”. Survival isn’t enough, Resilience isn’t enough. Becoming antifragile – strengthening through adversity is necessary!
    Thank you.

  5. April 12, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Well, yeah, orneriness helps, but opposable thumbs don’t hurt.

  6. April 12, 2017 at 7:02 am

    Love this blog! I’m a woodcarver, specializing in carving cotton wood bark. Every post I read here is relevant to my art.

    People ask why I carve bark instead of a nice, perfect piece of blonde wood. The reason I carve bark, is the same reason others don’t. It’s the excitement, the adversity, the challenge, the possibility that after 30 hours of carving I’ll discover a fissure running through the bark that I will have to figure out how to incorporate into the piece. Damn! I love every minute of it!

    You have perfectly expressed why I am so drawn to this art form.

    Thanks!
    Facebook: SusanAlexanderCarves

  7. April 12, 2017 at 7:34 am

    This post made me want to get right back to that battle scene in Dragonless Sky and make it grittier. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Michelle
    April 12, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Steve: love this post! You should go on the college circuit preaching this message. There are a lot of snowflakes out there needing to hear it.

  9. April 12, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Excellent! I am a firm believer that the adversities in our lives and how we react to them define who we are. As one who taught and still works closely with law enforcement, I see this first hand. The sheepdogs thrive on adversity, unlike the sheep who only have two speeds: graze and panic.

    I agree with Michelle in the prior comment, there are many out there that need to hear this lesson. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  10. April 12, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Wow! Thanks for firing me up this morning! I am printing this one out and hanging it on my studio wall.

    I love “the gold is always guarded by a dragon”.

    I also appreciated Michael’s comment above on overcoming our evolution (and the Princess Bride reference!). :)

    Throwing in that ever-truthful Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

  11. Mary Doyle
    April 12, 2017 at 8:38 am

    I remember you writing that you learned how to be miserable in the Marine Corps – a valuable lesson we all need to learn. Thanks for this post!

  12. April 12, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Oh God, I did not want to get out of bed this morning. It was serious. I have about a billion things to do that I don’t wanna. I was throwing a temper tantrum. Grumble grumble grumble. Only, it felt deadly serious.

    This post acted like a balm. You have no idea!

    • April 12, 2017 at 11:35 am

      Erika,
      I know those days very well. Intimately. It feels like I’ll never feel energized again in my life. Amazing how transitory it truly is when we drag the 4th point of contact out and begin.
      bsn

  13. April 12, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I love this. Justy wanted to thank you for writing it using she rather than he. It was a rare opportuinty for me to read it without translating it. Can’t tell you how special that felt.

    • Christine
      April 13, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Yes, my feelings exactly. Nice to not have to read backwards and in high heels (as someone said of Ginger Rogers).

  14. April 12, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Ah, balm to my soul! So wonderful too to hear from all of you. I too am the lion and I show up for the hunt, because I am hungry.

  15. Elizabeth
    April 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Needed this exactly right now

  16. April 12, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    You are a lion, and we hunt at night
    trotting through the dust
    the crouching grass caught
    dry as the stillness of a psalm.
    Gold eyes, goblets of attention,
    reflexes of reflection beneath the stars.
    I wonder, you say, what will happen if I taunt you,
    game prodded by the saliva of fur and claws;
    into the Serengeti then we foray,
    flat and wide and vast on all sides
    as the black Cosmos above it,
    hush as the dew glinting at dawn.
    No one speaks. The silence is deafening.
    It drowns out doubt, all tremor of hesistance,
    and across the flat plain of space is drawn
    the galloping heaving ribs of the lion, you lion, me lion, breath
    like a bullet,
    piercing the darkness like a calf in a gauntlet
    fallen in the plain sitting on top of the planet,
    glaring into the redound of heaven bestirred.

    • April 14, 2017 at 11:56 pm

      keep writing

  17. Christine
    April 13, 2017 at 8:12 am

    This post will be printed, framed, and hung on my wall.

  18. Ian Cooper
    April 14, 2017 at 3:37 am

    I always get the sense of Stoicism pouring out of these posts. The willing embrace of adversity sounds like something one might read in the meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

    Thanks Steve.

  19. April 14, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Gold.

  20. April 14, 2017 at 10:54 am

    I love you, Steven! You are in the trenches with us and always ready to keep us motivated and inspired. God bless you.

  21. April 14, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    need grammatical clarity

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