Since being published in 2002, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (not to be confused with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War) has become a must-read guide for creatives navigating the challenges of living a creative life.
Screenwriters, illustrators, filmmakers, novelists, actors and actresses, and all others who live and follow their creative dream have found immense value in Pressfield’s succinct little book.
Being no stranger to challenge himself, Pressfield was a writer for seventeen years before being paid a dime for his work, and ten more years before his first novel was published (The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was eventually made into a major motion picture starring Will Smith and Matt Damon).
Life has its own unique set of challenges. However, you know as an artist that living creatively brings to light an entirely unique and oftentimes more potent set of challenges one must work through if you hope to follow your dream and making a living doing what you love.
Art often brings us face-to-face with our own lack of self-worth and related internal challenges in the form of self-doubt, overthinking, humiliation, and most notably, fear.
And it’s with overcoming these challenges in mind (what Pressfield calls “resistance”) and living your creative dream that Pressfield wrote The War of Art.
Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs.
– Steven Pressfield
Here are three lessons from The War of Art on following your creative dream.
1. You are your own worst enemy
Any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.
The first, and one of the most important, lessons that Pressfield discusses in The War of Art is that you are the enemy.
This echoes something you may already be familiar with: the negative self-talk.
The truth is, we are the adversary of our creative dream. It’s we who doubt ourselves, demean our worth, criticize our dream, and attempt to sabotage our own success. Time and time again, it’s you who you’re going to have to face if you hope to realize your creative vision and live the life of your dreams.
Simply knowing this is powerful, however, in that it properly motivates you to pay attention to what’s going on within you. Notice what you’re telling yourself, how you’re self-sabotaging, and when you’re purposely distracting yourself due to a deep-seated self-doubt and you can begin to rewrite this dialogue into something more empowering and resilient.
2. Adopt a “pro mentality”
To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
Pressfield takes a lot of time clarifying the difference between an amateur and a pro mentality, and for good reason.
Many of us, while we may be professionals or have aspirations to become one, treat ourselves like amateurs or hobbyists. We don’t carry ourselves, treat our craft, or work like we’re a professional.
So nothing ever comes of our efforts.
The truth is that for you to make something amazing of your creative vision, you need to be unwaveringly dedicated to your cause and take your work seriously.
The good news is that this is mostly a perspective shift, or at least doing so creates most of the change. By thinking and treating yourself like a pro, you start to act more like one: dedicating yourself to the daily work of your craft, seeing your work through to completion, and willingly accepting payment (a mental hurdle many artists face).
3. Connect with your greater purpose
If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
A powerful way to overcome the resistance that you face on the path to realizing your dream is to connect with your greater purpose.
If you’re not following what you believe you were meant to do, Pressfield says, you’re wasting a very special gift.
So, what do you believe you were meant to do and what would happen if you didn’t pursue your destiny? Don’t let fear and the challenges of pursuing your creative dream get in the way of realizing your potential.