Book Review: Do The Work!

Some time ago, my friend Heather sent me a book to read. I dove in, excited for something new to read, but only got halfway through. Soon, it was keeping company with the dozens of other books on my shelf, and I was galavanting through time and space not really paying attention to much beyond the future.

There’s so much in that sentence, I’ll just let you read it again.

“I was galavanting through time and space not really paying attention to much beyond the future.”

Nearly a year later, as I was searching for a book to read, I came across this gift again, and started to laugh. It was exactly the book I needed, and I had it there, already, as though my friend had seen the future I was so busy focusing on and said, “I’m just going to leave this here, for when you’re ready.”

Do The Work! is a book about showing up, sitting down, and facing whatever challenge or task is in front of you. Steven Pressfield wrote the books The Legend of Bagger Vance and The War of Art (among others), so he’s got some experience with showing up and doing the hard work. He writes this book from the perspective of Resistance. You know, that part of you which inspires and feeds self-doubt, perfectionism, fear, addiction, procrastination… These are all signs of Resistance. And we can learn to move through that Resistance, as artists/entrepreneurs/creatives/creators.

This book — it’s one way to learn how to move through Resistance into achievement.

“On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.
You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.

Pressfield writes that the book “is designed to coach you through a project…from conception to finished product, seeing it from the point of view of Resistance.” It starts by showing us our enemies and our allies: those places we can expect Resistance, and those places and people we can rely on to help us through.

Reading this book now, I realize the wisdom doesn’t just pertain to professional projects we’re working on (writing a book, building a business, launching a product). It also works for life projects (starting a new relationship, doing personal healing, cultivating our identities).

We face Resistance at every turn. We can stare down the dragon, or run away.

Once Pressfield shows us our enemies and allies, the rest of the book walks through the process of a project: beginning, middle, and end are all given sections of the book with their own measures of Resistance and tools for working through it. And he doesn’t beat around the bush. This is real wisdom, hard-line statements that will probably make you angry and want to throw the book across the room (which I did once, and then realized it was Resistance taking hold, and so picked up the book and kept reading). Statements like:

“Start before you’re ready.”

Let the unconscious do its work.”

“[We] must never forget that research can become Resistance.”

“Stay stupid. Follow your unconventional, crazy heart.”

“Ask yourself what’s missing. Then fill that void.”

“There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us.”

This last one is really important to me. It reminds me that Resistance is always there. I can’t ever escape it. And it is actively working against my success. The thing I have to remember (and this is where more of the work comes in), is that Resistance comes not just from outside of me, but also from within. My heart and my mind are sometimes actively conspiring against my ability to write this essay, to make that phone call, to ask these questions.

“Slay that dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.”

I’m not sure where the wisdom from this book will take me, as each day is a chance to stand on the battlefield of the self and stare Resistance in the face. Today, this book means that the hard choices I’ve made, the story I’m re-writing for my own life, are steps toward slaying the dragon.

Resistance will always be a factor in my work: as a writer, as a programmer, as a human being.

But if I can learn how to recognize Resistance, how to say, “Hello again, what can you teach me today?” then maybe I can learn how to use the power of Resistance to create more meaningful work, more soul-filled interactions, and bring into the world projects and ideas that only I could create.

And this knowing, this potential, means to me that Resistance isn’t a dragon to be slayed, but a wise teacher to be acknowledged and repeatedly questioned. Every single day.

How do you face Resistance? What can you learn from it in your life?

One thought on “Book Review: Do The Work!

  1. How this post happened in this SPACE AND TIME is so helpful to me. I have faced my dragon (I think) in the last two art projects – something was holding me back. I NEED this book. My self doubt dragon was standing between me and my art… Thanks so much Sara for bringing this book to my attention.

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