Book Summary/Review: "The War of Art" by Steve Pressfield


The Dalai Lama said, "The enemy is a very good teacher." For Steve Pressfield, author of 'The War of Art', the enemy is Resistance, with a capital R. Resistance is felt by everyone, and it rears its ugly head most vociferously during activities endeavored in pursuit of a higher calling and during which you are certain to experience challenges, setbacks, and delayed gratification. In other words: anything worth doing. These can include, according to Pressman: "the pursuit of any creative art, however marginal or unconventional; the launching of any entrepreneurial venture; any program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction; any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals."

Pressman makes his living as a writer, primarily of fiction (his best know work is 'The Legend of Bagger Vance'), who must sit down at his computer and contend with Resistance everyday. He personifies Resistance vividly throughout the book, referring to it as "a bully" and "Santa's evil twin." In 'The War of Art' he encourages the reader, whatever his or her motives or goals, to look Resistance in the eye and tell it to f*** off.

A few key takeaways:
- Everyone experiences Resistance every single day. Be prepared that you, dear reader, qualify as "everyone". Resistance takes many forms, most notably procrastination. It can also manifest itself in ways that distract us from doing our work including: sex (or an obsessive preoccupation with), drugs, shopping, web-surfing, gossip, sugar, chronic lateness, compulsive screwing-up, self-created drama, self-medication and/or feeling sorry for yourself (plus many more). Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you, dear reader, are making battle with Resistance.
- The way to defeat Resistance, according to Pressman, is to become a professional. Writes Pressman, "Resistance hates it when we turn pro." Turning pro doesn't necessarily mean getting included in membership of a professional association or earning a degree; it means doing the work everyday. He tells us, "There's no mystery to turning pro. It's a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that."
- If you are looking for a clear course of action, you will be disappointed. Pressman implores you to do the work, do the work, do the work. Master your craft, endure the inevitable adversity, dedicate your life to your work, arm yourself with patience and commit to the long haul. Do not over-identify with your craft! Resistance loves when you over-identify with your work: it knows you will never complete the the work when you are over-invested because you are too afraid to fail. Instead be mission-focused and regard your work with a cool detachment to keep you from freezing up. And, yes: do the work.

At 165 pages, "The War of Art" is a quick read. Pressman's style of writing is aggressive, funny, passionate and inspiring. This book will appeal especially to career-changers, aspiring entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs who are in a holding pattern, self-proclaimed creative types (this book makes a good companion read to 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron), and anyone who would benefit from a little kick-in-pants inspiration. This is the kind of book you can pick up, flip through to a random page, and find a few choice words to put a bit of fire in your belly. Then get on with it and do the work.