Do The Work

By: Steven Pressfield



Have you ever listened to the voice in your head as you were going about your work? Has it ever told you that “there’s always tomorrow”? Has it ever told you that “you aren’t good enough”? Or maybe it’s telling you that “your plans are crazy”. Sometimes that little voice in your head is a good thing, and keeps you out of danger, like that time you wanted to stick your head into the mouth of a live alligator. However, as Steven Pressfield tells us in Do The Work, this voice doesn’t always have your best interests at heart. It wants you to play it safe, and in the process, scrap the plans you have for greatness.

Here, finally, is the truth about getting to greatness – that for all the plans and dreams you aspire to, you ultimately have to bear down and do the work. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s the only way to accomplishing great things.

Here is your roadmap to starting and finishing a great project.

The Resistance

Press field has been working for years as an author, and knows a thing or two about pushing through tough times. Writing, like any pursuit worth anything has been romanticised through countless movies and articles. Society has lead us to believe that there is a life without worry, stress and other such evils, if we would just search hard enough. However, that’s not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As Pressfield has learned, if you are up to anything worth doing in your life, you are going to run into the resistance – and it has some principles:

There is an enemy, and it is the resistance. The first step to battling the resistance is to identify its existence.

The enemy is implacable. It is smart, ruthless, and it doesn’t aim to injure you or slow you down, it aims to kills you.

The enemy is inside you. This means you can’t escape it. There is no place in this universe that will be a refuge from the resistance.

The enemy is not you. The enemy might be inside you, but it isn’t you. This means that the voices in your head aren’t your fault. Nobody is punishing you for sins you committed, and you aren’t a bad person. You are hearing what ever other person on the planet hears.

The real you must duel the “resistance you”. There is no way around this. You can’t hide from it or ignore it. You must duel the resistance.

Resistance arises second. The first thing is the idea or plan that pushes you and frightens you. It’s the passion and love for what you do that comes first. This means that the love and passion you have is a requirement for the resistance to come into being, which should tell you that your love and passion is a stronger element than the fear you are feeling.

The opposite of resistance is assistance. There are forces in the universe that are pulling for you. The strongest of which needs to be your utmost commitment to get your dream, project, or life’s work complete. If you are fully and truly committed to your work, you may now move on to the steps of working your way through the project.

Step #1: The Beginning

Start before you are ready. That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Why? Because as soon as you conceive of your idea, the resistance rears its ugly head. As Pressfield points out, the enemy isn’t your lack of preparation, or empty bank account, or lack of time. It’s the resistance. How many days have you started behind the 8-ball because you pressed snooze on the alarm a few too many times? If you are like me, you know that you aren’t going to feel any better after 28 minutes of light and interrupted sleep, but we do it anyways.

First, put yourself on a research and planning diet. The details can be filled in and adjusted later. For now, the key is getting your idea into action. As Pressfield accounts in the book, he once had lunch with his mentor in Manhattan. As he was writing down some notes an a pad of paper, he turned to Pressfield and said: “Steve, God made a single of yellow foolscap exactly the right length to hold the outline of an entire novel”. If you can hold the outline of an entire novel on one sheet of paper, surely your idea or business plan can fit on one as well.

Second, stay primitive with your ideas. The creative act is primitive, and it’s like giving birth to a child. No matter how clean the delivery is, the baby is always delivered in the middle of pain, chaos and blood. Your great idea will be, as well.

Third, your idea should swing for the seats, like Babe Ruth did every time he went up to the plate. However, this isn’t baseball and you aren’t able to strike out at this point. You can always dial back the craziness of your idea later. For now, stay true to your urge to change the world and create something that will live on past your expiry date.

Fourth, start with the ending state first. Every great artist or novelist started with a deep understanding of where their work was going to end up. From there, you’ll know the steps you need to take in order to get yourself there.

So, there you have it. Four steps to start you on your way to greatness.

Step #2: The Middle

Now that we have the main script of our plan to change the world, we can start to dig into the details and move it forward to completion.

We’ll start by doing what Pressfield calls “covering the canvas”. This means that you need to get to the “end” as quickly as possible. We are talking about creating your first draft. If it’s a novel, that seems pretty clear. If you are working on a business plan, ditto. However, what if you are working on a physical product? Consider making a workable prototype with whatever tools and skills you have available. The design firm IDEO is famous for producing crude mockups of the products they develop for clients.

The second thing you need to do in this stage is to suspend all self-judgment. Unless you are building something where lives depend on you being 100% right, all of the time, you have plenty of room for mistakes. Nobody is going to judge your first draft, so there is no need to listen to the voices in your head right now.

Third, use the process of act + reflect. Ideas come when they want, where they want. In fact, it’s the very fact that you’ve built a first draft or a prototype that will lead you to your next idea. So, as you are working through these ideas, make sure that you are flexible enough to incorporate new ones, and that you have an open mind to them as well. It’s important to note that you should never be attempting to act and reflect at the same time. This is what gets most people into trouble – the reflecting part is when you start to listen to the voices in your head. Doing this while you are developing your idea is like creativity suicide.

Fourth, realise that at some point during this middle phase, just when you think you are making great progress and that you are almost done, you experience the “big crash”. The worst part about the crash, Pressfield says, is that there’s nothing we can do to prepare for or prevent it. It will come organically, and it is usually because of something we did in the first phase of the project that we didn’t properly account for.

At this point, we have two choices: we can (1) ring the bell just like Navy Seals do when they can’t stand their training anymore and quit, (2) realise that the problem is just problem, and we can overcome it just like we’ve overcome a million other problems in our life. The only difference here is that this is a problem with our hopes and our dreams, the thing that we’ve invested so much of our time and energy into. The only answer for those who are truly committed is to tackle the problem and work it out.

Step #3: The End

Seth Godin, the best-selling author and marketing guru would call this part “shipping”. Why does he make such a big deal about it? Because at the end of the day, if you don’t ship anything, every single ounce of energy, time and money you poured into your project will be a complete waste energy, time and money.

It takes true courage to ship. Some would even say that it takes balls of steel, kind of like the ones Alec Baldwin was carrying around in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Why is it so hard to ship? On a logical basis, this makes no sense. The last yard should be no harder than the previous 99. But it’s here where the resistance is strongest, and is making it’s goal-line stand. Ironically, it’s our fear of success that holds us up here.

Press field includes an incredible quote in the book from Marrianne Williamson, who herself is a best-selling author. I’ve read this quote in a number of books and seen it in movies, but I never tire of hearing it. Keep this by your side as your make your final push to complete your project.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When we get down to the final stretch, we need to pull out all of the stops. It is said that Michael Crichton would wake up earlier and earlier each day as he came closer and closer to the end of writing a novel. He’d eventually get up so early that he’d have to leave the house and rent a hotel room so he wouldn’t drive his wife insane.

For you, maybe that last little push is closing down your email program and putting your cell phone on vibrate for a few hours. Maybe it’s renting a log cabin somewhere in the wilderness. Maybe it’s putting on your headphones and listening to classical music. Or maybe it’s re-reading the Marianne Williamson quote over and over again. Whatever it is, find out what it takes to slay your dragon and ship your finished project.

The promise here is an enormous one: once you’ve figured out how to slay your dragon and ship, you’ll hold the secret to doing it time and time again, without fail. Yes, you’ll still have to wake up every single day and battle the resistance, that won’t change. But you’ll hold the secret key to victory in your pocket, and the only thing standing between you and great work will be to use it.

The only thing left to do now is to start another project. Do it now. Right now, before the resistance comes up with a million and one reasons not too.