Guru Review: Do The Work

Both a favorite movie and a favorite book of mine were penned by  Steven Pressfield . The movie is  The Legend of Bagger Vance , and the boo
Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com
May 03, 2011

Both a favorite movie and a favorite book of mine were penned by Steven Pressfield. The movie is The Legend of Bagger Vance, and the book is The War of Art. I love them because they both concern the same thing: the battle for and against the true inner self.

In the case of The Legend of Bagger Vance, mystical caddie Vance holds the key to the ability of a troubled young golfer to find his "Authentic Swing." In the case of The War of Art, Pressfield introduces us to creative genius' arch enemy, what he calls Resistance (with a capital R), which "is the most toxic force on the planet...the root of more unhappiness than poverty...[Resistance] deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. Every sun casts a shadow, and genius' shadow is Resistance."

For years I held in my head the dream to write a song and have it published. For even longer I held the dream to write a book and have it published. I did neither until I read The War of Art. I now have had 20 songs and three books published. In other words, I did the work. And a funny thing happened: writing became my work. Needless to say, Steven Pressfield has had a big impact on my creative life. And I've never met the man.

So when I heard that the second book from Seth Godin's Domino Project was to be Do The Work from Steven Pressfield, and to be a manifesto revisiting the subject of Resistance, I was eager to read it. If Seth Godin's Poke the Box was an urge to "Start!" then Do The Work is a battle plan to "Finish!". I say battle plan because battle you will. Whether you're launching a new venture, expanding a business, or pitching a new idea to your boss, Resistance will play a role.

Big idea:

In Pressfield's words: "Do The Work isn’t so much a follow-up to The War of Art as it is an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches. Say you’ve got a book, a screenplay or a startup in your head but you’re stuck or scared or just don’t know how to begin, how to break through or how to finish. Do The Work takes you step-by-step from the project’s inception to its ship date, hitting each predictable “Resistance point” along the way and giving techniques and drills for overcoming each obstacle.

Key takeaways:

Do The Work does a lot of work for such a short manifesto. Everything is predicated on the idea that "any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity" will elicit Resistance.

In other words, all the truly worthwhile things in life, including: "The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional; the launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise; any program of health or spiritual advancement; education of every kind; any act that entails commitment of the heart; and the taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity."

One key weapon to fight Resistance utilizes something rather old-school in nature: a single sheet of paper and something to write with. Writer and filmmaker Norm Stahl gave Pressfield a piece of advice that forms the basis of the central tool: "Steve, God made a single sheet of yellow foolscap exactly the right length to hold the entire outline of an entire novel."

The takeaway here is "Don't overthink. Don't overprepare. Don't let research become Resistance. Outline it fast. On instinct."

And the best way to do that is draft everything, be it a business, a book, a strategy, in a three-act structure: "Beginning, middle, end. Setup, story, punch line." Pressfield shows you how you can break everything fromMoby Dick to Da Vinci's The Last Supper to the Vietnam Memorial to even Facebook using this simple device.

The final item that accompanies your three acts on your single sheet of paper is the theme: what is this project really all about? Guess what: that one-liner isn't as easy as it sounds.

Liked most:

This though struck me as both inspiring and practical:

"A work-in-progress generates its own energy field. You, the artist or entrepreneur, are pouring love into the work; you are suffusing it with passion and intention and hope. This is serious juju. The universe responds to this. It has no choice."

So, do the work. And keep doing it!

Best for:

If you've read Poke the Box and/or The War of ArtDo the Work is the perfect companion. It may take you less than an hour to read it, but you'll come back to it repeatedly. And by the way, the Kindle edition is free through May 20, 2011, thanks to a General Electric sponsorship.

Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com