Kicking the Resistance

Review of
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish, 2012

Resistance. You face it (whether you know it or not). I face it (all. the. time.). Steven Pressfield has made a mini-career of writing about it, and we are the better for it.

Author of numerous novels exploring warfare in the past, and even the future, Pressfield also explores our inner warfare, the struggle that keeps us from creating, from doing the work. He first wrote of that Resistance in the classic The War of Art. The Resistance is that inner self that seeks to distract us, sabotage us. It is why during finals week I had the irresistible urge to go to the local arcade rather than study Latin. It’s why you check your email/Facebook/Twitter every five minutes. It’s why some turn to alcohol or drugs. Why aren’t you able to finish that novel, dissertation or sermon series? Doing the work, it turns out, looks a lot like work.

It is both a comfort to know that one is not waging the only such battle, but also sobering when confronted with the reality of our own shortcomings. The Resistance leverages our weaknesses against us and, most of all, our fears so that the work we should be doing, that Great Thing, never gets done.

In this sequel to The War of Art, Pressfield uses the battle with the Resistance as a jumping off point to discuss what the transformation from an Amateur (one controlled by the Resistance) to a Pro (one who controls the Resistance) looks like. Those are the only options. One can never vanquish Resistance.

Pressfield breaks Turning Pro into three sections “The Amateur Life,” “Self-Inflicted Wounds” and “The Professional Mindset.” As is his wont, Pressfield tells his story through small, often less than one page, vignettes. Most are autobiographical.

Initially, he was in hiding from his desire to write. Pressfield reveals, “In the back of my Chevy van, under piles of junk and rusting spare parts, sat my ancient Smith-Corona typewriter. Why didn’t I throw it away? I certainly wasn’t using it.” The quest away from that work, driven by his own Resistance, takes him from picking apples in Washington state to truck driving.

Pressfield puts forth a theory of “shadow careers.” These are lived out metaphors for our true calling. The Resistance pushes us away from what we ought to be doing into something lesser for “[i]f we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.” But while we are insulating ourselves from failure, that shadow career can also point us to the substance that it is obscuring.

At root “[t]he amateur,” Pressfield explains, “is a narcissist.” And “the amateur’s self-inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself.” Ease of distraction, jealousy, seeking instant gratification are all the marks of the amateur.

But life becomes simple (as distinct from easy) when we turn pro: “we stop fleeing.” The pro has a different mindset. He embraces habit and constancy. Pressfield asks, “Do you understand how the mystery can be approached via order?”

Like The Art of War, Turning Pro is a challenge. It is a challenge to stand up to the Resistance that weighs us down, that tricks us, and lies to us. It makes us stop looking through a glass darkly, but finally face to face.

Pressfield writes in many ways as an old pagan rather than from a Christian worldview. He comes to us from Sparta rather than Jerusalem. But while some of his pronouncements may run counter to our sensibilities, in its essential elements Pressfield is writing truth. It is a truth that we will recognize one way or another if we are ever to do that thing we are supposed to do.

As Pressfield writes, “Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”