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“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the un-lived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
- from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
“I’m not making this record. I just don’t have it in me.”
It’s still hard to believe those words came out of my mouth in a 3AM phone conversation last week. Resistance had gotten the better of me.
It’s a little after midnight, and I know I’ll be awake for hours. I’ve been working at night and sleeping during the day a lot lately. Sometimes, being truly alone with my thoughts – with no one else around… with hardly anyone else awake in my time zone – is the only way the magic happens.
This post is about something that every artist deals with every day… about a battle… a constant fight with an enemy we can’t see or hear or even feel most of the time… it’s an insidious, secretive enemy, aptly titled “resistance.”
A few years ago, I read about the concept of “resistance” as the singular destructive force in the life of every dreamer in a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s an incredible guide to being an artist and actually getting stuff done. It’s become a yearly read for me. And I really dig into the book every time with the sole intention of reminding myself to keep fighting… especially when I don’t want to… when the excuses seem legitimate… when all the forces of man and nature seem to be clawing at my back with smiles on their faces, begging me to do anything other than create something of worth.
Sound extreme? Circumstantially it isn’t, but it feels that way sometimes. It’s on the days that the real demands are piled up, friends are calling and inviting me to parties, roommates are all going out, I have a million unfinished meaningless tasks… that the very idea of ignoring the distractions and doing something productive seems about as easy as winning a marathon with a broken leg. It’s on the days that I haven’t done the laundry yet, or paid some bill, or returned those eleven emails waiting in my inbox… oh! I got four hours of sleep… and I’m late for a show.
Ironically, it’s on those days that it’s easy to spend three hours on facebook, email, and twitter when I get home from that show, knowing that it’s my only real time to create or work on my business, just because I’m avoiding overwhelm. All the while, my dreams and passions sit on the shelf… sometimes those days turn to weeks… and for many, the weeks turn into years. Before they know it, life has made the decisions for them. The crazy adventures they were after have been passed on to artists with better capacities to handle resistance.
Keep in mind that I'm not talking about getting the day to day things done. I'm not talking about finishing work at “work.” I'm talking about those hidden desires that we've have half given up on. I'm talking about passions and dreams. It seems like there's always something that gets in the way… and when there's not something in the way, there's the internal opponent of resistance.
That’s life, right? And mine is easy! I made enough good decisions when I was younger, and worked hard enough when a lot of people were playing to have the gift of spending most of my time and energy on something I love. It’s really special, but I’ve found it’s not any easier to create when my time is my decision than it is when I’m insanely busy. It’s all just resistance.
Obviously resistance is just a metaphor… it’s a way to personify a deep human tendency to avoid the things that would lift us up the most. It’s insane! Almost all of the “dreamers” I’ve interacted with are, in one way or another, afraid of having what they really want. It’s as though in the act of dreaming about something has made it into something that is and always should be, “out there.”
So am I trying to say that resistance is too powerful and dreams should be reserved for “special,” ultra-strong people? No. I’m saying that I’ve only found one way to beat it. This is a major premise in
the book, and it’s still really only settling in to my reality now. It’s the one way that I’ve figured out to come out victorious in the battle against resistance:
There is nothing more important in the context of going after a dream, than to find or make some time in EVERY DAY to sincerely work on it.
That’s it. It doesn’t matter how busy the day is. It doesn’t matter what the world is throwing at me, or what I have to miss to make it happen. The only way to beat resistance is to sit down and start writing, to plug in pro tools and press record, to make those phone calls, to stand up in the face of what feels like a storm, and do it anyway.
Now I’m aware that this seems pretty obvious. But there's one element that changed everything for me: simply knowing that my goal is to just get started… not to finish, or put checks in a day planner, or have the most productive day in history. My goal is simply to ignore every reason, excuse, distraction, and “feeling,” and just GO! It doesn’t even matter if the work I do is good work… as long as I do something in the context of the dream. Once I’m working, resistance – for a time – has lost.
I think this is so important because it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. Overwhelm is the lifeblood of resistance. And the only way I’ve found to beat the overwhelm is to break things down, and just tackle one piece of something. Once I’m rolling, momentum takes over. Without the heaviness of the big picture, the little stuff is suddenly possible… and really it’s kind of all little stuff – one more line, one more verse, one more paragraph. I’m consistently surprised by how great it feels to create, even when I don’t keep any of the work. And incidentally, I have to jump those hurdles of mediocre work anyway. Why not get them out of the way?
A few years ago, Will Smith gave interview on Charlie Rose. He mentioned a time when his Dad had asked his younger brother and him to rebuild an old brick wall. He said, “You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say 'I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s every been built.' You don’t start there. You say 'I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.' You do that every single day, and soon you have a wall.”
That’s the magic! The reason I work at night a lot: there’s nowhere else for me to go. I have to sit down and work… and when I can do that every day for long enough, big things start to come together.
I don’t think going after and actually catching a dream of any kind is easy. People don’t dream about stuff that’s easy to get. Why would they? That said, one of the toughest things to overcome seems to be the fact that dreaming feels good by itself. It feels all warm and hopeful saying “someday, I’m going to do this wonderful thing!”
Someday doesn’t exist. Someday is today. Someday is the next five seconds of breathing room in an insanely busy month. Otherwise, resistance will hunt down excuses. Resistance will attack in the form of meetings or emails or friends having “more fun.” Resistance will conjure memories of how hard it was last time. It will point out the fact that a good night of sleep always leads to better work. It will bring up the things that really are important, and attack with the truth.
Resistance is always there. It’s always ready to step up its game to fit the player. The better the player, the stronger the resistance… the bigger the hero, the bigger the opponent… why not rise to the occasion? Why not look back on the day with insane pride? I’ve been asking myself that a lot in the last month. This started out as a journal entry… but I’ve been so damn transparent on this blog, why not admit this?
In the last month, a lot of my work at night has been sporadic and slow. In the last month, a lot of my nights of work have been spent focusing on how big the wall was going to be instead of how to lay the next brick. In the last month, I’ve often given in to my desire to stay home from the studio or to go out with friends, because after all, “I’ll be more rested tomorrow…” or “I need a break.” In the last month, resistance has – in many cases – gotten the better of me.
Today, it didn’t…
I’m ready for the fight of a lifetime.
I’m making this record.