One key to being successful in your career is, doing the work. You must ship your book, your code, your art. It must see the light of day or it’s not a career. It’s a hobby.
The whole point of Do The Work, by Steven Pressfield, is to coach you through the predictable resistance points in a project. Do The Work is the next step from Pressfield’s previous book The War of Art, which looks at resistance and how it manifests itself in your life.
There is a loose structure to Do The Work. Pressfield starts by addressing the beginning of your creative project. Then addresses the start of the middle, as things seem to be getting rolling. Next is the second middle, when your work isn’t getting the traction you thought it would. You must keep going.
Finally, Pressfield addresses the ending because if you can’t finish your work and send it out into the world then the work was for nothing.
Outside of that loose structure, this is much like The War of Art, a collection of essays/thoughts that surround the topic of the section. There is little prescription in this book, just enough nudges to keep you going as you find your own way through the resistance in your projects.
But you may be saying to yourself: “I don’t feel resistance in my work.” Pressfield would argue that you may not be doing important work. In his mind there is more resistance to be found in important work.
Rule of thumb: the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
In The Beginning Of Your Project
As you start your project you must realize that just like there is never an optimal time to have children, you’ll never be perfectly ready to start your meaningful project. You must start before you feel fully ready. You only become good enough to do the work justice in the midst of struggling to do the work justice.
Second, don’t over think your idea. Outline it fast, and then dig in to it. Get it going. One of the tenents of extreme programming is that planning future features is a waste of time. Fix today’s problems today and let tomorrow’s problems worry about themselves.
If you’re having trouble getting started, then look at the end of the project. What does it look like? How does your book end? What features must you have to launch? Then fill in how to get there, just start somewhere.
Finally, if someone says that your idea just isn’t the way it is, ignore them. That’s faulty thinking trying to hold you back. Do your work and believe in the process to bring something worthwhile out of the other side.
Getting Things Rolling in the Middle
When you and I set out to create anything — art, commerce, science, love — or to advance in the direction of a higher, nobler version of ourselves, we uncork from the universe, ineluctably, an equal and opposite reaction.
Much of the thoughts here are very similar to Paul Graham’s Maker and Manager essay. Do your maker work, your good solid creative work, in your prime times. Do your research and manager tasks in the other times. Focus on creative output, not shuffling the deck chairs of email and social media.
Those deck chairs are resistance stopping you from getting work done.
As Pressfield said already, start at the end. Then fill in some gaps on the path towards your end. Then fill in some more gaps. Go as far as you can see, then you’ll see further. Take those next steps you can see now.
The Middle – When You’re Not Getting the Traction You Dreamed of
When we had our first kid the doctor told us she was cute. I chuckled and said that he probably always said that. Evidently when he thinks the baby isn’t cute he just says it looks like the parents.
Our book, software project, illustrations, or designs are our babies. Sometimes their cute, but only to the parents. This middle is about showing that possibly ugly baby to your tribe, your close circle and then dealing with the “looks just like you” comments.
What will you do when people don’t fall in love with it?
That our project has crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem — and a problem can be solved.
Remember that the project has no bearing on your worth.
Remember that the ideal lives you see portrayed around the web in gleaming articles on your idols, are polished versions that bear little resemblance to the truth.
They all crashed on a bunch of ideas first. Then they refactored them and started over. They refined them into the idea you know today. You only idolize them after a bunch of failures.
As the catchphrase of Meet The Robinson’s says: “Keep moving forward.”
The End, Ship your work
If we can’t finish, all our work is for nothing.
If you do all this work on your project and then it languishes with no eyes on it, you wasted your time. I get it, shipping work is scary because the world gets to weigh in on it.
When we ship, we’ll be judged. The real world will pronounce upon our work and upon us. When we ship, we can fail. When we ship, we can be humiliated.
I released a course that I thought was awesome. I invested months in it and made…0 sales. It was hard to see nothing happening. In part I’m lucky to have kids that not only make life hard, they sing to me when I come home and love me just because I clicked some Lego bricks together.
They don’t base my worth on my work. That’s only me. You all don’t care that much either. Many of you have been around long enough that a misstep yields emails asking me what’s up and then when I reply laughter and words of encouragement.
Once you’ve shipped it, it’s easy to let resistance crop up again in the form of sitting back on your laurels. To this Pressfield says, start the next project. Ryan Holiday echos this in Perennial Seller. He says that the best marketing for a book is another book.
Joanna Penn talks on her podcast regularly about needing 20 books to build a $50k a year income. As people become interested in your next book, they look at your back catalogue and purchase some of that as well. Once you’ve shipped something, start looking around to see what the next project is and then start on it.
Should You Read Do The Work by Steven Pressfield?
I admit to not loving Pressfield’s style for non-fiction books. Even with some structure in Do The Work, I kept needing to stop and figure out what he was talking about so I could evaluate if he was achieving is goals.
Much like The War of Art, Do the Work is very quotable. If you’re looking for a quick read as a pick me up as you battle resistance in your creative project, it’s a great book.
If you’re looking for some system to you can grab pieces of to move forward, look elsewhere. Do the Work is meant to give you a kick in the pants so you can keep being creative.
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