Dec. 17, 2016
The Resistance* is stronger when you're hungover & lonely, I noticed yesterday.
The Resistance (a term borrowed from author Steven Pressfield) is the ever-present enemy within, as he describes it. It’s a negative repelling force that’s both inside us & against us, a behind-the-scenes mastermind at destroying dreams, one that many of us aren’t aware of. Simply put, as long as we let it call the shots, we're getting in our own way, & proably getting nowhere fast, if at all.
My emotions wanted to get in my way, they almost always do. They’re one of The Resistance’s foolproof weapons against us making progress towards our dreams & endeavors. Thankfully, I’m aware of this great internal enemy & all its trickery. It’s all in favor of me caving to my feelings or anything else, for that matter, that will keep me from doing my work on any given day (my current work being building all 5 pieces of art for my first ever exhibit next spring). And although I already know this, I still sometimes struggle to beat it & get to work when my feelings are persuading me otherwise. Last night played out as a prime example of this, & it yielded the following reminder… Hungover & lonely doesn’t let me off the hook… Well, unless I let it. In which case, I lose & the Resistance wins, & my dreams are stalled for another day. Between this morning & last night, here’s what happened...
I woke up this morning & headed towards the kitchen to make my coffee. To get there, I have to first cross through the creative battlefield in the living room floor that is my makeshift workshop. It’s where I “fight The Resistance” & do my creative work every day (that is, if I successfully overthrow its attempts to thwart my progress). The condition of that living room battlefield I walk by first thing every morning tells one of two stories about the previous day’s war. Ideally it’s a wreck, which means work was done & progress was made (or at least attempted). Or alternatively, it can be tidy & free of obstruction, if not a lot got done. And in worst case scenario, it may bear a thin layer of dust, the sign of inaction, the great dream-killer. Considering the way I was feeling last night & the fact that I’d completely ignored my work all day, that living room battlefield threatened to tell a dismal story during the next morning’s walk to the coffeemaker.
Flash-back to last night…
It was 8 p.m. & the creative battlefield lay clean, no sign of action. My downtrodden spirits & post-Christmas party hangover had persuaded me against getting to work on the next step in my current project, which was pushing neon paint through ¼ inch vinyl tubing (with a turkey injector, mind you, the only tool I had on hand to pull off the job). Needless to say, it was a messy task that was not looked upon favorably in light of my prolonged hangover & the lonely lonesome blues. I didn’t feel good, period, any way you sliced or diced it. And I definitely didn’t feel like doing the work.
I’d shuffled back & forth all day, doing anything but what I needed to do most, walking past the same empty, dust-gathering bundle of vinyl tubing, just sitting there waiting for me to pump paint through it & bring it to life (which simply wasn’t happening yesterday, as far as I was concerned). The Resistance had had me licked all day, I’m ashamed to say, but it’s true. Any day I don’t sit down to do my work is a day lost to the great enemy within, & by that point, it was looking like yesterday would be one of them. The Resistance had the upper hand & my project had gone untouched all day.
By 9 p.m. I’d resolved to sit down & start a movie. Nothing had gotten done by that point, & I just assumed call it a day, it was practically over anyways. I felt like crud, & the artwork could just wait 'til tomorrow, I told myself. Just when I was about to officially let myself off the hook for the day, I was interrupted by a very faint nudging. The dream within began to pull at me… Up to that point, The Resistance could’ve almost called the day a victory, the battle was nearly over. But the dream came calling just in the nick of time, asking me to pick it over the movie. I wanted to ignore it. The farthest thing from my mind right then was standing in my living room, shooting neon paint through 20 feet of tubing with a turkey injector, trust me. But, I knew the dream was right. It always is… I still had a couple of hours to reclaim partial victory over the day & do a little work. So, I begrudgingly put down the remote control, rolled my eyes & unenthusiastically turned my attention to the dusty, colorless tubing. I headed for the battlefield & assumed the warrior’s stance. It was time, once again, to square off with my all-too-familiar foe, The Resistance. It may’ve been last minute, call it fourth-quarter football, but at 9 p.m., I pushed myself to get to work as I picked up the paint & went into battle to win the day’s fight.
And the next morning’s walk to the coffeemaker made it alllllll worthwhile.
Fast-forward to this morning…
This morning, instead of walking easily past the same dust-gathering bundle of clear tubing that so tempted me to leave it alone last night, I instead stepped carefully around 20 glorious feet of glowing, neon-colored tubing. A casualty of war, one I had won. The now-neon tubing was yesterday’s enemy slain, laying there on the ground beneath me. Neon droplets of the previous night’s battlefield "blood" lay scattered about this morning, evidence of a struggle, proof of a fight. My emotions had tried to tempt me out of it, but I’d resisted The Resistance’s ploys of deterrence & I’d beaten the old sucker once again, albeit from 9 to 11 p.m. However, if I hadn’t sidestepped my own emotions & defied The Resistance last night, then the pathway to the coffeemaker this morning would’ve been much easier & quicker, free of obstruction. After all, there’s nothing to dodge on a casualty-free, dust-covered battlefield. But thanks to the subtle callings of a dream & my choice to work in spite of contrary feelings, this morning’s triumphant walk to the coffeemaker made last night’s struggle totally worthwhile. It felt like a victory lap. Despite my sentiments & the strong temptation to call it a day, I am now 20 feet of neon tubing closer to building my dreams. Not because I felt like making progress yesterday (I definitely didn’t), but because I chose to work lonely & hungover. Because I resisted the urge to sit out. And because I chose instead to play hurt, not for my sake, but for the sake of my dream.
So, here's my challenge to you (& also to myself):
Don’t let your own feelings get in the way of your dreams. Because they will if you let them. Be it sadness, hangover, frustration, bad day, whatever. If you have a dream, your progress towards it will depend a lot on what you choose to heel to on a daily basis, when the roller coaster of life presents you with options like these: pick up the paintbrush & get to work, or sit this one out because it’s a bad day? Move pen across paper albeit miserably, because the thing won't write itself, or put it off til you’re feeling more up to it? Which will it be: dream or deterrent? Endeavor or emotion? Work or sit out? It boils down to choices like these, over & over again. That is the test, & it constantly repeats itself.
So, what to do when you don’t feel like doing the work? Do it anyways. Always do it anyways. Work through the pain. Go ahead without a shred of motivation. Push on in the complete absence of inspiration. Go, do, build, create, in spite of contrary emotions that tempt you to “sit out” until they subside. Your feelings may tempt you but you get to make the ultimate call. And it’s up to you to do it. Your progress, & ultimately your dreams, depend on your ability to do this. So, if you want to get somewhere, you gotta get used to sidestepping the emotional undertows. The path to progress is paved with them. If you wanna “get there”, then get used to playing hurt. Because after all, playing hurt is better than doing nothing at all. You’re guaranteed zero results any day you sit out, any day you let your emotions or anything else, for that matter, halt your action altogether & put you into a state of stillness. At least when you play hurt, when you keep it moving no matter how you feel, your dream is kept stirred. And when action is taken, there is always the potential for progress.
But let’s consider the opposite of progress— inaction, stillness. Stillness is very dangerous to dreams. Prolonged stillness, in fact, is a leading cause of dream death. It almost was for me. That’s why fighting against the tendency to sit still is so critical, because I know personally what can happen the longer you let the dust settle on your dreams. And now I’m scared to death to ever let it happen to mine again. Here’s why.
The Resistance loves stillness. It loves to put projects out of business by way of stall-out. It loves to cover that dream with dust. It delights with every growing millimeter of moss that gathers on every endeavor that’s not rolling in motion… It’s goal = to silence & make still, to destroy & erase... It’s target = your dreams... It’s weapon (in this case) = your feelings (it uses many others)... And finally, it’s assailant = undeterred action, hellbent pursuit, an all-out refusal to be put out of motion. The Resistance knows that if you do keep working towards that dream no matter what, then eventually you will bring it to life, in which case, you will have defeated its death-grip over that dream. This is why it uses anything it can, including emotional currency, to double-deal you out of going ahead with your creative work.
There is, however, one exception to this notion of "Emotional Resistance". There's one emotion that will actually aid you in the pursuit of your dreams rather than get in the way. The one sentiment that can be a powerful boost to your approach to work is this— fear. Specifically, the fear of inaction… Let me explain. If dust is the mark of The Resistance, then you should be scared to death of it. If you really want to get somewhere, then stillness, moss gathering on the stone, dust on the canvas, drill, or manuscript should scare the sh!+ out of you. And hopefully enough so that you’ll keep your creative tools & your dream so stirred that dust stands no chance of settling anywhere in the near area.
Bottom line is this, work in spite of pain still leads to progress. Action always guarantees something, which is a hell of a lot better than its alternative. Inaction, on the other hand, promises to yield zero results. It guarantees a blank canvas, an unshared story, a dream that never had a chance because it was never brought to life. Only action yields existence. So, all emotional circumstances aside, either the thing gets built or it doesn’t. It’s either there or it isn’t. The work itself offers no excuse or explanations, especially if it doesn’t even exist. That’s the reality of it. And yes, it’s something I have to remind myself of constantly. It’s a daily struggle. I feel like a recovering “sitter-outer”. The challenge starts anew each day, just as the daily fluctuation of human emotion does (vicious cycles, both of them). But if you have a dream, ya better get used to it.
So, the next time you’re hungover, or lonely, or both (like I was yesterday), & you’re tempted to let yourself off the hook, just remember this. Pain-riddled progress, tear-infused art, hangover-exposed work, & neon-splattered battlefields are always worth more than a dusty unlived dream & a casualty-free battlefield that bares no signs of the kind of creative warfare it takes to bring a dream to life. There are two different dream outcomes possible, depending on which route you opt for. Only one gives your dream a real shot. In the other case, the "realized dream" doesn’t even ever really exist. It remains unbirthed, & lives only in your mind. It never gets a chance at all.
I'm realizing more & more with every day of my creative work the variety of challenges involved in bringing an idea to life. And I somehow already know, too, that I'm only cutting my teeth now, & that they'll get tougher as I keep pushing forward. No doubt there are brick walls in the path ahead way worse than the minor setbacks I'm dealing with now. But I'll keep reminding myself through all of the deterrences, big & small, that there's a badass, beautiful dream on the other side of them, one I was born to bring to life, & one that will never ultimately exist if I don't keep sucking it up on days like yesterday & playing hurt.
Yesterday’s victory entailed the undesirable choice of neon paint & turkey injector over headache, post-Christmas-party fatigue, & sadness. I don’t know yet what today’s challenge will involve or what materials it may call for, but I will face it with the following charge I now leave you with:
May you ever fear the dust of stillness on your dreams, & may your creative battlefield be neon-colored & casualty-riddled. THAT is the stuff dreams are made of.
What does your battlefield look like right now?
Is it missing some color? Is it clear & casualty-free?
Maybe it needs a little creative bloodshed on it, something to cut through the dust.
Maybe it’s time you put up a good fight & see where it might get you.
(After all, there is no victory without battle, & there are no dreams underway where dust has settled.)
Here’s to ever-stirred dreams & neon-colored battlefields. (Never let ‘em beat ya.)
FIGHT. PLAY HURT. GO ROGUE.
(& READ The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield).
Until I learned about the Resistance in Pressfield’s book The War Of Art, I had no idea my dreams were under siege. I was completely oblivious to the internal struggle I’d been losing to The Resistance for the past 7 years. This book turned that around & helped me break through my long-time rut to finally start making headway. It is brilliant battlefield strategy that both exposes the hidden enemy within & teaches you how to fight all its crafty efforts to get in your way. Bottom line, it shows you how to get out of your own way.
Before this book, I had no tactics, didn’t know I needed any weapons, & was completely unaware of the internal threats that had me completely thrown off course. Then Pressfield kicked me into warrior mode, loaded me up with ammo, drew me a map of the pitfalls, & shoved my ass into battle. He taught me how to fight the enemy within to make real ground towards my dreams. And if you are undertaking any kind of creative endeavor, this book will do the same for you. You’ll read it in a day & put the book down with a transformed perspective & a plan of attack. It could spare you years of stall-out, & maybe even your dreams too. Highly recommended read.