Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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The war of art

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

In 2004 I was using Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire (about the Battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians, also the subject of the movie 300) at the Naval Academy while teaching World Civilization classes. My midshipmen really enjoyed the book and on a whim, I penned a note to the author, Steven Pressfield, to let him know how much my students were enjoying his book. He responded. The next day. I was stunned. Not only did Steven Pressfield write me back, he accepted an invitation to speak at the Naval Academy where he flew himself to Maryland to speak (he doesn’t accept many speaking engagements) and enthrall current and future military leaders. Unfortunate life events prevented me from being on the mainland of the US during that time, and I missed meeting Steven Pressfield. I was disappointed to miss this chance to meet this true life hero, a Vietnam War era Marine, and brilliant screen and book writer. Fast forward 8 years. In a short few weeks, suddenly, the books of Steven Pressfield seemed to be all around me. Last of the Amazons, The Profession, The Afghan Campaign, The Virtues of War, Tides of War, The Warrior Ethos, Killing Rommel, The War of Art, Do the Work, Turning Pro, The Swing, … and of course, The Legend of Bagger Vance. On another whim, I found Steven Pressfield’s email, and sent another note. He responded. The next day. Again. I was so stunned that I had to think about what to say. His response was amazing and kind and smart. Could I interview him for a national magazine? He said yes. He said “Yes!” I jumped out of my chair. (Not much makes me jump out of my chair, except to chase a dog who is eating something she should not. This was different and way better.) “What do people want to know?” Steve (I get to call him Steve!!) asked. “How do you do it?” I wondered. “How do you write and craft, really craft your writing?” “How do you get butt in chair and be so productive on so many topics?” “How do you get so much accomplished?” “What are the secrets of your success?” Many of the answers are in his latest books, The War of Art, Do the Work, Turning Pro. In these three (easily read) books, starting with The War of Art, Steve describes why people procrastinate, and why Resistance, a force within us that prevents us from achieving our greatness, works so hard to defeat our true purpose. The War of Art tells us that overcoming Resistance is necessary to focus on accomplishing what we are born to do. It takes work, a lot of work, and a lot of disciplined, consistent work. Resistance loves it when we decide that the work is too hard, too lengthy, and too inconvenient. After finishing The War of Art, readers are encouraged to start moving in the right direction. More than a self-help, motivation book, this delves deep into the human psyche and analyzes why we are hard-wired to make excuses. What do we do about that? Do the Work is about how to get the person and the chair and the computer all in the same place and work. Really work. One of Steve’s work accountability ideas in The Swing (the book he wrote about writing The Legend of Bagger Vance) is that he has a regular wall calendar, the kind with pictures of landscapes and trees, and every day he makes a note on the that day on the calendar of how long he worked on a project. If he wrote 4 hours on the book, Turning Pro he might write, “TP 4 hrs” on the calendar. I love tricks like that to help me stay on track and consistent. I started doing that right away. Turning Pro is about taking yourself seriously so others will too. It is about professionalizing what you do. So yes, I am a raving fan. Yes, I have a huge writer’s crush on Steven Pressfield (that he is a former Marine makes me happy too). Yes, I highly recommend all of his books for all kinds of reasons. If you are feeling a little stuck, in a mid, early, or late-life crisis, trying to write a book, in a job you don’t like, transitioning out of the military, starting a career, finishing a career, or anyone on the planet who routinely breathes in and out, get The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro. They are life changing, irreverent, and profound. What is your favorite Steven Pressfield book and why? Let me know!


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