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In three acts, I am going to try to explain to you the dark force that's governed my life for as long as I can remember. Most of you will recognize this as fear leftover from combat, probably developed into PTSD, becoming more severe left untreated and you’d be correct, clinically speaking. I prefer to think of it differently; to call it by a name I can understand, a physical form I can battle. Disclaimer: I'm completely unqualified in every way to give advice to anyone. I just have a lot of experience with failure of all kinds.
Act One - Fear: Old Friend, New Foe
I got lost on my way to college and ended up in a war, finding bombs for a living. The details are entirely unimportant but suffice it to say that I have some experience with butt-puckering, life or death fear. I thrived on it in those days. It gave me superhuman powers to stay awake longer, be more vigilant, get violent quickly if necessary. It became my friend over time. I believed nurturing it was the best way to make it home alive.
And make it home, I did, visibly unscathed but I brought my friend along with me. I remember the first time I realized things were different at home. I was 24 hours home from after a year plus in combat, trying to navigate rush hour traffic to make it to a mall to activate a cell phone. Merging cars, crowds, cell phone contract terms, playing through a loudspeaker on the inside of my eardrum - it was like the opposite of that movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper. The danger script in my mind would run every time it was presented with a new or unfamiliar stimulus, running constantly just below the surface of my conscious attention.
The next few years of my life were spent in varying degrees of that state. Fear, my old friend, had turned on me. It seeped into all aspects of my life. I found ways to become afraid of everything, especially anything fun or introspective. I became expert at hating things. Ask me to do something, I’ll tell you why I hate it. It gave me license to avoid them and get back to what I really wanted to do: dull the thoughts rattling around in my brain however possible. It was a life built on rationalizations that reinforced bad lifestyle choices, that tightened their grip on the world around me until I was left bedridden (literally, many times). Emerging from one of these episodes is when I learned to call Fear by a new name. And to swear it as my Enemy. And declare a fight to the death.
Act Two - Resistance: Defining My New Enemy
Do you have a book or lesson that you keep coming back to when you need inspiration? I do. It's called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and it was written specifically for me, or so it feels. A Marine of Vietnam, accomplished failure and procrastinator and finally, prolific author. In a little over a hundred pages, Pressfield told me in no uncertain terms what my problem was and what I was going to do about it with a finesse more reminiscent of a drill sergeant than a therapist. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Below are a list of items, in no particular order, that most commonly elicit resistance:
Sound familiar? These words struck me like a lightning bolt. I knew then that I had known this Enemy all my life. I knew the Allies of my Enemy, too: Victimhood, procrastination, rationalization, self medication, immediate gratification including but not limited to drugs, alcohol, TV and the consumption of any product containing salt, fat or sugar.
Resistance was everywhere. It meant business. It's aim was to kill me or at least keep me in this perpetual state of distraction, a fate worse than death. But I knew something now that I didn’t know before. I knew what Resistance was. I knew how it was going to try to derail me. Armed with this new knowledge, I set out emboldened to beat Resistance once and for all.
How did I do it? Frankly, I still don't know because I fight resistance every day. Sometimes I still lose. In fact, I lost to Resistance just two days ago, New Year’s Eve, when I started writing this piece (for about the fifth time), was consumed by a wave of feeling unworthy and quit. Again. It ruined my day and I ruined everyone’s day who was unlucky enough to be around me. Imagine the hypocrisy: letting the enemy I’ve known forever stop me from writing about it, using the very same tactics I’m researching on the one day every year when everyone is on high alert about breaking resolutions.
I do know, however, that the enemy is a very good teacher. I know that the battle must be fought anew every day. I know that Resistance never stops coming. I know Resistance lives within me. I know it opposes in only one direction, away from my higher state. It feeds on procrastination and withers when I sit down and do my work. Over time, I've learned that true mastery over Resistance requires the following: an understanding of the enemy, a clear vision of the end state and the resolve to fight the battle each day.
Act Three - Three Strategies for Beating Resistance
Turning Pro. If I have any chance of winning this fight, I have to make it my full time job. Turning Pro means I'm committed to achieving my life's work, whatever Resistance throws at me. I’m telling the Universe my intention and throwing everything I have into my life’s work. I’ll go out on my shield before I surrender. I live by the code of the professional and I accept the results, whatever they may be. How to be a professional: Show up every day, Stay on the job all day, Commit to the long haul, Be patient, Seek order, Act in the face of fear, Accept no excuses, Be prepared, Don't over identify with your job, Ask for help, Don't take success or failure personally, Do self validate.
Be the Hero of Your Own Movie. Even if I can beat Resistance, then what? What is my life’s work? Why is it that I’m here on Earth? What unique gift do I have to give the World? Some people, like me, are maddened by these questions. It’s such a big question that the answers always seem out of reach. I get distracted. I get tired. I forget. Then, I quit. When I forget what my life’s work is, I keep returning to this video.
Mastery. Mastery is understanding the rules of the game. Knowing my Mission in life isn’t the last step. I still have to get there. If very few people find their life’s work, even fewer actually achieve it. Mastery is the time-tested process, derived from thousands of accounts of masters of all disciplines who have achieved lasting greatness. The rules of the game are clear. Mastery at any one skill takes a long time, 10,000 repetitions or so. There is a guarantee of failure. The work gets harder every day. The only thing we can truly rely on is our commitment to Turning Pro and that Resistance is on the battlefield waiting for us every day.
Standing behind Resistance is my life’s work. I’ll fight accordingly.