The Necessity of Discomfort
I do it all the time. I take on just enough projects and personal commitments to periodically induce a panic attack. It occurs every three months. Like clockwork.
I’m working with writers on three novels, three works of nonfiction and lending a hand promoting two of their books. Each of these projects requires me to write an extensive brief of editorial notes and ideas.
And…No….Verbal notes won’t suffice. I can’t just get on the phone and pontificate off the top of my head.
If you are asked and you agree to evaluate someone’s work, you must show the artist respect. Writing down criticism requires you to back up your point of view in concrete language. What you find when you write your notes is that you discover solutions to the very challenges you are pointing out to the writer.
If you just jib jab about what’s wrong with a book or script or ad campaign or blueprint, you don’t allow your brain to fully process the information, clarify it, and then provide suggestions to solve the problems you identify. You’re not doing your job. You’re blowing smoke.
I’ve promised my work to these clients all within a two week window. I’m now at the tail end of the first week and I’m getting hinky.
Plus I’m moving into my old apartment in three weeks [long boring New York story that even New Yorkers are sick of]. I must pack the belongings of a family of five and somehow get them from the east side of Manhattan to the west side during the hottest period of the year.
And I got the easy job on our family “to do” list.
Every time I reach this boiling point, I promise myself I will not put myself in this position again.
To top it off, it is in these moments in our life when the “peripheral opponents” that Steve talks about in THE WAR OF ART get louder and more convincing.
It may be the MBA at a cocktail party who gives you a blank stare after you’ve answered his “what do you do?” question and then walks away shaking his head.
Or it could be the passive aggressive cousin who “compliments” you by saying “I’d never have the courage to put my family in financial risk the way you do…good for you for being so unconventional.”
Or it’s an announcement that your professional bête noire, the one person in the world in desperate need of comeuppance, has just had yet another stellar success.
When you are under a deadline (and you need to set them!), the voices you can usually ignore day to day get louder and louder. They make you doubt every decision you’ve made since you froze on stage in your second grade play.
Believe it or not, this extreme discomfort is a good sign. It means you’re in the fight. You’re in the ring and taking some jabs and body blows, but you’re still standing. Hang in there.
If you don’t stare down the horror of failing or disappointing someone with your work, you’re not loping off any of those 10,000 hours everyone says you need to put in to become exceptional.
If you don’t have dark “all is lost” moments, you’re not a pro. You’re goofing around with a hobby. I know because I’m really good at goofing around. If you find yourself goofing, get your ass back in the ring!
Steve Pressfield faces this stuff every day of his life. It’s not any easier for him than it is for you or me. Probably harder because he’s known as the white knight leading the charge against Resistance. He defined the very idea of Resistance. He has the big R flat on his back, right?
Not so much.
When Steve was writing Turning Pro, he sent me draft after draft of okay work. It was fine. But when I’d take longer than I usually do getting back to him he knew I wasn’t convinced that the book was there yet. We’ve worked together for 15 years he knows my ticks like I know his.
So instead of grinding on it, we’d put the project on the “back burner” for a couple of weeks or months depending upon other stuff we had in the pipeline. But we both knew that that the only way he could dissipate the discomfort of not nailing the book was to go back and rework it again.
He did. Again and again and again. And then again. All told, it took about three years to feel right. It’s much more difficult to write an intense short book than a meandering long one.
And when we finally did put the book to bed—had it designed, proofed it, had it corrected, proofed it again, and again for four different formats—Steve still found stuff he thought could be better.
Now he must live with the discomfort of knowing he can’t make it perfect. He gave as good as he got in that bout and won. I think by a knockout in the 12th round. But now he has a hundred other looming deadlines. He has to move forward. He has to let it go. He’s a pro.
Being a pro ain’t easy, but it beats trying to impress someone who has no interest in anything you do, taking inane verbal gobbledygook seriously, or worrying about other peoples’ success or failure.
Being a pro keeps you focused on what’s important…on the work that gives your life meaning.