The following is a true story, paraphrased from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. 

Colin Farrell in the title role of Oliver Stone’s “Alexander”

Once Alexander the Great was leading his army across a waterless desert. The column was strung out for miles, with men and horses suffering terribly from thirst. 

Suddenly a detachment of scouts came galloping back to the king. They had found a small spring and had managed to fill a helmet with water. They rushed to Alexander and presented this to him. The army held in place, watching. Every man’s eye was fixed upon the king.

Alexander thanked his scouts for bringing him this gift. Then, without touching a drop, he lifted the helmet and poured the precious liquid into the sand. 

At once a great cheer ascended from the army, rolling from one end of the column to the other. A soldier was heard to say, “With a king like this to lead us, no force on earth can stand against us.”

I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite books, King Warrior Magician Lover, by the Jungian psychologists Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. The title refers to (some of) the archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.

When you and I struggle to control our work habits, i.e. to confront and overcome our Resistance, sometimes the trouble lies in which archetype we’ve allowed ourselves to settle into.

For years I lived in the Lost Boy archetype. Needless to say, I didn’t get a damn thing done.

The archetype we’re aiming for, I think (at least short of the Sage or the Magician) is the King.

When the king is strong, the kingdom prospers. When the king rules with wisdom and justice, the land flourishes and the people are happy.

Can you and I lead like Alexander in the story above?

Can we embrace adversity and be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for our project to reach fruition?

Can we be the king (or queen) of our own aspirations?

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

27 Comments

  1. Joe Jansen on July 22, 2020 at 3:50 am

    A story some of you have heard before… one of my brothers is a Marine F/A-18 pilot— a “Hornet driver.” I asked him one time, “What’s the best part for you, flying a jet like that?”

    I expected some Top Gun in his answer. The power, the speed, the adrenaline. He paused at my question and then replied, “The best thing about what I do, when I’m up there doing it, is that I’m protecting some 19-year-old lance corporal with his boots in the dirt.”

    I waited for the rest of his answer — something about the glamour or the speed or the power or the adrenaline. But that was it, his full answer.

    • Mo Charbonneau on July 22, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Joe Jansen, I believe that one of the things we’re meant to learn via Covid is that life is about serving others, that we are all one. That’s a great story about your brother. He knew.

      • Joe on July 22, 2020 at 11:20 am

        I hope we can learn it, Mo. With the right mindset, it HAS to be clear: the only way forward is together.

        On “going forward together,” have you seen the videos being put out by former NFL linebacker and sports commentator Emmanuel Acho? The guy is putting out a great message of dialogue and mutual understanding. Really good stuff that shows there’s a way forward.

    • Andrew+Lubin on July 22, 2020 at 8:12 am

      Joe – from March 2003 – 2010 my Marine son had 5 combat deployments, so I thank your brother for his awesome mindset! Semper Fi

      • Joe on July 22, 2020 at 11:21 am

        I salute your son, Andrew. S/F.

    • Daniel Stutzman on July 22, 2020 at 8:25 am

      This thread made my eyes well up. /salute

      • Joe on July 22, 2020 at 11:22 am

        I always get choked up when telling it, too, Daniel.

      • Steph on July 22, 2020 at 3:05 pm

        Me too!

    • Nandu on July 24, 2020 at 4:30 am

      Commendable!!

  2. Mo Charbonneau on July 22, 2020 at 8:12 am

    Steven Pressfield, thanks for the article. Archetypes are much on my mind these days. I welcome the inspiration.

  3. Mia Sherwood Landau on July 22, 2020 at 8:16 am

    Archetypes are playing out in us, in our daily lives wherever and however we live. Not understanding or wanting to understand is the source of such great pain and loss. Can you imagine what the world would be like if this kind of truth was taught to teenage boys in school? Wow, what a powerful thought about how the world could be better.

  4. Brad Graft on July 22, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Amen, Joe. Hats of too your bro. And also to Steve’s point, perhaps the good king does the simplest of things—his work, his duty.

    My friend, Mike Franzak, wrote a book (A Nightmare’s Prayer) on his experience flying jets in Afghanistan. Marine extraordinaire, Bing West, wrote the introduction, which may fit Steve and Joe’s content. A piece of the intro that hit home:

    “Franzak has given us grunts quite a book. I always envisioned the pilots climbing out of the cockpits, sauntering to the O Club for a cold beer and hot steak, and stretching out on a mattress for a long winter’s nap.

    Franzak has broken that mold. I can’t work up a good, naïve, undeserved resentment about the cushy life of the aviator anymore. The images of the AV-8 tossing about in crosswinds like a rampaging bull, and of nights with too much pressure and no relief to a grinding routine, are too vivid.

    His squadron perseveres, despite suffering the disappointment of having been extended. What Franzak conveys most vividly is the squadron’s dogged devotion to duty—when there’s nothing else to fall back on, that is the time when character and the traditions of a unit provide a concrete floor that cannot be chipped away.”

    • Joe on July 22, 2020 at 11:39 am

      That’s a good excerpt, Brad. It seems there’s a foundational element to “overcoming ego,” whether that’s to do with a spiritual and consciousness exploration, personal relationships, or leading people. I find one example in this clip from several years back, where SecDef Mattis gets “ambushed” by a group of young enlisted (at a base in Jordan, I believe). Not that he’s without ego, but he is without pretense when he greets them, “My name’s Mattis. I work at the Department of Defense, obviously.”

      https://youtu.be/WnyYhTk1OUg

      (I’ve got Bing West’s “The Strongest Tribe” on my stack, as well as the book he helped Mattis write recently. He does the Marine Corps proud.)

  5. Brian Nelson on July 22, 2020 at 9:22 am

    Steve,
    You wrote about the archetypes so clearly and eloquently (kinda your style & appeal) in the Warrior Ethos. Loved it, and hopefully will be of use in some work with the Army National Guard now. So many of us Veterans are stuck in the Warrior Archetype, and need to evolve.

    One way I like to think of this, and Joe’s brother absolutely exudes this is, “A warm man doesn’t know how a cold man feels. So if you want to lead, you better get cold first.” Your quote about a king in Gates of Fire also describes this.

    Simon Simek ‘stole’ a book title from me. Leaders eat last. My brother is a retired Naval Officer, and I went on a Tiger Cruise on his sub years ago. When we had dinner, some man-servant served us dinner on fine china. I was so uncomfortable with the entire ordeal. In the Army and (I’m guessing) the Marine Corps, when we eat tactically (and it spills over to Garrison and nearly every meal that is shared), we eat in an inverse order of rank. The commander eats last. Alan and I have talked about this for years. Interesting cultural difference between the services.

    It is a small gesture, but it is a continual reminder of who matters. Who, exactly, we are serving. I love it.

    Looks like I’ll actually have to read the book by Moore and Gillette as it is not on Audible!

    Great post.
    bsn

    • Joe on July 22, 2020 at 11:43 am

      Good thoughts, Brian. When my brother went to a particular school in advance of assuming a command, he said the MajGen leading the presentations got up and said, “The first thing I want you all to remember. Always carry your own bags.”

      There was another great passage in one of Steve’s books, “Killing Rommel”:

      “Stein has a theory about inner evolution. A man matures, he believes, from archetype to archetype. From son to wanderer to warrior. And from there, if he’s lucky, to lover, husband, father, king, sage, and mystic.

      “‘It could be, Stein says, considering the evolution of my dream, ‘that your journey no longer requires the knight’s armor since you’re living it out in the flesh.’ He gestures around to our tanks and armored vehicles. ‘You’re IN armor now, aren’t you?’”

      • Brian Nelson on July 22, 2020 at 12:08 pm

        Joe,
        Thanks for the reminder of “Killing Rommel”…it is now back in the stack to re-listen. I love the ‘always carry your own bags.’ Another one is to always pick up trash when it is in front of you. It is amazing how contagious that behavior can be.
        bsn

  6. Zack+Derese on July 22, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Reminiscent of King David. I wonder if that was any influence, or if Alexander knew that story from 600 years before…

    • Brian Nelson on July 22, 2020 at 10:01 am

      Zack,
      Was just reading 1 Samuel 22-24 this morning…the beginning of the exploits of David. A true Warrior King for sure.
      bsn

  7. Chuck DeBettignies on July 22, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Steven, each week I think to myself, “How can he beat what he said in the post this week?”
    And then next week . . . you do it again!

  8. Karen Wilson on July 22, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    To Mia Sherwood Landau: Grand thought, Mia! Think what a transformative effect it would have on teenage boys AND girls to have a class or whole curriculum on “Choosing Your Archetype.” Or better still, start it in kindergarten.

  9. Sharon on July 22, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    I love the idea of choosing our archetype. Not discovering it or uncovering it or stumbling upon it, no, we choose, we decide our fate. We can be whatever we want to be, it’s our choice. Powerful concept.

  10. Renita on July 22, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    Everyone
    I have written quite a bit on female archetypes in movies. The articles are on my website. So I won’t reiterate here.
    I see everyone has having a thousand stories going on to pick from. And being flexible about accessing the archetype that fits is wise.
    I also recommend reviewing old fairytales. They offer a lot at a deep psyche level.
    Renita

  11. Peter Morgan on July 22, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    A great reminder about the unconscious and incredibly important impact of archetypes.

    But isn’t the story missing an opportunity? Surely the King could have ordered the water given to the weakest (Theory of Constraints)? Or some other approach? I’d be curious how this alternative approach would tie into the writing archetype we could adopt for ourselves?

    • Adetunji Raheemat on July 24, 2020 at 5:42 am

      What they needed was Hope/Motivation not water.

    • kat on August 2, 2020 at 2:02 pm

      Or his horse. I don’t find water wasting an impressive feat of leadership.

  12. Jurgen+Strack on July 24, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Can you and I lead like Alexander in the story above?
    Yes!
    Can we embrace adversity and be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for our project to reach fruition?
    Yes!
    Can we be the king (or queen) of our own aspirations?
    Yes!
    Not sure if anyone is with me on this one, but the comments section has a certain tribal feel to me.
    Reminds me of the Vietnam combat soldier quoted in the hit single “19” by British musician David Hardcastle, “I really wasn’t sure what was going on.” B/W

  13. Krzysztof Perkowski on July 25, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    O wow!
    I never thought about living King archetype live.
    But now, and after listening to your book (at least 5 times each) I will definitely start shifting to Kings way of living.

    Thank you!

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