“Don’t Look Back and Don’t Look Down”

This is a powerful mantra for any of us launching upon a long-form creative or entrepreneurial enterprise, e.g. writing a book, starting a business venture, trying to get our daughter into Harvard.

Don’t look back, and don’t look down.

“Don’t look back,” meaning banish all second thoughts and all self-doubt. Block them out. Do not allow them to find purchase. Once we have cast off from the dock at Tenerife, don’t turn around to gaze back fondly at the shore. 

During my truck driving days in my late twenties, I teamed with a driver named Jim Abbott. When we would have to turn off the interstate into a city to deliver a load—a potentially scary situation with traffic, the possibility of getting lost, etc.—he always used to say, “We’re committed!” With the exclamation point.

That’s how it should be when you and I launch into a new book or other enterprise.

Don’t look back. All systems go. Focus entirely on what’s ahead.

And don’t look down.

Dismiss all thoughts of failure, incompletion, embarrassment, shame. Yeah, those evil outcomes might eventuate. But we can’t let ourselves think about them. Block them out!

In Gates of Fire, the central character is the Spartan captain Dienekes. Instructing his protégé, he speaks of the “house of the mind,” which contains many rooms.

“There are rooms we must never let ourselves enter. Never.”

Looking down is one of those rooms.

We’re talking here about a discipline of the mind. Mental toughness. A choice that you and I make (and hold ourselves to) as professionals … a deliberate proscription of these two actions:

Don’t look back.

And don’t look down.

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.

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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?"

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34 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on December 16, 2020 at 5:04 am

    Love this! Words to live by, not only in our creative lives, but as we continue to navigate this tumultuous year. As always, thanks for delivering exactly the right message, at least for this reader.

  2. Brian Nelson on December 16, 2020 at 8:00 am

    When I have introduced the writing of Steven Pressfield to others, or this website, I frequently say, “Steve is a Brian whisperer. Sometimes it freaks me out. Get out of my head dude! I didn’t give you permission to blast my fears all over the internet!!”

    Today’s advice is rock solid–and, I would also say it is scriptural. When Peter jumped out of the boat to walk toward Jesus, he had his eyes on Christ. Then he looked down…
    (Matthew 14:30/31 American Standard Version) “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me. 31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and took hold of him, and saith unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

    There is a lot to unpack in that little story, but I think St Matthew was saying the same thing Steve says here.

    Keep your eye on the ball. I’m no Biblical Scholar, but I’ve been reading this year with a ‘beginner’s mind’ as much as possible. It seems to me that focus and attention are significant components of faith. Action without evidence builds faith.

    One other thought: I played sports year round as a kid. The opportunity to make that kick-ass bounce-pass in the paint is hidden from those in the stands, you have to be in the game to see it. That might be the Athletic Muse (don’t know her name…) who whispers to the youngster “Now! Pass now!”

    I think we demonstrate Faith whenever we act without evidence: produce new art/business, get married, workout, cut calories, get an education, make a cold call…

    Ok, now I’m out on a limb, drinking my own Kool-Aid while sitting here: Maybe that is what Steven is saying with Turning Pro. Act with Faith–but know the moment we act with Faith, we give birth to Resistance.

    But we can create miracles when we don’t look back or don’t look down.

    Vaccines are shipping!!!! On Monday, we will begin to have more light in our days again! (Living in the PNW, it is DARK from 1630 until almost 0800). 2020 is almost in the rear-view mirror. Our nation is still here after the election. We will prevail.
    bsn

    • Andrew+Lubin on December 16, 2020 at 11:09 am

      Brian – well said!

      But for those who think about Turning Pro – it’s either the 100% commitment of the Chief, or the half-assery of the Jets. Where do you want to suit-up and play?

    • Susanne Dejanovich on December 17, 2020 at 6:52 am

      Absolutely true. I am starting a new life and this applies to me; so perfectly. It’s a “Trick” to look back or down. Looking down you might miss the mark in front of you. So much wisdom here.

  3. Frank Freeman on December 16, 2020 at 8:05 am

    Thanks, Steve! This reminds me of a Steinbeck quote: “When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.”

  4. Luis Gustavo Reis on December 16, 2020 at 8:06 am

    Exactly what I needed to hear today!

  5. Skip Raschke on December 16, 2020 at 8:13 am

    Amen brother Steve!
    My grandpa was good friends with the late and great hall of fame pitcher satchel paige. Thus i was told long ago some of satchel’s words of wisdom, one famous saying of his “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

    That was about 60 years ago, me being 71 now.

    my other fave of satchel’s is–> “how old would you be if you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

    thanks again, steve and happy holidays

  6. Daniel J. Stutzman on December 16, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Speaking of Gates of Fire, I’m finally reading it after being a fan of your nonfiction. Wow! Awesome book.

  7. Ernie Bowling on December 16, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Man, did I need the advice in this post today.
    Thanks, Steve!

  8. Kenneth N Proudfoot on December 16, 2020 at 8:19 am

    A great mantra!! Thanks, Steven!!

  9. Sam Luna on December 16, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Count me among those wondering how it’s possible you’re reading my mind. I’ve spent the last month looking back and looking down — maybe it’s an end of year thing? — and only in the last few days have asked myself “what the hell are you doing? You’ve made it this far …. keep going!” Thanks as always Coach!

  10. Nick Dennen on December 16, 2020 at 8:40 am

    This is fabulous, Mr. Pressfield!!! The War of Art is one of my favorite books, and this writing reminds me that we always have to continue moving forward, no matter what. The audiobook and the paperback are powerful, and I am so inspired by your words. Whether it is resistance, self-doubt, or lack of support, our job is focus on our mission, and become the person we are meant to become!!! You’re Awesome!

  11. Todd Corelli on December 16, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Holy cow, you have no idea how timely this is for me. I launching a venture based on my book I just finished and worrying about embarrassment and shame that might happen. No more of that for me. Thanks Steve.

  12. Maggie Butler on December 16, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Thank you for your service and the encouragement at just the right moment!

    Sitting and reading and drinking coffee and working up the energy to go back to another edit of my recent short story, deadline next Tuesday delivery.

  13. Jennifer on December 16, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Yes, it’s almost as though we have to be a horse with blinders on when on a creative or entrepreneurial pursuit. Someone was telling me the other day some quote by Warren Buffett…. something about successful people having the ability to ignore and say no to many things. The professional life is a more simple life with less distractions. The War of Art is one of my most re-read books! Thank you for that and for these blog posts!

  14. Brent on December 16, 2020 at 9:33 am

    “Burn the boats”—Hernan Cortes

  15. Helen Bouchez on December 16, 2020 at 9:55 am

    Yes, this, 1000x this ESPECIALLY the “don’t look down” part. Essential. Shared.

  16. Andrew+Lubin on December 16, 2020 at 11:02 am

    It helps to be committed before you launch, but like Brent says above; be ready to burn the boats!

  17. Marlene on December 16, 2020 at 11:14 am

    Thank you for sharing such wisdom.
    Beyond grateful,
    Marlene

  18. Steve Piscitelli on December 16, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Thanks, Steve. Serendipitously, today I heard from another source (David Ji) that we are never stuck. Rather, we are at our new starting point; the present.

    • Joe on December 16, 2020 at 1:40 pm

      I like when serendipity shows up.

  19. Ines on December 16, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    This was just what I needed. I receive it.

  20. YL on December 16, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Amen & Amen! Fully agreed.

  21. Jesse Joseph on December 17, 2020 at 4:50 am

    I had a dream a few nights ago. There was a long pole that started from a rocky shore and extended far over the ocean. I had to climb up this pole, and if I fell close to shore I would hit the rocks and surely die. The only way out was to keep going, to climb far out over the water to where the water was deeper. The pole went higher as it went, and the fall was safer but also scarier, until at the end I was forced to let go and enter the water in a way so to not hurt myself. It was about the inexorable journey of commitment.

    As I read this post realize that I am getting a message about the film business I’m starting. I have invested a lot of money into camera gear, scared the whole time where this is heading, how will I make money? What steps are next? Here’s Steven saying don’t go back and don’t look down! I couldn’t have summarized the dream better myself. How’s that for synchronicity?

    I also love the idea of not going into certain rooms of the mind, that’s a great mindset. Just don’t indulge in negative thinking, habits or the possibility of quitting. Thank you for this Warrior Credo. Much appreciated!

  22. Anonymous on December 17, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Emily Dickenson said it best.
    ”There is a pain-so utter-
    It swallows substances up-
    Then covers the Abyss with Trance
    So memory can step around -across-upon it-
    As one within a swoon
    Goes safely- where an open eye
    Would drop him
    Bone by Bone

  23. Linda Sheehan on December 17, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Sorry – that’s from me -!

  24. Jürgen Strack on December 18, 2020 at 2:53 am

    I walked the Camino de Santiago in autumn this year (as per the movie ‘The Way’ with Martin Sheen) walked 650 miles all across northern Spain. Not looking down or back was key to continuing the journey, completing the daily stages. Sometimes, walking, I got into a trance and missed the odd milestone along the way.

    • Joe on December 20, 2020 at 5:13 am

      Love that movie.

  25. Chris Richardson on December 18, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    At the exact half way point flying an F-15 across the Atlantic with 110 knot headwinds. Can’t get back to England and Iceland went down for weather. Tanker was scrambled out of Maine to meet us south of Greenland and get us to the states. We were committed!

    • Brian Nelson on December 19, 2020 at 10:11 pm

      Chris,
      From a retired Soldier…well, uh, I’m jealous! What an amazing job that must be/have been. Good for you.
      bsn

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  27. Anonymous on December 29, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Millions thanks for the great work you are doing. I am just reading The War of Art the book I am ready to introduce to my enemies

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