Wilderness in a Corner Office

You can have a great career, a loving spouse and family, the respect and envy of all who know you … and still be in the Wilderness.

You’re in the Wilderness if this career/family/respect is for a calling that is not yours, that doesn’t arise from your truest self.

William Holden in “Executive Suite”

In a way, this is the most excruciating form of Wilderness because you’re in hell and you know it, yet you get no sympathy for your suffering, even from yourself. In fact, if you dare to express your misery (even to yourself), you are looked at as an ingrate, a cream puff, a weenie.

You’re not. Your wilderness is real. Your suffering is real. And your peril is real.

My friend Garrett Smith sent me following from the podcast, This Jungian Life. It’s from an interview with Matthew Quick, the writer of the novel, Silver Linings Playbook:

“A lot of people said, ‘Wow, that’s so brave of you to [walk away from a career to write]’…. But I don’t see it as an act of bravery so much as a last ditch effort to save myself.  Because if I wasn’t in so much pain walking into that building every day to teach, I would have easily done my 20 years and I would have been retired by now.  But I couldn’t walk into that building anymore, I was in so much pain and suffering that I had to do this, it wasn’t an option, I was going to go to a very bad place if I didn’t change my life in a radical way.”

A case could be made that the short stories of John Cheever (and to a lesser extent those of John Updike) are tales of the Wilderness in a Corner Office. They’re about the crazy stuff that seemingly successful people are driven to by the unlived Calling within them.

We could make an equally valid case, I suspect, that the profession of psychotherapy is simply a response to the internal crises produced by Wilderness in a Corner Office. And the challenges faced and insights gained in therapy are their own passage through the Wilderness, their own seeking of a way “back home.”

The bad news is: a Wilderness Passage is mandatory. You can’t hide from it, even in the upper echelons of material success.

The good news is: a Wilderness Passage is mandatory. The Big Choice will be set before us, no matter how hard we try to hide from it.

The goddess, it would seem, plays for keeps. 

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?"

Turning-Pro

50 Comments

  1. Kelly on December 28, 2022 at 1:51 am
  2. ANDREW BILLINGS on December 28, 2022 at 1:53 am

    I personally buy my friends copies of “The War of Art.” It’s brilliant. If my project ends up a quarter as magnificent as your gift to the world, I will consider it a job well done. I’ll follow you until the end. Thank you.

    • Kate Stanton on December 28, 2022 at 7:59 am

      Just listened to Steve’s podcast interview with Joe Rogan where Joe says he has a stack of “The War of Art” to pass out to his creative friends. My sister, a professional oil painter and teacher, gave me my first copy. I’ve given out two copies to musician friends and I’ve recommended this book to countless entrepreneur types who are battling resistance. We each have our own unique battle in our ego/reptile brain, but as Steve mentions, there are similarities across the board. I wish you luck on your project, Andrew. As David Bowie said,
      “Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” May 2023 be full of creativity and productivity to anyone reading this–it’s not by accident that you are here. Quantum entanglement–nudge from the Universe. GO DO IT!

      • Susanne Dejanovich on December 29, 2022 at 6:37 pm

        Love your words. I have t gone out far enough not to touch bottom. My nose is just above the water line.

  3. Christina on December 28, 2022 at 2:57 am

    This rings true. No matter what happens afterwards, you’ll never regret walking away from that wrong work.

    Thank you for your generous insights. All the best wishes to you for a happy and free 2023.

  4. GINGER on December 28, 2022 at 3:21 am

    I did it! I ran out of the woods screaming, NO NO NO! I Left a Corporate Mangement position that I “loved” and was paid very well for but the green paper did not fill my soul’s needs. Now, I sit peacefully at home in my own glorious chaos, finally listening to the muse by way of WRITING and think on and off about heading back into the wilderness for the money. Thanks for the reminder that she “plays for keeps”. Running from the muse IS exhausting! THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU! Kindly keep up the reminders. I am grateful that I will see 2023 as an author and wish you the very best of everything.
    GStar Ginger Rayner

    • Jackie on December 28, 2022 at 4:37 am

      Ginger, inspiring. Needed to see this today, thanks for the share.

  5. Brian LiFe on December 28, 2022 at 3:24 am

    Im happy I read this today. Not much of a comment but wanted to express, your writing gives me hope, helps me realize I must cope with the pain and flip it, see it as a good thing, burning away to the core of purpose and…Helps me face resistance. Thanks

  6. Gyanesh Chaudhary on December 28, 2022 at 4:11 am

    Thank you thank you. I felt like you wrote this for me. Every word called out to me .. actually screamed out to get out.
    Hopefully I can build up the courage to do it.

    One day.

    Gc

  7. Ryan Schneider on December 28, 2022 at 4:26 am

    This is great and everything but me trying to find where/how to subscribe to your blog feels like Resistance.

  8. Michael on December 28, 2022 at 4:40 am

    I love the picture you have created. I’ll be 40 next month, and I am deep in the wilderness trying to find my way out. Up until this morning, I haven’t had a picture or words to express that. Thank you for the gift.

  9. Tim on December 28, 2022 at 5:01 am

    I am currently sitting in my corner office, methodically planning my return home. Hope, it seems, is at the junction of acceptance and resolve.
    Thanks, Steven!

  10. J J Hicks on December 28, 2022 at 6:07 am

    This WW hits home for me. I wasted the middle part of my life in the wilderness in a shadow career. How debilitating to be successful at something that you detest or are at least completely ambivalent about.
    I got to the point where avoiding writing was actually harder then the process of writing itself.
    I still work to pay the bills but my day always starts at 4:00 am with a writing session. Next year, I will finally, after 30 years of avoidance in the wilderness and five years of heads down work release my books out into the world.
    And it all turned when I read The War of Art and recieved some kind and supportive words from Steve.

  11. Chris G. Baker on December 28, 2022 at 6:08 am

    Thank you Steven.

    • K. on December 28, 2022 at 11:38 pm

      Did you by any chance work in a bookstore in S.D.?

  12. Brad Graft on December 28, 2022 at 6:33 am

    Hey Gyanesh– good vibes to you in overcoming your obstacle. You have the courage needed..

    And JJ Hicks– good on you on the exercised discipline. I like your website and the “book” link with coming release date listed..

  13. GB on December 28, 2022 at 6:47 am

    I very much appreciate your insight into this little spoken of realm. I have stopped running away and now run towards. Perhaps this is the threshold?

  14. Michael Beverly on December 28, 2022 at 7:39 am

    I’m on my seventh novel now, after having left America for good. Not without irony, the times I haven’t been writing were when I was making great money. Looks like 2023 will be terrible for business. I’ll probably knock out a few books this year. Funny how that works. Meanwhile, thanks for avoiding marketing gurus that would have you charge ten bucks a month for a newsletter. Haha. Seems so people have forgotten how the internet works.

  15. Kate Stanton on December 28, 2022 at 7:52 am

    I just want a hug from you Steve!!
    They say what we despise in others is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. I grew up with a single mom, 3 siblings, and in the cornfields of Ohio. I struggle empathizing with people who feel entitled because I have a chip on my shoulder about having to work for everything I own since age 13–instead of being grateful I was taught a good work ethic.
    Yet, that very statement has me cringe about myself:
    “you get no sympathy for your suffering”…
    I’ve had people tell me “you have it so good” or “you’ve always been so sensitive” and yet there is still this crucial piece of my soul that feels like it is missing. I’m left wondering if the wilderness teaches us to rely on ourself so deeply, that no earthly person’s opinion can sway what we intuitively know. Does that even make sense or am I rambling again? All I know is there is this life force in me that wants to get songs out. I’m currently in this “brain dump” stage where there is so many bad songs mixed upon potentially good songs–all I can do is: DO THE WORK.
    My word for 2023 is Courage. I wanna be more courageous. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!

  16. Tolis Alexopoulos on December 28, 2022 at 8:04 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve, your points appeal to me so much.

    A person closest to me asked me how happy I am with the new job opportunity that came my way (in this period of crisis, and in a desperate economic situation). I told her that I felt for this opportunity to be a teacher that it’s the best of the ensemble of mediocre choices I could have in my life. Meaning that, although it structures a security net below me in case all fails (and all fails one day, doesn’t it?), it has nothing to do with my true calling, which I feel I haven’t found completely yet, not it’s absolute core, but it is parallel to writing, reading, exploring, wondering, creating, epic, infinity etc.

    She was so desperate to hear that. She couldn’t understand, neither she nor many others around me. She would attack me with words and imperative energies.

    I am so happy to know that I am not that surface image, on the other side. There are aspects of me in it, but I am elsewhere. I am not here in a way, i am in my soul.

    You are right, the truth is out there. There’s the calling and we must fight Wilderness to reveal it. It gets more and more interesting to me to try and reveal it through the shadows of automated life.

    Robert Kiyosaki wrote, “you must have a plan for when you don’t have any money at all, and you must also have a plan for when you have a lot of money.”

    A plan for the years out of the Wilderness, when we are what we Must be, but also a plan for the years while we are facing the jungle on our every single step and what we are is just a distant light. What a beautiful idea.

    My plan for this period of thin cows is (1) not to lose my priorities, which is easy to do – I wrote them one day and I find myself reading them often and thinking, “oh, if I wouldn’t have them written down, I would have forgotten them”, and (2) to organize all the new dynamics so that I have a more safe ground where I can write the book.

    But there is a (3) too. I must sit down and write before I am ready.

    We must put one foot in front of the other.

    Carpe Diem.

    • Kate Stanton on December 28, 2022 at 9:06 am

      Dear Tolis,
      Just know you aren’t alone in how you feel or experience this–Resistance will make you feel like you are, but this blog is proof that you aren’t. Also, your big picture perspective hasn’t quite caught up to your journey yet–humans experience teeny tiny steps at a time in order to process it I think. You’re on the right path. Your soul is calling out to you and you’re responding–time doesn’t exist in that plane, so try not to put the same rules as we do “here” (what I tell myself anyway!!) Happy New Year, Tolis!!

  17. Ed Hinman on December 28, 2022 at 8:11 am

    Great point, Steve. Too many are wearing the golden handcuffs. Even if it means they get up an hour early and perform their creative act, their life will improve. And now they have a foothold for the battles to come.

  18. Jackie on December 28, 2022 at 9:22 am

    You can’t hide from a Wilderness Passage in the lowest echelons of material non-success either. I debated about posting this, but if anything, I’m not a complete chicken shit. Maybe it will help someone else.
    After a series of unfortunate events, I quit. Dropped the pen on the desk and walked away.Spent pointless days in awful, ugly clothes scarfing cookies. Shameful pity party. All the sugar made me sick. Hated myself for giving in and giving up too. That lasted two and a half weeks. Still not sure if the godess wants me to become one tough mother or if she’s hell bent on driving me mad. If the latter, I could finish with my own version of Alice in Wonderland. Yesterday I dropped three noodles in that jar of accomplishment (thanks Maureen). I might toss all the pages in the can by the end of today. But I’ll be back tomorrow. The goddess just won’t quit on me. I hope I prove worthy. Wish all a great year ahead. Don’t anyone of you give up. Thanks Steve and all who show up here for the support and hope you give.

    • Brian Nelson on December 28, 2022 at 10:16 am

      Jackie,
      No, you are not a complete chicken shit! That line alone brought a smile to my face. Been toying with my own schedule/priorities of late. Running is so critical to my mental wellbeing…but I still struggle with running as slowly as I do right now.

      I think there is an age–somewhere between 28-34, where my view of myself becomes firmly entrenched. I could run 7 minute miles forever at 28…not at 53. 7 minute miles now comprise an interval on speed days!

      This mornings run was brutally slow, hard (cold, wet, and windy up here in Tacoma)-and my HR was 5-10 bpm higher than usual. Frustrating at times to measure everything…

      Also been screwing around with cold exposure. Check this out: https://hubermanlab.com/using-deliberate-cold-exposure-for-health-and-performance/

      …one of the benefits of freezing for 1-3 minutes (I’m only on day 5…worked up to 60 seconds just today in shower) is it mitigates depression. I’m probably projecting, but my suspicion creatives are more susceptible to deep lows–maybe synonymous with The Wilderness. Anyway, I decided that if there is a measure I can do, no matter how much it sucks, to mitigate the chances of tipping dark–then I’m irresponsible to myself and everyone I care about to ignore it. 11 minutes a week is all it takes…

      Well done on the macaroni…been thinking about what my 10 hours will include. For me it will likely include ‘setting the conditions’ habits that ground me (devotional, journal, PT, cold exposure) and include that time in my production time.

      Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
      bsn

  19. Kat on December 28, 2022 at 10:03 am

    Question…………….What happens when you finally leave the wilderness with your hair on fire, only to find , perhaps a decade or more later, that you’ve been in another one? Has anyone else experienced that?
    Thanks Steven for the great food to munch on.

    • Jackie on December 28, 2022 at 11:41 am

      Kat,
      Sometimes it seems like the wilderness is present in every damn day. Just keep going and don’t eat too many cookies.

      • Kat on December 29, 2022 at 11:14 am

        Thanks Jackie, does feel that way on many days.

    • Steven Pressfield on December 28, 2022 at 1:40 pm

      Kat, for an excruciating (but totally true and honest … and long) discussion on this, scroll to the top of this page and click on BLOG. When you’re taken there, look on the right at MOST POPULAR and click on the bottom post, “WRITING IS A BAD IDEA.” Make sure you read all the Comments.

      P.S. Have a good stiff drink handy before you do this.

      • Kat on December 29, 2022 at 11:21 am

        Thanks Steven,
        That was long, interesting and worth it. Boy did her letter touch a nerve. I found her response to the comments later on unexpected but positive.

    • Gary on December 29, 2022 at 4:47 am

      Yes, I’ve experienced it many times – you’d think I would have learned by now!
      I blame two of my well-meaning high school teachers: one made the revelatory (to me) comment that “education doesn’t end when school does – you should keep learning your whole life”, while the other one said that “in life, you mostly learn from your mistakes”. Well guess what? They were both right.

      When I was about to start a government office job, I was warned (again, correctly) by another well-meaning acquaintance that it would be ‘soul destroying’. But I did it for a couple of years anyway – so maybe my soul has a deathwish? Or maybe, like Steven says, these types of experiences are mandatory – necessary mistakes to learn from.

      I’m now 68 and sort of retired. When people enquire about my occupation, I usually respond with something along the lines of “I’m still working on it”, or “haven’t decided yet” – neither of which are altogether untrue.

      I think the secret might be to just keep at it and don’t ‘settle’ for someone else’s idea of how to live your life. Whether you’re ‘successful’ or not is immaterial – the journey’s the thing.

      • Kat on December 29, 2022 at 11:46 am

        Thanks Gary,
        The advice that I received was along the lines of “Focus on one thing and one thing only and give it everything.” There is wisdom in that, but I have a somewhat fickle Muse. Painting, illustration, poetry.
        When pursuing one, the other two waved their hands. That can sometimes feel like its own wilderness based on the aforementioned advice. That advice wasn’t just given, it was hammered, drilled and varnished.
        And yes, I fled a government position as well, but did not wise up as quickly as you did. All of life’s experiences filled the well, and it is about the journey, I agree. But there are those late nights on occasion when I still ask what I want to be when I grow up . Even at 69, I wonder if that ever ends? Maybe that question keeps us young and still creative .

        • Susanne Dejanovich on December 29, 2022 at 7:00 pm

          Well , I am a fairly youthful 81 year old and I am feeling totally lost in life. I do not write but I have tons of art supplies and a horse. Just can’t get motivated this year. I love reading everyone’s comments. This page is full ov wisdom.

          I am searching for somewhere to visit and regain my old enthusiasm for life.

  20. Maureen Anderson on December 28, 2022 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for sharing more about how you grew up, Kate. Isn’t it interesting, the layers we’re gradually peeling back, here? Not all at once, of course. Because whether interviewing for a job or dating someone, it’s more fun to unwrap someone slowly.

    Tolis, “the best of the ensemble of mediocre choices” is poetry!

    Jackie, my heart soared at your mention of dropping three noodles “in that jar of accomplishment.” Maybe you’re finding, as I have, it’s much more satisfying to move a physical object (even something as tiny as a noodle) from one place to another than it is to note the same thing digitally.

    And Brian, while everyone’s different, my macaroni noodles represent books in progress. They don’t necessarily represent writing (though writing’s more fun!); outlining and pitching and other things count if they advance the cause of those books.

    I’m only on Week 3 of The Great Macaroni Experiment, and already I’m a new person. I don’t second-guess anything when I’m working; I just work, and that’s relaxing. It’s so much less stress to just go ahead and be the person I aspire to be.

    Plus there’s the whole “announcing it on Steve’s site” thing. I can’t imagine piping in a year from now to say, “Hey, guys! I gave up!”

    Whatever it takes…

    • Brian Nelson on December 28, 2022 at 4:58 pm

      Maureen,
      Appreciate the clarification. Setting the conditions are critical to me as well–and a good barometer for where I’m at. See you next year…
      bsn

  21. Jackie on December 28, 2022 at 11:49 am

    Brian, I recently discussed the cold exposure theory with a friend. She loves the cold and was all, “Yea!” I am more suited for hot. But what the hell, after what felt like a slush ball to the face and snow shoved down the shirt, I’m going for thirty seconds. LOL. Maureen, I tried chocolate covered coffee beans, but the accomplishments didn’t stay in the jar. I’m less apt to devour uncooked macaroni. I’m sticking with that. Headed out to add another noodle to the jar. Thanks all.

    • Brian Nelson on December 28, 2022 at 4:57 pm

      Jackie,
      I also abhor the cold. Old Cali boy at heart, I am solar powered and prefer the heat. Sauna after nearly every workout–and there is great benefits to heat exposure as well.

      I’m trying to rewire my brain–making discomfort/difficulty/pain my North Star–doubt it will ever change, but the cold is so damn frightening and uncomfortable to me that I know I need to do it.
      bsn

      • Jackie on December 28, 2022 at 5:45 pm

        Thanks Brian, facing my Everest. May as well face the cold too. Never did do anything easy. Well, maybe one job out of countless others. Hurah!

  22. Stephen S. Power on December 28, 2022 at 12:02 pm

    This strikes very close to home, me knowing of a guy lost in the corporate wilderness and who killed himself to escape (ironically, he really wanted to work in the actual wilderness). Also that’s a brilliant reading of Cheever (“The Swimmer” most obviously) and Updike.

  23. Lore/Ekphrastic Mama on December 28, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    Yes to: we’re all at some point going to catch that ship for Tarshish … and we’re all going to wind up you-know-where.

  24. Brian Nelson on December 28, 2022 at 3:37 pm

    The Wilderness Passage is mandatory. That is so refreshing to read.

    Still in this space of thinking about comfort vs suffering. Comfort sings to me, tempting me like Odysseus. I’m old enough to have sufficient examples to know better, from gluttony induced stomach aches, to empty physical relationships, to securing a financially terrific job only to hate it.

    The illusion of comfort equating to happiness is powerful. “When this is over, I’ll finally be ______.” Happy, relaxed, at ease, safe, content, done with hard word all fit in the above blank.

    Big difference between pleasure and ability to sit quietly in a room alone. The specific knowledge/wisdom required to understand lies of comfort seem to fall into the category of ‘must be experienced, cannot be taught by another’–which might be why ‘the Wilderness Passage is mandatory.”

    Steve, the gratitude I feel for your work/example/modeling and candor about it all is beyond words.

    There is hope on this page. That, often, is the last fuel I have when in a knife fight with myself.
    bsn

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  28. sam on December 30, 2022 at 2:13 pm

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  29. Renita C Wellman on January 1, 2023 at 6:01 pm

    Aphrodite— goddess of life, love, creativity —was so beautiful that when she appeared in front of the other Olympian gods and goddesses, who were all related, she was automatically admitted as one of them. In a way she democratized the system. Brought them down to earth.
    Anyhoo,
    We have spoken of confusion as a trick of Resistance. Another way of looking at confusion is a Forrest to the next level of our personal evolution.
    Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar views it as a good thing: we are tasked with leaving a former state behind. The overworked analogy is the transmutation of the caterpillar to the butterfly. Astrologers say we are on the brink of unseen evolution into light and love and community.
    If so then writers have a huge role to play right now.
    I’m feeling the pull away from a “job” toward letting go of everything in order to write, draw, paint, create stories, make sense of new science or just be. It’s confusion time.

  30. Ben on January 2, 2023 at 8:13 am

    So interesting that this post mentions the profession of psychotherapy, no psychotherapy itself, as a journey and place to challenge and overcome….I’ve been considering that profession for years, hemming and hawing, and unable to make a decision. Silver Linings Playbook was one of a handful of films that really changed my perspective and life…An interesting concurrence of ideas…
    I’m still not sure exactly what to do, but I do feel the powerful pull to do something more, do something different…

    • Renita C Wellman on January 3, 2023 at 6:22 am

      Ben
      Since I decided not to pursue traditional clinical psychology and took a degree in industrial organizational psychology instead I have been teaching.
      The field of psychotherapy has been subsumed by life coaches.
      More and more of my students are being guided by therapists to learned to breathe and many meditate.
      Other yoga, breathing practice, and meditation practice and diet based evolution are taking off.
      There are more reports of the mental benefits of fasting and other methods of entering ketosis.
      I suggest I investigating new paradigms. Jason Fung MD is helpful re fasting.
      Hope this is helpful.

      • Ben on January 6, 2023 at 11:15 am

        Thank you Renita,
        Why did you choose industrial and organizational instead of clinical?
        Are you referring to therapists who are marketing themselves as coaches, or people who simply become coaches? It seems as though there are many options out there….

  31. Derek on January 5, 2023 at 5:10 pm

    P;ease make sure you do an audible book

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