The All is Lost Moment
Almost every Wilderness Passage reaches its crisis in what screenwriters call an “All Is Lost Moment.”
This is true in movies and it’s true in real life.
What is an All Is Lost Moment? It’s when the hero, i.e. you and me lost in the Wilderness, hits the wall. We reach a dead end in which all our efforts to resolve our personal crisis come to naught. In the All Is Lost Moment, we see no way forward and no way back. We are lost, in the darkest, most fatal sense.
Paradoxically, our All Is Lost Moment is pregnant with hope. If we can find our way over/under/through whatever it is that is blocking us, we can achieve a breakthrough that will save us … or at least propel us, still breathing, into the next phase of our journey.
Here’s a movie example of an All Is Lost Moment. In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise as reckless-but-unbeatable fighter pilot Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has been assigned to train a dozen crack naval aviators to fly a desperate mission. Maverick has embraced the challenge and, over weeks of training, has become emotionally attached both to the fliers and the mission. Suddenly his guardian commander, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) dies. At once, Maverick finds himself at the mercy of his arch-enemy, by-the-book Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm).
Cyclone promptly fires Maverick, informing him he will never fly for the Navy again—“permanently.” For Maverick, this is a fate worse than death.
The All Is Lost moment is ubiquitous in books, movies, legends, myths, sagas, and epics, not to mention TED talks.
Huck Finn hits an All Is Lost moment when he must write a letter turning in his great friend, the runaway slave, Jim.
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) hits one in Casablanca when he must give up the love of his life, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).
You and I hit ours, in real life, when we, as Peter Finch said in the movie Network, “run out of bullshit.”
Suddenly we find outselves face-to-face with the issue we have run from or evaded or been in denial of for our whole life and we have no clue how to combat or overcome it.
I’m going to go into excruciating detail on this subject in the coming weeks, both as it applies to fiction and to our real lives.
It’s all under the heading of our Passage through the Wilderness.
Brilliant as always.
That period of darkness has come everytime I have refused to give myself to the call of adventure, the call to create. Because doing something like creating would bring me to face myself expressively, the voice of Resistance always tried to convince me into self-sabotage.
Thanks to you, Jocko, Dr Peterson, and Joseph Campbell, I’ve found tools to get to the chapter after that.
Your words are a life-saver and a reminder to stay awake and not wish, hope and wait through life. Thank you.
Thanks. Epic and true.
“Suddenly we find outselves face-to-face with the issue we have run from or evaded or been in denial of for our whole life and we have no clue how to combat or overcome it.
I’m going to go into excruciating detail on this subject in the coming weeks, both as it applies to fiction and to our real lives.
It’s all under the heading of our Passage through the Wilderness.”
Bring it on, Steven!
Through the proverbial ordeal of ‘forty days, and forty nights,’allow the metaphorical burning bush to speak divinely inspired wisdom, toward the creation of a new and lasting covenant. .
From your conviction, and your clarity of writing, I imagine the beginning of something new and powerful, in the heroic journeys of each of your readers.
I, for one, am ready.
Good to know that wandering, feeling purposeless is all part of the drama.
100% this. Definitely on that chapter currently… turning the page to the next one!
Steve, you are no longer a writer, you in the tradition of at least your ethnic faith are now a prophet… Good for you but now you will have to address both the agony and the ecstasy of that deep call
Steve, I’m in a “All is Lost Moment” here in my life. I’m getting divorce, I lost my business and also I’m in personal bankrupcy. But I’m still standing up and also, and most important of all, I’m alive.
I know, more or less, where do I have to go to rebuilt my life once again. At the same time I discover my purpose, my life mission.
So I’ll keep walking, with faith that I’m already a sucessfull person and I’m already a more strong a true person.
Irony of life, you start the willderness blogs when I was entering my “All is lost moment”.
You got it, Francisco! “When you’re going through hell, keep on going!”
Glad you’re still standing, Francisco.
i haven’t read your blog in a few months. although i get the emails every eek. here i am, facing health and financials issues, being spit on by persons that i would hope cared for me [a daughter i took a 3rd job to support while she finishes college, a son who believed his father’s lies and thinks i did not support him through school], trying to keep my oldest daughter [she is diagnosed bipolar hypermania depressive, and is in H recovery. she is the only child i got 100% custody of in the divorce] stable, paying the rent, and wondering if i will have time for my own goals before i die.
and then i remind myself that i survived 1994, and i survived 2007, and the cloud of despair of 2020 to 2023 is nothing compared to that, it is cake, it is soft waves on the sand, it is a bicycle ride on a shaded rail-to-trail.
Thank you, Steven, for slapping me into sense.
I was looking for a mental prompt for my 60km ride this morning on the ocean side road I now and forever call the Isla road. Thanks, this is exactly the perfect prompt.
You took my pulse and then expressed it. Thank you Steven.
Thank you for the encouragement.
It’s reaching the point where you ask yourself, can you really not do this, are you ok with that, forever?
Any way in, is a way in.
Can’t wait. I’m hooked. Every Wednesday is like Christmas.
You have hit upon something very real in life.
It is very important to be IN TUNE with one’s mindset at such a moment. Because emotions can drown our thinking BRAIN.
Sometimes an affirmation can be a good tool to remind us.
One I find useful is :God help me to help myself …and then fill the next space with the ACTION or BEHAVIOR, HABIT, OR PRACTICE that needs to be performed….
“Suddenly we find outselves face-to-face with the issue we have run from or evaded or been in denial of for our whole life and we have no clue how to combat or overcome it.”
Couldn’t it also be external? For example, when someone else’s destruction or lack of responsibility becomes your problem. When you have to find a way out of their mess. Or it could be a natural disaster or a war that wipes away everything you love and posses and then it becomes an all is lost moment not just for you, but for your entire community.
Within the context of the wilderness journey, it is a different all is lost moment than you described above, because you are not the architect of your own destruction, you are an innocent bystander to nature or war, you are the target of someone’s maliciousness or apathy. Maybe it is easier for you to push forward because you are not continually trying to halt your own progress, but you are also lacking control of the destruction in the first place.
My darkest moment came when someone else could not face who they were. Their all is lost moment became my all is lost moment. The kids were imploding, the house was in foreclosure, I had no idea what was going to happen to us. Writing was off the table, gardening was off the table, self was off the table. All I did was work and worry and email teachers about why the kids were struggling in school. Until the original all is lost moment was tragically resolved, mine could not be resolved. They were inextricably intertwined.
Or maybe this is a different concept all together?
Colleen, if the fundamental aspect of the all is lost moment is death and rebirth (be it a circumstance or an aspect of our persona), then surely your experience falls into this range.
Just hit that wall in life this morning… looking forward to some form of hope, to be sure! Thanks for your post!
Thank you Steven for the timely advice. I’m a believer in the original synchronicity of Jung, events occur that have great meaning to us without any prior causal action on my part. Or as Dr. Wayne Dyer said, information you need will appear when you are ready and it is needed. Like others have noted, I may be at my all is lost moment, but maybe not. Other philosophers have noted, that giving up too early is the primary reason for people failing to achieve their goals. I have been working for several years on my own approach to building and sustaining my version of positivity. Your comment today is the antidote for hopefully temporary discouragement. Looking forward to the rest of the discussion.
Hello, sorry for my English I am french …Nobody is perfect…
I would say that in all lives and stories, you need an “all is lost moment” because, paradoxalicaly, you have to loose your self in order to find it. We are blind. We dont’k know who we are and what we are really searching for until we hit the wall. Until we get lost, desperate. Now we know for sure we are not in the right track. Our body feels it. Our brain too. Our heart is bleeding. Our energy is out.
Reality is ruthless.
So we may die.
Or find a way up. A way back, closer to our own self. More humble. Truer. More aligned with what we are really supposed to be and do.
As Alfred de Musset, a great French playwright said : “Man is an apprentice, pain is his master, And no one knows himself until he has suffered.”
Thank you Steve for your great inspiration, thank you all for your comments, souseful too.
This is beautiful in word and truth.
This is so true. Those who allow a little bit of pain especially volunteeringly… rip the reward of a strong mind that can withstand anything. nobody has a tough time than the person that always take the path less travelled.
This is going to be good. I’ve been editing a bunch of books for people who are “stuck,” and I’m glad it looks like you’ll be touching on something these books don’t: they could see the mud they were headed towards, so how do we avoid losing it all or at least prepping for losing it all. Says the person who avoided a third layoff by switching jobs–where he was subsequently laid off.
Looking forward to the passage through the wilderness posts. Interested in how to quit bullshitting ourselves and to face the hard stuff head on, shield down, sword drawn. (Apologies, I’ve a thing for antiquated weaponry.)
Yesterday, I came across a reference to the movie Beautiful Boy with Steve Carrell as the father of a drug addicted son, Nick. The movie is based on a true story. I’ve not watched the movie yet, but the reference shared was a scene where the son is in a recovery meeting. The son shares that a doctor approached him and asked, “ What’s your problem?” Nick replied, “I am an alcoholic and a drug addict.”
The doctor countered, “No, that’s how you are treating your problem.”
Makes you think.
Wishing all a great week.
“No, that’s how you are treating your problem.”
I just kicked nicotine–well, let’s say that nicotine addiction is in remission. I chewed from about 13-50…then finally dropped Copenhagen about 3 years ago. It was a knife fight. (It’s talons were dug into my soul…)
I used nicotine gum and pouches. Got me off the tobacco, but am still addicted to nicotine. I’m on week 4 without nicotine–and that MD is correct. All sorts of other problems have arisen that I’ve numbed with nicotine for decades.
I feel like a new born fawn, stumbling around with raw emotions/reactions that I’ve ‘crutched’ my way through for years.
So, I have to answer the same question, “What is my problem?”
Thanks for the wisdom Jackie!
Brian, wishing you success in your fight. I kicked nicotine way back and know many others who continue to fight. Hang in there. You are welcome, but the wisdom isn’t mine. I’m only the conductor in this instance. I have faith in you. Have faith in you too.
Big heart emoji. Thanks Jackie. The trick, I think, is remembering that I quit 3-10 months from now when something dramatic knocks me sideways.
I have tossed it aside for long stretches before (1 year, 18 months, 1 year…) then something like a deployment, a cross-country drive, or something surprising had me pulling into a convenience store to buy a can of Cope.
Another observation: there is nothing good in a convenience store. If you find yourself at AM/PM turn around and walk out.
Just finished your memoir. Loved it!!
Thank you, Steve! My “run out of bullshit” moment is like in Maverick–less thinking more ACTION!! Shutting up the inner critic enough to just do it. Stop whining. Stop making excuses. Just do it!! Have an awesome week, writers.
“Break on through to the other side.” – The Doors
“You and I hit ours, in real life, when we, as Peter Finch said in the movie Network, “run out of bullshit.” —–when we have to stop telling ourselves stories around the campfire of Truth we are dancing around and jump into the fire that is our true being…..thanks for your posts Steve. They continue to help push me past my bullshit stories to the ones that count.
Not only harrowing and true, but EXACTLY where I am in business and in life right fckng now!
Invoices and outgoings far exceed incoming revenue and current prospects.
Bank balance dropping faster than a downed UAP over US air space.
As a character in one of Beckett’s novels said, “I can’t go on. I can’t go on. I must go on.”
I love the insight that we hit the “All is Lost Moment “when we have “run out of bullshit”.
Does that mean that Resistance is a bullshit generation machine?!
I’m a freelance magazine writer and writing isn’t my problem. I can write the hind leg off a jackass. My problem is RESISTANCE. I continued to research and first-draft a dozen articles during the Covid doldrums, but many of the markets I sold to prior to Covid didn’t resume publishing. The inflight magazines are a good example. I have links and tear sheets to send to new editors and publications, but I feel like I’m back at Square One in the 70s. It must be Fear of Rejection, bizarre after all my writing years, but it’s every bit as crippling and frustrating as fiction writers hopelessly stuck in the middle of their novels.
Thanks so much, Steve, for all your suggestions for recognizing and overcoming Resistance.
Nice one, Steve. I look forward to the upcoming posts and always appreciate you breaking down story writing.
This message came to me at the perfect time. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to reading your memoir!
Another inspiring message from a great writer and teacher.
I saw this on a calendar on my supervisor’s desk.
“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
-Jean de La Fontaine
I’m not ready, but it’s time.
I LOVE IT! I’ve often thought about how life never sucker punches me after 8 hours of sleep, well fed, and feeling powerful. It is always when I feel my weakest. One reason we try to train in such miserable circumstances in the military. Why CrossFit is so popular–there is rarely time for a 1 minute rest in a knife fight, whether that is with a person, oneself, or an issue.
It is time.
I feel like Steven ran out of bullshit a long time ago. Lucky for us, we get to benefit from the fruits of his labours and inspiration from his teaching. Thank you Mr Pressfield, this was a great teaser for a subject I look forward to delving into. I feel like I’ve just hit that all-is-lost moment in life so synchronicity is at work here.
Dark forest, here we come!
I am new to this place but have been and avid reader and follower of Mr. Pressfield’s library of work. Long story, short. I lost my 14 year daughter to a drunk driver. An All is Lost Moment. I reread the Gates of Fire, annually, especially, Book Eight, Thermopylae. My silent lurking, thirsting on every bit of your expertise from all of you, allowed to write a book of my personal All is Lost.
Thank you seems so inadequate.
There is no way I can empathize, but want to say you’re brave. So brave.
I’m so sorry, Leo!
Leo, I can’t imagine. Hearts out, friend.
So we’ve discussed numerous passages into and out of the Wilderness, that life itself is the Wilderness, there is no choice we all enter the Wilderness and many other subtopics under this Wilderness umbrella.
This begs the question, how many/frequent ‘all is lost moments’ do we have? What can we learn from them? Are they all the same?
My all is lost periods seem to have a very similar flavor/theme. “F-bomb it, this is too hard. I just can’t get it. I suck. I should just go get a job.” are just a few of the thoughts that surface. The behaviors that leap to mind are to run away. Drop responsibilities. Give up.
Oh–‘I’m better off alone’ is also a sneaky, insidious thought that jumps to mind amidst these moments as well.
Another observation. The duration of these moments has gotten smaller and smaller over the years. Sometimes I’d drop into a funk for weeks–maybe even months, while recently I had a 48 hour stint of hopelessness. Still sucks, but sucks less than feeling that way for months.
Said this before–but want to share again because I’ve found it so remarkable–been experimenting with cold exposure. Started in December with 20 seconds of cold at end of shower, then got to 90 seconds, finally bought a 100-gallon horse trough that sits in back yard. This morning’s water temp was around 32°. YIKES! The hardest part is getting into the water (and the next 20-45 seconds are not much of a pleasure cruise either).
The immediate, dramatic change in my mental health is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. My optimism, sense of efficacy/sovereignty and energy levels are immediately pegged. Crazy that something so short in duration can have such a dramatic impact.
Now, back to the work. Have a great day.
I’ve always wondered about cryotherapy, Brian. Maybe I’ll test your power of persuasion by trying FIVE seconds of cold at the end of my next shower!
Be prepared to gasp, gulp for air, and panic. My wife asked me what the heck was going on one morning when she was near enough to hear me breathe during the initial shock of cold water.
That initial blast is pretty intense. From what I’ve read/listened to on podcasts (mostly Huberman Lab or Found My Fitness) one only needs 11 minutes of cold exposure a WEEK to gain nearly all of the metabolic/biological benefits. (reduced inflammation, increase in dopamine, testosterone, cellular autophagy, etc.
The positive feedback I’ve experienced is subjective–so I did a measurement using a wearable (Biostrap) which measures HR, HRV, O2 levels, etc.
My HRV tripled during the cold exposure! Tripled. We want resting HR low, but HRV high. I am curious to see if I can raise my normal HRV after 6 months or so of cold exposure.
Have a great evening.
I’m dreading it already! Thanks?
Too funny. Truth? I dread it every day. That’s the hardest part—but pretty consistent with everything I want/need to do to accomplish anything. I don’t think the dread/fear ever goes away, I’m hoping I can nip it closer and closer to the bud when surfacing.
What is so weird about fear is its irrationality. I KNOW how I’ll feel when I get out. I KNOW that after 20-40 seconds, I’ll actually enjoy it. I KNOW the discomfort is sooo fleeting…and yet, I dread it. I make excuses why not to do it. Here is one of the more clever justifications my fearing mind as come up with, “Oooh. You’ve been doing this too often. Don’t want to become too cold adapted too soon–then I’ll have to stay longer/have the water colder…”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I read this. I always take cold showers in the morning, reason? I just hated the fact I had to get into a knife fight with every small resistance that blocked my way. My heart could be in the right place but I still weirdly kept hitting the snooze button. cold showers gave me the chance to simulate the resistance and as I confront it that way, I somehow managed to build some resilience and confident to easily get over the small things. now I hardly hit the snooze
Can I put the hot water back on at the six-second mark? Or does that cancel everything else out?
I’ve seen protocols that so just that. Hot then cold then hot then cold–I think Ben Greenfield has something like that.
Great comments here today! These are all dead on target:
Chrissie: “It’s reaching the point where you ask yourself, can you really not do this, are you ok with that, forever?” — Whoa, gut check!
Jackie: “The doctor countered, ‘No, that’s how you are treating your problem.’” — That slices right through all our bullshit defenses.
James: “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. – Jean de La Fontaine (The classic joke: one evening long ago, Death and his assistant were making their rounds in Brussels. They turn a corner and bump into a businessman, who sees Death, turns pale, screams in terror, turns and runs down the street to the train station. He sees a train pulling out of the station and jumps onto it, finally daring to breathe again. Back on the street, Death’s assistant says, “Ha, that guy was sure surprised to see you here!” Death says, “Not half as surprised as I was. I’m supposed to see him in Frankfurt in an hour!”)
Diane: I’m not ready, but it’s time.
Brian: I’ve often thought about how life never sucker punches me after 8 hours of sleep, well fed, and feeling powerful. It is always when I feel my weakest. – I’m gonna disagree with you a little bit, amigo. For me at least those relaxed and contented moments are when life brings out the sucker punch. All part of the game…
Final thought: a great description of the Wilderness from the great philosopher Van Halen:
It seems like forty days and forty nights
Since someone used my first name
The “all is lost” moment… so powerful when we see it in stories because it’s a mirror that reflects us back to ourselves. Experiencing our own all-is-lost moment(s) and also observing those moments in the lives of others. I’ve quit drinking a couple times now. Once for seven years and on this bid, 22 years. I’ve spent my time in church basements with bad coffee and cigarette smoke in the parking lot. In meetings, people will self-identify as a “low-bottom drunk” or a “high-bottom drunk.” The high-bottom drunk simply got tired of forgetting where she left her car or waking up with hangovers. The low-bottom drunk, on the other hand, might limp in on a cane, a leg maimed in a car crash they caused, in which another person may or may not have been killed, for which our hero may or may not have spent time in state prison. An AA meeting is a smorgasbord of all-is-lost-moments.
All is lost. Why’s it so effective in a story? Because it scares the shit out of us. Is Chuck (Tom Hanks) going to hang himself from a vine on a desert island, hopeless? Will George (Jimmy Stewart) jump from a bridge into icy waters, thinking that a paltry life insurance policy is worth more than his life? What would I do if I were at the end of my rope?
What scares us is that we just saw Jeff on Friday and he seemed great. He seemed fine. He was upbeat and energetic, alway outwardly positive. Jeff was a 46-year-old marketer with a wife and a 10-year-old son, whose soccer team Jeff coached. We weren’t “do things after work” buddies, but I called him a friend.
I just saw him in the office on Friday. I was telling him about the Rick Rubin book I was reading and he was asking for my help on a project he was leading (supporting a cancer drug our company makes). I left the conversation thinking, “Hmm, he seems under more pressure than I usually see him.” But it’s never just one thing.
Early Tuesday morning, an ad-hoc calendar invite dropped to the 50 of us in our creative services group. A 9:00 am, ambiguously titled meeting: “Touch base.” I wouldn’t have wanted to be our director, who carried the burden and responsibility of delivering the line: “There’s no easy way to tell you that Jeff R. passed away over the weekend.” To a collective gasp and immediate weeping, among men and women both.
When somebody dies of cancer, they say, “After a long battle…” When somebody dies in an car crash, they say, “Last night on a darkened stretch of County Road 550E…” When somebody has a cardiac event, they say, “He had a heart attack…”
When they say that a 46-year-old who worked out and had the shoulders of a much taller man, who had a full head of hair and a beautiful family, when they just say, “He passed away over the weekend,” you make some assumptions. And it’s like Voldemort. Don’t say its name.
I don’t know, friends. Life and death. In and out. Inhale and exhale. The hero’s journey, crossing boundary thresholds, entering the wilderness, battling the ego, coming back with something in your hands, something to give. It’s not all just a “great templates for my unwritten novel,” they’re maps for us to move through this 80-year-old long theme park we bought a ticket to.
I can’t say a lot more about Jeff. I can say that in our little group of 16 writers, people have reached out to check on each other, shared funny stories about Jeff, opened up and risked the vulnerability of sharing their own experiences with depression. People hug each other and aren’t so quick to let go.
Those cracks and how we move to fill them, patch them, heal them… this is probably what Leonard Cohen was getting at:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Thank you so much dear Steve!
If I could put the All is Lost moment in my words, I’d say it’s the end of the dead end where we were heading with our creation no matter how much we worked for it.
It is impossible to be perfect! And those who are may just be repeating themselves in joyful and commercial ways.
That moment in front of the wall may be the second/third/fourth etc. level calling. It calls us to go beyond the existing reality (the one we were living into as long as we were creating our work of art) and find a new reality. Will we find it? That’s crucial question number 1. Will it create perfection for our work of art? That’s the second question I guess. Or will we go the safe road? That can also be a question.
Going out of our way to find our way in a way..
Going out of our expendable self to find another not-yet-expendable self.
Going out of certainty to find the whole wolrd: it must be the world outside our hencoop, there lie many opportunities and many dangers.
We are called to be reborn from the ashes of our dead self, the self that died by letting itself unravel within our creation thus far.
P.s. I’m writing for 30 minutes every day since Monday! If I wanted more hours I wouldn’t possibly make it! Just the seed. Just the seed.
I’m so tired
Can someone help me find the quote from Steven that I’m trying to remember? Does this ring a bell?
It’s roughly on the idea that no matter what we’ve gone through, no matter how bused up we are, how damaged emotionally, there’s a part of us (the deep Self?) that’s NOT damaged and we can enlist that part when we do our work.
I am coming up empty but I don’t think I dreamt it. And I’d love to have it—may need to tattoo it to the eyelids. Thanks in advance for any help you can offer, fellow fans!
OOPS—that should be no matter how “busted” up we are!
I don’t know if you’ll find what you’re looking for here, Angela…
…but I enjoyed reading it (again?)!
Thank you very much, Maureen. I appreciate this. It wasn’t the quote I was thinking of but it’s an excellent post and very helpful!
Thanks for sharing this amazing article.
RTP SLOT GACOR.
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