Reference Points #3: Goals and Dreams

Here’s a short section from my new memoir, Govt Cheese:

I wake up in my van. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know who I am. The reality of my existence is that my identity, if I ever had one, has dissolved. Goals. Do I have any? I can’t even conceive of the possibility. A purpose? To survive until tomorrow. I open the van’s side doors. It’s warm. I’m in a dirt turnout at the edge of a farmer’s field. Corn. Oh yeah, I’m in Iowa. Where, I have no clue. It takes me a moment to remember where I’m going. East? West? Where am I coming from? 

Mine was actually light blue.

Goals and a purpose are reference points too. (As distinguished from material reference points like Where I Work, Whom I’m Married To, What Time Is It?) Goals and purposes ground us. “Oh yeah, I’m doing this so I can get into Harvard!” “I’m working out so I can compete in the Ironman in nine months.”

But in the wilderness, we don’t have those reference points. We are free-floating. We’re unmoored, unhinged, untethered.

In a way, this is good.

What it means at the soul level is that we have left behind our old goals and dreams and are seeking new ones—ones that are more in alignment with our Real Self.

For me, on my Wilderness Passage, the goals and purpose I was seeking (though I had no idea of this at the time) were the ones I was running from in the first place. I wanted to write. I wanted to find my voice. I had ambition. I wanted to act upon it. But I had been devastated emotionally by the failure that was my first attempt at achieving this.

For me, the new reference points I was seeking were the same as the ones I had left behind. What I needed was the courage (or in my case, the desperation) to face those fears again and, this time, do it right.

We said earlier in this series that every Wilderness Passage, like Odysseus’s across the Aegean, was about Coming Home. That’s what it was for me. I had to go through my own version of hell to get back to what my goals and purpose were from the very start.

P.S. We still have 75 signed first editions of GOVT CHEESE: A Memoir. available here. It ain’t too late!


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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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.



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.



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?"



  1. Laurie on May 24, 2023 at 2:07 am

    The stars stay the same but if you travel from The Northern part of Iceland to the Southern tip of Tasmania.. they change.
    Or maybe they don’t and it’s you had changed.
    Changed perspective. Or is it that you can’t see things the way you did.
    Changed seasons and seas. But isn’t it all the same?
    Just getting there changes you. Maybe the goals change or maybe it’s you -seahardened after life’s trials that you view them differently.

    Thank you – I love your honesty and courage Steve – you gave Resistance a face and name, even though it is eons old and has been called others… Resistance implies it has a point of breaking of crashing down. It made so much sense.

    • Kathy on May 24, 2023 at 7:47 am

      Beautiful. Love what you wrote too.

      • Kathy on May 24, 2023 at 8:12 am

        Steve, everything you wrote here caused me to think deeper. I’m still digesting and seeing me in it. I guess that’s what hooks us to what someone writes? What is relatable? Finding ourselves, even in a not likely, for us, circumstance?

        I want to walk the Camino de Santiago. I’m not sure which route, because I’m not sure I’ll ever find the courage to actually do it. I need to though. I need to find myself sleeping in a van, somewhere, not being sure of anything but the challenge of surfacing out of my ordinary, banal, everyday, self. You do that with your writing. Thank you. I escaped from sitting on the couch with 2 cats and a little white poodle. As sweet as that is, it has no challenge to live life. I am absorbed, still, a bit of a year later, after losing my husband. I’m drowning in tears. Where is that van, on the side of the road?

        I incessantly watch YouTubes of other people walking the Camino, pushing themselves. I do that in hopes it rubs off, of course. What you wrote here, prompts that too. I want to find, in myself, that person, who goes past pathetic perceptions that paralyze any sense of adventure.

        • Steven Pressfield on May 24, 2023 at 9:13 am

          Kathy, there’s a very interesting new book from my friend Joanna Penn called “Pilgrimage.” She walked the Camino and two others (Canterbury and I-forgot-the-0ther … in England). You can find it (I think) on or just google “Joanna Penn.” Good luck! It’s harder than I thought!

          • Kathy on May 24, 2023 at 12:05 pm

            Yay. I’ll look for it. Thank you.

          • Kathy on May 24, 2023 at 12:09 pm

            Ordered on Amazon 👣

        • Laurie on May 24, 2023 at 4:04 pm

          It is hard to leave the love and comfort in your pets after your loss. I am truly sorry for the loss of your husband.
          I think it’s amazing that the Camino calls to you… Few could run a marathon without training – so consider some little pilgrimages a warm up.
          Courage is a muscle and fear is a muscle. You can choose to build on courage and diminish the fear.
          I would suggest starting with smaller adventures first – pull up a map online of your home and surrounding area- close your eyes and place your finger on the map..take a day trip somewhere new.. drive or train.
          Visit a museum in another city or National Park nearby… Walk somewhere with the intention of it being a pilgrimage like the Camino. Heart open and willing to experience everything the day has to offer.
          Build up to a weekend away or a retreat…
          You’ll be braver than you can imagine.
          Best of luck with the Camino.🦪🐚 those are Scallop shells for good luck!

          • Kathy on May 24, 2023 at 10:08 pm

            Laurie! WONDERFUL advice. All of it. Courage has a muscle and doing small adventures and training. Very kind of you to write something so lovely and generous. Thank you.

      • Laurie on May 24, 2023 at 3:43 pm

        Thanks Kathy – Steve’s discussion of reference points is such a resonant topic for all times of life… I can see it’s something you are in the midst of.

        • Kathy on May 24, 2023 at 10:12 pm

          Beautiful art Laurie. I checked out your website.

    • Karen Ball on May 24, 2023 at 12:25 pm

      This resonates so deeply. Thank you!!

  2. edgar van asselt on May 24, 2023 at 2:59 am

    I guess the wilderness forces you to take a deeper look at yourself and examine your values and drive. At least, that’s what I did in my case. If you truly want to put out an authentic creative invention in the world, than the consequence (at least on short term) is, you have to waive any desire for support from the outside world. For there is nobody to engage in this process otherwise that you yourself, so actually the wilderness is beneficial to this.

    to be really ‘on your own’ is confronting, but in my case, it really helped me getting to do the thing i really wanted to do.

    • Brian Nelson on May 24, 2023 at 6:49 am

      Your post brought me back to a moment about 10 years ago. We produce a foot race up and down stairs at this iconic stadium where I live. Our main product, besides the experience itself, is the race t-shirt.

      One day, about 3 weeks before the race, but well after the shirt order was placed, my wife calls me in a panic. Our shirts will not make it. There was some kind of disaster. We failed.

      At the time I was driving north on I-5, near the mall. I was already wound up, and this news made my guts tighten and my bowels feel loose.

      I had this moment when I thought, “What if we just quit? What would happen? Who really cares about this stupid little race anyway?”

      Someone, another Brian, answered, “Well then you’d steal the joy from the 350 people who plan to run that Sunday.”

      For some unknown reason, I had this moment of reflection about my situation. I was as stressed as I had ever been (shame and fear of disappointing others–being kicked out of the tribe–were the stress inducers — at least that is what I think now), but I did not take it out on my wife when she called. I did not go into a crazy road-rage incident and smash other cars off the highway. From the outside, no one would know I was freaking out on the inside.

      I hated this feeling, wanted to make it go away–BUT, I could take it. It wasn’t going to kill me. I glanced at the mall and then my phone and thought, “What if all the people who were capable of holding what I am right now, wanted to build something but instead dumped it? If they chose to quit? There would be nothing. No iPhone, no roads, no mall, no stores–no nothing. No music, no movies, no stories, no babies, no life. The cost of creation is this horrible feeling I have right now–but this will also pass.”

      All of my life I conflated artistry with creativity, so I never saw myself as creative. We are all creatives, and the cost of creation is a very lonely pain, but like all emotions, it passes.

      • Nom de Plume on May 25, 2023 at 7:22 pm

        All of my life I conflated artistry with creativity, so I never saw myself as creative. We are all creatives, and the cost of creation is a very lonely pain, but like all emotions, it passes.

        Hear, hear, brother!

  3. Kathryn Cooper on May 24, 2023 at 3:22 am

    Your post made me realize that as painful as this wilderness is, I have come to like the freedom, the undisciplined mind and spirit, the possibilities the chaos and even the destruction of being unmoored. As rime moves inexorably forward from the all is lost event, feel myself settling and my mind and being returning to order. Have I fully received the message? Does it get lost in this sanity, forgotten in the mundane? I know that it cant’t be forced or ginned up. The wasteland is elemental- no trifling with it. In whatever shape I am being pushed back up to surface of this living I suppose I have to figure out how to work with it. I started writing in the wasteland. I felt liberated to do so. I wonder what it will be like as I emerge.

  4. Jackie on May 24, 2023 at 4:30 am

    Do you ever get to a point where you say, “I have reached my destination?” Will you know that the destination is where you were meant to be?

    • Steven Pressfield on May 24, 2023 at 9:14 am


      • Jackie on May 24, 2023 at 9:33 am

        Good enough. I’ll keep showing up. Thanks!

  5. Jerry on May 24, 2023 at 4:37 am

    Ahh, the bain and pain of the existential human experience. And the glory of your realization of where you are when you are there. And the rub of the two constantly challenging you. Good things come to those who wait or they don’t. Nothing except everything is forever until it isn’t. Another morning of another day and the course awaits me. Will my handicap support me to victory or my balls be lost and scattered in the rough. Yes, another glorious day awaits us. If only we have the vision and the courage to see and face it!

  6. Marvin Ginsberg on May 24, 2023 at 4:40 am

    Wow. Great. It really hits home.

  7. joseph ashton on May 24, 2023 at 4:42 am


  8. Bruce Devlin on May 24, 2023 at 5:42 am

    As always, words of wisdom from a great writer !!

  9. Trina Morgan on May 24, 2023 at 8:16 am

    Good, good stuff.

  10. Thomas Hewlett on May 24, 2023 at 8:16 am

    I’m literally walking through the wilderness right now. I’m 476 miles into the Pacific Crest Trail, carrying a tiny laptop in my pack and spending my evenings finishing a book in in my tent. What you said about courage and facing fears hit home. Out here there’s nothing to distract me from my need and desire to finish this book. I walk all day, write all night, and just keep moving forward through all the doubt and fear. That being said, I’m really looking forward to whatever is on the other side of all this!

  11. Tolis on May 24, 2023 at 12:32 pm

    Thank you so much dear Steve,

    by the way my first car was also light blue: a -about 30-40 years old- Fiat Mirrafiore, if you remember. It was given by my dad’s crazy old friend and coworker who then got himself a used BMW. I was almost a child in terms of maturity and Resistance was a hidden dominant Force. After a few years, I remember it often struggling and stopping while making it uphill. One day I gave it to another interesting man, who I think turned it to pieces or just threw it away.

    I definetily lost my reference points when I came to work at Crete on November. Yet there they are calling me from all sides: a howling from above a jank yard, a whispering from below a pillow, an organized, maybe multidimensional thought inside the skull, a mentor whom I had forgotten but now acknowledge their wisdom more, an immense beauty of some kind etc.

    In the night there is that light that communicates with us. It could be anything from a crushed can to the Muse or the Devil.

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  14. RobertEvans on June 2, 2023 at 4:32 am

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