Children in the Wilderness

We’ve been talking about Wilderness Passages in our individual lives. Today let’s consider a collective passage. 

Let’s look at the forty years that the children of Israel spent after fleeing bondage in Egypt.  

Charlton Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments”

Do any of these “beats” from their story resonate with your individual passage and mine?

1. The dream of a Promised Land. For the children of Israel, there was a hopeful future, the prospect of a “land of milk and honey”—a new home that was the people’s true home, once the passage was over.

The most painful part of any wilderness passage is the fear that it will never end. We feel that our suffering is meaningless, that we’re going nowhere. The tale of the Exodus promises otherwise, even though the Israelites doubted it time and time again during their ordeal.

2. Depth of suffering. The passage through the wilderness was so long and so hard—forty years—that its privation culled all but two (Joshua and Caleb) of the original generation that set forth from Egypt.

The metaphor, I think, is that the part of us that completes our individual passage has changed mightily from the part that originally set out—and that that original part must fall away before the newly-minted part can achieve completion. 

3. Many times, the people chickened out. Despite receiving heaven’s promise, the Israelites’ nerve failed them on numerous occasions. Starving in the wilderness, the children rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people wanted to go back to Pharoah, to the safety of their chains.

4. Divine intervention saved them, also multiple times. The parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, etc.

Like Odysseus protected by the goddess Athena, heavenly grace many times saved the day.

5. In the end, Moses—who had started it all and whom the Lord of Hosts honored beyond all others—was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. The conventional explanation for this (Moses’ pride in striking the rock with his staff to bring forth water for the people) has never completely rung true to me. Yet, on some ironic level, the Almighty’s proscription rings a bell. Like Martin Luther King’s, “I might not get there with you …”, this seems to be a tragic but necessary element to the story.

What could this mean for us as individuals on our passage? That our inner “leader,” our King archetype, must step aside at the moment of triumph? That he or she may open the gate for another part of ourselves but not, himself or herself, pass through?

It’s fascinating to me the way such collective passages mirror the stages and stations of our individual journeys in myth, legend, and fiction … and in our real lives.

There’s always an Ejection, an Ordeal, a falling-away of one part and the birth of another. And there’s a Promised Land at the end, where the entity—collective or individual—at last achieves an authenticity and a self-identity that was there all along but that had never, until then, been able to bring itself forth.


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. Jim Gant on June 7, 2023 at 1:56 am

    Steve…Boom. Truth. How much Truth can one take? This is an important question in all of our lives.

  2. Brinda on June 7, 2023 at 2:47 am

    So relatable. Thanks for writing it so well. I am in one such passage right now and you kind of made me aware of it. And now I am enjoying it.

    • Annelie on June 7, 2023 at 4:47 am

      Thank you,
      Yes, growth takes some shedding of old and adopting of new thoughts and behaviors and lifestyles. I love your writing, your depth , the spiritual, the honesty, and the ways hope is always on the horizon.. Thank you Mr. Steven Pressfield.

  3. Karin on June 7, 2023 at 2:53 am

    Love this.

  4. Debbie L Kasman on June 7, 2023 at 3:03 am

    Brilliant truth.

    • Joan Di Stefano on June 7, 2023 at 8:39 am

      Thanks ! I am in the middle of Wilderness right now . Glad to have a flashlight !

  5. jodypaynesays on June 7, 2023 at 3:29 am

    I love Wednesday mornings with you. Your insight into the beautiful tangle of life’s journey shows me of what was there all along.

    Jody Payne in Texas 5:30 am

  6. Mia Sherwood Landau on June 7, 2023 at 4:06 am

    Cycling through Torah every year or every three years in our Jewish congregations is supposed to help us see the passages in our own lives, right? But sometimes we miss them, in a “can’t see the forest for the trees” kind of way. Somehow, we need the omniscience of the Creator as we move our characters through their/our stories, revealing their passages to the reader, and hopefully to the characters themselves!

  7. Ed Lovern on June 7, 2023 at 4:32 am

    Amen. Thanks! Ed Lovern

    • Ed Lovern on June 7, 2023 at 4:34 am

      7:32 EST

  8. Stan Hustad on June 7, 2023 at 5:01 am

    Hi Steve …. And once again you demonstrate that you are moving from being a writer to a prophet. Who knows when you’re all done you might even be arrival to my great hero Abraham Heschel.

    And actually we need to hear your voice and your spoken word so I’m going to encourage you and I can help you find your way like Seth Godin to put out an occasional podcast in a conversational setting after you do your monologue..

    I guarantee you we would have a large audience and even your listeners not just your readers could participate in the storytelling. And as I like to remind all of my author and writer friends the word is Story TELLING … Let me hear and feel the passion and emotion that from time to time will stir my mind, move my spirit, and who knows maybe even touch my heart.



  9. mike henderson on June 7, 2023 at 5:31 am

    STEVE ( AKA M1)…I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I agree with Stan. You have many gifts and one is your speaking voice.In your voice there is wisdom, knowledge,empathy and disciplined emotion that connects deeply with others. To me there was absolutely no comparison to Listening to your voice read “Government Cheese” and reading it. Listening was so much more powerful…Love ya Brother. LT

  10. Gregory on June 7, 2023 at 5:34 am

    Seems that many of our past, now famous, mathematicians and scientists have never lived to see the home/promised land they hypothesized. In their time, they were ridiculed and ostracized. In life, infamous. In death, famous.

  11. Kathryn Cooper on June 7, 2023 at 5:54 am

    The person who comes out the other side- authentic self. Yes. But is the cost always worth it? No matter how valuable it is. No choice perhaps. The price is paid, so what to do? Reject it? Pull a Moses? Or just refuse the offering. It’s not an obvious choice.

  12. Deanna Tennancour on June 7, 2023 at 6:00 am

    Brilliant. You have such a gift for describing and naming this metamorphosis journey that many of us must undertake. Like a moth to a flame it is a perilous flight, and one that occurs in this very real, fragile and messy Earthly life. I am thankful for it, even so.
    and here, Forever grateful.

  13. Diane Young on June 7, 2023 at 6:13 am

    To me, every day is a journey and a mountain to be climbed, kicking and clawing if need be, until I hit the satisfying downhill slide of the day.

  14. Brian Nelson on June 7, 2023 at 6:19 am

    In my experience, the old part does not simply fall away. It is smelted away. Torn away. Ripped off. It has never been a gentle, willing act. I fight tooth and nail to remain stuck in my old skin. I think it was in Richard Bach’s “Illusions” where he wrote,”Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.”

    I’ve done much more than argue, I’ve gone to the mat to fight for them.

    • Nom de Plume on June 7, 2023 at 6:56 pm

      Did you say this a while ago, or did I just infer it: The iron hates the forge. “Whoa, it’s hot in here! Hot hot hot! Get me out of here! Oh good, we’re out of the — Look out, it’s the hammer! Owww! Man, that freaking hurt– Owww! Crap, and now back to the fire! What did I do to deserve this?”

      Until, at some point in the future: “Hey, look at me! I am one SERIOUS knife!”

      • Brian Nelson on June 8, 2023 at 2:52 pm

        I think you’re right. Something about ‘no self-respecting chunk of ore looks forward to a smelting furnace…’.

        • Nom de Plume on June 8, 2023 at 7:27 pm

          I paraphrased… extensively. 😉

  15. Jackie on June 7, 2023 at 6:56 am

    Might it be that anyone brave enough to stick their neck out, risks the chance to lose their head? I am all for the risk. The wilderness may end in paradise. Just a glimpse might be all you need.

  16. John on June 7, 2023 at 7:10 am

    Thank you, Steven. Resonates. My aspirational self, my inner hero headed to full expression, the “promised land” but something, resistance, old stories that have led at times or maybe been King at times must die for me to express my truth at the highest possible level. Working forward. Grateful for you being there.

    • Barbara Rosenberg on June 7, 2023 at 8:03 am

      After roaming the desert for 40 years, all of the original generation of Israeliyes had died off, tjeir slave mentality with them. Only thise who had only known freedom could enter the promised land, including Moses himself.

      So trrue. We must be free of our mental captors in order to truly live in paradise.

  17. Randy on June 7, 2023 at 7:44 am

    “…to the safety of their chains.” Poetic and profound.

    • Kathy on June 7, 2023 at 8:55 am

      Yes, to the safety of their chains. I took a long pause too at that.

    • Gregory on June 7, 2023 at 3:50 pm

      Golden handcuffs in corporate America

  18. Bing on June 7, 2023 at 8:46 am

    I am not Jewish but I study the Torah each Sabbath with friends.This week we are in the book of Numbers.
    I am part of the Messianic movement. I do not have the Torah as as myth. Martin Luther was not myth.
    Thank You Steve for this very exciting post.
    Sabbat Shalom,
    – Bing

  19. Kathy on June 7, 2023 at 8:53 am

    Maybe there really is no there. We hold out for there but there changes. It’s deceptive.

  20. Ed Hinman on June 7, 2023 at 8:57 am

    Well said, Steve, and I need do this today. It’s all part of the journey, chipping away at the granite until we’re revealed. Thanks!

  21. Ryan Delaney on June 7, 2023 at 9:12 am

    As grounding as it is inspiring.

  22. Kate Stanton on June 7, 2023 at 10:37 am

    As others have said above, a truth bomb! We feel that our suffering is meaningless. This resonates on those rough days. I believe there is a reason “finding meaning” is the final chapter of the grief cycle, and not acceptance. It’s as if one says, “OK. I made it through hell and back. WHY?”, as the survivor struggles with guilt. This makes me feel as if a person’s work is giving a gift back to the universe despite what they’re given. As above, so below. Different sides of the same coin. Some of the most fascinating people in history have been through it!

  23. Sizwe on June 7, 2023 at 11:33 am

    Thanks, Steve for being the “burning bush” that guides me towards my authentic self where It was lost before. Thanks, Steve for being the guiding light that clearly illuminates my reference points where I could not see them before. Wednesday mornings are a blessing because of you.

  24. Frank Gugino on June 7, 2023 at 5:12 pm

    Hmmm. Seems I used Moses to show how the child carries the divine in last week’s post. I’ll keep with historical examples to illustrate how the collective narrative can be useful for one’s individual story. At a pivotal moment in Rome’s history, Julius Caesar contemplated whether to take his victorious Gallic legions into Italy (which was strictly forbidden by law) to force the end of the Republic and establish himself as dictator. It entailed defying the law and subjecting his men to fighting other Romans in a civil war the outcome of which was uncertain at best, giving in to the forces of Fortune. After consulting with his officers, he said, “Let the die be cast.” and they crossed the Rubicon. He was also aware of another Roman proverb. “Fortune favors the Bold.” We all have our Rubicons to cross, and we must all cast the die sometimes even when we think we may fail….as long as we are bold and brave when we do.

  25. Chuck DeBettignies on June 7, 2023 at 5:28 pm

    This is such an interesting point, “That our inner ‘leader,’ our King archetype, must step aside at the moment of triumph.”
    It’s as though the transformation is so great, that the previous “form” or “incarnation” must be completely left behind. Like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly must completely leave the caterpillar form behind.

  26. Alison Ehrlich Wachstein on June 8, 2023 at 6:12 pm

    So much of what you say rings true.

    PS Just watched your interview on JBS with Benjamin Anthony…FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!

  27. Tolis on June 10, 2023 at 1:26 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve,

    What beautiful ways of the mind to interpret, to desymbolize the anchor points you chose from the old Story.

    The part that touched me the most for it’s uniqueness is your last thought, the King who must not enter the promised land. How beautiful! The first interpretation that comes in my mind is that the King in such a symbolic act actually has a choice: he is at the end of the journey, he reaches at last the promised land, and now he thinks whether he will enter it or not. I see it as a choice like “he will stob being the King of the promised land” or “he will remain the King of the promised land, but for such a state to hold, he actually must not reach the promised land, or he will be no more needed and identified as King because the goal will have been fulfilled and the energy of the King will be no longer needed”.

    When we have seen the drama of Life, I believe that something inside us resonates and wants to stand its ground against our eagerness, willingness to enter Home, to take what we fought for, that day. Maybe that’s what happened to the very creators of some of the best art in the world: they eagerly entered Home and the journey ended, although of course they now had a kingdom and that was good and resultful.

    I admire the archetype of Aragorn, even that of Maximus the gladiator. The one died and so denied the soft pillows of the promised land, while the other became a King but -as far as I can feel from the movie- he somehow did not become a King in a way. It has to do with his character and what I imagine it to have been continued to be after his enthronement.

    We are the Ranger. It seems powerful and whole in its uncertain nature.

  28. Emma harriet on July 24, 2023 at 10:03 pm

    Realmente aprecio por este blog. Has compartido gran contenido. Estoy esperando acompañantes Parana este tipo de más publicaciones. Gracias por compartir.

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