Wilderness = Individuation

Forgive me if I keep coming back to the idea of a Passage through the Wilderness. I started this series of posts originally because I wanted to tie it in to my just-published memoir, GOVT CHEESE, which is about my own Wilderness Passage. But I keep coming back to the topic because it seems so central to all of our lives—and particularly our “hero’s journey” odyssey that leads us to our calling as artists and as human beings.

Carl Jung

Most of us are familiar with Jung’s term “individuation.” It was, Jung always said, the goal and the object of any exercise in therapy.

In “the talking cure,” we work with a psychotherapist to explore the content of our unconscious as a means of stripping away all false or delusory selves with the aim of arriving ultimately at our true individuated self. 

In real life, the world kicks the crap out of us until we arrive at the same place.

What the person in therapy is seeking is to answer the question, “Who am I?” And to take it to the next level: “How do I become that? How do I become who I already am?”

A Wilderness Passage, in our real lives for ourselves or in our fiction for a character we have created, is a real-world version of psychotherapy. It’s the psychotherapy of hard knocks.

Are we struggling with anxiety, depression, isolation, PTSD, addiction (of all kinds)? Are we a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a business? All these, if you ask me, are versions of the same question: 

“Who am I?”

And the deeper corollary questions:

“What is stopping me from finding out who I am … and what is stopping me from becoming that?”

The passage itself is often the answer. Why do I have a problem with alcohol/porn/doom-scrolling? What does my anxiety protect me from? Why can’t I finish my novel/screenplay/dissertation? 

The wilderness itself will teach us because it will break us down. We will run and run until we run out of bullshit. At that point—an All is Lost Moment—we’ll come face to face with Jung’s question.

For me it was, “I’m running from writing.” 

Individuation for me was, “Sit the f*ck down and start writing.”

That was my answer to the question, “Who am I?”

When all the false selves and the runaway selves and the let’s-try-this-version-of-who-we-are selves have shot their wad and fallen to the wayside, what is left?

That’s individuation.

That’s who we really are.


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. Shelley Koroneos on July 12, 2023 at 1:56 am

    Just thank you. I breathed a little deeper and my smile got a little wider.

  2. Nadja Streeck on July 12, 2023 at 2:02 am

    Exactly! Thank you.

    • Jim Sapara on July 12, 2023 at 2:35 am

      Thank you. This is precisely where I am at. 3 days ago I experienced an all is lost moment and now seeking and expecting a solution. ‘ I am a ……?

      • Anaheeta on July 12, 2023 at 10:45 am

        Thank you.

  3. Anonymous on July 12, 2023 at 2:20 am

    Thank you. Thank you.

    • Joan Di Stefano on July 12, 2023 at 11:30 am

      Yes. exactly what I am going through !

    • Milan on July 17, 2023 at 9:09 am

      “run and run, until we run out of bullshit”


      True. ❤️

  4. Janis on July 12, 2023 at 2:47 am

    The is so so true. 🙂

  5. Malaika on July 12, 2023 at 3:51 am

    Wowww, I absolutely LOVE THIS! Yes yes yes! Exactly. This is so good! Thank you, Steven Pressfield! God bless you!

  6. Jesse Passmore on July 12, 2023 at 4:04 am

    Excellent food for thought. Thank you.

  7. Kim Costa on July 12, 2023 at 4:28 am

    Loud and clear. Thank you!

  8. Stephen on July 12, 2023 at 5:11 am

    Excellent reflections on the art and science of creativity and it’s place in the warrior’s quest.

  9. Gail on July 12, 2023 at 5:15 am

    In our world of “information/experts/7 steps to …” your Wednesday morning emails are (literally) the ONLY “information” I look forward to. At 62, I am still in the “up at 4am to go to a life sucking job” grind. Your emails are like a life raft that keep me afloat and at to the keyboard on my one day off. Thank you for the ripple effect of YOU and your gift of teaching us. Your honestly is oxygen! Big Hug!!!

    • Krzysiek on July 12, 2023 at 6:03 am

      Beautifully on point, Steven. Thank you for raising awareness.
      Self judgment and rejection are often subconscious blocks that keep us safe, but at the same time – stuck in our bulshit.
      This is my personal journey too from which my life’s work as a writer and artist is being born.

    • Ron B on July 12, 2023 at 9:35 am

      Individuation is the exact opposite of the collectivism now being imposed on us. We are supposedly mere members of our ethnic group which has uniform characteristics. And as government is increasingly powerful the individual is erased.

  10. Mike Hegedus on July 12, 2023 at 6:38 am

    I see an individual in the marble and I’m carving to set him free.
    The Michelangelo, Jung, Pressfield jazz trio accompanies my carving.

  11. Jon P. on July 12, 2023 at 6:52 am

    Wow! At 76, I am still dealing with the little boy in me. Hopefully as I struggle to find my true north-star, he will come along quietly. As sagacious and inspiring are Jung’s observation, I’ve yet to commit to unearthing the issues hidden in my psychic.

    • Kate Stanton on July 12, 2023 at 7:18 am

      Hi Jon! Sometimes I wonder if during our life cycle, we are returning to the true essence that we were as children. Pure childlike heart before the world beat us down and shaped us!

      • Gomez on July 12, 2023 at 8:18 am

        So very well, both of you. I believe you are correct, Kate. We’re moving away all of the crap life has piled on that essence and letting it shine. I am 67, and beginning a new career–the one I’ve been seeking all of my life. Some things happened this week that had me questioning my decision, but, after class today and reading Pressfield, and your comments, I am certain it is the way to go. What is left now is to do the work.

        • Kate Stanton on July 12, 2023 at 11:37 am

          Sounds like the universe sent you an a-ha moment, Gomez. Best of luck!!

  12. Kate Stanton on July 12, 2023 at 7:09 am

    I’ve read a lot about Jung’s “Shadow Work” when it comes to processing trauma. The good, the bad, and the ugly in us all!
    I was bullied so badly in my childhood, that I have been running from myself. I hated myself. I still have moments I am triggered and think someone is out to get me like a lion with its prey. Rather than tell a trusted adult, I shut down. I became even more quiet and introverted. I isolated myself during a period of time that life should be about friends and connection. I internalized everything a group of “mean girls” said about me from 5th-10th grade or so. However, it was also during this period that I turned to music. This is why music means so much to me. It quite literally gave me something to live for and believe in.
    Why, at 38, do I still have such a visceral response to adult bullies, manipulators, or phonies of any kind? This is the newest chapter of my Wilderness Story–the “just get over it already”! Having a 14-year old daughter and encouraging her as she navigates some of the same waters is torture some days. Hurt me any day, but hurt her and I wanna tear limbs off.

    For me it was, “I’m running from myself; I hate myself.”

    Individuation for me was, “Grow a pair and face the biggest bully in the mirror (yourself) .”
    Just do it! -Nike, the goddess of victory <3

    • Tolis on July 12, 2023 at 2:41 pm

      Kate, I am so sorry for what you went through! But I am so happy for what you managed to become. Turning fear into great creation, this is quite a whole-spectrum conception of the world to turn to beauty through that vague word, art.

      You will never surrender. You feel those feelings when you see bullies because your soul is going to eliminate their failure as existences a million times more than the times they were so big failures against you.

      The eye of the tiger.

      • Kate Stanton on July 12, 2023 at 3:18 pm

        Thank you, Tolis!!! I treasure this reply. A million thanks.
        Today, in Susan Cain’s Kindred Newsletter, she spoke about those of us who struggle with being seen even when we want our work to speak for us. Then I came here and got another dose of inspiration. Been listening to Godin’s “Tribes”—I’ve always longed to belong somewhere, but perhaps the fun of it is the journey. Pressfield, Godin, Susan Cain, Amy Cuddy—can’t go wrong with these authors and their wisdom <3 Tolis, this was my long-winded reply to tell you when the tiger strikes, I fight back by watching my good pile of things I put inside grow…

        • Tolis on July 14, 2023 at 6:54 am

          Thank you too my dear Kate,

          I must seek out Susan Cain and Amy Cuddy too – I didn’t know them. We are running on the crucial line between finding wisdom and implementing it <3

  13. Ellen on July 12, 2023 at 7:28 am

    Your words are profoundly affirming. I’m not crazy after all!!! This ties right into a new series of paintings I’m creating titled “In The Beginning.” It begins with the question, “Where are you from?” Which is akin to “Who are you?” Thanks for sharing.

  14. Brad Graft on July 12, 2023 at 7:34 am

    Good share, Kate. You’re facing your demons and the “goddess of victory” has your back.

    And a lot packed here in Steve’s words:
    ‘A Wilderness Passage, in our real lives for ourselves or in our fiction for a character we have created, is a real-world version of psychotherapy. It’s the psychotherapy of hard knocks.”

    • Kate Stanton on July 12, 2023 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Brad! I love how opening up about fear (Resistance) helps one realize they aren’t alone it it!

  15. Jackie on July 12, 2023 at 8:29 am

    As always, just what was needed today, TRUTH in a world full of bullshit. Thanks, Steve. Thanks and good wishes to all who show up, bare their souls, and keep Wednesdays something to look forward to.

  16. Jerry B on July 12, 2023 at 10:19 am

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Wednesdays are the best day of the week each week because of your wisdom.

  17. Rhaea on July 12, 2023 at 10:23 am

    YES! I have had a similar experience avoiding following my path as an artist. I have to recommit to my path each and every day. Thank you, Steve.

  18. Kathy on July 12, 2023 at 10:25 am

    Thank you. Each week you bring new thoughts and ideas that cause me to think stuff over. What am I doing? Who am I? Your writing and sharing these newsletters of yours, Stephen, what an honor and privilege to be able to partake. Thank you.

  19. Kathy on July 12, 2023 at 10:26 am


  20. Peter Darcy on July 12, 2023 at 10:46 am

    Excellent insights, as usual. I can’t get enough of the wisdom in The War of Art, and this is another twist of the book which is full of these kinds of insights. And…I’m particularly open to the teaching of a fellow Marine!

  21. Linda Carmi on July 12, 2023 at 11:03 am

    OMG! you just articulated what goes in inside my head.

  22. Tolis on July 12, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you dear Steve! I had the same thought these days about running away from our calling, while it’s “guards” are hitting us hard until we face it or… either be deformed in the soul and the body or even dead in one way or another.

    I also had this thought on that: maybe we can use the “reductio ad absurdum” method filtering all that sh*t of the wilderness passage, the addictions, the shadow career etc. in order to understand (or better, to live) who we are. What if we could *use* all that is NOT us to understand what IS us? Yet this last thing would require one more step after living the wilderness… that would be to sit down and filter it. And who does that, how often? So the dark experiences linger in time while the opportunity for exploration of the “Soul” perishes…

  23. Rosabella on July 12, 2023 at 9:52 pm

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  24. Tim Wigham on July 12, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks for the reminder. This struck a chord. Again.

  25. Robbie Maltby on July 15, 2023 at 7:35 am

    Wow, I set this to read later and it bubbled up just as I finished a single sitting read of ‘Notes from Underground’.

    I think this is in large part what the ‘Underground Man’ is struggling with.

    Here are my dictated notes, which I (unashamedly) had ChatGPT-4 summarise:

    The protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from Underground” is entangled in a complex web of existential contemplation. He finds himself deeply engrossed in deciphering the essence of human consciousness, morality, and the nature of desires. This introspective exploration results in a paradoxical whirlpool of thoughts that often disconnects him from the realities of the quotidian life led by most people.

    The story subtly paints a picture of the peculiar form of madness that can creep into one’s psyche through intense contemplation. This tends to involve overthinking the behavioural norms required for assimilation into society, and often results in an intensely contrarian approach as a means of asserting a sense of superiority over others. This superiority, as explored throughout the novel, likely stems from a fear of engagement – the fear of the potential consequences if one’s desires become a reality and ultimately lead to satisfaction. This interesting dynamic is directly acknowledged by Dostoyevsky.

    A scene featuring the protagonist’s interaction with his friends illustrates this dynamic in an amusing yet absurd manner. The protagonist’s conduct, starkly contrasting with societal norms and expectations, while comical, is also somewhat tragic. It underscores the inherent difficulty in maintaining values that are nearly impossible to uphold within the confines of societal norms and typical roles.

    A key premise that Dostoyevsky appears to be propounding is that societal success often necessitates subordination, which in turn impedes independence. The author seems to be on a quest for authenticity, for an existence that rings true to himself. Through an exploration of consciousness, he seeks the ultimate truth of his existence, a journey that causes profound suffering as he grapples with the indifference of the world around him, which simply carries on, oblivious to his struggle.

    The narrative culminates in an encounter between the protagonist and a prostitute at a brothel, following a dispute with his friends. This encounter is a tangled mess of him projecting his dissatisfaction with the world onto her, even as he attempts to connect with her on a personal level. He tries to convince her that her current life is beneath her, yet he falls into the trap of attempting to dominate her to provoke a reaction – an attempt to feel something, to gain clarity on his own emotions.

    This encounter ultimately leads to the protagonist’s realization of his deep-seated loneliness, perhaps a loneliness he has always harboured. Perhaps the girl sensed his lonely desperation and provided a moment of relief, causing a potential change in his perspective post this experience.

    One of my key takeaways from this book is the need for caution against over-moralizing or attempting to live life in an overly academic sense. As the author highlights, real life is not a written narrative; it isn’t strictly guided by bookish concepts. Reality is far more raw and primal. This raw, primal truth holds as much value as any academically or philosophically derived truth. Therefore, in our journey through life, we ought to give equal merit to all facets of truth.

  26. SK on July 19, 2023 at 3:11 am

    On 19 July 2023 at 6:07 a.m est., you, Mr. Pressfield, are my Divine Intervention of the day … again. Thank you.

  27. York on July 19, 2023 at 8:26 pm


    Keep on keeping on with the wilderness stuff.

    It’s good.
    Food for the soul.

    I’m currently stripping away layers of fake right now and reasking myself the question “who am I?”

    Trying to translate that searching process into writing and characters is rough. I’m still hitting Resistance (no pun intended). There are still blocks. But I’ve found that giving myself permission has helped a lot. Permission for everything: failure and success.

  28. Jean Znidarsic on July 24, 2023 at 1:51 pm

    Hello, I’ve just been reading your book on the War of Art, which led me here.
    I of course struggle with these things. Your ideas and tactics are helpful.
    Thank you! My characters are on a wilderness journey, and just as covid began, I was immersed in my own. It was not my first, but I have emerged with a whole different voice that comes through when I write. I did write every day during my immersion. I am no fool.
    I will check in here again.

  29. Mitch Bossart on July 26, 2023 at 9:28 am

    Thanks for that.

  30. Kailash Tour on August 3, 2023 at 10:46 pm


  31. Liza on September 18, 2023 at 1:31 am

    I absolutely agree that wilderness and individuation are deeply interconnected. Just like the unique patches on a Kavinsky jacket, each person’s journey through the wilderness of life is distinct. It’s in the solitude of nature that we confront our inner selves, shedding societal layers to discover our true essence. Much like how Kavinsky’s jacket reflects his personality, the wilderness mirrors our individuality. Embracing the wild allows us to become our authentic selves, just as a jacket becomes an emblem of one’s identity.

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  33. Nepal Tour on October 4, 2023 at 10:42 am

    Wilderness is very important in everyone’s life, and wilderness has a different meaning for everyone.

  34. amanda the adventurer on December 25, 2023 at 11:12 pm

    That’s nice info

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