Learning and Unlearning

The process of finding our own voice is not one of learning, but of unlearning. Not of acquiring baggage but of jettisoning it.

To find our true voice, we de-program ourselves of every convention, identity and belief that has been hammered into our skulls by well-meaning parents, teachers, coaches and counselors; by our families, our religions, our ethnic and regional origins. We hollow ourselves out and refill from scratch.

The appeal of cults or extremist organizations is to this (honorable and sacred) seeking of one’s true self. The cult offers to take away the pain of not-knowing-who-we-are by proffering a ready-to-wear, off-the-shelf alternative.

“Il Duce” Benito Mussolini

This cult-self comes to us complete with new friends (other cult members, possibly even lovers), as well as an entire world-view and cosmology, an approved diet, attire, schedule for the day, month and year. In the cult, we are told whom to love, whom to hate, how to eat, sleep, breathe and even how to die.

The problem is that the self we are being presented with is not our own.

The artist’s journey is the opposite of cultist’s. That’s why when cults like the Nazis or the Fascists take power, among the first groups they exterminate are artists and innovators.

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.

do the work book banner 1

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.

The-Authentic-Swing

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.

noboybookcover

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

45 Comments

  1. Raquel on June 26, 2024 at 1:42 am

    This is the piece I have been missing to finally have enough guts to pursue a book I keep dreaming of and running away from! Thank you, Steven, for your books and Writing Wednesdays! Thank you for riding through all waves!

  2. Lee Bodkin on June 26, 2024 at 2:58 am

    Great piece this morning. As life and age wear down my constructed personas, my true self is emerging – in life and on the page.

  3. Jerry Ellis on June 26, 2024 at 3:27 am

    Strong and insightful post, Steve. Keep’em coming.

  4. Linda McLyman on June 26, 2024 at 3:47 am

    The morning onslaught of media junk mail is likely to raise the feeling of dread in me very quickly. Talk about a lousy way to start the day. But your voice is a voice I look forward to. Thank you for your clarity. Razor sharp and honed by experience.

    • Susanne Dejanovich on June 26, 2024 at 9:10 pm

      AMEN. Thank you for your refreshing insights . They give me so much new hope, and love reading everyone’s perspectives.

  5. Chuck DeBettignies on June 26, 2024 at 4:37 am

    “The cult offers to take away the pain of not-knowing-who-we-are by proffering a ready-to-wear, off-the-shelf alternative.”
    This is such a powerful insight!
    It takes such courage to find/connect with our true self. And it’s an ongoing struggle. No wonder it’s easy to be pulled into a ready-made solution.

  6. Kathleen on June 26, 2024 at 4:46 am

    Well said, Steven! Many thanks and blessings to you.

    • Kathleen on June 26, 2024 at 4:56 am

      Fellow writers, breathe in the Truth; breathe out the doubt.

  7. Anastacia Shimek on June 26, 2024 at 5:10 am

    Frightening, isn’t it. Look how little support there is for art and art education in our country.

  8. Vikki D Brandstetter on June 26, 2024 at 5:10 am

    A cult is like ready to wear. It’s easy. Requires no thought. Actually discourages thought. Another awesome piece of writing. Thanks!

  9. Karletta Marie on June 26, 2024 at 5:14 am

    Brilliant, wise, enlightening words. Thank you.

  10. Yohanna Thomas on June 26, 2024 at 5:17 am

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  11. Joe Tye on June 26, 2024 at 6:28 am

    One of the great lines from a song by The Doors: Learn to forget.

  12. Marvin Ginsberg on June 26, 2024 at 6:38 am

    It’s not only the cultists. It’s the negative or evil side of us that wants to take us down.
    We have to get out of our own inner cult.
    How do we break out?

  13. Tim Elliott on June 26, 2024 at 6:52 am

    I’m a person in “recovery”.

    When asked…”so who is Tim”…if honest at the time…I had no idea because I had adopted and accepted OTHERS idea of self…..it sounds like “should be”

    Recovery gave me permission to abandon and unlearn old ideas and concepts of self and discover my better self.

  14. Lucy Turner on June 26, 2024 at 6:59 am

    Excellent! I was wondering when Steve would weigh in on this issue. 🙂 Nicely done!

  15. Harrison Laine on June 26, 2024 at 7:20 am

    We must empty our cup so we can taste new tea
    Remembering to forget the “me” we used to be
    For it’s not the destination but the journey, you see
    Beckoning “Come hither” as you evolve eternally…
    ©️Harrison Laine, 6/26/24

  16. Doug Setter on June 26, 2024 at 7:23 am

    Even Robert E. Howard’s character, Conan the Barbarian recognized the free-thinking artist.

  17. Ed Lovern on June 26, 2024 at 7:26 am

    Amen! You should also know: in 161 BC,Rome’s “Leaders” expelled Philosophers and teachers of rhetoric. And Steve, you are a rhetorician! Keep it up.

  18. Ken Williams on June 26, 2024 at 7:45 am

    this be that boom.

  19. Malaika on June 26, 2024 at 7:51 am

    Wowww! That’s deep and so powerful!
    I love this post, Steven! So true!

    Here my highlights:

    “The appeal of cults or extremist organizations is to this (honorable and sacred) seeking of one’s true self. The cult offers to take away the pain of not-knowing-who-we-are by proffering a ready-to-wear, off-the-shelf alternative.”

    “The problem is that the self we are being presented with is not our own.”

    “The artist’s journey is the opposite of cultist’s.”

  20. Larry Jacobson on June 26, 2024 at 7:57 am

    This is one of the most important posts you have made. We are so drilled to find our “tribe” and follow the precepts of that “tribe” that we lose our individuality and ultimately our creativity. The true creative follows their own path and not one set by gurus or other followers of gurus.

  21. Dr. Nate Zinsser on June 26, 2024 at 7:57 am

    Bravo, Steve!!! thank you for pointing out this very timely truth. We are indeed at a tipping point in American history where fascism is on the rise and where all artists and other “warriors” are being targeted. Time to close ranks and speak truth to this nascent, would-be “power”

    • Steven Pressfield on June 26, 2024 at 11:00 am

      Great to hear from you, Nate! Thanks for the kind words ….

  22. Kathy on June 26, 2024 at 7:58 am

    Oh my god, (pardon the pun in reference to an entity taking control) this is so timely.

    I was recently listening to Louise Hay, narrating her book, “You Can Heal Your Life”. She referred to many of the same things, our being filled with the world of others.

    I was in, what I now consider to be a cult, for 15 years. 15 years of feeling you are not worthy of your own thoughts and essentially, killing any creativity you might have. Everything about you feels wrong. It takes a boulder to crush such an overtaking.. Thank you, to whomever, whatever, that I finally had one. All damage aside, it woke me up. I still grieve over the collateral damage though.

    One fear I have is that there really is no way to cultivate what that little girl in me had. Where is that little girl who made forts of dirt. and imagined mud holes to be lakes? The little girl who charged neighbors 25 cents to come to her plays?

    The most concrete answer to that is in what you teach Steven. There is no way to beat down Resistance without getting out of bed. There is no way of filling my being with new hopes, dissolving the person others defined for me, without a reckoning. Giving in to laziness or self absorption, or grieving, to the point of feeling I can’t do it, is unacceptable.

    It feels so explainable to me though…I lost my husband. And it feels like I’m the only one who has ever lost a partner, a lover, a best friend in life.

    Indeed, I’m the only one left in our home and self pity is understandable. So, go easy, Kathy, things take time. That’s what books tell you. There must be a mix of bending towards new creative avenues, while still honoring the past.

    There’s got to be a continuance.

    Hey, Resistance? Get off of my cloud. I’ve got an appointment that I’m late for.

    🍃🌸🍃

    • Susanne Dejanovich on June 26, 2024 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you Kathy. I’m very old now and still trying to climb out of my paper bag. Stuck in many ways and certainly have let go of much “training.” An everlasting work of art.

      • Phoenix Moon on June 27, 2024 at 4:35 pm

        Such timely advice. I have been searching for answers and ways to get unstuck. Thanks so much.
        Sifting through the ashes.

        • Kathy on June 28, 2024 at 8:36 am

          We’re in this together! 🍃🌸🍃

      • Kathy on June 28, 2024 at 8:55 am

        I’m not young either, my friend, 💜 It feels daunting at any age I guess. I

        I listened to a podcast recently. The host asked his guest, “Is it easier being young or older? Referring to life and all those nasty lessons we’re *resisting*.

        “Much harder, older,” he replied.

        We’ve got all this baggage, that Steven refers to. So, I’m just thinking, if I can adjust to the routine referred to in, “The War of Art”, and “Do the Work”…. Oh, if only!

        In my head it goes more like…

        “Do the damn, f&@$”!g work!!!!”

        ….because as I age, I realize there’s less time to get stuff done and I truly want to accomplish some things.

        🍃🌸🍃

  23. David Berish on June 26, 2024 at 8:35 am

    Thank you Steven. I can see how powerful your message is by all of the positive comments above. One of the problems we have today is that people are not taught, and do not study, history. I know that you do because my first Pressfield book was Gates of Fire. Keep holding the pass at Thermopylae.

  24. Garry on June 26, 2024 at 10:12 am

    Wow … That is inspired Steve. A great education.
    Thanks man.
    Onwards!

  25. Tolis on June 26, 2024 at 11:01 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve.

    Only about 2 hours ago I had this though, it seemed like a silent revelation: that actually nothing is pre-determined in our conciousness, and so there is no dark or light, neither good or bad, boring or interesting, exciting or neutral. And if that is true, then we create the WHOLE world (that is, our own world, each person) rather than we being determined by it.

    Yet it seems so difficult to not have an identity. What about love? Passion? Adventure? Excitment? Are they all only shadows in the cave of Plato?

    What about a great book about eating healthy, which is based on science and written by a renowned scientist? If science has examined the molecules and the cells and their reaction to what we it and our lifestyle, should we deny that in search of the self?

    The only thought I made against my revelation 2 hours ago was this, that although everything is relative, still there are the laws of nature which are undeniable. And then the only answer to how can the predetermined laws and the free no-identity-self co-exist, the thought that came to my mind was that actually the laws are only “lines”, while the combinations of the laws of the universe are actually what life is about, and so even laws can’t determin life/self, because they are linear and many dynamics of them -infinite perhaps- exist at every moment.

    The Fear: my personal fear is of survival. That I won’t be able to live through the whole process, for non-self is non-profitable and there is the law of cause and effect: no resources, no future.

    • Kathy on July 3, 2024 at 6:35 am

      Tolis, wow, oh yes, you are deep. Reading what you wrote is like climbing inside the eyes of genius.

      🍃🌸🍃

  26. Julie Kerr on June 26, 2024 at 3:38 pm

    Wow. That’s deep. Well put.

  27. Ashley G. on June 26, 2024 at 3:49 pm

    In the vast field of educational conversations, there is an alternative approach called “unschooling.” When parents choose this path for “educating” their child, it is most often the adult that needs to deschool much more than the child. It is a crash course in unlearning and can be quite disorienting (for the adult, freeing for the child). What you thought were important goals, such as good grades or high test scores, are revealed to have very little to do with true learning.

    In addition to unlearning the “schoolish” ways of learning, I am also in “recovery” from thinking I know best, for everyone. I am learning to let go, to not know, and to be ok in the unknowing. I wonder if kids, before they reach school age (which seems to start earlier and earlier) and those lucky enough to have been unschooled could teach us what it is like to learn organically, naturally. I think one of the first things they may teach us, without any lecture or advanced degrees beside their name, is the humility of curiosity.

  28. Eman on June 26, 2024 at 6:36 pm

    Incredible post. One of the most enlightening things I’ve read in a while. A deep, truthful, and completely insightful revelation on the human condition.

  29. Eli Richmond on June 26, 2024 at 9:40 pm

    Hey, Steven. I’ve never left a comment despite reading this blog for a long time now. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you do 🙂 Thanks a bunch.

  30. perra verde on June 27, 2024 at 3:57 am

    Uh oh, troubling times ahead then. Thanks for your words, inspiring to this painter!

  31. Gregory on June 27, 2024 at 7:30 am

    “The artist’s journey is the opposite of cultist’s.” In the words of Jacobi, “Invert, always invert!” Otherwise, consider what inversion would mean. My dear mother still advises, “be careful”. Sorry, mom, you’ve raised an instigator. 🙂 I’m going to take calculated risks…

  32. Val Wilkerson on June 27, 2024 at 7:39 am

    Everything in the wash! I have been following your writing for years of independence and indecisive moments knowing that all that matter is everything, This to me brings forth alot of thoughts that directly clarifies points to your voice in writing and that’s the most important part is the voice inside that screams these things aloud so hopefully we can grab our pens and pencils and maybe even begin typing the other ways this can lead to a good story. Thank you.

  33. Diane Young on June 27, 2024 at 9:28 am

    I’m a freelance magazine feature writer. I’ve never been a groupie or much of a follower. I sometimes join groups, only to find that they aren’t what I thought they would be, and I don’t hesitate to unsubscribe. However, I do read Steve’s weekly offering. Sometimes it applies to me and my writing, other times, not so much. If his latest offering doesn’t apply to me, I delete it and move on to the next email. I get as many as 150 emails a day, largely politically based, which are time-consuming to read and support or not. Most are NOTS. Time is fleeting–use it wisely!

  34. Phil N. Rossner on June 27, 2024 at 12:03 pm

    So true and yet I believe that, particularly with the advent of social media, the unanchored human psyche – shadow and all – has the potential of being sucked into a vast vortex of what could be termed ‘mini or micro cults’ thereby setting up the innate possibility, given the unfortunate predisposition that so many humans (lost souls) carry – of being easily influenced and subsequently led into schemes, whether ‘spiritual,’ money manifestation, or whatever. Subsequently, through snazzy, upbeat presentations and, inevitably, despite the lack of any real proof/substance as to effectiveness, many desperately searching souls are summarily cajoled into opening their wallets after latching onto fantastical promises in the fervent hope that said scheme will dramatically turn their lives around. As such, the discernment of legitimacy vs flim-flam becomes effectively shrouded by the fog of intentional confusion.

  35. Alexandrite on June 27, 2024 at 12:03 pm

    Oh my goodness! Recently, I have been struggling with so many issues inherent in this post. Thank you for this insightful piece and the inspirational posts which followed. Nice to not be alone in my journey.

  36. Helen Norton on June 27, 2024 at 5:30 pm

    Yes! Exactly Steven, thank you for putting this so succinctly, which is your mastery and why I keep on coming back for more.

    I created a whole video on this topic of ‘intrinsic and extrinsic’ issues for artists, given my 35-year journey as an artist (and closet writer). I find myself fighting this horrible ‘temptation’ more than ever, at the moment as the ‘monsters’ try ever harder to ‘box up’ and destroy the magnificence of human creativity and turn it into some sort of ‘AI program’. Mongrels… If we look to the outside – for our validation as it’s the only thing offered up by ‘the culture controllers’ right now, we soon start to doubt our sanity. It takes a MASSIVE effort to shut that doubt down, given we do live in the external world and we must acknowledge that if we want to eat, there always has to be some compromise. We are not an island as a ‘creative member’ of our communities. But we must hold fast to our ‘leader’ nature, which is that ‘true leaders’ are not interested in who is following them (that lot are managers). We just walk right out there – out the front, because we have to, it is our way. The thing that goes wrong is when these mugs start to get in our way and try to tear us down and drag us into their poop behind us by trying to squash us. into one of their bloody boxes.
    I don’t want to flog my dog here, but here is my walking rant on the issue. Might be useful to some artists. (Im in Australia).

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