Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Steven Pressfield (@SPressfield), a former Marine and graduate of Duke University, who became an overnight success as a writer after 30 years of abject failure. Identifying the omnipresence of “Resistance,” the interior force of self-sabotage he described in The War of Art, has saved his own artistic life and has helped many others struggling to find their creative calling. Steven’s novels of the ancient world, including the nonfiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. He lives in Los Angeles.
His new book is A Man at Arms, an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job each and every episode to interview world-class performers to try to tease out the habits, routines, frameworks, favorite books, and so on, favorite cereals maybe, who knows, that you can apply to your own life. And my guest today is Steven Pressfield. I’ve wanted to have Steven on this podcast for a very long time. You can find him on Twitter @SPressfield. Steven is a former Marine and graduate of Duke University. He became an overnight success as a writer after 30 years of abject failure. Those are his words, not mine. So we’ll dig into that. Identifying the omnipresence, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, of resistance, the interior force of self-sabotage he described in The War of Art, one of the best book titles of all time, has saved his own artistic life and helped many others struggling to find their creative calling.
Pressfield’s novels of the ancient world, including the non-fiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. He lives in Los Angeles. His newest book is A Man At Arms, an epic saga about a reluctant hero of the Roman Empire and the rise of a new faith. You can find him online, Steven with a V, stevenpressfield.com, on Twitter @SPressfield, and Instagram, @steven_pressfield. Steven, welcome to the show.
Steven Pressfield: It’s great to be here, Tim. I’ve been wanting to have a conversation with you as well. So I’m excited about this too. It’s great.
Tim Ferriss: And we are going to run out of time well before we run out of content, I think in part because I have all these notes in front of me, I have all these questions, and then there is, I’d say, at least 51 percent of me that just wants to turn this into a selfish opportunity to have therapy from you. So we’ll see what blend of all of those elements —
Steven Pressfield: All right.
Tim Ferriss: We’ll see what blend —
Steven Pressfield: I was hoping for the same thing.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, wonderful. Okay.
Steven Pressfield: From you.
Tim Ferriss: From me. Well we can turn this into a mutual therapy session in that case.
Steven Pressfield: All right.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s go back in time for those who don’t have much context on your life, and perhaps a good entry point is a prompt that you provided, and that is, “Ask me about my house for $15 a month and the backwoods cat I made friends with.” So that’s where I’m going to start. Please tell me about this house at $15 a month and the backwoods cat.
Steven Pressfield: When you talked about 30 years of abject failure, that’s really true. I mean from the time that I originally tried to start writing, quit a job, like you did, and actually had a book published was about 28 years, 30 years, something like that. And at one point, I was driving trucks, tractor trailers, in North Carolina and had just come out of living in a halfway house, which was when people are released from mental hospitals, not me, but everybody else was there. And I found this house out in the country for 15 bucks a month. It had no doors, no electricity, no kitchen, no toilets, nothing. I just basically lived in my van, which I parked on the dirt road there. And I used to cook. There was no way to cook. So I used to have a little fire, I’d make a little fire out in the back behind this little house. In North Carolina, there’s a lot of pine woods, and this was right in the middle of the pine woods around Raleigh.
And there used to be this feral cat, this wild cat, that lived in the woods behind me. And when I would come out and cook, and I’d be sitting on the back stoop and the woods started maybe only five feet from the house, this cat would materialize. He was an old, battle-scarred tomcat. And he would sit there across from me while I would make hot dogs or whatever I was doing. And I could never feed him. He would never take anything from me. I think it was like he didn’t want to be a pet. And he would sit there, this is all true, Tim, I’m not making this up.
Tim Ferriss: I believe you.
Steven Pressfield: He would sit there across from me just eyeballing me, and there was no doubt which one of us was the superior being and no doubt which one of us had his shit together and the other one didn’t. And he would look at me like he was trying to decide whether or not to kick my ass or not. But I felt that this cat was a great omen. I felt that in some way, why does a cat materialize like that? Why does anything happen like that? In the Native American tradition, when an animal is a spirit animal or something.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Steven Pressfield: And so I took a lot of courage from that cat appearing. I felt like in some way, my energy had drawn him out of the woods because he kept coming back. This wasn’t a one-time thing. And so anyway, I don’t know if that’s context, Tim, I don’t know. It’s quite a while ago, but that was at the heart of my darkest hours.
Tim Ferriss: Well it provides a bunch of fertile ground for exploration. Before we leave the cat though, what meaning did you take from that? What effect did that have on you? And then we’re going to come back to the halfway house, because you mentioned everyone else was there after being released from a mental hospital or something along those lines, so I want to know how you ended up there. But first, what meaning did you imbue this cat with after these repeated visits?
Steven Pressfield: Well, I felt like the cat was a little bit of a role model for me, that it was a cat that was obviously completely self-sufficient, lived in the woods, didn’t require anybody to feed him, wouldn’t let anybody feed him, was a totally autonomous individual. And I thought to myself first of all, why did anything come out of the woods? But if this is what came out of woods, that it was such a positive person? And so I thought if this cat has come here, maybe he’s come here to encourage me and tell me that, “Steve, you can do that, too. You can be like me, too. You can be autonomous. You can be self-sufficient. You can take care of yourself.”
Tim Ferriss: It makes me think a bit of the poem, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, the first few lines.
Steven Pressfield: Ah, I’m not familiar with that. Tell me.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll tell you. The first few lines are, “You do not have to be good, you do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting, you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” That’s the beginning.
Steven Pressfield: Wow.
Tim Ferriss: And I think about that quite a bit and contact with nature and man’s tendency. And what I mean by that is mankind’s tendency, men and women both, to view themselves as apart from nature as opposed to a part of nature. And the halfway house, so let’s connect the dots from the beginning to the tomcat at the end of that first response. How did you end up there, and what was your state at the time that you were there?
Steven Pressfield: I don’t know. We’re getting into some deep stuff really early there, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: I know it’s the first date and everything, but skip the foreplay a bit, if that’s okay.
Steven Pressfield: Well, I was in North Carolina at the time. I had married a girl from North Carolina. We’d been married for five or six years at that time. And we were at the state where we were coming apart at the seams and we were desperately trying to hang on together. And we had come back from North Carolina and we were living with our mother out in the woods in a farmhouse that also rented for about 20 bucks a month. And I had this job delivering industrial food. I drove a little truck and I would deliver things like Salisbury steaks and frozen, crinkle cut French fries to little restaurants and stuff like that. And without going into a long story, I got fired from that job. And in a state of great shame, I was just totally ashamed in front of my wife, in front of her mother. And I just couldn’t stay there anymore. I couldn’t stay there with them.
So I moved into town trying to find a job desperately. And the only place I could find was this boarding house, this is in Durham, North Carolina, that was also a halfway house for where the state government would pay for people who had been released from mental institutions and were on their way back into the real world. And so I found a room in the basement there and that was how I came to that halfway house.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Steven Pressfield: And I have a theory about halfway houses and about the people who are in there. You want to hear this, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Steven Pressfield: Because I’ve been in a bunch of other situations like that, and you would think that people were really struggling mentally, but in fact, the people in this halfway house, we used to hang out in the kitchen and talk all night long, were among the smartest people that I ever met and the funniest and the most interesting. And what I concluded from hanging out with them and from others in a similar situation was that they weren’t crazy at all, that they were actually the smart people who had seen through the bullshit and because of that, they couldn’t function in the world. They couldn’t hold a job because they just couldn’t take the bullshit, and that was how they wound up in institutions, because the greater society thought, “Well these people are absolute rejects. They can’t fit in.” But in fact to my mind, they were actually the people that really saw through everything. So in a way, I felt bad when I had to leave this house because I liked the people so much.
Tim Ferriss: Well it also speaks it seems to, not to say it isn’t worth it, but some of the possible risks of seeing through the thin veneer that is what we consider civilization.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And just how —
Steven Pressfield: It’s a dangerous thing.
Tim Ferriss: Just how slippery it can be to realize how arbitrary so many of these social constructs are. You have just an incredible resume. I mean it reads like, I don’t want to say hero’s journey because we’ll probably come to that and clarify that a bit later, but you have an eclectic, to put it mildly, collection of professions. You have tractor trailer driver, cab driver, school teacher, you picked fruit as a migrant laborer, and the list goes on. Of all of those, does one stand out as having been especially formative for who you then later became as a writer, as a creative?
Steven Pressfield: Driving tractor trailers was probably the most formative thing for me in that sense, in the sense that once you’re out on the road delivering a load, you’re completely on your own. And if anything goes wrong, I mean obviously you can call for help if you’re really desperate, but pretty much you’ve got to get it together one way or another. And other people are depending on you, whatever that load is, you’ve got to deliver it, right? The shipper wants it, the people it’s being shipped to want it, and there’s really no mercy. You have to be a professional and you have to do it. And at the time that I was doing this job, I was really dealing with my own tendency to sabotage myself. I mean I was like a self destruction machine, where I would just screw up constantly. And I had to be constantly monitoring myself that I wouldn’t act out in some crazy way and destroy everything that I was trying to do, which was just to survive.
So first of all, the help from the people that I worked with, from the other drivers, from the dispatcher who was a mentor to me, a guy named Hugh Reeves who really saved my life in a lot of ways, and also just the need to deliver, to really actually deliver the goods and the self-imposed pressure of that, that really helped me. And yeah, there were a bunch of instances when I found myself really up against it and having to get it together completely on my own. And when I thought I never could, and each time that I was able to do that, it reinforced that, kind of like the cat that came out of the woods, I felt like I was being a little bit of my own role model and that there was hope that I could get it together one way or another.
Tim Ferriss: At that time in that period, you mentioned the self-sabotage, and I’ll give you two questions and you can take a stab at either or both, what was the form or most common form of self-sabotage if you could give an example or just describe that, because there are so many different types? And then also, Hugh Reeves as a mentor, what type of mentor was he? What did you glean or learn from him?
Steven Pressfield: I’ll give you a specific. When I was driving the little trucks and delivering institutional food to these little restaurants, like Toddle Houses and stuff like that, the way I got fired was it was early in the morning, I had just finished delivering to a restaurant. I hadn’t had breakfast and I was coming back out through the warehouse section at the back of the restaurant. And they had a whole bunch of rows of little cans of fruit juice.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steven Pressfield: Pineapple juice and stuff like that. And so I just reached out and I grabbed one for myself, and the boss caught me and bum-ba-da-bum-bum-bum: I’m fired. And I really feel like me doing that was an act of self-destruction, and I absolutely am certain of it. I just knew, why do you do something like that? So that was the thing that I would do over and over. And driving trucks, I could tell a bunch of stories, but one of them was where I dropped a trailer one time delivering, meaning I pulled the tractor out from under the trailer in this warehouse parking lot right in front of about 500 people and just dropped this entire trailer nose down onto the thing and it was just a complete fiasco. And so that was the thing that I would do, or I would just be careless.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steven Pressfield: If you’re an airline pilot and you’re doing your checklist, before you take off, you’ve got to check the flaps in the engine and blah, blah, blah, whatever it is, there was something in me that would make me forget to check the one most important thing that I had to do. And as soon as it went wrong, I knew it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, what a surprise,” it was like, “Oh, shit. I’ve done it again.”
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steven Pressfield: And getting back to your Hugh Reeves, who was the dispatcher, who was my mentor in this thing, after I got fired — I don’t know. I guess this is interesting, I don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: I find it interesting.
Steven Pressfield: After I got fired for stealing that can of pineapple juice, I was in a state of utter shame. I didn’t even tell my wife or her mother, and I had already applied for — I’d gone to a truck driving school and I had applied to 50 different companies throughout North Carolina, and couldn’t get on anywhere. And I was just leaving town in my ’65 Chevy van heading for the oil fields in Louisiana, where I’d worked once before, and where I knew I could at least get a job. All you needed was a pulse and they would take you on. And so on my way out of town, in the dead of winter, worst possible rainy North Carolina, I stopped at this one trucking company that I had already applied to a couple of times and they rejected me. And Hugh Reeves was the dispatcher. And he was a former Marine and he knew that I had been a Marine, and I just stopped just for the hell of it. I thought nothing’s going to happen, and he hired me. So that saved my life right there.
But throughout the whole — my struggles to learn the business and stuff like that, I’ll tell you, there was one moment where he sat me down. And I had kept screwing up, like I said, and he sat me down alone in his office. And he said, “Son.” And I was, I don’t know, what, 25 years younger than him. He said, “I don’t know what’s going on in your head, son. I don’t know what journey you’re playing out here. I don’t know what your issues are. I don’t know what you’re trying to solve in your own inner mind. But this company is a business. We’re in business to make money. You are a driver, you represent this company. When I give you a load to take somewhere, you better fucking deliver that load.” And so that was a great thing for me. It was like a slap in the face because in my mind, I definitely was on this Odyssey. I was living on an inner world, I don’t know what it was, and he was absolutely right.
This is a business, this is for real. I have a real job, people are depending on me. And that really helped me to just think of myself as much as I could as a professional and not somebody on some crazy adventure.
Tim Ferriss: I can definitely see how that ties into a lot that came later. That’s a great story.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great story. So let’s flash forward. We’re going to bounce around quite a bit. And in doing so, I want to maybe first bring up just a common belief or sentiment that I hear a lot, which is you’re going to do your best work in your 20s, it’s like a professional sport. You do A, B, and C, and you’ve reached escape velocity, or not, by the time you’re 30, 35, whatever the number might be, but it tends to be around there. Your first novel, you mentioned in some comments a few minutes ago, and I mentioned it in the bio, 30 years of abject failure. Okay, so your first novel published after around 30 years of effort, The Legend of Bagger Vance, how old were you when that was published?
Steven Pressfield: I think I was 53.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Steven Pressfield: Maybe 54.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So now, a lot happened up to that point obviously in your life. You had a lot of experiences. Where I want to go next is to ask how you developed your facility with words, because you are a very good writer. The jobs we’ve mentioned so far seem to have nothing to do with wordsmithing. You have an incredible vocabulary. How did this happen?
Steven Pressfield: Well I’ll accept, thank you for saying that, Tim. I accept that at face value. But through the whole time that — I wasn’t only doing blue collar jobs. I worked in advertising in New York three or four times, and I also had about a 10-year career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles where I am now. And so through that time, you’re trying to learn what a writer is and what writing is. And also, of course, I was writing novels through that time. I wrote three of them that never got published. And each one took about two years full-time.
Tim Ferriss: What drove you to do that, if I could just pause there for a second?
Steven Pressfield: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Most people don’t write, period. So what was driving you or compelling you or inspiring you to do that?
Steven Pressfield: I don’t know. Why does anybody write, or why does anybody paint or anything like that? It originally started for me, it was not a dream I had as a kid. Like Jack Carr, the thriller writer and former Navy SEAL, he always wanted to be a thriller writer from the time he was six years old, but not me. It never occurred to me. And my first job was in advertising in New York and I had a boss named Ed Hannibal, who quit, wrote a novel, and it was a huge success overnight. And I thought, “Well shit, why don’t I do that too?”
Tim Ferriss: “It seems like an easy gig, let’s try it.”
Steven Pressfield: “There’s nothing to it, right? He’s in that office, I’m in this office. Why can’t I do it?” So that at least started this dream for me. And then once I had failed that really badly, I thought I was even more motivated to do it, right? Somehow, I’ve got to write my way out of this thing, one way or another. So that was how it initially started, Tim, in terms of just the intention to do it, to finally make it work.
Tim Ferriss: Now I want to allow people to peek behind the scenes here for a second, just to see how the sausage is made with this podcast. And I’m looking in front of me at a whole raft of papers, but one of them contains prompts and exploratory bullets. And I always ask guests if they would like to provide any prompts that might lead to interesting or fun stories, fertile ground, as I like to say, for exploration. And you learn a lot about guests looking at the bullets they provide, or the lack of bullets they provide.
Steven Pressfield: I bet. I bet.
Tim Ferriss: And your bullets are fantastic. And this will be tied into what we’re talking about in just a second. So for instance, right, “Ask me about the house for $15 a month and the backwoods cat I made friends with.” Another one, which we’re not going to get into right now, but we’ll probably come back to, we might come back to, is, “Ask me about the time when I was driving trucks when they told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t,’ in all caps, “GO PAST THAT LAST RIGHT TURN.” Now, to me, speaking —
Steven Pressfield: And of course, I did go past that last thing.
Tim Ferriss: Of course you did. Now, as someone who has read, I want to say it was John Caples, and all these books on copywriting, I can see very clearly, and I say this as a compliment, the influence of your time as a copywriter working at agencies. It’s so obvious to me because you can’t not ask. I mean it is very well crafted in that sense. Could you speak to your learnings in the world of advertising? What did you gain from working as a copywriter? Whether at, I think Benton & Bowles, is that one of the names?
Steven Pressfield: Yeah, that was one of the places. Yeah. Yeah. And I do think in many ways I learned a tremendous amount in advertising. I mean, I hate advertising. I hate it when it’s on the screen. I hate watching TV commercials. I hate the whole concept of it. But I met a lot of great people there and I learned a lot. And one of the books that I’ve written about writing is called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, please. For those people who don’t know it, this is just a spectacular piece. If you could describe it. Yeah.
Steven Pressfield: And this is to me the number one lesson that any writer or artist should know before they know anything else, and you learn this in advertising because as you’re trying to write an ad or a TV commercial, one thing you have to always keep in mind is that nobody wants to see it. In fact, they hate it. Sight unseen, they hate it, right? If it’s a TV commercial, they’ve got their remote in their hand, and they’re going to click right through it as fast as they can. Or if it’s an ad that’s in a newspaper or magazine, they’re going to turn the page as fast as they can because they hate it. They don’t want you to sell them Preparation H or anything like that, right? So the lesson for that as a writer, knowing that you’re facing that with so much resistance from the reader, is that whatever you’re going to put on that page or on the TV screen, it’s got to be so good and so compelling and so interesting that people will have no choice but to watch it.
And so it makes you work really, really hard, and also makes you really project yourself into the mind of the viewer or the reader in an empathetic way, in a really good way, and try to say, “What would be interesting to them? What would catch their interest? Or what would hold their interest?” And you realize too that writing and reading is a transaction that the reader or the viewer is giving you a very valuable commodity, which is their time and their attention, and you’ve got to give them something. You can’t just put some crap out there and expect that they’re obligated to read it or watch it, because they won’t watch it. So that was a great lesson for me that applied in writing novels or movies or anything at all that you’re going to do. A restaurant, if you’re going to open a restaurant, nobody wants to come in there and buy your greasy cheeseburgers. You’ve got to come up with something that makes them say, “I’ve got to go in there,” and that’s where the work comes in and that’s where the creativity comes in.
And another sidebar to that, Tim, of what you learn in advertising is a 30-second commercial cannot have more than 60 words in it, two words per second, because an announcer or people speaking, actors speaking, can’t deliver it. It becomes so fast that you can’t hear it. So there’s pressure on you every time you write a piece of copy. I would bring a piece of copy in to my boss, whoever he was, or she was, and they would say, “Get out of here. This is way too long. Go back to your cubicle and cut it down.” And I’d spend hours cutting it down and bring it back and then they’d say, “Cut it down again.” And so that was a wonderful skill to learn, to find that you can say maybe in 25 words what you had said in 250 words before. So you’re right, Tim, you’re right on target that there was a lot of lessons that came out of that experience of writing ads.
Tim Ferriss: I mentioned in passing and I’m by no means an expert here, but mentioned in passing hero’s journey and in reference to your life in a sense. But my understanding is that you consider the hero’s journey, as perhaps we know it in the Joseph Campbell sense, different from the artist’s journey. Could you please elaborate on that?
Steven Pressfield: I definitely feel this time that you and I are talking about now when I was driving trucks and doing things like that and being sort of lost and in the wilderness as my “hero’s journey.” I mean, I think we all have many hero’s journeys, but we probably have one sort of overarching one. And to me, the hero’s journey of our lives takes us from believing that we are what our parents told us we are or what society told us we are or what we imbibed from the culture, shedding that, and finally finding out who we really are, and that’s sort of the moment, the hero’s journey always ends, in Joseph Campbell terms, with the hero coming home, right? Odysseus coming back to Ithaca. And at that point, hopefully we’ve kind of found who we are and what our calling is.
And for me, it was a long journey, but at that point a new stage of our life takes over. I’ll say for me, it was when I finally got a novel published, The Legend of Bagger Vance. So that took me 28 years of “hero’s journey.” And in my view, this is me thinking about this later, I had no concept at the time. At that point I said to myself, “I’m a writer. I’m a real writer. I can do it. I’ve paid my dues.” And then the next question became, “Okay, now what am I going to write about? What is my gift?” If I’m here to bring kind of a gift to the people as the hero’s journey template says, my question to myself is, “What is that gift?” And so for the rest of my life, I feel, at that point I got on my artist’s journey, and now I’m a writer.
I’m going to write one thing. I’m going to write another. I’m going to write another. And the question I’m asking myself is, “What is book one? What is book two? What is book three? What is my gift? What am I here to give?” And I’ll blather on for a bit here, Tim, if you don’t mind.
Tim Ferriss: Please. I love your blathering.
Steven Pressfield: If you’ve ever heard of Richard Rohr, who wrote Falling Upward, I think it is. He’s a Franciscan monk and a very deep thinker, and he kind of divides life into two halves, first half and second half. And the first half of your life, he says, is when you’re sort of finding your identity and kind of establishing your presence on the planet, maybe you’re a mom and you say, “Oh, okay, I’m a mom. I’m that.” Or, “I’m a lawyer. I bought a house. I have a wife, I have children.” You’re sort of, in his words, Richard Rohr’s words, R-O-H-R. If you want to look it up, I highly recommend anything by him. You’re creating the vessel that is your life. And then in the second half of your life, you’re filling that vessel.
So, you sort of ask yourself, “Okay, now I can do it. I’ve got a house. I’ve, whatever. I have a profession. What am I going to do with this? Am I just going to be another crappy person that’s continuing the societal garbage that we have, or am I going to try to find my gift that’s unique to me and bring it forth to the world and try to help in one way or another?” So, that to me is, there’s the hero’s journey comes first, and when the hero’s journey is over, our artist’s journey begins.
Tim Ferriss: I love that.
Steven Pressfield: And I would define art as the broadest possible terms: anything that is a gift to the wider world.
Tim Ferriss: Part of the hero’s journey, as I understand it, and please correct me if I’m getting this wrong, is what is sometimes referred to as refusal of the call, right? When Luke Skywalker is just bitching and whining and doesn’t want to go see Yoda, et cetera, he’s just being a pain in the ass to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Everyone should re-watch Star Wars if you don’t remember this part —
Steven Pressfield: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: — or this section. Was there that element in your hero’s journey, getting to the point of having created the vessel, was there a refusal of the call? Did that play any role?
Steven Pressfield: Oh, absolutely. And I think it does in everybody’s life. In the hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell lays it out, there’s a bunch of stages and the hero’s journey, usually it starts in what Joseph Campbell would call the ordinary world. And it’s just you’re living your regular life, but something is wrong. In the case of Luke Skywalker, he’s on Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s evaporator farm on Tatooine, I guess, is the planet, right? And this is his ordinary life, right? He’s stuck. He’s nowhere. In fact, I think there’s somebody asked him at some point, “Where are you?” And he says, “If there’s a spot that’s the farthest point away from the bright center of the universe, that’s where I am.” Right? And so that’s kind of the ordinary. And then the next stage, this is very early in the hero’s journey.
And then the next stage is the call. And something happens that tends to pull you out of this ordinary world. In The Wizard of Oz, it’s Dorothy gets swept up in the tornado, and in Star Wars it’s that Luke Skywalker finds R2-D2 and he unplugs the little hologram that says, Princess Leia, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Right?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Steven Pressfield: So that’s the call, right? Suddenly he realized, “Uh-oh, I’ve got to do something here.” And then what follows immediately after that in Joseph Campbell paradigm is the refusal of the call where, for Luke, he goes, “No, I can’t leave. I’ve got responsibilities to Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, blah-blah-blah,” and that seems to be across the board. If you remember the first Rocky, the movie, when Apollo Creed — or the promoter calls Rocky into his office and says, “I’m going to give you a shot to fight the champ.”
And Rocky’s first reaction is, “No, I can’t do it. You’re crazy. This is a joke. I can’t do it,” or if we want to go back to another one, when Odysseus is being summoned to go fight in the Trojan War, his first reaction is, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do it.” And if you remember the myth, he pretends to be crazy. And he goes out and he’s sowing his fields with salt and the messenger who is sent to summon him takes his baby, the young Telemachus, Odysseus’ baby, and puts him in a furrow in the path of the plow. And when Odysseus comes to the baby, he veers around it, right? He’s not going to run over his baby. And the messenger says to him, “You’re faking. You’re really not crazy. Get on the boat, we’re going to the Trojan War.”
So that’s the refusal of the call. And for me, it was the first novel that I tried to write, which I had no business doing. I got two minutes from the end and I just blew it up and blew my whole life up. That was my refusal. I refused to go into the unknown world.
Tim Ferriss: How did you blow it up? Do you mean that you just stopped? You threw it —
Steven Pressfield: I’m not going to tell you actual details, but I did something that made my wife hate me and kick me out.
Tim Ferriss: Got it, okay.
Steven Pressfield: So that’s why. I acted out, as they would say in psychological terms. In other words, another form of self destruction. Those are my demons forever.
Tim Ferriss: Well, now they may be your demons forever, but perhaps you’re getting, or have become better at dancing with them instead of struggling against them. It seems like, at least referring to your mentors and lessons learned, that in some respect, and please correct me, disabuse me of this if it’s not true that you’ve been able to at least strike a deal with these demons because you —
Steven Pressfield: Yes. I have, yes.
Tim Ferriss: — you went from being unable to finish a novel to producing many works. So, what is that deal or how has that come to be the case?
Steven Pressfield: Well, let me just talk about a novel for a second.
Tim Ferriss: Please.
Steven Pressfield: After the first one that I wrote, that I couldn’t finish and I went on these various spiraling down the rat hole type of things. I finally got it together. I saved some money. I saved $2,700 working in advertising in New York. And I moved out to a little town in Northern California, determined to write a novel and finish. And I rented this little house and I was just by myself. And through that whole time, again, I was aware every second of my tendency to sabotage myself. And so I just said to myself, “I’m going to finish this son of a bitch or I’m going to kill myself.” And when I finally did, and I write about this in The War of Art, when I finally did finish it, and I typed those words, “The end,” I felt like my DNA changed, you know? And I will say that as an encouragement to anybody that’s listening, that’s struggling with the same stuff, once I was able to finish that thing, that novel, I’ve never had any trouble finishing anything ever again.
Tim Ferriss: That’s interesting.
Steven Pressfield: But it was just sheer willpower driven on by shame that I just couldn’t. I think shame is a great thing, but I just couldn’t stand myself if I failed yet again. So, I just had to keep going, keep going, keep going.
Tim Ferriss: Well, it seems like it’s possible and I’m speculating here, but when you finished that novel and you had the end, right, because confidence is just not something you can fake, right, in the respect that your true self knows whether you’ve earned it or it’s unearned. When you typed “the end,” the story of “I always self-sabotage” now had a counter-example. That statement was no longer.
Steven Pressfield: I never thought about it that way, Tim, but I think you’re absolutely right. Yeah. A counter-example.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. With The Legend of Bagger Vance. So, finishing a novel is one thing, getting a novel published is quite another endeavor, in many respects. So, 30-year overnight success. What happened? Did you end up drawing straws and you became the bridge partner of a book agent? What actually happened that allowed this publication — publishing your first book?
Steven Pressfield: Well, like I said, I wound up writing three novels that never got published. And when I finished the third one, that was sort of another kind of an “All is lost” moment, a suicide moment for me because I couldn’t get any — even my friends wouldn’t read it. And I knew that I just didn’t have the wherewithal to do this again, to save up money, to work for two years. I just didn’t have the wherewithal. And so I decided, or sort of came to me as a flash, that I would go to Hollywood. I thought, “Let me write a screenplay. Let me try Hollywood. If I failed as a novelist, let me go fail as a screenwriter.” So I did go out to Los Angeles and after about four or five years, I did have an agent. I kept writing screenplays that also didn’t sell. And finally, I got kind of teamed up with an established writer, a guy named Ron Shusett who did the first Alien, among other things, and who was a real brand name and a real guy that really could get work. And so I —
Tim Ferriss: How did you get teamed up with him? I’m sorry to keep interrupting, but Alien turned into an iconic film.
Steven Pressfield: Oh, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, he created a franchise.
Steven Pressfield: Great film.
Tim Ferriss: How did you get teamed up with him?
Steven Pressfield: Well, I had an agent, a wonderful agent named Mike Warner, who tragically died at a young age, and he had other clients, and Ron was one of his other clients. And Ron usually worked with a partner. And at that time, because Ron was more of a producer-writer than a writer-writer.
Tim Ferriss: What is a producer-writer?
Steven Pressfield: A writer-writer is the guy that actually sits down at the page, at the typewriter, and actually writes the scenes and so on and so forth. A producer-writer is somebody who is great at coming up with the ideas, the big ideas, and also sort of shepherding a story through from start to finish. And also is a producer in the sense of being able to get financing and take the meetings and make a deal. So, whereas Ron was not the kind of writer that could actually sit down and write the screenplay. But he could say — I would sit there and come up with like 30 ideas. “What if we do this? What if we do that? Why don’t we do that?” And he would say “29 of them suck; do this one.” You know?
Tim Ferriss: He’s the guy who would say, “It’s Jaws in space. Act one, two, three, here’s the deck.” He could line up all of the ducks in a row —
Steven Pressfield: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: — to get the financing.
Steven Pressfield: For instance, that great scene in Alien where the thing bursts out of John Hurt’s chest, that is Ron’s scene. That was his idea.
Tim Ferriss: Which is burned into anyone’s mind who has ever seen one of the Aliens movies.
Steven Pressfield: So you can’t say just because maybe he didn’t actually physically write it at the typewriter — that was his. So it’s a very creative thing to be a producer.
Tim Ferriss: So he usually works with a partner. He’s more of a producer-writer instead of the writer-writer. You have the same agent, please continue.
Steven Pressfield: So Mike said to us, “Let me team you guys up, and you’ll be a team.” And so that, from my point of view, I now became an apprentice. I was the like, junior partner of this team. And when we would go to meetings in Hollywood, nobody wanted me, they wanted Ron. He was the brand. And I was the guy that actually sat at the keyboard. So in any event, for maybe 10 years or so, I did have a career as a screenwriter. And so that was gaining credibility for me and also I was learning what a story is by the process that you go through. And then at one point I just had this idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance. And I had it as a book, not as a movie. And so when I told that to my agent then at the time, he basically fired me.
Tim Ferriss: Unceremoniously.
Steven Pressfield: My story is that I fired him, but his story is that he fired me. But basically he was absolutely right, because what he said to me was, “I’ve spent the last five years trying to get your career going, and we’re now just about to get going and you’re telling me you’re going to write some stupid golf novel that nobody’s going to buy and nobody’s going to read. It’s going to take you a year to write it. And by that time, everybody will have forgotten who you are here in the business in Hollywood. And I’m back to square one. I’ve spent a lot of time working with you, so get out of here.” So, but in any event, that was how an actual novel that I wrote actually got published. So it was sort of a smooth transition. And when you know the actual passage there, it didn’t just come out of nowhere.
Tim Ferriss: So, you broke up with this agent or he broke up with you, you go off to write this thing. The agent has these doubts and believes that you’re going to sort of sink into oblivion and become irrelevant, right? You’re just going to be completely forgotten. You march off to pursue this dream and this project. From there, not to beat a dead horse about this, but how does it then find a home with a publisher?
Steven Pressfield: It was like, I joke that I was an overnight success after 30 years. And I think sometimes your bad luck builds up to such an extent that it turns into good luck. Law of averages starts to work for you, right? And what happened was, you have to get a literary agent, right? Which I didn’t have, I had a Hollywood agent. So I went to my lawyer. I had an entertainment lawyer named Larry Rose, and he sent me to an agent named Jody Hotchkiss in New York who worked for Sterling Lord, who was a big literary agent, who is still my agent and just turned 100 years old, by the way. And so almost overnight, that manuscript just found a buyer, boom, boom, boom. It found a buyer, found a movie buyer, found everything right away. So, I think it was just a law of averages finally even down a little bit.
Tim Ferriss: That’s just incredible. What a story. So I’d like to ask you about momentum in your life. And I’m asking, this is where I might segue at least indirectly into some therapy for myself. So I am looking at an interview you’ve done and it’s discussing the little successes approach, and I’m just going to read the first paragraph and then you can tell me if things have changed. But the first paragraph, and this is your response to a question. I think this is on writingroutines.com. “I’m at the gym at 5:30 every morning but it takes me till around 11:30 to actually sit down and start work. I used to be able to put in four hours but these days two and a half is my outer limit. I close the office then. I never work later or at night.” And then you talked about your friend Randy. Could you speak to the little successes approach and what this schedule represents?
Steven Pressfield: Randy is Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart and has directed a bunch of movies as well. And he’s a good friend of mine out here. And he has a theory that he calls little successes and it means that from the moment he gets out of bed, and I believe this too exactly, he’s looking ahead to the moment when he actually sits down and has to write, whatever time that may be for him, nine o’clock, 10 o’clock, whatever. And he’s trying to produce a series of little successes between now and then to generate momentum. And he counts brushing his teeth as a little success. And I do too. And one of the reasons I like to go to the gym early or do something physical early is because I’m trying to build up a little successes so that by the time I get to sit down at the page, I feel like I’ve got some momentum going. I’ve done, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I took out the garbage, I’ve fed the birds, and I’ve got a little momentum going. And I think it’s very important.
I mean, even if you think about, let’s say a basketball player. Think about Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or anybody, Steph Curry or whatever, going to a game tonight. They’re at the stadium three and a half hours early. And even before then they’ve been at the gym or they’ve been getting a massage or mentally they’re preparing themselves and they go through, if you watch Steph Curry do his routine, it’s like I don’t know what. It’s amazing what he does. Big rubber bands between his knees to strengthen his knees. And he does 100 shots from by beyond the arch. And he’s trying to build up little successes so that when the game starts, he’s in the flow immediately and he’s at the highest possible level. That’s the theory, anyway.
Tim Ferriss: What is your preferred exercise routine? Do you have any favorite exercises or workouts?
Steven Pressfield: I’m now in the COVID thing where I’m doing it out on my deck, but for up until the COVID thing I trained with a wonderful trainer named T.R. Goodman at a place called Pro Camp at Gold’s Gym in Venice. And he has a whole thing that he does with us who train with him. We usually train in a group of two or three guys, and it’s basically just really straight, basic weight training. Squats and curls and stuff like that. Legs on one day. Just very basic stuff.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a very iconic location as far as gyms go.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah. Now it’s all in a tent in the parking lot.
Tim Ferriss: Right, so it’s changed a bit during pandemic times. So the little successes approach makes sense to me and really appeals to me. And there’s so much variation, of course, when you talk to writers about process, right? So I recently interviewed Joyce Carol Oates, and I’ve when I was an undergrad took just a wonderful seminar with John McPhee, and both of them seem to basically sit down, chain themselves to a desk, and write for eight hours. And their feeling is you can’t wait for mood. You can’t wait for the muse to strike. You really just need to start writing, and that will produce the conditions for writing.
I have sometimes had the experience of that working, but perhaps it’s just a weakness of character. I often break. I also just break. I’m just like, “God, this is fucking terrible.” And I stopped. And then you have maybe a contrast and I’m not saying this is all or nothing, one approach or the other, but folks like B.J. Novak who people might recognize who spends quite a lot of time getting himself into a good mood. So he might take a few hours to get himself into the proper mood to write and he’s prolific and very successful. And then there’s this little successes approach.
I suppose the question piggybacked off this is how should someone think about developing a routine for their own writing process or creative process? Let’s stick with writing just because it’s what we’re talking about. Even though I think the discussion extends to many other areas. How should somebody think about figuring it out? Because even for me personally, I have, we’ll talk about this afterwards, but I’ve been having quite a lot of challenges writing in the past few years. And so I’ve tried to reach into the grab bag of different routines and I found it challenging because so many of them are diametrically opposed or seem to be.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So, how would you talk someone through finding something that works for them or making sense of conflicting advice?
Steven Pressfield: The one thing I would say is that it seems to me that every writer or artist has a unique way of doing it. And I don’t think there’s any kind of one size fits all type of thing. There was an article in The L.A. Times a few years ago where they interviewed screenwriters and they were asked what was their routine. And they interviewed five writers and three of them wrote in their cars. And this is true.
Tim Ferriss: That’s amazing.
Steven Pressfield: And one of them wrote in their car when it was moving. Now I don’t know how they did this, but it just goes to show you that whatever works, works. Like Joyce Carol Oates or John McPhee doing eight hours, that is beyond my comprehension. I just can’t imagine.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s like an Alex Honnold in Free Solo, but for the writing world, I can’t can’t process that.
Steven Pressfield: But I do agree with them that — there’s a famous quote that I quoted in The War of Art and now I’m blanking on who it was, a famous writer who they asked him, “Do you write on a schedule or only when inspiration strikes you?” Oh, Somerset Maugham. And he said, “I write only when inspiration strikes me.” He says, “Fortunately it strikes me every morning at 9:30 sharp.” So he was a believer in routine, right?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steven Pressfield: And another person, there’s a wonderful book by Twyla Tharp, I’m sure you’re aware of this, Tim, called The Creative Habit, and she kind of describes her habits and she’s kind of like me. She goes to the gym at the crack of dawn. Every day she catches a cab at exactly the same time, goes to the exact same place. And she’s trying to build up those little successes for when she gets to the studio and actually has to work, but to go a little deeper than that, in my book The War of Art, I talk about the concept of resistance with a capital R, which is again, that force of self-sabotage is a big theme in my life, that will try to stop you as a writer or an artist or anybody from achieving your best work, from following your calling, will try to distract you, undermine your self-confidence, make you procrastinate, make you quit, make you give into fear, or on the other hand, make you such a perfectionist that you spend all day on one paragraph and you accomplish nothing. And the whole thing of little successes, the concept of little successes, or of a routine, is to help you overcome that resistance, to help anybody — that’s the wall that you know you’re going to hit.
And so you’re mentally preparing yourself for that moment when you sit down and that negative force hits you, that you’ve got enough momentum and enough self-confidence, or your friend who gets himself in a good mood, you’re in enough of a good place, you’ve got enough good karma and good juju going for you that you could get through that wall of resistance and then just get into a rhythm and get into the flow and then just keep it going. That’s the whole concept behind little successes or a routine or habits. And I’m a big believer in habits.
Tim Ferriss: Me too. When I have been, I suppose, what we might call successful in writing, just getting anything consistently on pages, it’s been with some form of scaffolding in the form of routine. And one that actually worked for me, I hadn’t thought about this, to finish at least one book, maybe two, was copying what I believe it was Maya Angelou maybe, who would rent a hotel room to work out of, to put herself in a different environment that was dedicated to writing. And when I was living in San Francisco, I remember Hotel Vitale was this hotel right on the Embarcadero, and I would rent a room when I got really stuck to put myself in a different environment. And for whatever reason, I mean, I’m sure it’s a placebo effect because how could it not be, right? It’s got to be harnessing the mind and pulling an Aikido move on your own psyche that really, really helped.
You’ve mentioned a number of books. So The War of Art, I think everyone should read, certainly. Then Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit. I’ve also read, you mentioned Stephen King’s On Writing, Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry Phillips, and Henry Miller On Writing. Henry Miller’s just incredible. One that I’m not familiar with, I would love to hear you just expand on for a second, and the line here that I’m reading is “For integrating the editor’s mindset into the writing process, the best book is The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne,” I think it is C-O-Y-N-E. What does that mean, “the editor’s mindset into the writing process?”
Steven Pressfield: Before I say to that, I want to say that your idea of checking into a hotel room, I think is a great idea. That’s something that might be unique to you, Tim. That might be a trick that works for you.
Tim Ferriss: It’s safer than driving a car and writing.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah. It is kind of an Aikido. It’s a way of tricking yourself to somehow, “Oh, I can’t work there, but I can work here.” If it works, it works.
Tim Ferriss: Right, right. Totally.
Steven Pressfield: But The Story Grid, Shawn Coyne actually was my first editor. He was the editor who bought Gates of Fire.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no kidding. Amazing.
Steven Pressfield: We’re really good friends and we’re partners in a little publishing company that we have called Black Irish Books. So I know Shawn very well. And Shawn, he’s a Harvard guy and he has evolved this concept of editing that he calls the story grid, and it’s incredibly deep. If you and I were looking at this, it’s like Einstein. I can’t even begin to grasp what it is, but he really has a whole concept from A to Z of what a story is, what a scene is, and so on and so forth, that he calls a story grid. I highly recommend his website, www.storygrid.com. If you want to be an editor, if you want to be a writer, he teaches this whole concept, and it’s great.
But getting back to integrating the editor’s mindset to the writer’s mindset. A lot of times I found me as a writer, I will just spew stuff out in a novel, let’s say. I’ll just be consumed with a story and I’ll just take it from A to Z without even thinking about it. And then I have to bring it to Shawn, and he tells me what the story is about, which I never had any clue what the theme is, and also will help to shape it into an actual story that really works. And a lot of the editor’s mindset has to do with the hero’s journey and that whole concept of act one, act two, act three, refusal of the call that we were talking about earlier.
Shawn has another company of his own that he calls Genre Management. He’s a big believer in genre in the sense that like a thriller has certain obligatory scenes and conventions, and a love story has certain obligatory scenes and conventions, a western has certain, and you have to know them. And that’s what an editor does. For instance, if you’re going to have a love story, there always has to be a rival. That’s a big thing. Think of any love story in the world. And there also almost always has to be the lovers part in the middle or towards the end and then they come back together at the end, or they fail to come back together at the end. And that’s what an editor brings to a writer’s huge pile of papers that you bring and dump on the editor’s desk, is he or she is aware of the various structures that actually work and the principles of storytelling.
And when you’ve violated them, an editor can bring you back from that, or when you have left certain things out that need to be in there, an editor will say, “You need to do this.” So if you can educate yourself as a writer in that editor’s way of thinking, you can become your own editor in a sense, and it really helps you. I mean, I do maybe 15 drafts of a book and seventh, eighth, ninth, I’m really thinking like an editor. I’m looking at this and saying, “What’s missing? What have I done wrong? What conventions have I violated? And if I have violated them, do I have a good reason for it?” So I’m not sure that’s an answer, Tim, but that’s —
Tim Ferriss: That is an answer.
Steven Pressfield: — I highly recommend anything to do with Shawn Coyne and Story Grid.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to ask you about A Man at Arms. First, I want to take this opportunity to paint a picture of the last week in my life, if I may be self-indulgent for a second.
Steven Pressfield: Please do. Please do.
Tim Ferriss: So, I have this newsletter called Five Bullet Friday. It’s five short bullets of things that I’ve found interesting or helpful or novel throughout each week. And I had the experience —
Steven Pressfield: I’m a subscriber, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, wonderful. I appreciate that.
Steven Pressfield: So I know all about it.
Tim Ferriss: I love doing it. And it serves as a diary of sorts for me. And I had the experience in the last week of one of those bullets expanding dramatically and ultimately becoming close to a 10-page blog post, which if people want to check out, it’s related to conservation and ethical choices in the world of psychedelic compounds. They can find it at tim.blog. But the point that I want to make, or the contrast maybe, is I wrote this piece. I was very happy to have finally written this piece, even though I’m catching heat from certain factions within the psychedelic communities for it, because it’s been a very long time since I’ve written a blog post, a long form blog post.
That having been said, I was interviewed yesterday by a friend of mine, Harley of Shopify fame. And he read a passage from The 4-Hour Workweek in the course of that interview, because he’s read the book. He’s very kind. He wanted to use it as a launching pad for discussion. And he read a few paragraphs from The 4-Hour Workweek, and here’s what you can probably guess. Here’s what I thought to myself. “Goddamn, I have done nothing but become worse at writing since I was 29. For fuck’s sake, what am I doing with my life?”
And I became hyper self critical. I was like, “Man, look at how many em dashes I have in this long-form blog post I just put up. What kind of crutch is this? I’m using em dashes like they’re going out of style.” And so on and so forth. So this just litany of abuse, just rolled off the brain while it attacked itself. And this has been a large part of my own resistance, the feeling that my best work is behind me and I can’t replicate it, or not replicate it, because I don’t want to become an imitation of myself. But that for whatever reason, the pixie dust has been lost. Or that I’ve atrophied, I’ve so let the muscles atrophy that I’m past the point of no return. Have you ever contended with this? If you haven’t, what advice, or even if you have, what advice would you give for people who are bumping up against this? Because it’s been a real hindrance. I recognize it’s self-imposed, but it’s been a real hindrance to me actually putting pen to paper, so to speak.
Steven Pressfield: Well, here’s my thoughts on that, Tim. Resistance with a capital R, the force of self-sabotage, is tremendously diabolical and nuanced and protean, and subtle, incredibly subtle, and it will attack us at our weakest point. It usually will attack us in an area where there’s some truth to what we might fear about ourselves. So I would say for sure, Tim, that thought that you have is bullshit. It’s Resistance. It’s totally Resistance. There’s nothing wrong with you. You haven’t lost any pixie dust. That is pure Resistance. It’s finding a weak spot in you. It just knows it. It’s like the alien knows how to get after you. The form it takes for me might be different. The weak spot it might find in me might be different, but I think it’s just finding that in you.
And I think the only way to deal with it is to just dismiss it. Take my word for it, it’s bullshit. There’s no grounding in it at all. Just keep doing what you’re doing. I remember I had a friend when I first came out to Los Angeles, a fellow screenwriter, and he got on the phone with me one night. He was in hysteria because he was sure that he was over the hill. And I asked him, I said, “Tom, how old are you?” He said “22.” This is true. So Resistance will find that weak spot, that chink in our armor, but don’t pay any attention to it, Tim. Dismiss it. It’s bullshit.
Tim Ferriss: Well, thank you for that. I have to follow-up by asking: what purpose does Resistance serve? Why does it exist? I try to think of things in evolutionary terms. Maybe this is just some sort of vestigial mutation that has just persisted, but doesn’t actually have a utility, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, why it exists.
Steven Pressfield: I’m not sure. Seth Godin thinks it’s the lizard brain. What is it? Amygdala, whatever it is. I never have quite understood, but to me, and I’m going to get a little airy fairy here, a little metaphysical, I think that if we think of our identity, we can say that there’s at least two parts of it. One I would call the ego, and the other I would call the Self with a capital S, in the Jungian sense of Self. The ego is our rational mind. It’s the part of us that pays taxes and goes down and gets a driver’s license and becomes a lawyer or whatever, whatever. And that ego is our I, the letter I. And we obviously have to have an ego. We have to have that I, that we know how to stop at a stop light and all that sort of stuff.
And then there’s the other thing that Jung would call the Self with a capital S, and that Self includes the deep, deep unconscious, the collective unconscious, the hero’s journey, the archetypes, all of these things that we’re not aware of until Freud finally discovered this, but that are driving us in a good way, many times in a really good way. And also according to Jung, the Self with a capital S butts up against what they call the divine ground. And I love that. It’s what I would say is where inspiration comes from. It really is divinity. It’s beyond mortality. It’s the muse. It’s inspiration. It’s anytime you get into the zone, that’s where you are, as an athlete, as an artist or whatever. So I’m getting back to Resistance, trust me.
Tim Ferriss: I believe you.
Steven Pressfield: What I think is when we, as artists or as athletes or as anything, begin to shift our identity from our ego to ourself, when we start trusting in intuition, when we start trusting in our deep dreams, in our deep inspiration from sources that we don’t know what it is, like for me, writing the novels that I wrote that I never thought, that just came out of nowhere. It made no sense, but are coming from a deeper source. Anyway, when we start to identify with the Self and turn over our nexus of control to that, the ego becomes threatened because the ego realizes that it’s going to lose. The ego strikes back and creates Resistance. And its goal is to try to convince us that this other world of inspiration, of intuition, of the muse or the Self is a phony world. It’s bullshit. Don’t pay attention to it. Stay here with me, Mr. Egon, the ego. That’s what it is to me.
I got into an email correspondence with a monk from Self-Realization Fellowship, Brother Kivashananda. Are you familiar with Self-Realization Fellowship?
Tim Ferriss: I am not.
Steven Pressfield: Anyway, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s Paramahansa Yogananda’s thing that he started. And he was telling me about beyond the Bhagavad Gita and the story of Arjuna and Krishna, in this great battle in the Bhagavad Gita, is the ego is a character named Bhishma. And Arjuna finally slays the ego, shooting him with 108 arrows. And he’s shot so full of arrows that he’s on his back supported by the arrows, and it takes him a month to die. And even as he’s dying, Bhishma, he’s constantly spouting his bullshit about how he’s still in charge, he’s still in charge, he’s still in charge.
And I think that we, as artists or athletes, I think are trying to get beyond the ego, or Buddhist meditators or people doing ayahuasca or whatever, we’re trying to get beyond the ego into whatever is next. But the ego doesn’t want us to get beyond it and the ego will hang on and take a month to die. And that’s what I think Resistance is. It’s the ego’s way of trying to hang on to control of us.
Tim Ferriss: I really like that. It rings true to me in so many respects. I mean, the ego — if we are not what our ego believes us to be, a lawyer, a this, a that —
Steven Pressfield: Which we’re not.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Someone who does X, someone who always or never does Y, then what are we? And that uncertainty is very threatening. So it makes a lot of sense that there would be a violent opposition by the ego to —
Steven Pressfield: I mean, I may be completely wrong, but this is my theory.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s certainly helpful to think of. It’s a useful lens to look at this through. And this may be very related. I would love to hear you define or describe what a shadow career is. I read a relatively short blog post of yours that discussed this. And I think it could be very helpful to explore.
Steven Pressfield: I’ll give you an example from the movie business. As you know, in the movie business, you need a lawyer. There are law firms, entertainment law firms. In fact, Rich Roll, the wonderful podcaster and athlete, used to be an entertainment lawyer.
Tim Ferriss: He did.
Steven Pressfield: And entertainment lawyers, directors, if you’re a director or an actor or a writer, you have to have a lawyer because when deals come up, they make the deals for you. They get the contracts. And I have found that when you talk to, not all entertainment lawyers, but some entertainment lawyers, secretly they want to be writers, or they want to be directors. And what they have done in becoming lawyers to some extent, is their law career is like a shadow career. It’s adjacent to what they really want to do. They really want to direct or they really want to write, but for whatever reasons, they were afraid to do it.
So they thought, well, I can go to law school, and that will give me a trade, an occupation, a profession I can count on. And so the law becomes kind of a shadow career for them. Another instance of that is a lot of times people will work as other people’s assistants. They’ll pick up their dry cleaning. They’ll do all of that sort of stuff, and that’s a shadow career. Of course, it’s also a legitimate thing. It can be an apprenticeship where you’re working for a photographer or whatever, whatever, and you’re learning. But it also can be, because a lot of times, those people who are people’s assistants really want to do what their boss is doing, be a musician, be a rockstar, whatever it is, but for whatever reason they’re afraid to. And so they pick a profession that’s kind of adjacent to where they want to be, but it doesn’t have the same risk.
Tim Ferriss: I want to underscore this for folks because I think it is exceptionally common. I see the temptation in myself also and around me in certain capacities. So, it’s really worth having on the radar, I think. I’m going to read just a little bit of this blog post from 2012, which is on your website, stevenpressfield.com. And I think this is More from Turning Pro, at least that’s the URL. So here we go.
“Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.
“Are you pursuing a shadow career?
“Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan” — if that’s how you say that — “Studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?”
These are really good questions. I think they’re really important questions. And the drug-and-booze half example, I think is also very important because it’s possible to grab the romanticized risky portions of a possible real passion and emulate them in a shadow career in a way that actually has quite a lot of downside risk with none of the upside potential.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah, true. I mean, I think, not to overstate it, but sometimes addiction is a shadow career. That you’re acting out the wild and crazy lifestyle rather than actually doing the work to be a musician or to be a whatever.
Tim Ferriss: What do you say to people who would answer yes, in the sense that they are able to be honest with themselves and say, “You’re totally right. I am actually doing that, but like you said, this is low risk and the pursuit of what I really want to do does entail risk, and I’m afraid?”
Steven Pressfield: Well, there’s no way around it except to actually do it. If I were advising anybody or advising myself if I were in that condition, I would say, “Get into some kind of therapy. Get into something that will help you elevate your consciousness about this, let you explore it, introspection. And at some point it will become pretty clear what your real dream is.” Maybe if you’re a photographer’s assistant, you really say, “Oh, I want to be a cinematographer. I’d love to be Vilmos Zsigmond, I want to shoot Scorsese’s next movie, whatever. I’d love to do that.” Then it’s a matter of, I hate to talk about the ego, but getting back into rationality and saying, “Okay, how do I pursue that? Should I go to school? Should I apprentice myself on a track that will actually take me there? Or should I…” whatever, figure out what the actual track is that will get you to that dream.
And then the other thing I’d say is, talking to myself again, is be very aware of your own tendency to self-sabotage, of Resistance, and watch out for any of those mental self conversations that will try to talk you out of doing it. Build up your professional habits and just go for it. Just go for it.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll add one thing to that, which has been very helpful to me. So I’m saying this to myself also, because it’s probably time for me to do this again, with respect to writing. And that is take a look at an exercise, you can find it online, called fear-setting, that I’ve written quite a bit about. I also did a TED Talk related to the subject because it’s saved my life in some ways. And it’s really just a rephrasing and presenting of an exercise from the Stoics called premeditatio malorum, so meditating on the worst case.
This is just a practice of actually putting to paper what the worst things are that could happen, how you might mitigate against them, how you could minimize the damage or reverse the damage. And as Seneca the Younger has said, of course not in English and I’m paraphrasing here, but “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” And it’s easy to believe or to overestimate the threats that exist from action while underestimating the risks of inaction when they’re trapped in your head. But when you put them on paper, it actually loses oftentimes a lot of its force. So I would just recommend people take a look at fear-setting, with a hyphen in the middle.
Let’s talk about A Man at Arms. You have your creative how to books, The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do the Work, and so on. Then you have your historical fiction, which is just outstanding, Gates of Fire, Tides of War, The Afghan Campaign, and now A Man at Arms. Why did you write this new book? How did it come to be? What was the genesis story?
Steven Pressfield: Before we go away, let me come back and talk about fear-setting. I want to say something after that, when we’re done.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Steven Pressfield: There’s only been like one recurring character in my historical fiction, and he is this gunslinger of the ancient world, Telamon of Arcadia, a one-man killing machine of the ancient world. He’s been in three books of mine as a minor character, but I’ve always been fascinated by this guy. And in fact, a lot of readers have been fascinated by him too. And I’ve always wanted to write a book only about him. This is another weird thing, Tim, about the creative process. A lot of times, I will block out a story and I know exactly what each character represents and who they are and what they’re going to do. But this one character Telamon, that one-man killing machine of the ancient world, came on the page to me fully formed. I didn’t plan him. I had no idea where he came from. And not only was he fully formed, but he had a deep philosophy and a very dark philosophy, a real warrior, samurai philosophy. So I wanted to write this book about him, only about him, because I wanted to follow his journey. He was really sort of, in the other stories, at the end of his hero’s journey. And I was wondering, where was he going to go from there?
For like 13 years, I tried to come up with a story that would work and I just did outline after outline. I never could find it. Finally, I just had a flash about adding to his world a young, vulnerable girl. A nine-year-old girl, a mute girl. And somehow that sort of cracked the story for me.
This book came very fast. It’s set in first century, right after the crucifixion, in Jerusalem and in the Sinai desert. I just wanted this guy, character of Telamon, is sort of an alter ego for me. I know on some crazy, unconscious level, I’m bound to this character in some way. And his story is my story, in some way. I don’t know what it is.
Writing, as you know, particularly fiction, is like a dream in that you enter another dimension of reality when you’re sitting down to write and you don’t know what’s going to come, a lot of times. The work takes on a life of its own and it’ll pull you along. So that was this book for me. I wanted to see where Telamon would go and what his arc would be. And I know I’m going to have to write another one because I haven’t got to the end of it yet, but that was the genesis of A Man at Arms.
Tim Ferriss: And when you write a book like this, since I have no experience with fiction, although I’m endlessly fascinated by it, I think I’m afraid of it, honestly, because I read good fiction and I think to myself —
Steven Pressfield: There’s a good reason to be afraid.
Tim Ferriss: Good Lord. I just cannot. I just don’t know how humans do this. Do you write a book like this simply because you are a writer and fiction is a way of exploring this alternate reality? Is it because you hope to impart certain messages or lessons that people will learn from? What are the reasons behind an undertaking?
Steven Pressfield: I’m absolutely a believer, as you know, in the muse. I believe in another dimension of reality, I believe that books or songs or businesses exist in the realm of potential before they exist in the real world. I believe that as a writer, I am a servant of the muse and I believe this book, A Man at Arms, it existed in that other dimension. I was called on to bring it forth in this dimension. So I really don’t have a message. I do want to explore certain aspects of the character, but mainly this story just seized me. And I felt like I’ve got to tell this story. I’ve got to get it. I’ve got to make it work in a hero’s journey terms and I’ve got to tell it in the right way and solve all those problems.
But mainly, I just wanted to tell this story, like a singer would want to sing a certain song or a dancer would want to dance a certain dance. So that was the reason. It’s just the story just seized me and came very fast and very easy.
Tim Ferriss: What would you say, if you have an answer for this, distinguishes the books that come fast and easy from those that are more difficult, those that are maybe just a hard slog?
Steven Pressfield: It seems the hard ones don’t work and the easy ones do. It’s almost like if it’s hard, maybe it’s a reason why it’s hard.
Tim Ferriss: Why are you pushing a boulder uphill, right?
Steven Pressfield: Which is not to say, even the easy ones are hard in the sense that there are a lot of technical problems to solve. Like I just did a video on Instagram. I was talking about the original manuscript of Gates of Fire, it was 802 pages long and the book was finally 384. So I had to, basically, cut it in half. So that was a technical problem that was hard. But the book itself was easy. The book came with a lot of energy, just like A Man at Arms just kind of came. In fact, I don’t even have really a memory of writing it. I know I wrote it last year, but it just came in a real rush.
Tim Ferriss: I would love to experience more of that in my writing. Sounds like I just have to get on the playing field a bit more often.
Steven Pressfield: Sight unseen, Tim. We don’t know each other. It’s the first time we’ve really talked for a long time, and if you’ll forgive me for being your psychotherapist here for a second.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, please.
Steven Pressfield: I think maybe you should think about writing fiction at some point.
Tim Ferriss: I agree with you. I agree with you. I do. I do. I think I’m psyching myself out and I think it would be so freeing for me to do it because my nonfiction books are so carefully, meticulously architected. There are no surprises. They’re — everything is intended to be as clear, which is fine, and prescriptive and represent such a logical sequence and building —
Steven Pressfield: I know what you mean, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: — that for the writer, for me, there’s very little element of surprise. That harnessing of the muse is minimal, in a sense. It exists with turns of phrase and certain thoughts about composition. But I appreciate you saying that and I agree. I would like to try some fiction. Just write it maybe for a handful of friends. Although let me make one comment, actually coming way back to something you said at the very early beginnings of this conversation, when you said you wrote a novel and even your friends wouldn’t read it. I wanted to just say that if you write, for those people out there who haven’t written much, don’t be overly offended or demoralized if your friends don’t read it because my friends and especially my family, I’m not going to name out names, are the last people who will ever read my stuff, including now. I think it’s just like — yeah.
Steven Pressfield: It’s absolutely true. I couldn’t agree more, Tim. And there’s a reason for that, too. They are the last people who — I couldn’t get my mother to read anything. It’s because the people who are close to you, when you write something or you take a chance, they sense you changing. You’re becoming a different person and their fear is they’re going to lose you. And so they want to make you stay the way you are. And that’s, in a crazy way, it’s love. It’s out of love, but it’s a dark side of love.
But let me say a couple things to you, Tim, for whatever this is worth, forgive me for being presumptuous. But if you do decide to write fiction, here’s what I would suggest. First of all, don’t start small. Don’t say, “Oh, I’ll only write a short story,” because that’s kind of a pussy way of doing it. Seriously, and a muse doesn’t like that. She wants you to go big, so go for something big, I would suggest. And also, the way you’ll know the idea is that it will be terrifying to you, the prospect of exposing yourself to do this. And that’s the one you should do.
Tim Ferriss: I love that.
Steven Pressfield: I encourage you to do that.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t piss off the muse with small ambitions.
Steven Pressfield: Really.
Tim Ferriss: Or maybe not “piss off.” Don’t insult the muse.
Steven Pressfield: The 4-Hour Workweek was a big idea, a huge idea, and an idea that you could have fallen completely on your face. People sort of laughed you out of it, but you did it and it worked. So I would say do the same concept, only with fiction.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I’m going to take that to heart.
Steven Pressfield: Let me get back for one second to fear-setting. It was just one thing I wanted to say.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, please.
Steven Pressfield: To reinforce what you were saying, a few years ago I wrote a book called The Lion’s Gate, which was about the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Six-Day War. I went over to Israel and I interviewed a bunch of fighter pilots. I had never really talked to fighter pilots before. The thing that they have in common, the mindset of a fighter pilot, is exactly what you were saying. Before they would go up on a mission, they would sit down and for hours in solitude, run the mission in their mind, thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong. “What if I get a flame out over the Sinai desert? What if my guns don’t fire? What if I’m attacked from out of the sun?” Whatever. And they would sort of, in their mind, play out all of these worst-case scenarios. When they had played them out and they knew what they were going to do, then they were ready to go. And I thought, “That is a great way to think about things.” Because the last thing you always want to be able to have to say if something is, “Oh, I never saw it coming.” Right?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Steven Pressfield: So I heartily agree with that idea of fear-setting, that whole Stoic concept. I think it’s a great thing.
Tim Ferriss: Well let’s use that as a jumping off point to something I know very little about, but I’ve seen it come up in some discussions. And that is the concept of, I’m not going to get the pronunciation here correct, but, “yetzer hara.”
Steven Pressfield: Ah, yetzer hara.
Tim Ferriss: Yetzer hara. What is “yetzer hara”?
Steven Pressfield: I wish I had my rabbi, Rabbi Mordecai Finley here to explain it to us. But apparently, it’s a phrase from Genesis and it’s translated by Rabbi Finley as “a turning toward evil.” And he has said to me that this is a concept in kabbalistic thought, in Jewish mysticism. And it’s the equivalent of my concept of Resistance with a capital R. It’s that force that exists in the world to stop us from going to a lower level to a higher level, to realizing our calling, to coming into our own, it’s that negative force.
And in Jewish mysticism, there’s a concept that life happens on more than one dimension and that we live on the material dimension and above us is a higher dimension that’s called the neshama, and that is the soul. And when they talk about the soul is that above every blade of grass is an angel saying, “Grow, grow.” The soul, or what I would say would be the unconscious or the muse, is actively engaged in our life and trying to help us. And we are trying to reach up to the soul at the same time the soul is trying to reach down to us and help us. In between the two is this force called the yetzer hara, this negative force of self-sabotage.
When Rabbi Finley told me that, that that was something that existed in Jewish thought for years and years, I thought, “Ah, I’m not crazy. Other people have thought about the same thing.” Actually, in Genesis, as I understand this right, I may be getting it wrong, but is the story where God decides to destroy the human race. And he regrets and repents that he made us and he looks down and he sees everywhere a turning toward evil, meaning this is the yetzer hara. And this is when God decides to send the flood to wipe us out and Noah survives, right? In this kind of spiritual sense, it’s almost a flaw in the universe that when God created us, at least according to kabbalistic thought, he made a mistake, he screwed up.
Tim Ferriss: Bug in the software.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah, a bug in the software. And certainly, if you look at the human race, there is a turning toward evil everywhere. There’s something wrong with us. I would say it’s a lack of connection to the soul, what we were talking about, about the self and the ego, the resistance and everything. So in any event, that’s what the yetzer hara is, as I understand it. I may be wrong, but as I understand it in a kabbalistic Jewish mysticism.
Tim Ferriss: So I would love to ask just a few more questions. The first few are going to be related to my homework assignment, or recommendation, of writing fiction. You said, “Go big.” In my mind, I’m thinking that could mean a novel, it could mean a screenplay. So I’d like you to elaborate on what that means. But also, I know that I have a tendency to read and prepare, perhaps excessively, often as a form of procrastination.
Steven Pressfield: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: I can read 10 books before I ever set pen to paper. Since I have no exposure or experience with fiction writing, are there any books I should read or things I should consider before I begin? Or literally, should I just say to myself, “I’m going to write a novel. I don’t even know how novels are structured, but I’m going to start with page one today.” So there’s the question of: what is big? What does that actually mean to you? And then, how much preparation, if any, or education is the right amount before beginning?
Steven Pressfield: I think when I say, “Go big,” I think that the muse likes it. Fortune favors the bold. And I think when we try for something big, we’re taking the initiative and we’re invoking a tailwind behind us, whereas if we are kind of timid and we say, “Oh, well, just let me do this small little thing that I’m going to do,” I don’t think the muse likes that.
And I don’t like it in advertising. When I was working in advertising, I used to come up with the tiniest ideas. It was really pathetic and I’d bring them in with the boss and he would just throw me out. He’d say, “This is an idea the size of a postage stamp. Get the fuck out of here. Come back with something big.” And it was really hard for me to do because I was afraid of it.
So I do think going big invokes the muse in a good way. Sort of as a parallel to that, Tim, I would say, even though eventually you are going to have to learn what the story principles are, I would say just plunge in and follow, just do something that you love. It’s too bad we’re not on video here because I have behind me a book by a friend of mine, Mike McClellan, called The Sand Sea, and it’s like 780 pages long or something. Mike is a lawyer. He’s a functioning lawyer, he’s got a wife and kids. And over a 13-year period, he would get up at the crack of dawn and go out to his garage where he had an office and he would put in, he would write 500 words a day.
But this book, The Sand Sea, is a huge book. It’s like a Tolkien-type of book, with all kinds of crazy characters from everywhere. I really applaud that he did it that way. And now he’s onto the second book in a trilogy. There’s going to be a third one. So for him, going big really worked. And it has worked for me, too. That doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be 800 pages long, but just a big idea. An idea that’s kind of a scary idea, that you say to yourself, “When I show this to people, they’re going to look at me and go, ‘What happened to you, Tim? Are you okay?'” That’s what I mean by big.
Tim Ferriss: Should I just assume this is never going to be read by anyone? Is that a helpful assumption to make? A couple of follow-up questions.
Steven Pressfield: Do it only for yourself. Yeah, do it only for yourself.
Tim Ferriss: Because when I hear stories of someone working on things, say in the mornings, like The Kite Runner… It’s a similar story. I think the author was working in medicine at the time and would wake up super early and worked for a long period of time on this book. When I think of my first foray into fiction, if I think it’s going to be a like daily homework assignment for years, there is a very large part of me that just does not want to do it, unless the purpose behind it is therapy or this is going to be cultivating your connection with this other dimension you’ve described, and that’s the purpose of doing this. Do you have any thoughts on those points or concerns?
Steven Pressfield: It may be, Tim, that writing fiction is your calling. I don’t know. It could very well be. You could say that nonfiction books and podcasts and stuff like that, might be, if you’ll forgive me, might be a shadow career for you. I don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: Ah. Yeah, it could be.
Steven Pressfield: So in that case, the exercise of writing fiction would be like a lifelong calling, a practice from now till the end. And I think it’s a good idea to hope that it will be successful, that it will find a market, that people will love it. But at the same time, I think it’s very important, and I’m talking to myself too, to turn off the self-censor and not start to think, “Oh, shit, are people going to like this?” Or, “Have I gone too far in this scene?” In other words, trying to second guess the audience, because an audience, if it’s out there, it’ll find it. It’ll find the work. And if it isn’t, it won’t. But I would say, just write to please yourself, and always take the brave choice. “Should I write this scene this way, which is kind of a chicken way, or should I really go for it and write it the big way?” And I would say, always take the brave choice.
And monitor yourself as you go, because what should happen is once you’re into this, you should really start to feel good. You should really feel a tailwind and really feel like, “Ah, shit, my feet are on the ground. I may be a beginner, maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m on the right path.” And if it doesn’t feel like that, then maybe it’s not the right idea.
Tim Ferriss: Well, if it’s okay with you, I may reach out to you as my —
Steven Pressfield: Yes, please do. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: As my stabilizing wing at some point.
Steven Pressfield: No, I’m serious, Tim. Please do.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I really appreciate that. Steven, this has been so much fun. I would love to do another round at some point, have another conversation like this.
Steven Pressfield: Okay, put me down in the books, whenever.
Tim Ferriss: There’s no shortage of topics to cover. Maybe after I’ve actually given this a shot, I think that should be the stakes. That should be the accountability, is I can’t have you on again until I have actually spent some time on this scary thing called fiction.
Just a few last questions. And this one doesn’t always work out, but I like to ask it. It’s not an easy question, necessarily, but if you had a billboard, metaphorically speaking, to get a message or a quote or a question or an image out to billions of people, assuming they would all understand it, what might you put on that billboard?
Steven Pressfield: Ah, ha! Actually, this was a question in Tribe of Mentors that I actually give an answer to.
Tim Ferriss: It was.
Steven Pressfield: What I said in that, in Tribe of Mentors, was I would not put up any billboard at all and I would tear them all down. But to answer your question a little more seriously, because you’re sort of saying, “Well, what would it be, if you had to say one thing to somebody to help them?”
Tim Ferriss: Exactly.
Steven Pressfield: I would say, “Life is long.” This is what a friend of mine, Phil Slott, once said to me. He said, “They always tell you life is short, but actually, life is long.” And if we find ourselves making mistakes or we haven’t yet found our real calling, don’t drive yourself crazy with that. There’s plenty of time. Everybody thinks they’ve got, “Oh, if I don’t do it in the next six months, I’m going to kill myself.” And I thought that too, forever, but look at me, it took me forever to break through into anything. And I still feel that I’ve got a whole other lifetime ahead of me, and you, Tim, you’ve got like three lifetimes ahead of you. So be patient with yourself. I would say to people, “Be kind to yourself, you’re on a journey whether you realize it or not; we all are. There’s no way not to be. And things will reveal themselves as they go, but don’t beat yourself up too much.”
Tim Ferriss: Steven, this has been so much fun. I really appreciate you taking the time [crosstalk 01:47:32] and people can find you at Steven Pressfield, again with a V, stevenpressfield.com, Twitter @SPressfield, Instagram @Steven_Pressfield. We’ll link to all of your books, including the newest and one that I’m quite excited about, A Man at Arms, an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith, checking all the boxes for me. Are there any other comments you’d like to make, any requests of my audience, any parting questions? Anything at all that you’d like to add before we bring this conversation to a close?
Steven Pressfield: No, I think that billboard, that’s my billboard. Yeah, that would be the final thing, other than to say thanks for having me, Tim. It was great talking to you, getting to know you a little bit and I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds in giving unsolicited advice. I hope what I said helps a little bit and we’ll talk again.
Tim Ferriss: I think if this writing thing doesn’t work out for you, maybe that’s your shadow [crosstalk 01:48:40] becoming a psychoanalyst.
Steven Pressfield: Yeah, right.
Tim Ferriss: Maybe that is your real calling. I have found this very helpful, personally, and I’m sure it will help many other people out there. So thank you again, Steven, and to everyone listening. Once again, you can find links to everything that we mentioned at Tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, thank you for tuning in.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 800 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.