You are the knight – Book review: Do the Work By Steven Pressfield

Photo by Beverly & Pack

On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.

You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.

This is how Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and get out of your own way, Steven Pressfield new book, published by the Domino Project, starts. With this short painting of an image, Pressfield tells us something we all know but fail to recognize. We are at war. Every day. With ourselves. With that voice inside our head that is trying to convince us he is reason or gut or whatever we will believe. Trying to convince us that we can’t, that we shouldn’t, that it is not worth even to try, that it is better to stay put, and be mediocre, and do only what we have to or what are told. As Pressfield puts it:

Start Before You’re Ready Don’t prepare. Begin. Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do. Start before you’re ready. Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage. The gods, witnessing our boldness, look on in approval.

When you read the book you feel like you should have known every word of it. The descriptions of the experiences are so familiar, so mundane, that we stooped recognizing the deception. We all believe that it is only us who are hearing the voice in our head trying to prevent us from doing. And Pressfield helps us shatter our illusion of uniqueness. Everybody hears that voice. And everybody listens to that voice from time to time. The question is not whether you have the voice or not. The voice – the resistance – is a part of being alive. The question is how often you are able to conquer it. To defeat the dragon in one battle in a never-ending war.

And this is what is so wonderful with the picture painted in the first words of the book. It reminds us that we are the knight. We are not the dragon. Because what the resistance does is convince us we are the dragoon and that it is the knight that comes to save us. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. We all know what a dragon is. We know we need to fight a dragon. We know it is a monster that needs to be over thrown. So the resistance convinces us that it is us that need to be overthrown. The resistance convinces us that our ambitions, desires, creativity and connections are all evil manifestations that need to be quelled. And until we call it for what it is we have no chance against it. The book tries to teach us that when in doubt, it is the resistance, as Pressfield says in an Interview on the Domino Project blog:

First let me say one thing. My rule of thumb is: When in doubt, it’s Resistance. When you think it might be something else, it’s not, it’s Resistance

All of us need a reminder that we are not the dragon. If you want to be reminded you are the knight, read Do the Work.


P.S. the Kindle copy of this book is free courtesy of GE. The best and most economical purchase you will ever make.


Book review: Poke the Box by Seth Godin

I am an avid reader of Seth Godin’s work. Just looking at the size of his tag on this blog you understand that he has been a great inspiration for my writing. Thus, it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that I am very excited with his new project to re-define and re-shape how book publishing is done (the domino project).

One of the first titles is called: Poke the Box. In it, Godin continues his assault on the resistance that is holding us back, which he started in his wonderful book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? The main point of the book is: what would happen if we all took more initiative and just started things? More importantly: what the hell is stopping us? The book praises practical initiative taking, not just for the sake of initiating but for the sake of shipping – delivering a product or idea to the market.

I found three interesting concepts going all through the book:

1. We got the attitude toward failure all wrong. Failure has a bad rep. it is misunderstood and misused. It represents opportunity, learning and improvement. Instead we fear it and try everything in our powers to prevent it. However, not failing means not doing. Or as Godin puts it: “The more you do, the more you fail”. Our aim should be to do, so it should be to also fail. A lot.

If you fail once, and big, you don’t fail the most. The game is over, you’re a failure, you’re busted, you’re in jail. But you don’t fail the most. If you never fail, either you’re really lucky or you haven’t shipped anything. But if you succeed often enough to be given the privilege of failing next time, then you’re on the road to a series of failures. Fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed—you get the idea. Talk to any successful person. He’ll be happy to fill you in on his long string of failures.

2. Leaders are map makers. People need maps to show them where to go. Literally, in experiments done on lost people, they just walked around in circles. However, you can wait for the map to come or you can create your own map. Are as Godin says: “Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them”. When I say “leaders are map makers” I am not necessarily talking about leaders in the traditional way. I am talking about people who make things happen; who try something new; who take us to a better future by not obeying the rules, because the rule book of the future has not been written yet. They understand that they need to write it as they go along.

If there’s no clear right answer, perhaps the thing you ought to do is something new. Something new is often the right path when the world is complicated.

3. Initiative is also about voice. Godin writes: “Sure, ideas that spread, win, but ideas that don’t get spoken always fail”. Many of most obvious inventions we have today were at some point heresy. When those who thought about them voiced them all hell broke loose (just listen to this podcast to see how it still is happening today in places you wouldn’t even imagine). But if we don’t voice ideas what is the alternative? Nothing. Can we honestly say that is a better thing?

We’re trained to fit in, not to stand out, and the easiest way in the world to fit in is to never initiate. Don’t speak up. If you see something, don’t say anything. In fact, we spend most of our days waiting for permission to start”

Poke the Box is a quick fun read. While it is not ground breaking like some of Godin’s other books (Linchpin for example) it does make you think and doubt some of your previous choices. After reading Linchpin and reading Godin’s blog everyday for the last three years, I did not find a lot of new ideas in the book. That does not mean, that some of the old ideas are not important. If you don’t frequent Godin’s blog you should. And you should also buy the book. Hopefully, it will drive you to poke the box, try and ship.


Shorts: Kevin Daley on asking the right questions


In the HBR blog, Kevin Daley from Communispond Inc. talks in a brilliant post called Overcome Resistance With the Right Questions about the importance of questions in managers everyday life:

The typical manager’s default response when somebody keeps saying no is to keep selling the idea. The manager trots out more evidence to support the idea and describes the payoffs for the other person. And the person keeps saying no.

There’s a better way.

Asking a series of easily answered questions will help the other person rethink his assumptions and open up possibilities for agreement.

While Dealy talks about a different definition for the word manager than the one I use, I think his advice is as sound for managers managing their employees. Let me take the paragraph above and try to restate it:

The typical manager’s default response when one of his employees keeps asking him questions is to keep giving him the solution. The manager knows so much about how to do things and has his own way of making things work that he is sure will work for his employee as well. And the person keeps coming back.

There’s a better way.

Asking a series of easily answered questions will help the other person rethink his assumptions and allow him to grow and find his own way of doing things.

Resist the temptation for giving answers. A manager’s responsibility is to help his employees overcome the resistance!