Achieving your dreams: Here’s how a lousy day job can turn you into a great artist.


Your day job is not stopping you from achieving your dreams. It’s teaching you everything you need to know.

Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art is all about achieving your dreams and accomplishing your creative goals.

He takes a very craftsman-like attitude toward becoming great — and argues this is what is lacking in many struggling creative people.

Where does he feel you can learn the most about what it takes to succeed in an artistic profession? Your day job.

This idea is powerful not just for artists, but for entrepreneurs, leaders, and anyone trying to break out and do something new and difficult.

Via The War of Art:

Are there principles we can take from what we’re already successfully doing in our workaday lives and apply to our artistic aspirations? What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?

1) We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.

2) We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.

3) We stay on the job all day. Our minds may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.

4) We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.

5) The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.

6) We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.

7) We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.

8) We master the technique of our jobs.

9) We have a sense of humor about our jobs.

10) We receive praise or blame in the real world.

Now consider the amateur: the aspiring painter, the wannabe playwright. How does he pursue his calling?

One, he doesn’t show up every day. Two, he doesn’t show up no matter what. Three, he doesn’t stay on the job all day. He is not committed over the long haul; the stakes for him are illusory and fake. He does not get money. And he overidentifies with his art. He does not have a sense of humor about failure. You don’t hear him bitching, “This fucking trilogy is killing me!” Instead, he doesn’t write his trilogy at all.

The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgment in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.

That’s a wake-up call. More advice from Steven Pressfield here.

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