Talent is Bullsh*t with Steven Pressfield
Hey, what's up? Today's guest on the "Chase Jarvis Live Show" is the legendary Steven Pressfield. The book, "The War of Art" has changed so many people's mindset around creating the life that they want for themselves, and his new book, "Put your Ass Where your Heart Wants to be," (chuckles) it is a barnstormer. You're gonna love this episode, yours truly, and the legend, Steven Pressfield on the show right now. (cheerful music) (audience applauding)
We love you!
Steven Pressfield, it's been a long time coming. Super happy to have you on the show, welcome.
Hey, thank you, Chase. It's great to be here. And I'm looking forward to seeing where this adventure takes us.
Great. I'm gonna start off with a zinger. You waged war in the name of art early on with an amazing book called "The War of Art." Why did that come about?
Well, when you're a working writer, as I'm sure you know, in the world of photography,
friends come to you and they say, "I got a book in me," how to hel...
p me? So I would spend, evenings staying up 'till two in the morning with friends, trying to sort of psych them up, to get them over their resistance and their fear, their doubt and everything. And of course, nobody ever listened to me. Nobody ever wrote, only one guy ever actually wrote a book. And so finally, in all seriousness, after doing this, like about six or seven times, I just said, "I'm gonna just write this down." And then I'll say, "Here, read this, I won't have to do this again." So that was how I just sort of banged the "War of Art" out in about four months and never expecting that it would, have the life that it's come to have.
Well, we'll go back to the early, early Steven Pressfield and works of fiction and other stuff. I think I really wanna get dive deep into your creative process, but I do wanna keep pulling on this thread since we opened with the "War of Art." Fascinating story, that your friends were not really taking the advice. And now that you've written it down, it is a staple in every creative circle. I've recommended it hundreds of times, I myself took a lot of value. Was it just the play on words, the title, with the other "The art of War? Or is there some element that you feel like we as creators, entrepreneurs, people who are seeking our highest version of ourselves, is there some war that we have to wage in order to accomplish these dreams and put this work out there into the world that's in us?
Well, first let me give credit for the title, the "War of Art," actually wasn't my title, came from my partner and my editor, Shawn Coyne. That was his, he came up with that title, which I think is a great title, brilliant. But very definitely, I'm sure you know this Chase, deep in your bones that the inner struggle of just sitting down, like I say that the writing is the easy part. The hard part is sitting down in front of that or any creative thing that, it is a war and there is an enemy and I call it Resistance with a capital R, and the way I usually define it, I'll call this up again, is it's this negative force that radiates off of that keyboard, at least in my case, I don't know where it does with a photographer, but that the, like I say, at the start of the book, there's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't know, and the secret is that it's not the writing that's hard, what's hard is sitting down to write. And I think that that just struck a chord in the book when people reading it, they said, "Ah, yeah, you know, that's me." " have a hard time sitting down." "I do procrastinate." "I do have self-doubt." "I do psych myself out." "I do self-sabotage." And I think that was one that was the chord that the book struck.
When you, this is true. And so let's just keep, keep on this tack here, the Resistance, capital R, thank you for giving that word a capital R. (Steven chuckles) It deserves that capital letter. And as you've already indicated a couple times you came at this originally through writing, but we know this to be true for any creative endeavor, when you're sitting down to pour your heart into something that there is this resistance. And I'm imagining that most people who are listening are, have either read the book or familiar with it. But I do believe there are gonna be some people for whom this is new work to them. Talk a little bit more about resistance and specifically then talk about some of the tools that you have prescribed to play through this stuff, because it is probably the single biggest blocker between us and our greatest creative achievements. Well, if you've ever bought an abdominal machine or a treadmill and brought it home and found it collecting dust in the attic, then you know what resistance is. Resistance is that force, that negative force that stops us from doing the things we know we should. I always say that if you're starting at this level in terms of your soul, and you're trying to go to a higher level, either morally, ethically, creatively, politically, that's when resistance will come in, it never comes in when you're going to a lower level. And it just seems to be a force of nature and the thing of it is, nobody teaches you this in school. It should be almost the first thing that you're taught in your life, I think, but 'cause you think, "Well I wanna write a book," or "I wanna be a photographer." "I wanna start a podcast." "So I wanna start a company or something," that the playing field is level, "I'll just do it." But in fact, it's not level. It's really stacked against you and it's stacked against you because of this force that's in your mind. And everybody even knows what it is. Chase, really, I've had probably 5,000 emails from people over the years and people will say to me, the voice in my head is telling me this, that "You're no good, your idea is old, already has been done." And it's always the same voice. It's not like each person has a different, it's the same voice. So that's what resistance is. And I've tried a number of things to combat it myself in my own life and what works for me... You said we can talk long. So I'm gonna talk long here.
Yeah, please do. People aren't here for the half version. They want to go deep with Steven Pressfield.
What worked for me is the concept of "Turning Pro," which is also a book of mine, the second book after the "War of Art" and the concept behind that is that when we're falling prey to resistance, we procrastinate, we don't do the job, we get 99% of the way done, that sort of thing, it's very easy to blame ourselves, and to say that we're weak or lazy or we're sick or whatever it is. And that's counterproductive, that doesn't do any good at all. But if we can think of ourselves and say, "Well, we're making a mistake." And the mistake we're making, is we're thinking and we're acting like amateurs. And the correction for that is to act like a pro. So what is an amateur, and what is a pro? An amateur is like a Weekend Warrior. He's a dabbler. Is somebody that's sort of halfway in, and halfway out. So that, let's say you're trying to write a book. Let's use that as an example here, an amateur, when when she or he first hits adversity will quit, will bail out, right? If self-doubt, whatever it is, comes in and is too strong, they'll just bail out. But if we can sort of flip the switch in our mind and just say to ourselves, "I'm a pro, I'm a professional." "I'm gonna think like a professional." And when I hit adversity, a professional just digs in, think about Michael Jordan, think about Kobe Bryant. Think about Tom Brady. Think about anybody like that, that you just know is never gonna quit. And another thing about a professional is, a professional plays hurt. I'm thinking now of athletes, right? If we wait as artists or entrepreneurs for the day when we're quote unquote "injury free" to do our job, we're never gonna do it, right? There's always something wrong. There's always something in our lives, our personal lives, our professional lives, whatever, that we could use as an excuse to not do the work. And so to think of ourselves as a professional and say, "If I were a professional, would I stop because of this force?" and the answer is always, "No, there's no way I'm gonna stop." So that's what's really helped me. And then this new book I have out, we I'm sure we'll get into that soon, or it's coming out, it's called, "Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants To Be." And that's another way of getting over resistance. In that case, we could talk about that if we want to, but basically the gist of it is put your body in the spot where your soul wants to be and things will start to work.
We're gonna go there, keep going. So if the concept, go one layer deeper on, what do you mean by putting your body where your heart wants to be? Is that in the writer's chair or behind the camera, or on the other side of the business plan, what do you mean by that.
Exactly, exactly. When I was a young person in New York City, I had friends who wanted to be photographers and the smart ones became assistants to established photographers, right. And you know, they would load, this was back in the day of loading the cameras and doing all that kind of stuff. And that is a case of putting your ass where your heart wants to be. Putting your physical body. So now, instead of being a wannabe dreamer, you're actually in studio every day, working with a professional, who's a mentor. Who's somebody you admire. And every day you're gonna get better and better and better. And you're gonna be more steeped in the concept of being a professional and you're gonna get better and better. Now being a writer, if you wanna be a writer, the simple answer is, sit in front of a freaking keyboard and just hit it every day and do it for years, do it for the next 30 years. But seriously that there's no substitute for, and that, well, let me go to a secondary level of this since we're talking, giving long answers.
Another way to do this is to physically, we're talking about moving, putting your ass where your heart wants to be, is to physically move lock, stock and barrel. Pack up the cat, pack up the kids, pack up the spouse, move to the place in the world that is the epicenter of your dream. For instance, if you wanna be in country music, move to Nashville, if you wanna be in fashion, move to New York or Paris or Milan or whatever, if you wanna be in the movies, come to LA and that's, by moving your physical body to that place, all sorts of good things happen. You meet people, you meet other people. And pretty soon after you've been in a place for six months, or whatever, you have a whole cadre of friends that are in the field that you wanna be in, and they're your real friends, they're friends that share your dream, that they themselves have committed and moved from wherever city they were to this place where their dream can come true. So that's two sort of physical examples of why moving your physical body to the place where your dream can come true, there's a magic to it. There really is. And there's just regular everyday payoffs to it.
Let's explore this, maybe even cliche at this point, the phrase, "You're the average of five people you spend the most time with." I have, as a lifelong artist, myself, I believe deeply that your craft, being good at your craft is actually not the differentiator. That's the "get in the door" for you. Like, you're not good at something? You gotta get good at it. And then once you're good, you'd be surprised how many people are in the arena of really good at this, whether it's photography or writing or building businesses. And so there has to be other differentiators and what seems like a curse word or something that no one wants to talk about, but I call this work the other 50%, which is, as you talk about in, "Put your Ass Where your Heart Wants to be," is like the circle that you spend the most time in, these are your real friends-
say more about that and help us understand how important your community, for lack of a better word, the community that you put yourself in, how much that matters?
Well, it matters completely, as you know, it's particularly when you're starting out and you're trying to learn the craft or whatever it is, then your community usually consists of mentors or bosses or supervisors or people that you admire and that you're trying to copy and trying to learn from. And so that is so helpful on so many ways, so many levels, right? Because that's how you really learn. I don't think you really learn reading books or anything like that. You learn from watching somebody, watching somebody do I'm sure, that's like being a photographer's assistant. That's a lot of what it was about. How does the photographer set up the day? What's his mindset? All of those things are so important that you can't learn except by watching and being there. And then the other aspect, of course, is your peers. The other people, like if you're a beginner, the other beginners you're that you're working with, my world of that was Hollywood, trying to be a screenwriter. And you find that, the way success happens in the real world is you start out at the bottom and you have friends who are also broke and starving, right. Everybody's waiting on tables and stuff like that. And then one person gets a job and starts to rise and they bring the other people, so your peers like someone, if you're an actor, let's say a friend of yours will get cast in a play and then something will happen. Somebody will gets sick in that play. And your friend will say, well, "Hey, get Chase." He a great, bring him in, and the next, and we've heard that many times, right? That story of somebody that like tags along on an audition and the next thing you know, they're in the play. So your mentors and your peers definitely, it's absolutely true that, and vice versa, if you have negative friends, that is really gonna bring you down, getting back to the concept of resistance. When I say negative friends, what I mean by that are people, everybody has resistance to their own dream, but some people have given in to that resistance and they're doing other, they're doing shadow careers. They're doing things like, they're doing drugs. They're distracting themselves. They're drunks. They're self-dramatizers. They live in a world of creating their own drama. And if you're hanging around with those people, like you say, the sum of the five people that you know, those are bringing you down. And it's hard sometimes to leave people behind, you know, cause all the reasons that we all know, but sometimes it just has to be done. And in fact, there are a lot of movies like that. David O. Russell, who did "Silver Lining's Playbook" and the "Fighter" and "Joy," that's his theme. It's the heroes of all of his movies are people who are being brought down by their families or whatever, whatever and what the arc of the hero in his story is, is the hero break away from that negative stuff and leaves people behind one way or another. Not that I'm advocating leaving everybody behind, but sometimes you do have to have to separate yourself from people that are caught in their own resistance and pulling you down.
Yeah. What is the price of this one precious life? What price are you willing to pay to not follow your dreams? Right? I think that's-
Yeah! That's something that we
Yeah. all have to, that's resistance in its own. That's another piece of that resistance by-
If I may jump in for a second here, Chase-
When the act of not pursuing your dream of not following where your soul wants to take you is not without cost, you don't get away free from that. That negative, that force that's inside you, that wants to be born and wants you to give birth to it. If you don't give birth to it, it doesn't just go away. It goes into other channels and those channels are negative channels and it will start to work against you and be worse and worse and worse. So it's not like just a luxury to live out your dream or your calling. It's an imperative.
Hmm. That's a sound that's sound bite in itself right there! (Steven chuckles) I'm gonna quote your own website back to you: Talent is bullshit. (guffaws) Say more on that.
Okay. This really actually comes from my first agent who was when I was like 29. I think he was 75 or something. His name is Bart Fles and he actually represented Carl Yung among other people.
That could be good. (chuckles)
But that was his kind of his mantra, that talent is bullshit. I certainly believe there's a lot of true, I won't say it's true across the board, but if I assess myself, I don't really have a tremendous amount of talent. I think I'm very ordinary in terms of whatever gifts were were given to me, but I've overachieved by hard work. And I certainly think that that work is the primary factor in success. You can get better. I mean, it took me, I would say to get just to the level of publication, let alone being good or anything like that, at least 25 years where I was just writing and writing and writing and then my stuff was shit, you know? And now people say that I have talent, but in fact they same people said I was a bum for 30 years, so you can get better. And there's no doubt that work, work is a thing. Who did I see, oh yeah, it was Robert Green. I saw a little thing on one of his Instagram things where he was talking about what really creates success. So he was just saying it's habits. And which is another way of saying work. Of just simply doing the work every day, every day, every day, year, year, year, year. And you know, you get better. Talent is not, there are a million people with talent. I'm sure you, you know that, Chase, there are millions, they're all over the place.
I could name so many people that've got so much more talent than I did, but many of them have fallen by the wayside because they just couldn't hack the long haul, you know?
It is a long haul, and I think hearing how long the haul is from someone who has sold millions of books, as you have, is helpful. So thank you for being vulnerable. There's a humility in which you approach this, but the reality is that you also, you have tapped into some talent and I'm wondering if you can articulate this relationship, is maybe it's a chicken and egg, a cart/horse? Let's talk about work and talent and how they play off one another. I'm curious your thoughts?
Ah, that's a great question. I mean, the process for me, and jump in here, Chase and tell me your process as we're going, of over years and years of trying to write was I would write something and it was self-conscious, it was ego driven, it was phony, it didn't seem real, it didn't have any energy. And for years and years, I was just thinking, "Why can't I break through to what at some level where this starts to have some energy and starts to work?" And I think that in a way, like they say in Zen, like in "Zen in the Art of Archery," that there sort of comes: You try, you try, you try, you try, you try, and finally you give up like in that book, Eugen Herrigel's book, "Zen in the Art of Archery," the deal was he could never, drawing the bow, he was so self-conscious, he would always let it go too soon, let the arrow go too soon or hang on it too long. And his teacher in Japan was telling him, "Just let the arrow go by itself. Let it go." But how do you do that, right? How do you not try so hard? And I think a lot of the payoff of work is if you just work and you work and you work, and you work so hard, finally one day you just sort of give up. And in the form of being a writer, it's like you say to yourself, "I'm going to stop trying to write like Hemingway." I'm going to stop trying to write like Fitzgerald." "I'm going to stop trying to do what I think I'm supposed." "And I'm just going to write my crap that I would do." And then suddenly you find, "Wow, this is pretty good." "This actually sounds like me in a way." Or, "This is falling into an area that I love." So I think in a lot of ways, work takes you to the place where you give up, at least this is my experience, and you just finally start singing in your own voice. It is this kind of mysterious process. How did Herrigel learn to let go of the arrow at the right point? But without that work, you're never going to get there. So there's two payoffs for work. One is little by little, you learn your craft. Little by little, you actually do get better. And I'm a big believer as you know, in the muse and in goddesses and in this other dimension. And I think that they are watching us, the goddesses up there. And finally, when they've seen we've worked for 25 years, they say, "All right, I'm going to give this guy a break." "He's done enough." And then they let us have it. And it does become, to use a Christian term, it's like grace in a way, suddenly for no real reason at all, we can finally do it.
I'm gonna quote Yoda, "Do or do not, there is no try."
Yeah, yeah. That's true.
But that's misleading because it sort of says- (Chase laughs)
Fair. Fair to say.
If I'm the guy that's trying, if I'm Luke Skywalker trying to raise the X-Wing, he says, "Okay, do or do not," "Well, okay, I'm trying to do it." I think you do have to try, try, try, try, try and finally, you can get to a level where it's easy and the X-Wing arises out of the swamp.
Well, thanks for keeping me honest there on Yoda quotes.
Exactly! Yoda was trying to pull the wool over our eyes there. So I think that was very articulate and helpful. And the idea that-
Let me ask you, can I ask you a question?
Of course, yeah. This is your platform. You take us wherever we need to go in this hour.
When I first wrote "The War of Art," I thought it was only for writers. And I was always amazed when actors or comedians would write me, but in the world of photography, how does resistance manifest itself in your world?
How much time do you have, Steven? (both chuckling)
Oh, you have a long answer. I want to hear it.
Okay, I've been asking you for long answers. So for photographers, and I think just largely visual artists, it comes through the stories that we tell ourselves about what it takes, the life that you have had to have lived in order to create great photographs.
We talk about, you know-
This is new to me. I'm really interested.
I grew up in middle America. My parents are still together. My life was not a struggle. Therefore I'm not able to create great art. I'm gonna list like 10 here, don't you even try and stop me.
Another one is I don't have the right equipment because having a better camera, boy, that sure would help me. That's a big blocker for me because I want to do this kind of photography and I can only afford this kind of camera. So the gear, the endless pursuit of the right instrument is always getting in the way. And then I don't have time, I've got kids, I can't get up and get this epic light that every other photographer gets, because I don't have time. I've gotta get the kids off to school. And then the, I don't have the skills to, or I don't have the time to learn new skills 'cause everyone's doing all kinds of Photoshop to the images. Everything's so retouched now-
Uh huh? and I there's all these skills that are between me and the dreams that I have and, and the list truly could, it is seemingly an endless list. And I don't remember who said it, maybe it was Seth Godin, another long time friend and guest in the show. I think he's like, "You wanna do good work?" "Show me all your garbage," (Steven chuckles) show me all your garbage because what we get to, whether it's in photography and all of the garbage that would've come out on the other side of all of those excuses that I just shared, or if I asked you about writers and all of the things that writers resistance that we would say would be typical, what it comes down to, it is most people who haven't found the fulfillment and/or success that they seek in these disciplines. They just have not done enough work. That's why Seth's like, again, I hope I'm nailing this with Seth, but I think it's just like, "Show me your garbage, show me your shit work." And lo and behold, you find out the people who want to be great and who we ask this question of, "Can you show me your shit work? There's just not very much of it.
And then it goes-
back to the point that you said earlier about, why talent is bullshit. And the reality is, you are not going to be able to find your voice without putting in a certain amount of effort. And if you are right now, listening to this show and saying, "Hmm, I don't actually have a signature style," or, "I don't know what my signature style is," or, "Other people would not be able to recognize my signature style." The punchline is, then you have not done enough work.
And this is the thing that no one likes to hear because it is a long, lonely road and putting in the work, if you sat there and you sat in front of your computer, I think it was John Cleese, "Fake artists wait for inspiration and the rest of us, we just wake up and get to work."
And this idea, whether it's in photography, thank you for asking me about that, and if anyone would like to have a separate counseling session about all the other things (Steven chuckles) that get in your way as a photographer, I know many, and I know them well as old friends, but it is this there's a certain volume. You know the apocryphal story of the ceramics teacher who graded their students on the volume of work instead of the quality of the work or they split the class into two and graded one half of the class on, "Show me your best work." And then the other side of the class like, "I'm gonna give you an A, if you do N number of pots of any quality, what they found at the end of this story, this again, it's an apocryphal story. I couldn't actually find the real root of the story, but is the folks who were judged on volume way outperformed the other half of the class because of this repetition, this repeated work, but not actually getting it exactly what they wanted but the reality is that they were doing two things at once. They were discovering their style, they were honing their skills and turns out that's actually a great way of creating their work.
So it does go back, which is one of the reasons I wanted to open that topic with you, this idea that talent is bullshit.
Well, that's really interesting to me, what you were describing, Chase, of what was going through your mind, you didn't have the right, you hadn't suffer enough or you didn't have the right equipment. I mean, that's pure resistance, capital R resistance right? And I'm quite sure if we had 50 visual artists here in a room and we had them each write on a piece of paper, by themselves, what that voice in their head was, it would be exactly the same voice.
So it's really fear of success, right? Fear of really being who you could be, that of putting it out there and really becoming that. And these are all the excuses. And of course in the writers' brain, it's the same thing. Right. You know?
It is, it is. And you know, I think that's a brilliant segue to your newest work. "Put Your Ass," is the title of the PDF that you sent me, which I love, (chuckles) it's a shortened version of the title of the book, which is, "Put your Ass Where your Heart Wants to be." Essentially the putting your ass is work, right? And it is a resistance of its own type to not put your ass. You talked earlier about the heavy, heavy price that, it's not benign, right? It's not benign
to not follow your dreams. Our friend, Brene Brown talks about this. This unexpressed art actually carries a heavy burden. This unexpressed, I would even say version of ourselves, there's a heavy price to pay for not expressing that. What was the rationale behind this work for you? What made you have to write this particular book? Did it come from personal experience? Was it from counseling sessions with hundreds of people like me or any number of those 5,000 emails that you mentioned receiving earlier, why this work and this goes into a little bit of-
Are you talking about the new book?
Yes, I am. This goes into a little bit of creative process for Steven Pressfield like, why did you have to write, "Put your Ass Where your Heart Wants to be?"
It's interesting because I have three other books that are just like that that are in the works or that are different versions, different ways of getting at the same thing. What you were talking about, about your own mindset of resistance and I just think that phrase, because it has the word ass in it, it sounds kind of glib and superficial, but it's actually really, really deep and goes in deep, deep, deep levels. In fact, I would say that every major religion, if we want to boil it down, all they're really saying is put your ass where your heart wants to be. But what they're really saying is take your ego, your material self, the self that you live in this real world with, take that self and move it into the area of the soul where your heart wants to be. Stop living out of greed or fear or acquisitiveness or anything like that, and start living out of your gift to the world, whatever that is. That's really what Christianity is about, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism. So it's fun for me. That book started just with the phrase, "Put your ass where your heart wants to be." It was kind of a fun phrase. But I thought to myself, "Let me dig into this deep." Let me go one level down and another and another and another, and just see what's there. Because I knew there was something really good there, real meaty there, so that's how the book came out. I like to do things like that to just find out what I think about something. To write a book and just see what I really think. It's a way seeing yourself. I'm sure you do the same thing visually.
You just shoot this and see what the hell it looks like.
For sure, and not all of those experiments go well.
No. They don't.
There's a hundred percent of-
Going back to, to Seth Godin, to our friend who, I love Seth, he has this thing that he says that it's sort of like two sides of the same card. And one side says, "This might work" The other side says, "This might not work." And that's sort of the way, every artist or entrepreneur you start out, right? A book, photography, whatever, "This might work it might not," you have no idea.
Sticking to your latest book, book two within there, "Ass equals commitment," is in big, bold letters here on this page that I'm looking at. And then that chapter opens up, "We know what ass means in the physical sense." "Now let's examine it as a metaphor." As in, "His ass is on the line," or, "If she screws up, it'll be her ass." Was this developed, this title? Did you say this at a party or in a therapy session with another creator entrepreneur like me or any one of the hundreds of thousands of people who are listening right now? Or was this, "I have an idea around commitment and I'm going to call it ass." I understand this is very particular, but I think it may unwind a little bit of your creative process and/or creative genius. Which came first, the ass or the commitment?
The ass came first. And in fact this is true for me, at least in a lot of projects that I've been on. I can't even remember when that phrase came from. It just sort of popped out somewhere in conversation or something like that. And then for years I never really thought about it except as kind of a little clever sort of bumper sticker. And then at some point I thought, let me delve into this. There's something real here. Then the real work started. But getting back to what you're saying about ass equals commitment, we were talking earlier about the physical interpretation of that phrase is move your body into the dance studio, into the photography studio, whatever. But above and beyond that in a metaphorical sense, what does ass mean when we say put your ass somewhere? What we really mean is commitment. And it's sort of like what I was saying before about the idea of turning pro. It's the idea, if you're an amateur you have not committed. You've got a plan B or you've got 10 plan B's. But when you utterly commit, you burn the boats, then magic really starts to happen. And I think it happens in the way we see. I'm convinced our DNA changes when we actually commit to something. But also in the real world, good things start to happen. People will give us jobs. People will give us money. People will help us out. And strange good things will happen. And above and beyond that, I think when we talk about heaven and the muse, the gods and the goddesses, they can tell when we're committed or not. And when we are, when we've burned the boats and we're totally into something, they'll start to give us their gifts. Meaning ideas, meaning different visuals that would come to a photographer or a visual artist. This is apropos of nothing, but I had a dear female friend in New York years ago and she was a painter and she used to do these little, very dark miniatures. And I went away for a couple of years and when I came back, she had totally changed the way she painted and she was painting big and colorful. And I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, she's an artist now." "Something happened." She went from being nowhere to being somewhere. And you could even see that she was going to go on and on and on from there. And I said, "Wow, that is amazing." That really gave me tremendous encouragement to see somebody actually get somewhere. And again, it was through work and through a surrender to the process.
Speaking of process, what I want to dig into, I try and ask every guest in the show a little bit more about their process. And you've already underscored the role that work plays. You're a grinder. You want to sit down and you've got to, whatever. Show me 100 crappy pages and then I'm sure there's some good stuff in there. But talk to us about your creative routine. Is there a routine you have? Obviously you're very prolific. We can talk about some, even works of fiction. "Bagger Vance." You've written screenplays. You talked about your first dollar after 20-some years of working was you got paid 3,500 bucks, I think, for a screenplay that never aired. And so obviously, you've poured a ton of work and effort, but I'm curious what your creative process. Are you a write it down and edit, edit, edit, edit, and write garbage, and then edit, edit, edit? Or do you go live life for a number of years, a topic strikes you, and then you have to go all in? Just give us a little picture. I know there are so many different styles and I'm always intrigued-
by, by people's different processes. What's yours? Well, I'm a total believer in the muse. In the goddess that gives artists ideas and inspires. I believe that the works that we produce already exist on another dimension of reality and that we are assigned them by the goddess. And I really feel like if you ask me what is my occupation, I would say, I am a servant of the muse. That's what I do. And I go from project to project, kind of like an actor will go from, or whatever. But when I'm finished with one project, I ask the goddess, "What do you want me to do next?" And that's the real tricky part. And I hope that when I'm working on project seven, that project eight is already coming into me and I can get started on it so I don't hit any kind of a gap at the end of number seven. But my process in terms of, I'll have an idea for a book or something like that. And almost always, I'll be full of doubt about the idea. My first response will be, "Oh, that is really a stupid idea." "Nobody's going to be interested in that except you." Meaning me. "It's not commercial." "It's a dumb idea." "It's been done a million times." And that I recognize as my resistance to it, right? So the more resistance I feel, the more self-doubt, the more terror that I feel, the more sure I am that I have to do that. And so that's where the work comes in. Where I'll say to myself, "It's probably going to take three or four months of working on this thing, whatever it is, for me to realize whether, like Seth Godin, "Is this going to work or is it not going to work?" And so then the work will come in and I will just make myself, every day, I'll hit it. Every day. Keep working and working and working. And I'll still be full of doubt all the way through. Every day that I finish I go, "This really sucks." "This is going nowhere." "I don't know what I'm doing." Et cetera, et cetera. And then finally at some point, I'll get my feet on the ground and I'll say, "Okay, whatever, whatever." "I'm this far into it." "I might as well keep going." But I'm always looking for what the goddess is sending to me, and usually it's something unexpected and usually it's something I'm afraid of. So I'm always looking for, "What am I afraid of?" "What didn't I go deep enough into?" I'm sure actors do this too. The ways to play a scene, right? There's a safe way to play the scene and then there's a way that, "If I play it, I'll look like a real fool if I don't pull it off." And that's always the way you want to go in the end. So I'm not sure, Chase, if that really answered-
That's my process. But it's full of self doubt all the way.
Let's keep pulling on this thread of the scary, risky thing is ultimately, it sounds like you would say that's where the best stuff lies. Is that fair to say?
I had a very quick, the image that you planted in my mind of an audition for an actor, or you're on set and there's 40 people around and all the different cameras and you try and pull it off and you come off and people don't understand it. They're like, "I don't know what..." Jared Leto is a friend and been on the show before and we've seen him do some absolutely wild things. Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington.
Bill Murray is a great-
Yeah, yeah, of course. The people who've acted in incredible scenes. When you think about risks as a writer, is the risk in not writing it down or is it in not sharing it, or both? I don't think it's either actually. It's if you have a scene or a concept that needs to be in a story, like I'm thinking of the scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone is sitting in the chair and he says, "If Clemenza can figure a way to plant a weapon for me, then I'll kill them both." And he's talking about Sollozzo and the cop played by Sterling Hayden. A scene like that could be written in a very safe way or not written at all. And a lot of times I will write that scene first in a really safe way. And then I'll be thinking about it driving down the road or something, I'll say, "Boy, I really chickened out of that scene." "There's a way to really make that scene really go." And it's usually risky. It's always risky. I'll tell you another great scene in Chinatown, that, "She's my sister, she's my daughter." You know that scene where Jack Nicholson is slapping Faye Dunaway around? "She's my sister, she's my..." I mean, that took guts to write that.
Pretty simple. When you watch it on screen, you go, "Oh, it couldn't be anything else." But I would bet if we had Robert Towne here, he probably wrote that scene 10 different times before he got to that. So-
Is it a process of excavating then? Cause you talked about writing it once and then you gotta write it again and then-
Yeah, it is. Yeah. And yeah, you just realize, "I've gotta go a little bigger there." I've gotta make it a little riskier because when you have that risky moment, as you're writing, you're thinking to yourself, "Boy, this could really fall on its face." This could really be dumb, but I think, let me ask you visually, in your work, Chase, is there a parallel to that?
There is. the way that I talk about it in, I'll put this in a commercial context mostly because that is, I think the more challenging than the one where you're just shooting for fine art purposes. So there's, "What's in the brief?" The client asks you to shoot the athlete like this or the model like that. And what I learned to do and now coach others is to try and get that in the can as fast as possible. And then you can show them, "Okay, here's the brief, here's what we've got on screen here." Because these images are digital and we're showing them in real time and you're able to demonstrate that you've captured the brief. But rather than I think what most, either sophomoric approach or young artists or people who haven't truly hit that real stride in their career would do, is that they look at that as the end.
And for me, what I experience when I'm at my best and what I coach when I talk on the subject, is that's actually the beginning.
You basically execute the vision as the committee had arrived at it. Even if the committee was a committee of one or the thing that you said you were going to do or that the art director or the client or whatever. But that's when you start to draw on all of your experience. Because you can't actually plan for the magic. Hollywood does a very good job of planning for magic, right? They can create a sunset with a certain kind of light and they can create a stunt with a certain set of safety precautions and experience and explosions or whatever you might have. But it's all of the things. Your ability to be confident because of repetition in the moment after you've checked the box, that's where all the magic can happen and that's where, to use your actor analogy, is that's where you get a good version of the scene in the can and then you go bananas. And my experience is it's always in the going bananas. Even if the client, the director, the fill in the blank, coach, partner, whatever is uncomfortable in that time, I do not yet have the experience in my professional career of the final being selected from the safe, obvious thing that matched the brief. The brilliance is always what sort of alchemy are you able to pull together in the moment? Because the sun's at a certain place, it's not directly on you as the scene calls or as you saw it in your mind, but it's reflecting on this building and then it's extra intense. There's all these in the moment. You were looking at... There's a construction site next door, and it was driving you crazy the whole time because it's kicking up dust. And now that backlit dust puts an angelic hue behind the subject. That's the magic. And by putting yourself in that experience over and over and over again, you start to be able to look for and better see the magic.
Great. That's a great answer.
You asked! (Steven chuckles)
But we're here to hear from you. We're not here to hear from me. My voice is on this thing hundreds of times. And so I want to, if I can, extract from the process questions, extract from all of your experience talking to other authors and creators, and I want to go back to Steven Pressfield's childhood. (Steven guffaws) Go with me here on this.
Do we really? (both chuckling)
And I do this to explore the concept of identity. Before we started recording, I shared with you that the people who were listening to the show, watching the show, they largely identify as creators, entrepreneurs, creator curious. And I think there's a horrible myth in our culture that some people are creative and some people are not. And that those anointed folks who can put their hat on sideways and wears the beret and smoke the cigarette, they are the creative ones. And yet when I excavate most of the guests on the show, find out that there's an entire range of backgrounds, an entire range of such economic status. There's all kinds of different levels of privilege there. All these things are true, and yet, I'm wondering for you, did you see yourself as someone who was creative early on in life? You talked about resistance and I'm guessing this came into your definition, you're defining it. You're trotting out this beautiful understanding that helps us make sense of why we are crazy as artists. Was that all a part of your young life?
Did you see yourself as someone who's creative? Did you have your parents and career counselors were telling you to go be an accountant or something that was more practical? Talk to us about those times in your life.
Yeah, certainly there were no artists or entrepreneurs in my family. I had a real mainstream middle-class upbringing. Even my town that I come from is Pleasantville. There really is a place called Pleasantville. (Chase guffaws) And everybody in my family, they were all, the men, the wives were all homemakers and the men were all guys that wore suits and ties and went into a city and worked in a job. And my mom and dad came out of the depression and they definitely wanted me to do something that was safe and secure. And I believed in that too. And I remember that when I went to college, I went to Duke and I got in the engineering school. And my dad was really happy about that because he thought, "Ah, this is a great, you're an engineer, you can always have a job." But as soon as I got down there, for my first week, I switched to English. I switched to the liberal arts college. And believe it or not, that was like, I don't know. That was like coming out or something to my dad. It freaked him out. He thought, "Oh my God, he's going to become a long haired hippie, whatever, and he's going to go down the tubes." And actually the whole English department thing at Duke was terrible for me. I never learned a damn thing. But it wasn't until... I don't know if I'm really answering the question, Chase.
Oh yeah, this is beautiful. This is the good stuff.
My first job as a grown up was in advertising in New York. I worked for, well, I worked for Gray Advertising as an office boy, and then I got a job as a junior copywriter at Benton and Bowles. And I had a boss named Ed Hannibal. And I've told this story before, forgive me if you've heard it. And he wrote a book. He wrote a novel and it became a hit. It was called "Chocolate Days, Popsicle Weeks." And he quit his job and he was a star. He was famous. And so I'm 22 years old. I said, "Well shit, why don't I do that too?" So I never had intended or ever thought about being, for me, trying to write a book was like taking a tab of acid about that big. It was just way over my head. I had no clue. I got 99% of the way through, being supported by my young wife, and I blew it up. Resistance. Resistance reared its ugly head and I blew it up and I dropped, I'm telling you more than you need to know, I know, Chase.
No, I love it! I fell out of the bottom of the middle class. And I spent, I don't know, five or six, seven years working, driving trucks and working in the oil fields and stuff like that. And I was really, I don't know if I want to say lost, because looking back on it, it was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. It was a great writer's education. So I sort of stumbled into the concept of being a writer through the back door and through really being an idiot. I signed up for an E-ticket ride that I had no idea what it was, and once I was on that ride, I couldn't get off of it until I got to the other end of it. So it was an accident that turned out to be what it should have been all along.
This is so important for people to hear. Thank you for sharing that. This idea that someone like you who has written amazing works, sold millions of copies, these barnstormers, "Bagger Vance," "Turning Pro," "Artist's Journey," your new book, "Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be." I think so many people believe that everyone like you, who has achieved your level of success magically followed the obvious linear path, walked in the front door, shook hands with everyone, sat down, did the work and then got the high five and the pizza, the gold medal. And if this is speaking to you right now and you're listening or watching the show, I have to ask you to rewind, hit the rewind button on the podcast one minute ago where you, Steven Pressfield was saying, "I came in through the back door, through the side door, through an ad job that I had." "I was inspired by a boss." "The boss made some crazy shit happen." And you at least put yourself in the arena to have a shot at that by starting to do the work. That's definitely not the front door. The front door would be getting that English degree, learning a ton at Duke, having an internship, then writing for a writer. And you've basically been a writer your whole life. You have a early book that is sort of successful. Someone takes a chance on you. But where I'm going to all this is the hero's journey. In "The Artist's Journey," another work of yours, the wake of the hero's journey and the lifelong pursuit of meaning, I'm going to quote you back to yourself here. "I have a theory about the hero's journey." "We all have one." "We have many in fact, but our primary hero's journey is the passage we live out in real life before we find our calling." "The hero's journey ends when, like Odysseus, we return home to Ithaca to the place from which we started." That is beautiful, the prose. But the idea is even more powerful. Talk a little bit more around this hero's journey. You have clearly, if you layer in what you just told us about your experience and how you came in through the back door, that is a hero's journey unto itself. I'm wondering if you can talk to the people right now who are listening that are full of self doubt and thinking that because they don't have the pedigree, they don't have a life that they think fuels the art that they appreciate. What can you tell these people about their own life and their own hero's journey?
Well, I do think that the hero's journey is, we all have one and it's mandatory, I think. Although a lot of people don't live it out. For one reason or another, they take more of a safe course. And again, I think you pay for that in the end. But for me, my wanderings in the wilderness were my heroes journey in the sense that, I think for one thing, you're always lost in a hero's journey. It's never like, "Oh, I'm Conan the Barbarian and I'm going..." That sort of thing. You're always lost. You always feel like an idiot. You don't know what you're doing. You're stumbling blindly through a maze. And at some point you do return home to Ithaca. There is for me, and by the way, Chase, I'm going to throw something else in here. I have just finished writing a book about this that's going to come out sometime and around Christmas and I would love to come back on your show and talk about it as a-
100% it's happening. It's already in the books. We're planning on it.
But in that book, I really go into absolute detail about where I was and what was happening. And the reason I wanted to do that was for, like anybody that might be listening to this now and be full of self doubt, this journey of mine is like banging into one wall after another, after another. So hopefully when anybody would read this, they would say to themselves, "Well shit, if this guy could do that, I know I can do what I'm doing." But at some point you do sort of come back home and what that means, I think, is you come to a realization about your own life and your own calling that you say to yourself, "If I had been awake 20 years ago, 15 years, I would've known this then." "I sort of knew it all along." "I've been running away from it all this time." "And now I've just finally got to accept it."
And for me, it was what I had to accept was that being a writer was what I really wanted to be even though I had no clue if I would ever succeed. And in fact, the moment for me that I would say of coming home, it was another 20 years or more before I had any success at all after that. So that's another thing I would say to anybody listening. That a lot of times we're so impatient, particularly this generation today, the Instagram, TikTok generation, you think like, "Oh, I'm just waiting for that breakthrough and everything's going to change." But no. I mean, you have the breakthrough and then you got another 20 years after that. At least that's my experience. The good news is once you have that breakthrough where you do say, "Okay, this is my calling." "I don't give a shit if I fail." "I have no choice." "I can't do anything else." "This is who I am." "I've got to be." That even though you're not succeeding yet, you're on the right path and you know it, and your feet are on the ground and you feel okay about yourself, even as you're struggling. You feel like, "I'm heading towards the north star." "I'm on the right track." "And even if I never get there, at least I'm doing the right thing."
Yeah. I wrote a lot about that in my last book called "Creative Calling." The idea that you are sharing in a future book, your story as the hero of your own journey, I am all over that. We will 100% heavy back on the show. Before I let you go, I think it's important for us to recap that your latest book is absolutely excellent. "Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be." It's succinct. It's like a laser beam at so many of the insecurities and the narratives that we have told ourselves. And for the folks who are familiar with your work prior to listening to our show today, and especially with books like "The War of Art," "Winning the Inner Creative Battle," others, "Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit," "Turning Pro," "The Artist's Journey," those are absolutely required reading for anyone. So I want to say just a personal debt of gratitude to you for taking the time for helping all of your friends at two in the morning and just getting you on the path like, "Oh God, I'm going to write this down now so I don't have to keep saying it at two in the morning." Thank you for doing that work. I think you've made the world a more creative place because of it. And I consider myself personally in debt to you and your vision. And I think it's also really interesting to hear this idea that we explored earlier about talent is bullshit and hard work is so important. And here you are, we're talking about "Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be," which is out July 12th, I think? And we will drop this podcast in time with that to help you. Our community is very good about buying books for authors. But the fact that we're already now talking about this book, this other book that you've already finished. Just rock that if you are, for everyone who's in their own head right now about wherever they are in their creative career, we're talking to a world class author who's sold millions of books about his next book and he's already got his next one, sounds like virtually completed. Is that fair?
Yeah. Talk about prolific. Steven, is there any...
Let me jump in for one thing here.
Please. God, please do.
Sometimes people will ask me, "What do you do between books?" Or, "How do you handle that period between books?" Which of course applies to any creative field at all. Dance, theater, music, whatever. And my answer to that is, "There never should be a between books." "You should always be..." That's the dip that Seth Godin talks about. You should always be working. When you're halfway through book number eight, you should already be starting book number nine. So that if you finish book number eight on Tuesday, you start book number nine. You're already 90 pages into the next book on Wednesday. The reason I say that is because that gap, particularly if you finish one piece of work and you put it out there to the world and you're waiting for the response, you might as well put a gun to your head and just pull the trigger.
There couldn't be anything worse you could do for yourself. And everybody does it too. But whereas if you keep working, you've got the next one. And then when number eight fails or goes out there and sinks without a trace, you say to yourself, "Well, I don't care." "I'm on number 11 right now." "And I have high hope for number nine and number 10." And that way you keep working and you're always in the muse's good graces. Even if you're not in the good graces of the New York Times best seller list. And let me say to you, Chase, thank you for having me. Thank you for what you're doing on this podcast. And all the people that you've helped and you're inspiring. God bless you. Whatever you're doing, keep doing. It's a great thing. Thanks for having me.
I appreciate you so much and your work, Steven. Thank you for being on the show. Looking forward to having you back with this next book. And again, folks, please, I cannot recommend enough. It's such a treat to get a copy of this so early, Steven. "Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be." It's just an absolute gem. Thank you so much. And to everybody out there, this has been a masterclass in how to live your dreams, whether that's career, hobby or life, which is the goal of the show. So Steven hit that on the head. And from both myself and Steven, we bid you adieu until next time. Thank you.
All right, great. Thanks a lot, Chase.
Thanks so much.
Thanks everybody out there in the world, and until next time. (inspirational music)