Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead.
And how does a shadow career relate to a real career?
That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career.
Something that supports what I meant to do. Good training? Yes, it sure is. This will come in handy. After all, I have to prepare, lay some groundwork, ramp up, get my eye on the prize, reach out, share, connect, engage, interact, throw around some more clichés. Because it wasn’t built in a day, was it?
Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same.
Doing it. Getting it done. Hitting my marks. As good as.
But a shadow career entails no real risk.
So I can fail at it. You can, too. No problem. We’re all supportive. And you know how much they talk about the value of failure. Best thing that could happen, from the sounds of it.
Are you pursuing a shadow career?
Steven Pressfield is a favorite of mine. That’s him I’m quoting, from his new book.
But he may have written an even more elusive, eloquent adumbration into his new book than he knew.
About us. His fellow writers.
Pressfield’s new book is Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work, just out this summer. I’ve listed it in Reading on the Ether for a while. It’s not coming off that list any time soon.
I wish I liked the title better. Sounds like one of those Brian Tracy biz books, doesn’t it? Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills That Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed. Or Reinvention: How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. Always with the subtitles. Always with the inspi-vational implication that you have to belieeeeeeeeve in yourself, Lena Horne.
Nothing against Brian Tracy, by the way. I just counted 25 different success-o-rama books to his name on Amazon before I stopped. And he’s not bad, have you ever read him? When that’s what you need, Brian’s your guy.
Steve Pressfield? Very different animal.
Just to be sure, you do get his concept about a “shadow career,” don’t you? Here he is again with a couple of good examples:
Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music?
OK, so we get this. And we know he’s right.
Just to stave off the question I have for you a little longer, let me say a couple of things about Pressfield. Man, do I love this guy.
Pressfield wrote a predecessor to Turning Pro, and I’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with it: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
I hope you’ve read it. Released in 2002. Ten years ago. Be sure to appreciate the title’s play on his work in military-historical novels. Art of War. War of Art. Sweet.
If you ever have to command a few legions of your own, you want Pressfield’s cell number.
In The War of Art, he introduced his concept of Resistance, capital R. Everything short of doing your work is Resistance. Your own insecurities will costume themselves in about a million guises to keep you from achieving what you set out to do. It’s a constant battle. Which adds up to war. That’s Resistance. It wants to stop you (your own doubts want to stop you) from doing the work.
In fact, when Pressfield did a sort of recap of the War of Art last year, he titled it Do the Work. He published it on Amazon with Seth Godin’s Domino Project, which is why the title doesn’t appear on the cover. Godin thought this was clever and made it a consistent feature of books published under the short-lived Domino aegis.
An aside for Godin-ites: Without any reference to Seth whatever, mind you, Pressfield in his new Turning Pro has a couple of interesting tribal references. Including:
When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was.
It’s full-on Pressfield 10 years later. Smarter, more refined. More focused. Authoritative. Self-published, by the way.
And it’s Pressfield, I think, chased by a couple of maturing shadows of his own, after several more books and the Glory of our Digital Disruption, which I hope you’re enjoying as much as I am.
Mind you, I don’t know Pressfield as well as I’d like. We’ve had a couple of emails back and forth but no chance to meet. I’d love it if we did. This is one of the people you want to have dinner with sometime.
It’s damned hard to get Pressfield’s readership for Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae to “come on out,” as they say on local TV ads, and buy his creative-struggle books. And in the same way, it’s hard to get us creative strugglers to cram copies of his mercenaries-on-the-move thriller, The Profession, into our Kindles, right? Let alone The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great.
So I wonder if it ever feels as if one line of books is a shadow to the other? I mean, yes, there’s also The Legend of Bagger Vance. Middle of the parking lot there, I guess. Did you know it has a subtitle, too? “A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life.” Steve, Steve, Steve, about these subtitles, remind me when we have dinner, we’ll talk.
A part of Pressfield’s appeal for me is the muscularity of his writing. Stay with me, ladies: women are more than fine with his work, don’t get me wrong, and his muse is resoundingly a she, by the way, he goes on about her as such, very clearly. In fact, you might enjoy his Last of the Amazons. It’s not about people in Seattle.
All I’m saying is there’s something beyond a warrior here. Pressfield is more a warfarer (I made that one up, don’t waste your time looking for it). I’m trying to say he has a masculine scope to his competence, a man’s perspective, a fighting spirit. It’s good.
Until he punches me in the face.
And if you read Turning Pro with your mind open and your heart on hold, you may need to check your teeth, too.
What if your author platform becomes your shadow career?
Pressfield doesn’t ask you that. I do.
What if our fine gurus and mentors and big shots and digitally maddened industry leaders trying to hang on for their pensions have whipped everybody up about platforming so much that writers are turning it into their excuse, their surrogate vocation, their addiction, their Resistance, their shadow career? — the preoccupation to doing the real thing?
The addiction becomes the shadow version, the evil twin of our calling to service or to art. That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time. They’re interesting because they’re called to something — something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation. At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.
Start talking platform around writers. What do you hear? Endless complaints about how much time it’s taking, so much energy, a creative time-suck, publicity recast as connection, aspirations transmuted into service-to-community, a following you hope to God becomes a readership, reciprocity hailed as professionalism…and the last time anybody can remember doing any writing? — it was their grocery list.
My life used to be a shadow novel. It had plot, characters, sex scenes, action scenes. It had mood, atmosphere, texture. It was scary, it was weird, it was exciting. I had friends who were living out shadow movies, or creating shadow art, or initiating shadow industries. These were our addictions, and we worked them for all they were worth.
One of the intriguing things about Pressfield, both in The War of Art and now in Turning Pro, is his willingness to tell you with aching honesty that he’s been there ahead of you.
There was only one problem: none of us was writing a real novel, or painting a real painting, or starting a real business. We were amateurs living in the past or dreaming of the future, while failing utterly to do the work necessary to progress in the present.
- Are we going where we think we’re going? Or are we addicted to being on a parallel track?
- Are we building readership and bona fide community around our ideas and our art? Or are we gassing our best energies out into the Zuckersphere?
- Are our platforms supporting our work? Or has our work become the rationale for the platforms?
You may be fine on all counts. I hope you are. I hope I am. Because, you know, any good idea — and I’m not saying that platforming is the wrong idea, far from it — but any good idea can be overpowered by our zeal to support it, nourish it, bolster it…and, as Pressfield is warning us, to get away from the harder stuff, our artistry.
The only thing tougher than the dreaded work-life balance issue may be work-platform.
Our platforms are, in most cases, built and operated these days, of course, in the social media (still a plural word, damn it). That’s a feature of each column I do here at Writer Unboxed.
So hey, I’m looking up the word “tweet” here in Turning Pro on my Kindle Fire to see what my future dinner buddy has to say on the topic of Twitter…ah, here it is:
The amateur tweets. The pro works.
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So what do you think? Ever feel as if you’re a platformer who’s trying to write a book — instead of an author who’s trying to platform? Ever think the distractions of digital simply cannot be contained and eventually will reduce us all to sound-bitten maniacs? Ever feel as if your platform-ery is the biggest thing standing in the way of your book-ery?
Main image: iStockPhoto / sack
— Anastasia M. Ashman (@AnastasiaAshman) July 28, 2012
I agree with her. What I want to recommend is that each of us must decide. Indeed, daily engagement might be superior for you to creating books, she’s right. I’d argue only that the important thing is to make a conscious decision on this — as opposed, as Pressfield has it, to letting addiction and Resistance cause you to slip into something you didn’t choose.
I will put it this way to you: Decide. Don’t default.