So I just finished rereading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield for the umpteenth time. I read this book once or twice a year to get my bearings and remind me why I write. I have shared thoughts in previous posts that came to me as a result of reading this. I have written no less than three posts about the concept of resistance, as set forth in The War of Art.
The Idea of resistance is what stuck out to me the last time I read this book. This time, the concept that stuck out to me was territorial thinking versus hierarchical thinking. . In the book, Pressfield says that: “We humans have territories too. Ours are psychological. Stevie Wonder’s territory is the piano. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. When Bill Gates pulls into the parking lot at Microsoft, he’s on his territory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine”. Hierarchical thinking is basically comparing yourself to others and acting in a way that maintains your place in the tribe. Territorial thinking is where you adopt a territory, something that you are passionate about, and living from that, rather than giving a shit about what anyone else thinks about it. “If you’re all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There’s no one to impress. So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations. You’re doing it territorially. If Arnold Schwarzenegger were the last man on earth, he’d still go the gym. Stevie Wonder would still pound the piano. The sustenance they get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others.”
I started to think about this, what would I do if I was the only person left on earth? The answer surprised me (and yet I knew the answer before the question was even asked), of course I would continue writing because I draw energy from it, but the real answer, the big answer was I would brew beer. Obviously, if there was no one else on earth, I would have to brew, or I wouldn’t have beer (obviously I would have already raided all the great breweries in the world). Beer is a substance that brings me enjoyment, and I am not just talking about drinking it, the entire process that goes in to it fascinates me. Talking about it energizes me in a way nothing else does. In short, I am passionate about beer.
In the book, Pressfield talks about how we shy away from staking out our territory for “fear of losing our place in our tribe. Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started. Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours. Fear of betraying our race, our hood, our homies. Fear of failure. Fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for. Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives. Fear of madness. Fear of insanity. Fear of death… We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know. We pass through a membrane. We become monsters and monstrous.”
This sums up my situation with entering into my territory. I grew up in a Midwestern, conservative, Christian house, where drinking beer, let alone thinking about it, put you in danger of the fires of hell. I was thoroughly indoctrinated and believed alcohol to be bad. That all changed during my first year of college, I met a group of Christian guys who loved God, and had no problem drinking. Around the same time, my Mom’s view of alcohol changed, and soon after so did mine. I had my first beer at 12am February 22, 2005 (my 21st birthday), and the rest is history.
Up until recently, I was afraid to stake my claim. I was afraid to say, “I love beer, I am passionate about beer. And I want to spend the rest of my life working the beer industry.” I was afraid it wouldn’t be socially acceptable, I was afraid people wouldn’t understand. I now know it doesn’t matter if they understand, it only matters that I am doing my work within my God given territory.
I love beer, not just drinking it, but reading about styles and innovations, talking about it and introducing to the fact that beer can be more than Bud Lite. When I talk about beer stuff, a completely different look comes over my face; I get so excited it’s hard to understand what I am saying sometimes. When I go to a bottle shop, I’m like a big alcoholic kid in a candy shop, I stand there for hours just admiring the variety and talking the counter guys (who usually love beer as much as me).
We all have a territory. We need to find that territory to find fulfillment in our lives. Our territory can be anything, I have friends whose territories are accounting, or business, or music, or working with the homeless.
There are two steps we must take to find our territories. The first one is easy, we must ask ourselves what we would still do even if we were the last person on earth, even if we could claim no recognition or glory or wealth from it, and then go do it. As John Eldredge says in Wild at Heart, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive”.
The second step is even more important, but infinitely more difficult, we must stake our claim and step out into the unknown. We must live and work in territory, regardless of the opposition or criticism, if I may quote John Rambo, in Rambo IV, “This is who we are, what we do. We either live for nothing or die for something”. It is pivotal that we brave the possible outcomes and step out. As Eldredge says, “Let the world feel the weight of who you are, and let them deal with it”.
Sometimes when talking to a person whose territory I don’t get, I am tempted to say “well that’s boring, why would you like that”, and then I think of all the times I have been accused of being an alcoholic, or being irresponsible or just plain weird, and instead I say “go for it, it ain’t my pint of stout, but tell me more.” This is a key response, once we’ve found our territory; we must encourage others around us to find theirs. Otherwise we risk becoming pretentious, hipsteresque assholes musing on our barstools about how awesome we are and how lame everyone else. Or worse, we add to the culture of criticism and shame that is currently developing, by sitting behind or computers and pointlessly commenting on other people’s journeys, all while stalling our own. The creative soul thrives in the company of its own kind, and therefore we must breathe life into the stories around us.
Find your territory and live in it. Bask in the knowledge that that is what you were made for. The world needs more people living from their true hearts, instead of more masked cowards hiding from their true hearts. I can’t wait to see what we can do.
All quotes from: Pressfield, Steven (2011-11-11). The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.
Eldredge, John (2011-04-19). Wild at Heart Revised & Updated: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.