Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance among many others, recently put up a blog post entitled, Getting to the Flow. An excerpt:
The lady plans to seduce her lover. Her object is to create a night of magic. How does she do it?
First the setting, the lighting, the music. The mood, the wine … the lady orchestrates every detail. Her skin, her hair, her scent. She alters her voice, her walk, she paints on those witchy-woman eyes. Ooh, don’t forget those six-inch Manolos.
But there’s more to the spell.
The finishing touches lie in how she greets her lover; their talk, the rhythm of the evening, the dance between them. Almost imperceptibly the moment steals upon the pair. The lady is caught up too. She has created the moment and now it carries her—and her lover–away.
This is magic. This is flow.
If we could achieve this by taking a pill or reading a self-help manual, we’d all do it. (Some of us have tried.) But the reality is that it takes work.
Magic takes work.
Flow takes work.
Art takes work.
The athlete and the warrior, the actor and the dancer all spend hours preparing for their moment under the lights. So do you and I. We’re courting the flow. We’re summoning it; we’re seducing it.
We know we can’t order it up like a pizza. We can’t produce it on an assembly line. But we can prepare the stage and the hour. We can prepare ourselves. And we can begin by action. We can act in anticipation of the goddess’s apparition. We can move as if she is already here.
The lover produces the moment by her need and her passion. But she also creates it with technique and time-in-grade. She works. She studies. She pays.
The warrior advances toward the enemy, the mime steps onto the stage. It looks so easy to us watching from the hilltop or seated in the audience. We weren’t present for the hours and years of training and rehearsal. We haven’t experienced the heartbreak and the rejection and the thousand midnights of crippling self-doubt.
We see only the finished product. We see Kobe. We see Pavarotti.
It’s no different for an attorney. The hours of toil behind the scenes to draft a contract, prepare a brief, or developing an argument are not seen by our audience – the clients. Clients only see the performance, the final act, the end result of the late nights at the office and time spent away from friends and family. And they don’t care. All that matters is the end result. Embarrassing failure or triumphant victory – that is all that matters to the client. If failure is the result – you didn’t do enough. If victory is the result – it was too easy and you spent too much time on the matter.
And regardless of the last result, you have to immediately go back to the grindstone again. Pick up the pen, turn on the computer, answer the phone. Check the email, empty the inbox on your desk, call your wife. Review the bills, pay off invoices, worry if you’re going to make it to the end of the month.
Like SHG wrote today: “When the answer to the question is that their legal fee goes toward “the time and hard work of defending them” against the accusation, they lose interest fast.”
But that’s all there is at the end of the day: hard work. Embrace it. Make it your own. Not a reviled thing that drags you down, but a constant companion with you when you wake up in the morning.
Henry Rollins wrote an essay entitled The Iron. It’s about weight training but it applies equally to any endeavor the requires constant attention, discipline, and hard work:
I hated myself all the time.
As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn’t going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you’ll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn’t think much of them either.
Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.
Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.
Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.
Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say s–t to me.
It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.
I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.
The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.