When the Peripheral Opponent is You


peripheral(Cross-posted from bobbylehew.com, with apologies to Steven Pressfield). As an avid book collector, I've amassed more than my share of unread books. It's a possessive obsession, an incurable malady. Of the piles and piles of books I've purchased through the years, none seem to retain their unread status longer than the books that fall into the two categories of 'self-help' and 'business'. Most business books are extrapolated essays padded for the sake of the publisher, and most self-help books feature such fleeting remedies that the only solace they tend to provide is the spine to spine comfort found among each other in the remainder bin (someone needs to write a self-help book for self-help books). Acres and acres of advice rooted in about a centimeter of top soil yielding a harvest of pulp and chaff.

Few business books achieve success above the pantheon of fire sale conquerors. Books such as Good to Great, the E-Myth series (which I finally read), virtually anything penned by Peter Drucker, Guerilla Marketing (the archetypal marketing handbook), the polemical Atlas Shrugged, Getting Things Done, Content Rules (and more) have at least secured their superiority on my bookshelves.

For me, one business and self-help book supersedes them all: The War of Art.

The War of Art is the one book that were I flush with cash and less miserly than I'm purported to be, I'd mail everyone I know a copy. I'd be the Phillip Van Dorn of the business world, mailing Pressfield's book to every single connection in my network, a bold surety of faith in my fellow man (with any residue of reservation backed by the full faith and credit of the rising boot heel of Pressfield's mighty dictums).

Few business books move people, fewer still move people to immediate action. The War of Art is the ultimate business book and self-help book. Its entire premise is dealing with the number one obstacle to your success: you. (Or, more aptly, the resistance within you). I won't labor to define the entire premise since Amazon's omnipotence and omnipresence metes out all your premise pining needs but I will tell you: go buy the book. (After you've read it, you can buy me a celebratory soda at Gower's).

One of the many proverbial statements that moved me was Pressfield's comment on "peripheral opponents".

Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids. “Peripheral opponents,” as Pat Riley used to say when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers.  

Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.

I don't disagree with this statement nor any of the forms of resistance posited in the book but I wonder if there isn't still a chance the peripheral opponent could even be me. Not me as in "the resistance within me", but me the multi-faceted goal setter, me and my numerous life goals, me and my myriad objectives within my hobbies, passions and pursuits, the multi-splintered tasks and to-dos so numerous that the total weight combined suffocates progress.

For example, the internet is such a pedagogic trove that, were I to decide to learn how to play the guitar or learn to make croissants or take up cycling, I'm a google search away from a rabbit hole of video tutorials and articles that will ensure I embark on yet another "life goal". Perhaps this is right and good that I pursue this and perhaps I even accomplish what I set out to do, but at what cost to my core purpose?

This is beyond the resistance of the distracted or the resistance of unwillingness to do the work, this is a specialized form of peripheral opponent, insidious in its opposition since this enemy knows your every move and (moreover) uses your strength and passion for getting things done as the ultimate weapon to ensure your demise. If this were an obvious enemy, we'd respect the hell out of the shrewdness and cunning it took to accomplish this in collusion with our purposed-self, our ardent-self, our goal-setter-self: the finisher.

If there is a moral here, it is likely this: beware the proliferation of purpose, ironically, a fait accompli - the doing becomes a declaration of one's undoing.