Lessons in Life: Do the Work

TAGs: Editorial, Lessons in Life

Lee Davy rounds off his examination of Steven Pressfield’s iconic self-help trilogy by leafing through the pages of Do The Work.

Lessons in Life: Do The WorkWelcome to the final chapter of my treatise on Steven Pressfield’s self-help trilogy, that began quite by accident, when he wrote The War of Art.

In Lessons in Life: Fighting Resistance With The War of Art  I wrote about the Resistance and how it prevents us from living the life that we deserve. In Lessons In Life: Turning Pro I wrote about Turning Pro as life’s fulcrum to beat the Beast.

But how do you Turn Pro?

You Do The Work.

Why Change?

Pressfield begins in Do The Work by touching on some of the reasons we may want to change.

“The last thing we want is to remain as we are.”

I guess that depends?

If you drag your shadow around the bar throughout the day and then return to illuminate your bedroom when you log on to play 24-tables of online poker then perhaps change is necessary.

If you are playing 24-tables of online poker, losing money like hookers lose condoms, and have lost the buzz that led you to the promised land to being with, perhaps you also need a change.

Maybe you’re happy as Larry – crushing the game and embracing freedom. The answer is playing hide and seek in your guts, intestines, and innards.

“You sense inside of you a second self, an unlived you.”

What I love about professional poker players is their courage to be unconventional. They lead the mutiny on good ship Status Quo.

“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink, and hesitate.”

Three Act Structure

Steven Pressfield is a devout follower of the Three Act Structure. It is his one true God. Over time, Pressfield came to realise that life is a story and that we also have Three Acts.

Beginning = We are Born

Middle = We Live

End = We Die


Every story is about something. Every life is about something. Pressfield calls this Theme. I liken Theme to Meaning & Purpose. And this is where we begin to do the work.

Perhaps your job makes you want to superglue your nostrils over a fire hydrant and turn it on. Maybe you’re a professional poker player thinking about playing when you are 60 and wondering how you are going to go for a piss without missing a full orbit. Either way, you need to start thinking about Theme.

What is your life about?

You cannot begin Doing the Work without understanding your Theme.

As Robert Greene, author of Mastery, The 48 Laws of Power, and The Art of Seduction reminds us, there are two types of time in our lives. The first is Dead Time and the second is Alive Time. I refer to these as Value and Waste.

Once you find your Theme, your job is to make sure all of your actions align with that Theme. When doing so, you are experiencing Alive Time or Value. When you are working on things that are outside of your Theme, then you are experiencing Dead Time or Waste.

How will you know the difference?

You will know.

We all know.

We feel it in our Haggis.

Imagine you want to be the greatest poker player of all time. Your Theme is mastery. When you are working on your game, your psychological state, or sitting at the table folding hour after hour, you are experiencing Alive Time. When you are watching Netflix, sitting underneath the paid mass of flesh, or lying on the couch with last night’s worm banging the drum in your gut, you are experiencing Dead Time.

Do The Work – The Beginning

Start at the end.

With your Theme locked up – and it can change throughout your life, it’s not fixed like a nose – you now start doing the work, and we do so by figuring out where we want to end up.

If you want to be the greatest poker player in the world, then the end might be induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. If you are winning millions playing poker but want to make a change in the world, then your end might be donating 100% of your profits to a charity that plays your heartstrings like Joshua Bell plays the violin.

How are you going to get there?

That’s Doing The Work.

“Don’t think, act.”

Thinking is Resistance. You need to get hold of a crowbar and tap its bell-end. Doing The Work is all about action. Don’t let the thought of making mistakes slow you down. We all make mistakes. Fear of failure is Resistance. Experiencing failure is Doing The Work.

We will we face a crossroads.




“We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.”

We can always change our minds. We can always pivot. But first, we must begin.

Pressfield reminds you of the way you came into this world.

“Babies are born amid blood and chaos.”

Go and act like Carrie.

Start by etching your life on a single piece of paper. Start at the end, and work your way backwards. Then take the advice of Paddy Chayefsky:

“As soon as I figure out the theme of my play, I write it down on a thin strip of paper and Scotch-tape it to the front of my typewriter*. After that, nothing goes into that play that isn’t on theme.”

*A typewriter is a machine that old people used to write letters before Steve Jobs created computers.

Do The Work – The Middle

Here is the part of the story where the writer throws your emotions into the belly of a Goose and then slaps it on the ass. You are the hero, and this is your journey. A journey is nothing more than a collection of obstacles that you, the hero, has to overcome.

What are your obstacles?

Think about your Theme. Have a look at your ending. What obstacles do you have to overcome to reach the conclusion?

That’s the middle.

Pressfield talks about David Lean’s view that every feature film should have seven or eight major sequences for it to work. What are your seven or eight major sequences?

Map them out.

In the Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, he explains:

“A lot of people talk about expecting the best, but preparing for the worst, but I think that’s a seductively misleading concept. There’s never just one “worst.’ Almost always there’s a whole spectrum of bad possibilities. The only thing that would really qualify as the worst would be not having a plan to cope.”

The middle is that plan.

What is your plan?

“Stay stupid. Follow your unconventional crazy heart.”


Making new friends is part of Doing The Work.

“Prepare yourself to make new friends. They will appear, trust me.”

You don’t change.

And so you stay.

I lived in a tiny Welsh Valley all my life. I had the same job from the time I left school at 16 to the time I had my first thought at 35. Those two truths forged bonds. Friendships and family ties emerged from those two places. It’s a frightening thing to be alone. The silence is crushing. The lack of touch leaves your skin whimpering.

Every great story has a great cast of characters.

Look around you.

In your current story, who are the main characters? Who is the villain (your villain doesn’t have to be flesh and blood, mine is societal conditioning)? Who is your mentor?

Dorothy had the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, R2D2, Yoda, and C-3PO.

Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi has Chino Rheem.

We are the very essence of who we spend the most time with and who we read. Doesn’t it, therefore, make sense to seek out those people who are more likely to lead you to your ending? Hint: it helps to find people who share your Theme. Hint: Who has done what you want to do?

Three Act Structure – End

You reach the end when you defeat the villain and take the treasure.

Going back to the Greatest Poker Player in The World analogy, it could be that your villains are Tilt and Work Ethic. For you to achieve your ending and become enshrined in the Poker Hall of Fame, you have to take your lightsaber and burn both of those suckers down.

How do you do that?

You do the work.

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.” Says Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.”

Learn about Resistance.

Make the decision to Turn Pro.

Find your Theme.

Begin at the end.

Find a great cast of characters.

Figure out your obstacles.

Do The Work.

Defeat the villain.

Take your treasure.


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