The War of Art and Entrepreneurship

In his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield tackles the constant battle that rages inside of artists. Art, according to Pressfield, is war. So is trying to start a business.

Have you ever considered the similarities between artists and entrepreneurs? Both are trying to create something from nothing. Both dedicate a tremendous amount of effort toward their craft. Both want to earn a living doing something they love. Both face internal battles against self-doubt and fear.

Only one of them tries to get paid prior to having much of anything to show. Guess which one.

Very rarely will you see an undiscovered musician head to a label and ask for a record deal based solely on an idea for a song. Yet an entrepreneur will head to the local angel investor or VC armed only with a business plan and a hockey-stick-shaped revenue projection.

I know because I’ve done it.

Perhaps we need to approach our craft like a musician and not like it’s a get-rich-quick scheme.

  • Successful musicians start by writing music first. Entrepreneurs need to start by creating a product or service that makes money.
  • Successful musicians practice even when nobody’s looking. Entrepreneurs need to build their companies even when nobody cares.
  • Successful musicians care more about their fans than the labels. Entrepreneurs should care about their customers/users/clients more than pleasing potential investors.
  • Successful musicians understand it often takes years to be “discovered.” Entrepreneurs need to understand that even Facebook wasn’t built overnight.
  • Successful musicians often carry a day job and practice their craft during the down time. Entrepreneurs need to be willing to do the same.
  • Successful musicians don’t wake up one day and say, “I’m a musician.” Some people think all they need to do is change their Twitter profile to read “entrepreneur” and they’ll get funding.
  • Successful musicians had to live with constant rejection early on – meaning they had to be in love with the art, not the process. Too many entrepreneurs pick projects based on pipe-dream payouts – not how willing they would be to do it for years with no promise of a pot of gold.

We know this intuitively. The success rate of startups is not a mystery. It sucks. Yet we want someone else to bankroll our idea without having done much more than write a business plan.

It’s time we start thinking like a successful musician. It’s time we build businesses. It’s time we dig in for the long haul. It’s time we pick projects that excite us because of the work, not the fantasy payout. I’ve got nothing against investors. They are wonderful people doing great things. I’m just not going to work for them anymore. I’m going to work for me.

I have a gut feeling money follows passion. Not the other way around.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share in the comments below.

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  • I loved Steven's book and this reminds me I probably need to read it again.

    The musician analogy does a good job of showing how silly some people's approach to starting a business really is.

    • Thanks, Nick! It's one of those books I come back to every couple of years. It changed the way I think about things like writing and business. Truthfully, anything that takes any amount of creativity is going to be a constant battle against ourselves. Many thanks for the comment!

  • I loved Steven's book and this reminds me I probably need to read it again.

    The musician analogy does a good job of showing how silly some people's approach to starting a business really is.

    • Thanks, Nick! It's one of those books I come back to every couple of years. It changed the way I think about things like writing and business. Truthfully, anything that takes any amount of creativity is going to be a constant battle against ourselves. Many thanks for the comment!

  • IF you do it because you love it, based upon what I have read and my own personal philosophies, you will be much more happy in life and stand a greater chance to help others and have a positive impact on the world. It's not about the money really, is it? No matter how much one makes, on average doesn't it seem that you always want more? If someone has an exclusive focus on money and works only for the love of making more money, I doubt that person will be working as hard as you Travis.

    Hustle for the love of the game and never look back.

  • IF you do it because you love it, based upon what I have read and my own personal philosophies, you will be much more happy in life and stand a greater chance to help others and have a positive impact on the world. It's not about the money really, is it? No matter how much one makes, on average doesn't it seem that you always want more? If someone has an exclusive focus on money and works only for the love of making more money, I doubt that person will be working as hard as you Travis.

    Hustle for the love of the game and never look back.