It's a lot of fun to see that team that you've supported for years come out of “Dark Horse” status and start to make it. Ask anyone who was a fan of the Green Bay Packers before they hit the Super Bowl. Or any Cubs fan, for that matter (though I think they might still be waiting).
I'm going through that with my oft-quoted author hero Steven Pressfield, who recently got to experience the Oprah Effect when she interviewed him about his work. Suddenly The War of Art – a book he wrote twelve years ago, which has been independently published with a slow-but-steadily-growing sales record – is on the New York Times Bestseller List. It's number 73 on Amazon.
That's no surprise; it's a good book. It's useful, it's inspiring, hell, it's the kind of book I wish I would write. Not sure I have it in me, and that makes it rather intimidating to try, but I sure know that I would like to. Well, that, or a book like the ones Pat Conroy writes. You can read about the phenomenon right now on his website.
But that's not really what I want to talk about. See, I also subscribe to his newsletter, and he wrote an answer to a reader recently that resonated with me. It would be easy to say “Sure, Pressfield's a success, but anyone Oprah mentions will be that way!” Which may be true, but it's not a cause/effect argument. He's not a success because Oprah found him; he was a success long before that. He was a success before he sold the screenplay to The Legend of Bagger Vance.
Or rather, he wasn't a success even after those things. It kind of depends on how you define success. Is success doing what you love? Then hey, I'm a great success! Is it when, as the saying goes, the money follows? In that case, I'm not doing so well…then again, neither was Steven Pressfield back in 1964 when he started writing, since he didn't get a paycheck until the '80's.
But that's actually why he is a success, I think. It's because he put in the time, he stayed the course and was still around when Oprah got around to noticing him. More to the point, he not only did the work necessary, he did the work he was passionate about. When the writer asked him about how it's possible to be a writer who doesn't get paid but survives long enough to make it, Steven had some tough love for him:
In my experience, it comes down to two principles:
One, you have to be willing to kill and to die.
Two, if you are willing to kill and to die, you’ve got a chance.
And the third (unspoken) axiom: if you’re not willing to kill and to die, you better be awfully lucky or have a father named Spielberg/Jobs/RandomHousePenguin.
“Do what you love passionately and eventually the money will follow.”
What do you think? Is that as idealistic and unrealistic as the old aphorism?