You can never get back the time and the opportunities you’ve wasted playing it safe listening to resistance.
I consider the finite time I have on this planet as something sacred and precious. I didn’t always feel that way. I was reviewing my life stories recently and was hit in the face with the reality of missed opportunities, missed relationships, money lost, and roads not travelled. I didn’t risk failing enough, I didn’t risk jumping enough, too many times, I played it safe. I can’t get that time back. That’s a harsh reality to face. People at the end of their life often express that they wish they had dared more, tried more, risked more.
Why did I play safe?
My go to source on this subject is the brilliant writer (and one of my heroes) Steven Pressfield. His indispensable book The War of Art and the follow-on book Do The Work explores the truths about living a fulfilled life versus not living it if you succumb to fear.
I admit, maybe not everyone will be able to live a fulfilled life. It is a tall order and not comfortable. But the regret later in life that you didn’t even try is far worse. I agree with Steven that living under the thumb of resistance by definition will not create a sense of well-being that every human who woke up this morning hopes for. Caving to resistance is a perfect recipe for never even having a chance to live your Unlived Life.
The unlived life
Do you have a nagging feeling deep in the pit of your stomach, deep in your soul that you have your present life and you have your unlived life?
Years ago, when I was a musician living in London trying to “make it,” I got a call from an old friend. It was Prairie Prince the drummer for the popular Bay Area band the Tubes and considered one of the finest drummers on the planet (Prairie was the original choice to occupy the drum throne for the mega group, Journey – he turned the gig and a large bank account down to stay with the Tubes).
Prairie asked me if I would be interested in playing on a session with one of the most famous in-demand piano players at the time, Nicky Hopkins. You’ve likely not heard of him, but you have listened to the songs he played on. The Rolling Stones “Angie” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” Joe Cocker’s “You are so Beautiful.” And another pretty well-known band, the Beatles in the song “Revolution” just to name a few.
Nicky said the session player they hired, couldn’t play the parts well enough and whether I would want to step in. I thought it was a joke until I found out it wasn’t. Of course, I said yes, and asked him where the session was. He said, “oh we’re at the Beatles’ Apple studios in downtown London.”
I was floored and excited but strangely, not afraid. Fortunately, resistance wasn’t saying things like “why would they pick an unknown musician like you?” or “you really think you can do the session?” or “what if you blow the session?” or “who do you think you are?” Come to think of it, resistance probably was saying all those things, but I wasn’t listening. I walked into the studio in a complete state of flow, and it turned out I was up to the task…
Looking back at that moment I was living the life I dreamed of which caused me to be in a state of flow with a clear mind and perform even better. In my day-to-day life though I was living my unlived life.
But later, something happened…
Some weeks after the sessions were finished, Nicky asked me to help write the lyrics and melodies for his new album. Nicky wasn’t a lyrist, and of course, I jumped at the chance, though not without some fear. One rainy night (the usual for London), sitting in Nicky’s London flat writing lyrics the phone rang.
It was George Harrison (do I have to say he was one of the Beatles?). Now things were getting surreal. George said to Nicky, “we’re having a session tonight at my home studio (Henley-on-Thames), and I want you to come and play piano, I’ll send the car to pick you up.”
I was doing all I could to keep from losing it. I mean, I was sitting in a London Flat with a world-famous session musician who was talking on the phone to George Harrison! Nicky asked George if he needed another guitar player (me). George declined.
Then things got bad. I heard George decline having me come and play guitar. I understood the NO and then what did I do?
Did I beg Nicky to take me along and just watch, make tea, pull some weeds in Georges beautiful botanical gardens? No. Did I plead for Nicky to find any reason for me to come along? No.
Why? I wanted to look cool. Resistance said, “be cool and don’t ask for what you want, don’t look like a jerk.”
An hour later, a long black Mercedes pulls up outside the flat to take Nicky to George’s house. The door opened, and Nicky started walking out. Did I grab Nicky’s leg and begged him to take me? “I’ll hide in the trunk, I’ll wait outside the gate of Georges estate, I’ll do anything, but please take me.” No. I decided to be an idiot and look cool.
One more event happened – even worse than the previous one.
We finished the album, and Nicky asked me if I would like some help becoming a session musician in London. World-famous session musician putting his reputation on the line is asking “do you want help?”
What did I say (you can probably guess)? No.
How is this possible? It’s possible because resistance told me I wasn’t good enough and I believed that voice. I never processed the fact that Nicky thought I could do it because I did do it on his sessions. He would never have made the offer if he didn’t know I could do it.
Resistance and the unlived life
There are many words for Resistance: The Personal Mind, The Monkey Mind, the Egoic Voice, the Inner Critic, the Flow Killer.
Steven Pressfield describes it as a little voice inside your head that wants to undermine every creative project you try. The more critical the project, the louder resistance shouts. I’ll list a few of what he calls “Resistance’s Greatest Hits” that will activate resistance with a vengeance:
- The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
- The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or otherwise.
- Any diet or health regimen.
- The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.
- Education of every kind.
It is my wish for anyone reading this, please consider jumping or at least trying – even in a small way – to take steps to living the unlived life that’s inside you.
Question: When did you say NO to an opportunity or a relationship or a dream because you listened to the voice of resistance? When did you say YES?
You can leave your answers in the comments section below.
drawings by Peter Axtell