Detach From Your Work

When I was reading James Clear’s Annual Review of 2014, something caught my attention. In one paragraph of his review he described how writing consistently paid off:

“JamesClear.com had more than 2.4 million visitors in 2014. … With over 100,000 email subscribers in just two years, I believe JamesClear.com is the fastest-growing single-author blog in the world.”

James Clear, Annual Review of 2014

Do you notice anything unusual?

JamesClear.com is Clear’s Blog, but he doesn’t write “my blog.” Instead he writes “JamesClear.com.” Why would he do that? While I can’t know this for sure, it reminded me of a few points that Steven Pressfield makes in his book The War of Art (My Summary).

In The War of Art Pressfield describes how we can beat what he calls Resistance. Resistance is a personalization of everything that prevents us from becoming who we want or are meant to be. He explains that we can beat it by turning pro(fessional). There are a few parallels between Clear’s mindest and the ideal of a professional in The War of Art. Let’s explore them.

Clear’s Parallels to The War of Art

First, Clear was proud that he stuck to a regular writing schedule “I’m proud to say that I stuck to [my] schedule without missing a post in 2014.” Yet, he doesn’t show off or let this go to his head. Instead, he follows up with: “The consistency paid off.” This means, that Clear knows that he doesn’t control his results. He knows that he controls the effort and consistency he puts in and leaves it at that. Instead of identifying with his work, he detached from his results and respects what he doesn’t control.

Second, Clear doesn’t write “my blog”. One reason he doesn’t do this could be to detach from his work. As Pressfield writes: “The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively.”1) Now, you may ask: “Why is this important?” It’s a good question. Most people would claim their success as the rightful fruits of their labor. One possibility for why Clear wrote about his blog in the third person is to avoid becoming too personally invested in it. If he would, he would draw his self-validation from it. He would open himself up to the intoxication of ego, pride, and arrogance on one side and the self-doubts, depression, and anxieties of criticism on the other. He doesn’t.

Third, it’s his business. While this is true for most entrepreneurs, almost everyone identifies with his work, let alone his entrepreneurial ventures. It’s difficult to stay detached when you pour everything you can into your business or work. Yet, this is exactly what Clear does and what we should strive for. If we do, Pressfield writes: “… it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves. We’re less subjective. We don’t take blows as personally. We’re more cold-blooded; we can price our wares more realistically.”2)

Conclusion

What can we learn from this?

Every one of us is deeply attached to something. I surely am very fond of my work on ItsMeWaldi.com and sometimes, when I failed to live up to my promises about what I want to create or do – it stings. When you miss deadlines, live a mediocre life or waste time – it stings. When you date and are rejected it hurts.

In the end, the lesson is simple: don’t over-identify with your work and keep a healthy distance between you and your work or any other pursuits. You are not what you pursue and what you pursue is not you. In any pursuit, it’s probably best, maybe even necessary, to detach yourself from your work.

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