It appears that career counselors have it all wrong. Instead of asking people what they most want to do, they should explore what they are most avoiding.
There’s plenty of evidence that what we ignore is often our most cherished dream. Our Resistance is a maddeningly accurate indicator of what would serve us best.
I watched a vivid reminder of this unfold when The Today Show invited viewers to submit their ideas for a feature they did called Live For Today. The television program challenged their audience to tell them the one thing they wanted to do before they die.
The response was huge. Obviously, this invitation awakened numerous dreams that had been put to sleep.
That wasn’t the most amazing thing about this project. What’s astonishing was how doable the submissions were. People weren’t asking to acquire their own islands; the ideas were more along the lines of “be an extra in a movie.”
Many viewers reported that they’d had their dream for years. So why have they avoided doing something about it?
In The War of Art , Steven Pressfield profoundly blows open the insidious ways in which Resistance keeps us stuck in place. When I learned that the author was doing an Internet radio interview, I tuned in.
Midway through the program I called in and asked him if there was such a thing as good Resistance. He laughed and said, “When the Resistance is really strong, you better fasten your seatbelt, because something big is trying to get your attention.”
Entrepreneurship is a surefire awakener of this phenomenon. I suspect that nobody starts a business without having to confront their own Resistance. But it doesn’t stop there. At every step of the way, our Resistance comes out to meet us.
The closer we are to getting what we want, the stronger our Resistance becomes. I see proof of this with every seminar I do. There are always folks who wait until the very last minute to enroll.
I used to think that these were people who were mildly curious, but had no intention of actually doing anything. Now I think these malingerers may be the most likely to succeed—and they’re scared to death to find that out.
While we can’t eliminate Resistance, we can use it as a power tool to move us closer to our dreams. It takes some courage and maturity to do that, but every great achiever has already learned how to pay attention to their Resistance, acknowledge the truth it tries to obscure and then move past it.
Consider what Vincent Van Gogh had to say about it: “If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint…and that voice will be silenced.”
What have you been avoiding? What adventure have you let Resistance abort? What if instead of seeing Resistance as a red light or a stop sign, we started treating it like what it really is: a signal to proceed?
You don’t even have to deny it’s there. In fact, you have to notice it and call it by name.
“Aha,” you might say, “there you are again, but you’ll not be having your way with me this time. I assume you’re here to alert me to something wonderful and I will continue on.”
What if you began to trust your Resistance? At the very least, your confidence would grow because with every defeat of Resistance we get stronger. Viewed from this angle, Resistance seems more benevolent than we may have thought—and far more useful.
So go ahead—be contrary. Listen to your Resistance and then do the opposite. If it tells you not to bother, be contrary and bother. If it tells you that scrubbing the toilet is more important than writing your next chapter, let the toilet go unscrubbed.
Challenge it. Laugh at it. And, most of all, trust what it’s telling you.