“MOLON LABE!” – These are the words spoken vociferously by the Spartan leader Leonidas to the Persian invaders and their leader, Xerxes. Now, Xerxes had asked Leonidas, quite politely as a matter of fact, to surrender his weapons at Thermopylae.
The defiant Spartan king, with the moxie to back it up, made his position quite clear. “Come and Take Them!” Xerxes eventually made Leonidas eat his words, but not before the 300 Spartans exemplified what it meant to be Spartan.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, guessed the number of Persians at 2,000,000, while most scholars today put it at 300,000. Somewhere between 20-25,000 Persians were run through by Leonidas and his men.
Just this last week, I read that the Spartans were one of the few cultures that refused to build a wall around their city. Quite frankly, they just didn’t need it. Their reputation and training preceded them, and that dedication and pursuit of perfection made invaders really weigh the consequences of their actions.
While this same dedication can be tied to your training as an artist, it can also serve in any aspect of life. This is where I go back to my old fallback position, exemplified best in The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield:
A Professional is Prepared. “I’m not talking about craft; that goes without saying. The professional is prepared at a deeper level. He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.
The professional understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious. It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before.
The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them. His aim is to take what the day gives him. He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can. He understands that the field alters every day. His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.
A Professional Dedicates Himself To Mastering Technique. The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.
The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
Whether it’s art, or life, or shooting, or cooking, or any other endeavor, we can learn from the Spartans. Being Prepared and Mastering Technique are the roots of success. Add Persistence to these two and you’re bordering on unstoppable.