Author Steven Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art
that individuals define themselves in one of two ways: by their rank within a hierarchy, or by their connection to a familiar territory.
For Pressfield, it’s important to know whether we’re doing our creative work hierarchically or territorially: Are we doing it more for others, or more for ourselves?
Many of us define ourselves hierarchically and don’t even realize it. It’s hard not to. School, advertising, and much of our culture drills us from birth to define ourselves by others’ opinions: “Drink this beer, get this job, look this way and everyone will love you.”
This hierarchical orientation forces us to look outward – it bends our efforts toward the approval of others.
We wonder if what we create will play well with the audience. Or when meeting someone new, we ask ourselves: What can this person do for me? How will they advance my standing?
On the other hand, a territory is like a psychological home turf. It’s the context in which our efforts feel most natural – it represents the work we would do even if no one was watching.
For example, Stevie Wonder’s territory is the piano. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is the gym. Pressfield’s own territory is the act of him sitting down to write.
One way to tell if your orientation is hierarchical or territorial is to ask yourself: If you were feeling especially anxious, what would you do?
Would you contact six friends, one after the other, aiming to hear their voices and feel reassured that they still love you?
In that case, you’re operating hierarchically – you’re seeking the good opinion of others.
But as Pressfield notes, if your orientation is territorial, your reaction to the anxiety might look more like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s: “He wouldn’t phone his buddies; he’d head for the gym. He wouldn’t care if the place was empty … He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center.“