What’s your territory?

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield asks the above question. According to Pressfield we are inclined towards one of two orientations: hierarchical and territorial. If you are operating hierarchically you tend to seek the approval of others, either to ask permission or get reassurance you are doing the right thing. However if you are territorial by nature you are doing work for its own sake regardless of what others think of you or of your work. By definition if you are creating something that is truly new you must be territorial, it is unlikely you will get the approval of others because to them what you wish to create is not something they are familiar with.

Being territorial is hard. It means we are outside our comfort zone and cannot expect to get reassurance from our relatives, friends or work colleagues. In fact, we might meet with downright hostility and may ultimately be wrong and we all fear making mistakes, right?

As a way of deciding if you are hierarchical or territorial, Pressfield suggests the following test.

“Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?”

If you are alone on the planet being hierarchical is pointless, like it or not there will be no one to give you reassurance or to impress. However, if you still do that activity you are doing it for yourself, you are being territorial.

My instinct tells me that versatilists should be more territorial than hierarchical. They need to be interested in the work for its own sake rather than whether or not it impresses someone. Versatilists need to pursue their passion and their art without first getting approval from others. An ex-colleague of mine was fond of saying “it’s better to seek forgiveness than permission” (usually with reference to the company we both worked in, but that’s another story). This is not an easy thing to do, especially if you work in an establishment that penalises mistakes and tends to work by the rule book. Trying to do this occasionally is one step on the way to being territorial and freeing yourself from the hierarchies too many of us live to please. It’s also one step on the way to becoming a versatilist.

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