Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Frank Sinatra Does Not Move Pianos

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 22, 2017


I’ve quoted Dan Sullivan before and I’m gonna do it again. Do you know him? He’s the founder and CEO of Strategic Coach and one of the great mentors to entrepreneurs in the world. So, in keeping with this series on the Professional Mindset, let me rip off a few more of his ideas for you. (Thanks, Dan!)

Frank Sinatra sings ... and he prepares to sing.

Frank Sinatra sings … and he prepares to sing. Nothing else.

Dan tells the story that when he was in the army stationed in Korea, one of his jobs was putting together shows for the troops. Frank Sinatra came over one time. Dan studied him carefully and, as he says,


One of the things I learned was that Frank Sinatra does not move pianos.


Frank has other guys who do that. Frank does only two things, Dan says.


Frank Sinatra sings, and he prepares to sing. That’s it.


Dan has a concept he calls “Unique Ability.” This, he explains, is the entrepreneur’s gift. It’s her singular talent, the one thing that she brings to her business that nobody else can bring.

Steve Jobs had a Unique Ability.

Seth Godin has it.

Shawn has it.

You have it too. In many ways your job as a writer or an artist is to find out what your unique ability is and then organize your day, your month, and your year in such a way that you maximize your time exercising your unique ability and minimize or outsource everything else.

When I was in Israel researching The Lion’s Gate, I interviewed a number of people who had been close to Moshe Dayan, the great Israeli general and Minister of Defense. I heard over and over that Dayan used to say, “I don’t want to do anything that somebody else can do.”

In other words, Dayan brought something unique to the table. No doubt it was hard to define. It was an intangible. Vision, perhaps. Charisma. Whatever it was, he understood it and so did everyone around him.

His soldiers did not want Moshe Dayan to move pianos. If he tried to move a piano, his officers would have tackled him and dragged him off the stage. They wanted Dayan to command, to do what he could do that nobody else could do.

Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan

Dan Sullivan, when he speaks of unique ability, is not thinking specifically of writers or artists, he’s thinking of entrepreneurs. He’s thinking of Larry Ellison or Sergey Brin or Steve Jobs. But the concept applies, I believe, more to writers and artists than to anybody.

Stephen King has Unique Ability.

So does Toni Morrison.

And Tom Wolfe and Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger.

Each of them brings something to the party that nobody else can bring.

I read somewhere that we all should find that one thing that we can do better than anyone else in the world. When I first heard that, I thought, “That’s a bit grandiose, isn’t it? What could we possibly do that fifty thousand other people couldn’t do better?”

But I was wrong.

I have something, maybe more than one thing, that I can do better than anyone else in the world. So does my friend Randy and my friend Victoria. So do you.

My friend Mike just showed me a manuscript he’s been working on for five years. The pile of pages was a foot high. Mike’s book had created an entire world, down to the most minute details. He was, in the arena he had envisioned and brought to life, the best in the world. He was Frank Sinatra.

As writers and artists, our unique ability is our voice. Our peculiar, idiosyncratic point of view. Our sense of humor, our sense of irony, our one of a kind vision of the world.

Don’t feel bad if you’re twenty years old or forty years old and you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t know what my unique voice is.”

The truth is we don’t know what our voice is until we sing once, and sing again, and sing again and again.

I’ve said before that I had no idea what books would come out of me until they came, and when they did, I was more surprised by them than anybody.

Our voice is there already.

We were born with it.

Our Muse knows it, even if we (so far) don’t.

We reveal it to ourselves and to the world through work. By following our creative heart and seeing what comes out.

The Professional Mindset is about NOT moving pianos. It’s about finding that unique voice that is ours alone.

Frank Sinatra sings, and he prepares to sing.

That’s it.



Posted in Writing Wednesdays

20 Responses to “Frank Sinatra Does Not Move Pianos”

  1. Ken
    February 22, 2017 at 7:06 am

    This post spoke to me as few do, confirming that I should dump the business end of writing. I don’t want to spend my precious few years here designing book covers, or posting blogs, or promoting myself. I want to spend my time creating work in the hope that I might move a kindred spirit. Rather than a piano.

    Thanks, Steve.

    • Ryan
      March 15, 2017 at 8:40 am


      What a wonderful legacy to leave behind. While I am not a writer, your post has inspired me to think ways I can leave something behind. I wish you great success with writing!

  2. Gabby
    February 22, 2017 at 7:08 am

    I can believe that Frank Sinatra did not move pianos, but don’t many exceptional people engage in activities unrelated to their main work simply to flex other muscles or to cross-fertile across activities?
    I remember reading that Richard Feynman, in addition to his work in physics, played drums, painted, and picked locks.
    Einstein played violin.
    I am a teacher. I also continue to undertake the learning of new skills I will never teach in large part to keep remembering afresh how it feels to be on the steep part of learning something new to me.
    And I do stranger things too on a regular basis that I think make me better at what is the focus of my professional attention.

    • Ken McGovern
      February 22, 2017 at 8:33 am

      I believe that the post isn’t about trying new things specifically. It is about finding out what “gift” you have and focusing on that instead of a prescribed or inherited activity. Steve isn’t saying that moving pianos is below Sinatra’s efforts, or that Sinatra would be ill suited to moving a piano, I believe the message is that Sinatra gets more return on invested energy by focusing on singing versus other activities that surround the entertainment business. That is what I gathered from the blog post. So invest your time wisely (the only true finite commodity you have) by focusing on discovering, defining and developing your “gift”.

    • Nik
      February 28, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Raymond, I get what you’re saying. I think it’s good advice.

      I also believe that putting a project down — whether it’s writing, audio engineering, whatever — and distracting yourself with something else for a while can give you the distance required to come back and look at your work objectively.

      That’s difficult to do if the language, dialog and atmosphere of your story are still kicking around in your head. But if you put the project down for an afternoon or a day, and come back to it, it’s much easier to look at your own work from the objective standpoint of a reader and make the necessary adjustments.

      For Sinatra, that probably meant going out to a nice meal, having some gin and tonics, maybe a bit of gambling, haha. He didn’t have to lift the piano, but he could do other things.

  3. Carolyn Mance
    February 22, 2017 at 7:29 am

    I just adore the way you sing on this blog. Before I sound like a Pressfield groupie I’ll simply say, thank you.

  4. February 22, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Someone asked Frank Sinatra how come he sings almost any song better than anybody else.
    He answered, “Because I sing the words.”
    He knew his focus.

  5. Mary Doyle
    February 22, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. February 22, 2017 at 8:41 am

    How scary is this? I’ve actually begun to organize my weeks around reading your Writing Wednesday posts! I don’t want to start sounding like a Pressfield groupie either, so I’ll leave it at that :). My favorite line this week? “The truth is we don’t know what our voice is until we sing once, and sing again, and sing again and again.” Thank you!

  7. February 22, 2017 at 9:48 am

    The instant I saw that headline I thought, “Wait a minute, that’s Dan Sullivan!”

    Small world indeed. I was in Dan’s program for about eight years and learned so much, as I do right here, and from your books.

    Dan talks about the Entrepreneurial Time System that has three components:
    1. Focus Time – Frank singing
    2. Buffer Time – Preparing to sing
    3. Free Time – Rejuvenating

    The idea is to maximize focus time and ideally limit buffer time to preparing to sing, not to activities like moving pianos.

    As entrepreneurs, we are not tied to the traditional bureaucratic time system and can structure our day as we wish to find our voice and make the most of that unique ability.

    Doing the work is one thing. Doing the right work is where the magic happens.

    • February 22, 2017 at 10:51 am

      I am interested in the “rejuvenating” part of this equation. I would think it is different for everyone, but are there some general principles involved?

      • March 1, 2017 at 11:44 am

        Good question Susanna – The group met quarterly and one of our activities was to plan the next quarter. The first thing we did was to plan our Free Days because the quality of Focus Days suffers if you don’t take time to rejuvenate. Most people vacations and so on when they get around to it. The idea was to make that the top priority.

        The intent of Buffer Days is to minimize them by cleaning up “messes” once and for all by improving systems or delegation.

        To specifically answer your question, Dan’s definition of Free Days is no work whatsoever, including phone calls and emails. The idea is to completely disconnect from work and do whatever it is that rejuvenates you, which of course is different for all of us. Dan said if you take one phone call or send one email the Free Day doesn’t “count.”

  8. Dave LaRoche
    February 22, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Billy Wilder once said of Marilyn Monroe: “She walks and she stands still.” Same idea as no one else could do that the way she did – not Frank, not Moshe Dyan.

    I like this post – the notion that my voice is unique and that using it will grove it into recognizable form. It’s a hopeful idea for those of us tippy-toeing into this industry – seeing the crowd, noting a success and the plethora of failure. Who knows, I might be able to sing. Thanks for that.

  9. February 22, 2017 at 11:38 am

    As much as I love these weekly writings of Steve’s, and yes, I believe I am a groupie also, it’s the comments and the sense of belonging I get each week. I’m going to look at my process differently (my art practice, more so). My CEO meeting with myself each Monday is working particularly well.
    Thanks Steve for another great post.

  10. February 23, 2017 at 5:32 am

    it was Hunter S Thompson who said, “Find out what you do better than anyone else and go do that.”

    Thanks again for all your work and generosity in sharing your creative strength.

  11. February 23, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I just wrote to you, Steve, about wanting to writing like Jane Austen and while writing realized that I will end up writing like me. Do I know how scary that is? I can feel it.

  12. February 27, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Hmmmm. I have always joked that I’m a Jack of all Trades … and the corollary to that fact.

    I began writing and making photographs early on and can’t imagine myself living without either passion despite the understanding that a million people can do both better.

    Though I’m no master carpenter, I like woodworking too. I’m about to build a workbench in my new place, so that I can resume building frames for my prints (from beautiful recycled Douglas fir). Of all my out of control hobbies, I’d maybe give up matting prints, if I could afford to.

    Then there’s the bonsai collection and garden design …. I have a new blank canvas to work on after the recent move.

    I enjoy variety. Or perhaps I have a short attention span. Either way, I find moving a piano every once in a while is refreshing. 🙂

  13. Nik
    February 28, 2017 at 1:06 pm


    I gave you a shout-out on Ghostwritten.org, a fan site I created for the work of British novelist David Mitchell:


    Specifically, I referenced that bit in “The War of Art” where you wrote about the difference between technique and inspiration, and the importance of developing technique so you’re ready when inspiration finally does come unexpectedly.