By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 8, 2017
We lost a valued member of our online community this past week—David Y.B. Kaufmann of New Orleans and Houston passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. If you’ve read the Comments section of this blog, you know David. His contributions were always keen and insightful, and pretty funny too. He was also a damn good writer. His series, The Scotch & Herring Mysteries, was original, smart, and one-of-a-kind. He leaves seven children, his wife Nechama, and a round of grandchildren on the way. We send our deepest condolences to all the Kaufmann family. We’re all one good guy poorer today.
In honor of David, whose mind had a definite metaphysical bent, let’s point today’s post on the Professional Mindset in a mystical direction.
We’ve said so far in this series that the writer, if she aims to be a professional, must think of herself as an entrepreneur.
She can’t look to anyone else to support her financially, emotionally, or creatively. She and she alone must take responsibility for her enterprise as an artist. She will manage her time and her emotions. She will generate her ideas. She will hold herself accountable.
She will be as mentally tough as the most self-reliant entrepreneurs and as organized and orderly as Google or Apple or General Dynamics.
We also borrowed a concept from Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach—his idea of “Unique Ability.” In writing terms, Unique Ability meant, we said, that voice, style, point of view, and storytelling gift that was ours alone, that no one else on the planet could duplicate.
All well and good.
But now, knowing all this and having successfully internalized it, we find ourselves drifting into terra incognita. We approach the threshold of the mystery.
The question becomes, “What is our unique ability? How do we find it? And what does it mean once we do find it?”
Here’s what I believe:
The source of our voice as writers (our unique ability) lies beyond our conscious mind.
You don’t know yours, and I don’t know mine.
But it knows us.
It knows us better than we know ourselves.
Our life’s work is to find it, to open the channel to this mysterious dimension. We teach ourselves to shuttle from the conscious to the unconscious, from the knowable to the unknowable, from the material to the divine.
Did Bob Dylan, when he was playing folk songs at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village in 1961, know that he would one day “go electric?”
Did he know he would have a “Christian phase?”
Did he reckon that he would pass from writing
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
I used to care but
things have changed.
Did he possess the slightest clue that he would one day have not one hit album but two in a row, singing American standards?
I don’t think he knew any of it.
I don’t believe any of us do.
People say that writing is a form of self-expression. I don’t believe it. Writing is a form a self-discovery.
I don’t think any of us have any idea at all what we’re doing.
Our Muse leads us.
What you and I are doing as artists is apprenticing ourselves to a part of our psyche whose contents we can never know and whose purpose we can never divine, a sector of our consciousness that knows us intimately, that carries our daimon and our voice, but that only reveals itself to us in snatches, speaking, like dreams, in symbols and riddles.
But wait, you say. How does all this mumbo-jumbo jibe with the idea of the entrepreneurial ethic, of the Professional Mindset?
Entrepreneurs have muses too. Steve Jobs did. Elon Musk. Sergey Brin.
They are being led, just like you and me, from project to project, from inspiration to inspiration.
The Professional Mindset does not lose its utility when you and I enter the Extraordinary World. It changes, that’s all.
Instead of focusing on time management, say, or acquiring the art of saying no, the Professional Mindset shifts gears and tunes in, with a patient and keenly attentive ear, to the Cosmic Radio Station.
Part of the Professional Mindset releases all inhibition, so that it can receive whatever assignment its muse presents to it next. While part of it remains grounded in Realityville, reminding itself, “Damn, this is great sh*t! I better get it down in my notebook before I forget it!”
So long, David. Thanks for being part of our gang and our metaphysical quest. We will not forget you.