Steve's All Is Lost Moment, 1974

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.

 


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ADDITIONAL READING » ALEXANDER THE GREAT

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

Campaigns of Alexander, The

by Arrian

This is the Penguin paperback, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, with an intro by J.R. Hamilton, one of the best Alexander scholars. It’s the most readable and really gives you a sense of what all the fuss is about.

Anabasis of Alexander

by Arrian

Same book as The Campaigns of Alexander, different title, from the Loeb Classical Library (in two volumes), translated by another top scholar, P.A. Brunt. Not as contemporary a read as de Selincourt’s but very much the real deal.

Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army

by Engels, Donald

Military men say that amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. If so, this book is pure pro. Engels explores such questions as, “How many mules can carry how many pounds for how many miles at what speed before they completely crap out?” I love this stuff.

Generalship of Alexander the Great, The

by Fuller, J.F.C.

Shrewd insights into how Alexander fought and how his principles fit into the broader picture of warfare over the centuries. By one of the greatest military historians of our time or any other.

Genius of Alexander the Great, The

by Hammond, N.G.L.

I just like Hammond’s re-imagining of Alexander. His speculations ring true to me.

Alexander the Great

by Hammond, N.G.L.

I just like Hammond’s re-imagining of Alexander. His speculations ring true to me.

Life of Alexander the Great, The

by Plutarch

Under thirty pages, but crammed with anecdotes and insights, from a far greater writer than Arrian or Curtius. But skewed, too, in its own way. Great stuff.

History of Alexander

by Quintus Curtius (Loeb Library, translated by J.C. Rolfe)

Along with the Alexander sections of Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, this is the other main ancient source. Interesting how the same incidents are narrated from wholly different points of view, new material added, crucial stuff left out. You can see why it’s so hard to get a handle on the real Alexander.

Nature of Alexander, The

by Renault, Mary

Without The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven, I wouldn’t be writing at all. These novels of Alexander inspired me years ago when I first read them—and they still read great today. Mary Renault also wrote an interesting non-fiction book, The Nature of Alexander.

Fire from Heaven

by Renault, Mary

Without The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven, I wouldn’t be writing at all. These novels of Alexander inspired me years ago when I first read them—and they still read great today. Mary Renault also wrote an interesting non-fiction book, The Nature of Alexander.

Persian Boy, The

by Renault, Mary

Without The Persian Boy and Fire From Heaven, I wouldn’t be writing at all. These novels of Alexander inspired me years ago when I first read them—and they still read great today. Mary Renault also wrote an interesting non-fiction book, The Nature of Alexander.

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