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!)
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.
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.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
ADDITIONAL READING » WARFARE: ANCIENT AND MODERN
by Kilcullen, David
by Douglas, Keith
Douglas was a poet fresh out of Oxford who served (and was killed) with the armoured forces under Montgomery, when the British finally overcame Rommel after years of being out-ranged, out-gunned and out-generaled. Douglas’ keen and jaundiced eye misses little. This isn’t the most polished book, but it is immediate and authentic as hell.
by Sun Tzu
by Rommel, Erwin
This is from the Desert Fox—before he became the Desert Fox. Rommel recounts his experiences as a young infantry officer in World War I. Studied to this day by our Army and Marines, this book gives new meaning to the phrase “balls of steel.”
by Halberstam, David
by Danelo, David
Blood Stripes is Danelo’s account of infantry actions fought by Marines in Fallujah and Husaybah in 2004, recounted from the point of view of NCOs he knew and fought alongside. Great stuff!
by Coram, Robert
Fascinating true saga of the misunderstood genius who introduced the concept of Maneuver Warfare to the contemporary armed services—and paid the price.
by McNab, Andy
Ripping, high-testosterone (and true) yarn of a British SAS patrol dropped behind the lines during the first Gulf War. Told by its leader, the most-decorated soldier in the British Army, as of his discharge in 1993.
by Crisp, Robert
A bit hard to find, but worth it if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fight tank battles in the North African desert. Terrific first-person non-fiction, about the British Seventh Armoured Division dueling Rommel and the Afrika Korps in WWII. What I love about books like these is not just the “ripping yarn” aspect or the vivid details or the sense of absolute authenticity and authority, all of which are here in spades, but the feeling you get for the man himself. Both this book and the one by Cyril Joly (Crisp and Joly were friends) let you into the minds and hearts of these tremendously admirable, flesh-and-blood humans, with their senses of humor, despair—everything.
by Galula, David
by Moorehead, Alan
Simply indispensable. Classic stuff by the Aussie war correspondent who could scribble a note on a cocktail napkin and make it fascinating. See also his African Trilogy.
by Maclean, Fitzroy
You would think, being a novelist, that I would like to read novels. But I much prefer memoirs. I love the characters of the writers, particularly when they’re not professionals. Fitzroy Maclean was stuck in the Foreign Service on the brink of WWII and wanted to go to war; the only way the government would let him was if he became a Member of Parliament. So he did. It gets better from there, including desert service with the SAS and all kinds of mad adventures in the Balkans, the Orient, Afghanistan.
by Sajer, Guy
Possibly the best book to come out of World War II. Horrific, ghastly, true-life memoir of a young German infantryman and his kamaraden as they fall back, back, back against the unstoppable tide of the Russian Army, from 1943–1945.
by von Manstein, Field Marshal Erich
Another classic. The same story as told in The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer, but from the opposite end of the food chain: the supreme German brass. Von Manstein’s private confrontations with Hitler are alone worth the price of the book.
by West, Bing
by von Clausewitz, Carl
by Fick, Nathaniel
The Iraq War by a Dartmouth-educated Recon Marine who was in the first wave into Baghdad. Lean, vivid, fair-minded, by a born writer from whom we will be hearing much more.
by Gant, Jim
The “One Tribe At A Time” series on “It’s the Tribes, Stupid” launched at the end of September 2009, with an excerpt from Major Jim Gant’s paper of the same name. In the following weeks, more excerpts were pulled and discussed, with Jim’s “One Tribe At A Time” released in full about four weeks later. The discussion of Jim’s paper spread from there, and went viral among the policy and military communities in particular.
by Gant, Jim
by Bagnold, Ralph
The founder of WWII’s legendary Long Range Desert Group tells his life story, including all kinds of interesting and unexpected dimensions (his sister wrote National Velvet), including the tale of his landmark scientific paper, “The Physics of Blown Sand.”
by Lawrence, T.E.
by Hammes, Thomas X.
Am I favoring Marines? Not without cause, with this outstanding contemporary introduction to the concept of Fourth Generation Warfare, the kind of post-guerrilla conflict our troops are fighting now—and are likely to keep fighting for decades to come.
by Small Wars Foundation
by West, Bing
by Joly, Lt. Col. Cyril
You’ll have to go way back in the stacks to find this one, but again, it’s worth the trip. Vividly told and superbly detailed account of the British in North Africa, from 1940 to 1942, fighting first the Italians and then Rommel and Panzerarmee Afrika. I love these self-effacing Englishmen, who in real-life performed prodigies of courage and endurance, and yet recount the tale with understated yet passionate brilliance. Like Brazen Chariots, you read this book and wish you could shake hands with the author and say, “Thank you.”
by Ranfurly, Hermione
When Lt. The Honourable Dan Ranfurly went off to war, his wife Hermione followed. (So did Whitaker, Dan’s faithful valet.) Young Lady Ranfurly, whose only marketable skill was a fair hand at the typewriter, talked her way into various clerical and embassy jobs in Cairo and the Middle East, while her young officer husband fought in the desert, got captured by the Afrika Korps, etc. There’s not a dollop of sex in this book, yet it remains one of the great documents of romance, just because of all the hell Hermione goes through to be within a hundred miles of her beloved Dan. When at last they rush into each other’s arms for a fleeting moment on a railway platform and she writes, “Happiness is being together,” there wasn’t a dry eye in my house.