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. 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.
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.
By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 15, 2017
This is the fourth post in our series called “The Professional Mindset.” Let’s pause here and flash back to what this stuff is all about.
Yep, he battled it too.
It’s about Resistance.
We adopt the Professional Mindset for one reason only: to combat our own internal self-sabotage.
The professional mindset is a weapon against Resistance, like AA is a weapon against alcoholism.
Don’t laugh. The analogy is exact.
Have you, the writer, ever woken up metaphorically face-down in the gutter at five in the morning with an empty bottle beside you?
Have you ever said to yourself, “I am powerless against this force that is destroying me from inside?”
Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to turn my life around, starting right here and right now.”
Some people might call that moment “hitting bottom.”
I call it “turning pro.”
I call it switching to the Professional Mindset.
In Twelve Step programs the first action you take is to admit you are beaten. You acknowledge that a certain internally-generated negative force has power over you. It has defeated you over and over in the past, and it’s going to destroy you completely if you can’t get a handle somehow on facing it and containing it.
As writers and artists, we wake up with that negative force every morning.
It never goes away.
It never gets any easier.
We are exactly like recovering alcoholics.
Our booze is Resistance.
It tempts us every day, every hour. It’s seductive, it’s diabolical, it’s indefatigable.
In Twelve Step programs, the individual’s mantra is “One Day at a Time.”
That’s my mantra too.
I don’t go to meetings like individuals in AA or Al-Anon or other Twelve Step programs.
These blog posts are my meetings.
I reinforce myself with them. I screw up my courage by sharing my losses and victories on the page, on the web.
The principles involved are the same.
Acceptance of vulnerability.
Resolve to prevail.
The Professional Mindset, in whatever form you or I adopt it, is the most powerful weapon I’ve ever heard of in the battle against Resistance and self-sabotage.
We spoke last week (the post was titled “You, Inc.”) about thinking of ourselves not as individuals but as enterprises. That’s a mind trick. It’s a head game. But it works, just like Twelve Step programs work.
To think of ourselves as professionals (as opposed to amateurs) eliminates self-judgment and self-condemnation, both of which are weapons that our own Resistance uses against us.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you wake up every morning with that dragon in your head.
Sappho woke up that way.
Dostoevsky woke up that way.
Shakespeare woke up that way.
They all experienced a moment when they said to themselves, “I accept this as my internal reality. From this day forward, I will organize my inner resources not to yield to this negative force but to face it and overcome it.”
Repeat after me:
“My name is ____________ and I have been defeated by Resistance.”
Now we can begin.
By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 8, 2017
[This is Post #3 in our new series, “The Professional Mindset.”]
Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen in “Gunga Din.”
I had a friend named Victoria when I was working in Hollywood. Victoria was a successful screenwriter, very much a role model for me. One day Victoria took me out to lunch and gave me some insight into how she handled herself as a professional in “this town.”
Steve, you and I are going up every day against Twentieth-Century Fox and Warner Bros. and Paramount. They’re our competition. We’ve got to be just as organized as they are, just as tough, and just as smart.
Victoria told me how she organized herself mentally to compete in this arena.
Fox has a slate of pictures in development, right? I’ve got one too. Warners has a five-year plan. I’ve got one too. Everything the studios do, I do. I’m not just as organized as they are, I’m more organized. And I can react ten times faster than they can.
I immediately adopted Victoria’s mental model.
Have you ever worked for a corporation? Then you know about Monday morning status meetings. [See pp. 97-98 in The War of Art.] The group assembles in the conference room or the boss’s office. Plans are discussed, assignments are given out. The boss’s secretary types up an Action List and distributes it. Now every team member knows where every ongoing project stands and what action is required of him or her for the coming week.
I adopted that plan exactly. I still work that way.
Every Monday morning I have a meeting with myself. I go over everything I’ve got to do in the coming week. I assign myself tasks and set myself goals and deadlines. I type up an Action List and distribute it to myself. If I succeed through the week, I reward myself. If I screw up, I kick myself in the ass.
The Professional Mindset begins with a radical reconceptualization of ourselves as artists and entrepreneurs.
When we adopt the Professional Mindset we stop thinking of ourselves as individuals.
We start thinking of ourselves as enterprises.
After I’d been in Hollywood for a few years, I realized that many screenwriters worked as one-man corporations. They provided their writing services not as themselves but as “loan-outs” from their businesses. Their writing contracts were f/s/o—“for services of”—themselves.
I formed my own corporation the minute I could afford to.
Why did this idea appeal to me? Not just for the tax benefits or the advantages involving medical insurance.
I loved the metaphor.
I loved the psychology.
If I think of myself as me-the-writer, I’m a fragile, isolated individual. I’m hesitant. I’m insecure. I’m vulnerable.
But if I reconceive myself as Me, Inc., I’m no longer so alone in the world.
I’m now an entity, like Apple or Fedex or General Dynamics.
I’m an operation.
I’m an enterprise.
As Sgt. Archibald Cutter (Cary Grant) declared to Sgt. ‘Mac’ MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) in Gunga Din, as he set out to find the Temple of Gold:
You’re not looking at a soldier, MacChesney, you’re looking at an expedition! Stand aside! Make way for the expedition!
Remember, our enemy as writers is not the marketplace or the competition.
The enemy is Resistance.
The enemy is our own internal self-sabotage.
Thinking of myself as a corporation gave me an invaluable weapon against Resistance.
I could no longer say to myself (or, more accurately, allow my own Resistance to say to me), “Steve, you’re a loser. That last piece of work was garbage, and you’re gonna follow it up with more garbage, etc.”
Now I say to myself, “Okay, the team suffered a bit of a setback. Perhaps our instincts were not as spot-on as we had thought. Let’s schedule a meeting with ourselves to regroup and decide on next steps.”
I may still be myself-the-writer, but I’m also myself-the-CEO. Under pressure, the writer may fall prey to self-doubt and impulses of self-destruction. But the CEO maintains his cool. He’ll send the writer to Palm Springs for a three-day vacation if he thinks that’ll get him back to his old self. Or he’ll put him up against the wall and read him the Riot Act.
Either way, I/me/my company are operating at the same professional level as the corporations we are competing against. We are the Google and the Facebook and the Tesla of our own mind.
Those Fortune 500 corporations are not going to falter and neither are we. We’re as self-energized as they are, as self-organized, and as self-sustaining. There is nothing they can do in their sphere that we can’t do in ours.
Stand back, MacChesney! Make way for the expedition!