Years ago, I slipped into the back row of the Sydney Opera House and watched a violinist practice. He wasn’t young. He was obviously talented. But he would go over the same refrain, the same theme, over and over again.
I wasn’t supposed to be there.
I doubt he was aware of my presence. It was a little while before it dawned on me that the notations he would occasionally make on the sheet music were not reminders for some difficult passage, but active composition of his own work. Suddenly, the sound of his lone violin had echoes of the accompaniment and the score that was to come.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a stolen moment. A glimpse of creation, that would one day be practiced, staged and performed for the crowd. But for now, it was a single man, crafting his latest project.
I was reminded of this moment yesterday, when once again, I was a fly on the wall to a man in middle of creation. For those of you who know me, you know that I have a hobby of eavesdropping in coffee shops. What nobody (until now) has known, is that I take this act on the road. I drive for Über when I need to get away from my computer.
I picked up Seth and his two companions coming out of a restaurant in Little Italy, San Francisco. To preface, I don’t normally drive in San Francisco – in fact, I was specifically there to get over my fear of driving in traffic, one-way streets, and oblivious pedestrians, all while maneuvering a stick shift. So when I say, I picked them up outside of a restaurant in Little Italy, in truth, it was more “up the street from the intended destination and they had to call to get directions to find me.”
It was a rough start. They had to drag their bags uphill to get to my car. I could tell that they were not pleased with the size of my trunk space, and two bags ended up in the front seat while all three passengers crammed into the back. I decided to just shut up and drive as quickly and efficiently as I could, just to get them to their destination and end their cramped misery.
Even though they were shoved shoulder to shoulder in the backseat of a Nissan Versa, the three companions fell into a very natural conversation. It became obvious that Seth was the leader of the group and was in a bit of a dilemma. He had an idea, but he wasn’t sure it was ready to move forward. It was entrepreneurial in nature, and he hadn’t quite put all the pieces together yet.
At first I thought this was another “big idea guy.” You know what I’m talking about. This is the guy at every networking and social event who brags about his big idea, throwing around huge dollar signs, but is quick to describe the hurdles and why he hasn’t done it yet. The guy who wants to sell you his idea, for no other reason than that he wants you to think he’s a big deal.
What set the conversation going on in the car apart from “the big idea guy” was the way Seth was working through the problems. His companions would pose questions and hurdles, and he would answer them seriously, identifying the ABC’s that any entrepreneur goes through – Who would this project appeal to? When would be the best time to commit to it? How would it be funded? Each answer validated the question and the asker, but didn’t get too bogged down in the details.
I made the turn onto Market St when Seth mentioned writing (and illustrating) a book in less than three weeks. A quick look in the rearview mirror, revealed not only was he not joking, but that I also recognized him. He was not just Seth, the Über passenger. It was Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, The Dip, and countless other modern business classics. He was even wearing his trademark yellow glasses.
It should be noted at this point, I almost changed lanes into a Prius and scared the begeezus out of one of the passengers. My bad.
It’s not often that you meet someone who is famous for being smart. They just aren’t as recognizable as movie stars and singers. Not only was a famous smart person in my car – he was actively being smart. That might sound weird to you, but it’s like stumbling in on the composer at the Sydney Opera House. To the naked eye, he might be a struggling musician (or entrepreneur) but to a close observer, he is creating, doing his work, and crafting something unique.
I managed to get us somewhat safely to our destination. About a block before I pulled over, I realized the irony of my situation. Sitting on my computer at home was a book project on Personal Branding that I was supposed to be editing. I had just picked up Seth Godin in a dirty Versa, no makeup, wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirt. Way to make a first impression! I took the plunge and introduced myself anyway (the author of the Personal Branding book visibly squirmed when I told her about my adventure).
So what is Seth Godin working on? When he’s ready, he’ll practice it, stage it, and present it to the world. To reveal it now would be to hum the tune of a composer who is hasn’t completed his symphony. In other words, it would be amoral. But what I can say about the experience is that Mr. Godin works in a way very similar to most entrepreneurs out there, with the exception of an underlying confidence that he can and will execute it.
To all the aspiring authors and entrepreneurs out there, don’t stop with an idea. Acknowledge the hurdles but don’t let them stop you, and work with confidence that you can see your projects through to fruition. In other words, take a page from Seth Godin.
Jaqueline Kyle is the ghost writer of over 50 books and teacher of a 10-week writing course for non-fiction authors.
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