“The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition.”
— Dwight Morrow
As Ryan Holiday writes in Ego Is the Enemy, John Boyd is “one of the most influential strategists and practitioners in modern warfare,” yet he’s “someone most people have never heard of.”
The fact that Boyd is unknown is fitting, because his lasting legacy is a speech he gave to scores of young officers that has come to be known as the “To Do or To Be” speech:
“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” Boyd said to him. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” Using his hands to illustrate, Boyd marked off these two directions. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd paused, to make the alternative clear. “Or,” he said, “you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.”
And then Boyd concluded with words that would guide that young man and many of his peers for the rest of their lives. “To be or to do? Which way will you go?”
This has stuck with me, because one of my (many) character flaws is my need for credit. When I’ve fixed something around the house or have been working something, I often feel the need to announce it. I don’t know why — perhaps it is a result of my wanting to show that I’ve been accomplishing something — but that validation, that acknowledgement, is something that I subconsciously crave and often go searching for if I’m not receiving it.
That brings me to J.R. Moehringer.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for his work at The Los Angeles Times, Moehringer is one of my favorite authors. In fact, he is the man that wrote the book that profoundly changed my life. If you were to search his bibliography, it appears as if Moehringer has only written two books: his memoir, The Tender Bar, and a novel titled Sutton.
However, that barely tells the story. Moehringer has co-authored (at least) two bestselling books, Andre Agassi’s Open and Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. Those are the only ones we know about — there could be more. Multiple reviews of both books mention on how strong the writing is, not something normally associated with memoirs, particularly those in the sports world.
Yet, Moehringer’s name appears nowhere on the cover or the title page of either book. No “and” or “with” or “as told to.” Nothing. The acknowledgements page of each work is the only place to find his name, where both men go out of their way to thank and praise him and his work.
The work. All that work. All that interviewing, discussing, transcribing, outlining, writing, editing, and rewriting — all for no recognition.
Moehringer believes that those stories belong to the people that lived them — they are their property — and he has no right to them just because he helped in their telling. As he so succinctly explained in an interview with The New York Times, “The midwife doesn’t go home with the baby.”
Credit and recognition and validation are intoxicating. It’s why we frame our accomplishments and count the number of likes and retweets we get and why we replay that great presentation in our head long after the meeting has ended.
But credit is fleeting and, in some cases, even unwarranted. Not so with influence. Influence is ironclad. By its very nature it is proven to stand the test of time by its very nature.
“But if what you want is influence, instead of credit, the choice should be easy: you should want people to steal your ideas. So think about it: how much do you or should you care about credit, versus influence?”
Credit versus influence.
To do or to be.
The choice is obvious.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.