To be human is to face fear. Yet, while fear might keep danger out, it can also keep life out. Balancing between potential risk and an illusion of security, leaders can miss out on beautiful opportunities. As someone who is known for his humor, honesty, and hope-filled leadership insight and encouragement, New York Times best-selling author, Jon Acuff helps leaders face various challenges just like this.
For over 20 years he’s helped some of the biggest brands in the world tell their story, including The Home Depot, Bose, and Staples. He’s an Inc. magazine Top 100 Leadership speaker and has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people at conferences and companies around the world including: FedEx, Nissan, Microsoft, Chick-fil-A, Nokia, and Comedy Central. He’s also written for Time, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, and MSNBC.
How to Face Your Fears
In the 1800s, sailors and mapmakers would stamp unexplored, dangerous territories with the phrase, “Here be dragons.” It was meant to serve as a warning—if you ventured this far, you ran the risk of great peril, danger galore, or unknown tragedy. If you sailed off into the distance, a fire-breathing, sea-dwelling monster was sure to swallow you up. “Here be dragons.”
It was a phrase used to warn people about the dangers of the unknown, but it was only used for the farthest reaching, most deadly spots. It was a stamp used sparingly, kept in a drawer for only the rarest of occasions. Today it’s a stamp we all still own. We might not sale in a ship. We might not stare out over the horizon at an unforgiving sea. But it’s in our pocket or junk drawers in our homes. The bravest of us don’t use it. Maybe we’ve even forgotten where it is. But for most of us, we have worn this stamp out. We know exactly where it is because it never leaves our hands when confronted with new possibilities or things that feel the slightest bit awkward or scary.
We are quick to stamp, “Here be dragons” and hide.
What if our new mission doesn’t work? “Here be dragons.”
What if it works but not exactly how we planned? “Here be dragons.”
What if it works so well that we feel the pressure to maintain that level of success? “Here be dragons.”
What if you try and devote your life to this new mission only to find out it was a waste of time, and you will never get that time back? “Here be dragons.”
What if it’s far harder than you anticipated and all your deepest flaws float to the surface in the most public of way? “Here be dragons.”
What if they find out that you were a fraud? “Here be dragons.”
What if everyone else has some special rule book that tells them the exact right next step to take, and we can’t find ours? “Here be dragons.”
“Here be dragons.” Stamp. Stamp. Stamp.
We might not realize it, but over the years, we’ve stamped so many areas of our map that there’s very little room left to do something in our lives without the words “here be dragons” getting in the way. One day you wake up and realize your map is a mess. What was expansive, what was vast, what was endless opportunity of exploration is now the size of Rhode Island. Our world is reduced to a tiny, safe, little cul-de-sac. We control it, or at least we maintain the illusion of control, save for the random pandemic or two. But for the most part, we are protected so dragons can’t get in, but nor can the life get out.
But then something happens. A friend expands their land. They step out into an area we believed was rife with dragons, and suddenly, we are confused. They were not consumed. They are not on fire. They have not even been singed by the much-feared dragons. They seem fine. Better than fine. They are smiling. They are waving back from a land that suddenly seems a lot less dangerous. Then it stirs that feeling inside us, the question, if they can do it, why can’t I? Perhaps they have something I don’t possess. Maybe that’s it. Perhaps they are brave beyond measure. Perhaps they are networked to the hilt. Perhaps they came to the planet with skills and talents that you could never hope to acquire. So, you wait one more day, one more month, one more year, one more spin around the cul-de-sac.
But then something else happens. You hear a song. You see a film. You watch a bird that weighs an ounce climb 100 feet into the air in your backyard. You visit the ocean. You listen to a Porsche go past you like angry art, and something stirs inside you once again. You take your map back out and you wonder, are there really that many dragons? Have you ever even seen one? That question is a punch to the gut because you know the answer before it even leaves your lips. You haven’t.
In all your years refusing to climb into the boat—you’ve never once even glimpsed at the tiniest portion of a real dragon. You’ve heard about them. In your cul-de-sac they’re a popular topic of conversation. People who use stamps, are quick to tell other people how many dragons there are. Fear is contagious: a well-placed dragon story in your childhood, a seemingly friendly word of caution as a young adult, a question that really isn’t a question at a dinner party from a neighbor. It all adds up overtime. Dragon gossip is perhaps more powerful than the actual dragons themselves.
Now that you think about it, haven’t you seen some people who are destroyed by dragons? Isn’t that all the proof you need? Maybe a family tried, just once, but they tried. They embarked on an adventure, and they returned bloody. That’ll happen to me, you think, that same thing, only it will be much, much worse. But those stupid birds, that sunset, that song, that friend who dares believe that they and you are meant for more, that tiny little sparked inside—it won’t leave you alone.
You decide to make a start of it. It’s time to have a go, as it were. You will now jump into the middle—the middle of the world, the middle of the storm, the middle of the dragons. Maybe not jump. Let’s not get carried away. Some days you will inch out, but you will leave. You will step out of the cul-de-sac and into the great unknown, which is probably a line from Frozen 2, but it is also a thing you are going to do. Put the stamp away. Trade it for a passport. Here be dragons? No. There be you.