Let's face it: there are times when you gotta slay your dragon... or risk getting eaten alive.
As the amazing Ursula Le Guin remarked in her brilliant essay "Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" about the importance of reading fiction:
“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”
Ursula Le Guin
In the postmodern world we live in, demons and dragons have been relegated to the realm of fantasy novels (and cheesy CGI in TV series… I’m looking at you, BBC’s Merlin!).
However, us inhabitants of the 21st century have missed the memo on the whole “dragons are not real, so get over it”-spiel modernity has put us through. And so, people continue to face their dragons.
For instance, have you ever had to do something you thought you couldn’t do? Something that was way outside of your comfort zone? If so, you’ve likely already faced a dragon.
But how can you increase your chances of making it past the “trial by fire” (dragon-related pun totally intended)?
Well, a while ago I talked to a client who was getting close to a really, really big event (we’re talking life-changing). After this, she would never be the same person again. I thus identified the event as the metaphorical dragon she had to face on her hero’s journey.
(It sounds way cooler when you put challenges that way. I mean, there’s a reason myth exists and that’s because it speaks to our very soul.)
And, because the “dragon” was so huge, she was afraid of the encounter (as any sane person would be). Fear often comes up when people take a big step in life they don’t feel ready for.
(Spoiler alert: as I’ve argued before, you’re never ready to take a big step. Settle for the next best thing and get prepared.)
I explained to the future dragon-slayer/client that fear and excitement are quite similar. There are only two differences between these emotions.
When you’re excited you:
- continue to breathe, and
- you expect something positive out of the experience.
With fear, the opposite is true. (Here's how to reduce fear.)
We discovered that she was afraid of slaying the dragon because she wasn’t sure she could win over him (it was clearly a male dragon). Fair point about her doubts. It’s a dragon, after all!
Once she expected to walk away from the experience victoriously, her fear shifted to excitement.
The power of expectations when it comes to slaying your dragon
In addition to changing fear into excitement, positive expectations can also help you become more successful.
After all, it’s generally easier to succeed at something you think is at least possible.
However, the Catch-22 is that you often won’t feel something is possible until you have accomplished it.
To get out of this negative cycle, it can be helpful to hear about others who’ve already done what you’re seeking to accomplish — the seemingly impossible.
To quote, well, Audrey Hepburn:
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”
(I never knew Audrey Hepburn was such an optimist.)
One way to expand your horizon of what’s possible is by reading biographies of inspiring people.
And yes, fictional stories totally count as well:
After all, Frodo’s epic trial in Lord of the Rings makes most other challenges seem rather… dare I say… puny in comparison. It’s all about perspective.
Developing your strategy for slaying your dragon
Get your sword and get your game-face on. Then, grab a pen and paper. (Side note: people who say that the pen is mightier than the sword have obviously never tried to stab a dragon with office equipment.)
Then, take a moment to go through the following process.
- Rank your current level of expectation
On a scale of 1 (“That’ll never happen. Ever!”) to 10 (“Of course this will happen for me.”), how certain are you that you can find a way to slay your metaphorical dragon? For instance: “Well, logically I know that it should be possible for me, too, to change from my current work situation to something more meaningful. I just don’t fully believe it yet. So perhaps a 5?”
- Reflect on the result
Would you like to change your level of expectation? For instance: “I think I would like to increase this to at least a 7. I think I would feel better if that were the case.”
- Brainstorm ways to change your level of expectations (if applicable)
If you decided that you’d like to change your level of expectation, what are things you could do to accomplish that? For instance: “I think I could talk to some people who made the switch to a more meaningful career. I could also read books by people who are living their purpose. Perhaps I could even start working with a coach?”
- Pick one of these ways and take action
Make sure that your action step is specific. For instance: “So, I will talk to people who made the switch to a purposeful career. I will begin to reach out to my friend Clara and see if she’s open to meeting for coffee this week.”
If you thought dragon-slaying was so 13th-century, think again.
After all, if you want to be the hero of your own story, you’ll have to meet some dragons along the way.
Let’s face it: every good hero’s journey includes a dramatic showdown with a dragon. (Don’t kill the messenger, I didn’t come up with these rules.)
And the first step to slaying your dragon is to believe that it’s possible. Begin by shifting your expectations. Create a dragon-slaying strategy. Execute the plan.
Like my client, you might end up with some scorch marks — but you’ll live to tell your tale.
Perhaps nobody has talked about dragons in a more succinct way than Ursula Le Guin.
She reminded us that
“it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.”
And perhaps, when you finally meet, you'll see that you won't need to slay your dragon.
After all, what better teacher could you hope for than an ancient, all-powerful being?
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