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“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”
― The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
Some years ago Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a book entitled, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward.
Experience has taught me that this isn’t easy for some. They struggle to say, “No.” Or to quit something, even if they know “the something” isn’t working terribly well for them. The difficulty is determining how necessary the ending truly is.
Quitting can be hard. Figuring out what’s necessary to quit? Even harder.
You’d think to figure out what isn’t working would be easy, but it’s not always so clear cut. Sometimes we have to step back and better understand basic terms. Every website and software has terms and conditions. Those outline the responsibilities of both providers and users. Most are a grand display of legal protections but at their core…they outline the issues of WHO and WHAT. Sometimes they may also include HOW. So let’s try that with a few things in the hopes it’ll help us learn how we can figure out the endings of our dragons. ‘Cause even dragons have their ending.
Dragons: They’re Not Our Pet
They shouldn’t be anyway.
Sometimes we make them our pets. We cuddle them. Love them. Embrace them. Do whatever we can to keep them hanging around. Hoping they’ll love us.
Dragons – at least for our discussion today – are the people or situations that don’t help us progress as people. They don’t make us better. They don’t benefit us in ways that truly matter. They may be fun. They may even be rewarding in other ways – maybe they make us money, or they give us associations we enjoy. Even destructive relationships or endeavors can provide something we value…but just because we value it doesn’t mean it’s good for us.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
We can all value destructive things. Alcoholism. Drug addiction. Gambling addiction. Pornography addiction. Abuse. The world is filled with destructive things that not only exist in people’s lives…but often rule their lives. Think about the things in your life right now that you know are destructive. You know they hurt you and your ability to become a better person. Go ahead. Write them down. Open up a note in your phone and list them. All the destructive things that you know are in your way toward becoming the best version of YOU.
We can all value things that aren’t destructive necessarily, but they don’t move us forward. They keep us stuck. Jobs we hate. Careers we hate even more. One-sided relationships. Oppressive bosses. Habits. Now, think about these things. They’re not bad in the sense that they’re destructive, but embracing them puts you in the same place as those destructive things. They stop you from being a better person. They stick you in a place you know isn’t your ideal best. Go ahead. Write them down somewhere. Make a note of them. All the things that you don’t think are bad, they just keep you from moving forward to improve. To get better.
Dragons are dragons, even if they are our pets. They’ll turn on you. It’s only a matter of time. We should be on guard because you can never trust a dragon.
Dragons are large, over-bearing creatures. Figments of our imaginations. Making them the most fierce beasts around. Because they’re largely – but not always – in our head.
But even dragons have their endings. And we can help. After all, we created most of them in our minds. Stands to reason, we can stop creating them and cease to give life to the ones we did create.
Dragons aren’t merely thoughts though. Some are real. They can take the form of toxic people. Or toxic situations. Or challenges and difficulties. Or even opportunities – things that might otherwise be good and profitable, but just not right for our long-term improvement.
It’s that morphing ability dragons have that makes them so potentially dangerous. They don’t all look like dragons!
The Dragon’s Lair: Our Thoughts & Imaginations
“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Let’s talk about adversity, tenacity, and perseverance. Dragons represent the adversity. It doesn’t matter what form adversity takes. It’s THE THING standing in your way of positive growth, improvement, and accomplishment. In short, adversity is the dragon you must slay in order to achieve more.
The funny thing about this dragon is, you feel like it’s personal, but it’s perhaps the most impersonal dragon out there. Roaming in that space between your ears. There’s nothing personal about it at all, but to us, it feels intensely personal. Individual to just us. Because this dragon has a secret weapon designed to provoke us to feel like victims. And not just any ‘ol victim, but victims of something else and somebody else. The insidiousness of this dragon is that he makes us feel like we have no control, but others do. Very quickly he’s able to help us embrace the notion that it’s not our fault. Any of it. No, we had no part in this. The Universe conspired against us. Other people did this to us. If not for all this other stuff…well, we’d be wildly successful by now.
It’s how some choose to see adversity. They don’t look at it the way Harper Lee wrote about. Or the way Randy Pausch described it in his final lecture.
Rarely do I encounter dragons in my life, or in the lives of others, that don’t get some type of sustenance from us. We feed them.
Yes, life knocks us down and drags us out at times. People get a bad diagnosis from a doctor. A friend or loved one dies. Somebody we love tells us they no longer love us. Bad things do happen. Books and seminars abound about how we alone control our reaction to such things, but that doesn’t make it any easier to control our reactions.
Years ago I had some encounters with a gentleman who had been assigned to help me. An outfit had recruited me and part of the process was this mentor fellow, who wasn’t the least bit qualified to do much mentoring. He was completely devoid of empathy. His listening skills were quite poor. Mostly, he wanted to hold forth and be the expert. Being a guru was vastly more important than being helpful. But I went along. For a bit. Two maybe three meetings I guess.
He regurgitated the trite advice of how we’re in complete control of how we look at things. I was going through a bit of a health challenge at the time – this was some years ago – and although it was nothing serious it was still vexing. I was pretty matter of fact about it all, which is my nature about such things. He’d jump on it and lecture me about giving it no attention. Well, it involved surgery so giving it no attention not only wasn’t possible but in my mind would have been foolish. Okay, let’s call it what I thought at the time, STUPID. But I sat there and simply listened.
When you’re battling a dragon – real or imagined – it’s not terribly helpful for an expert to sit across from you refusing to listen, urging you to just ignore it. Finally, I kicked this idiot to the curb and walked away from the opportunity because it was evident that the culture of this outfit was totally unsuitable for a human like me. But I learned some valuable things about serving others (and how not to).
Choosing to not look at the dragon…or choosing to not see the dragon…which is what this expert was constantly preaching isn’t the path forward in my opinion. Recognizing the true identity of the dragon is helpful. Realizing what you might be able to do to manage or slay the dragon…extremely helpful. Sticking one’s head into the sand is no way to attempt to end the dragon’s impact on your life. And telling somebody to not think about the dragon is the surefire way to make certain that’s all they focus on. It’s that proverbial story of asking people to think about something…just make sure you don’t think about a purple elephant. All they can think about now is a purple elephant. Thank you very much.
There ARE dragons in our lives. These evil creatures who frighten us. Hurt us. Maybe even capable of killing us. They take the form of challenges and adversity in all areas of our lives. Money. Relationships. Health. Spiritual. Jobs. If it’s an area of living, dragons are there.
A lot of my time is spent with younger people. Which isn’t so hard since I’m growing older by the second. But I’m especially fond of trying to help kids from high school and up. And that includes some younger married couples in their 30’s or 40’s.
Experience – my own and helping others – has taught me that dragons don’t look quite the same throughout the course of our lives. When we’re young they’re much more dramatic. Like us. The immaturity of our dragons can often mirror our own immaturity. Mostly, they’re also smaller, but that’s only relative to what we learn over time. When we’re young – and so are our dragons – they don’t feel small. Because relative to our size, they’re not. A high-schooler vexed about a low grade on an exam can think that dragon is going to result in ending their life. How will they possibly survive? When you’ve not done extensive battle with dragons it’s an easy thought. Fear happens every time we don’t know the outcome. The unknown scares all of us.
When you’re in high school and worried about college, or a future career, or mom and dad…or your peers…the low grade frightens you. You play out every horrible scenario possible. They’re all very real for you at the time. Your life will never be what it may have otherwise been. All because you blew one exam. The dragon isn’t a figment of your imagination. He’s real. But your imagination (your brain) is keeping him alive and helping him grow. You just don’t know it when you’re in high school. Some don’t know it decades later.
It’s true that we can choose what we think, feel and believe. But it’s not easy. And timing matters. Experience has taught me that things come to us when we’re ready. I’m not talking about some magical thing or even some serendipity thing. I’m talking about a time when we’re ready to make up our minds.
I wish I had a secret formula for that. Some surefire way we could accelerate to that place. It’s different for each of us. And it’s not even the same for us in every situation. Some situations we can get past in a hurry. Others linger. Who knows why? Too many variables for my mind to even consider. It’s just how it is.
I believe this. We can hasten the end of the dragons. Their demise is within our power. That means we can bring about their death more quickly. It’s all about reducing our time in the storm.
A few years ago I did an episode about being a buffalo. It’s based on the truth that when storms arrive buffalo run into the storms. The storm is traveling one way. The buffalo are going in the opposite direction. At first, it seems counter-intuitive, but the result is the buffalo get through the storm more quickly by rushing toward it. Cattle run away from it and therefore find themselves in the storm much, much longer. We want to be buffalo. Not cattle.
You Can’t Hide From Dragons. You Have To Fight Them.
Have you ever successfully hidden from adversity? Yeah, me neither. But I’ve tried more often than I care to admit. You’d think history and experience would teach us to give up trying to hide, but it’s that flight response deep within each of us. Especially those of us who don’t much enjoy fighting. I suspect a lot more of us are cattle than not.
For me, the dragons can seem so enormous and fierce it just seems more logical to run away. At the moment, I may not consider their size as I should. In a single step, they can make up the ground that might take me dozens of steps to cover. Besides that, I’m not fast. Never have been.
Add to that the question, “Where are you going to run to? Where will you hide?”
I don’t know. I’m just running. And it’s not even that proverbial story of you and me in the wood when a bear begins to chase us. I just have to outrun you. Not the bear. I’m alone with this dragon. I have to outrun him ’cause there is nobody else for him to maul.
Trying to hide just prolongs the inevitable. The fight.
I was watching one of those spectacular earth and wildlife documentaries the other evening. It’s one of those in the Seven Worlds, One Planet series. A mother puma was hunting to feed her young. She wasn’t having great success. After repeated attempts, she was banged up pretty badly. She had to go rest and regroup so she could regain her strength to keep up the effort. If she failed, her young would starve (or worse).
Sometimes our lives are like that. The dragons injure us so we need to hide out a bit, but only so we can ready ourselves for the fight. That’s not the same as running and hiding. That’s regrouping. We have to be mindful that we may con ourselves into thinking we’re regrouping when we’re really just running for our life. Don’t confuse yourself. Face the reality of what you’re doing.
A Sidebar: One Dragon That I’ve Whipped Before, But He Continues To Pursue Me
Weight. Fitness. Health.
I see these as one big thing. One big interconnected thing.
I’m determined to lose about 30 pounds by summer. By the end of June to be exact. Or sooner. It’s been a lifelong battle. Being slim is not in the cards. Not my body type. But this isn’t about vanity. It’s about feeling better (physically and emotionally) and it’s about health (also physical and mental/emotional). These things don’t merely happen. We have to make them so.
Exercise is easier than diet for me. But at my age – honestly, at ANY age – diet is likely 80% or more of weight control and health. So I’ve decided to flip the script and lean more into diet than exercise. In other words, I’m going to slay this dragon by not doing what I’ve always done – which has never worked (at least not for the long haul). I’m going to reverse my focus and for two great reasons: a) since diet is the major way toward improvement I need to lean hard into it and save a bit of time in the process (eating well takes less time than working out like a madman) and b) since diet is a major key to improved health, no time like the present to make a lifestyle change that might prevent my wife from having to take care of an impaired old man. 😉
Flipping the switch in our head is the key. Or having somebody flip it. It was a Monday. Just about a week ago. My old doctor retired so I had to go see a new doctor. He came highly recommended. I instantly liked him. But after weighing in (literally) I knew it was time to get a grip and hit things hard.
A few years ago shoulder pain caused me to end up in the ER of a local hospital. Of course, they ran tests to make sure there was no life-threatening ailment. In the course of those tests, they found a bit of plaque on in some heart arteries. Not an alarming find, but my doctor put me on a statin to lower my cholesterol, which was about 140. He wanted it to be half that. And with a statin, mission accomplished.
This new doctor wanted more tests so he’d know more. I appreciated his thoroughness. I had the test and it showed what I had learned a few years ago. As the testing folks said, it’s likely nothing has worsened because I’ve been on a statin since first learning about this issue. But seeing the results again – and facing it now some years later – it flipped the switch in my head, “You need to drop 30 pounds NOW.”
I used to use the MyFitnessPal app on my phone but got out of the habit. So I logged in and fired it back up. And for the past week, I’ve been diligently using it. I’ve dropped 5 plus pounds (easy to do in the first week). I’ve also cut back on my water intake (I’m the rare bird who drinks too much water and no, I’m not diabetic). I’ve gone from over 150 ounces of water each day to around 60. Caffeine isn’t a problem (I hardly ever drink soda or tea. I never drink coffee – hate it.)
Lord willing, by the time June rolls around I’ll be as light as I’ve ever been in my adult life. We’ll see how it goes. When the weather permits I’m going to kick my walking back up and start hitting some weights at the gym a few times weekly, too.
What was stopping me? The dragons of course!
The dragons of laziness, lack of motivation and habit. Until I made up my mind, “Enough!” Faster than you can snap your fingers I made up my mind and the dragon was gone! Now the challenge is to keep him out. I’m prepared for the fight, but I know I have to stay ready every single day or he’ll come back strong as ever.
The Power Of A Mind Made Up
Nobody argues with it. It’s got enormous power. Of course, the problem is getting to the point where we actually do it. On our own. Without some life-altering event compelling us. Or shaking us by the lapels to scare us half to death.
My most recent weight loss motivation rekindled some fairly old inspiration that goes back about 15 years. That was when after visiting an elderly gentleman in the hospital whose health was failing, through no real fault of his own, I said this to Rhonda, “I don’t think I can do that to you.” I didn’t mean it as judgmental as it sounded against this poor man, who eventually died. I was moved by the care his wife was giving him and the enormous toll it was taking on her health.
Days later I signed up at a health club and began to go religiously. It lasted for a good long while, too. Then life happened and my mind changed. Pliability is a valuable thing – our ability to change our minds. But it’s not valuable when we regress, which I did. Over time I slowly packed on a few more pounds and here I am 15 years later feeling similar feelings. I’ve made up my mind. Again.
Weight loss and health issues are important, but there are equally, if not more important things that warrant us changing our mind – or making our minds up.
Things like forgiveness, compassion, kindness. Things like pride, jealousy, envy. Bitterness. Resentment. Discontentment. Anger. Grief. Hurt.
Google any of those terms and you’ll find millions of results giving various step-by-step instructions. Save yourself the time and trouble. They mostly…don’t work. Truth is, you have to be ready to make up your mind if any of those dragons are going to have their endings. Until you do that, the dragons will live on. Often thriving and growing bigger and stronger.
I’m sure there are some things we can do to speed things along. I just don’t know what they are. Figuring things out takes time. And other inner ideas, thoughts and feelings.
Have you ever told yourself (or somebody else)? “You need to get angry.”
Or maybe you’ve said, “Stay calm. Don’t get angry.”
Both can be right. Just not at the same time. Sometimes anger helps. Other times it’s the last thing you need. Which is why generic advice falls flat. Circumstances, situations, feelings, experience, age, wisdom, foolishness, and dragons vary wildly. Anybody who could quantify a one-size-fits-all solution would be insanely wealthy. Okay, some charlatans who espouse phony solutions are insanely wealthy. Proving once again, that I’m in the wrong business of telling the truth. 😉
Financial success doesn’t do it.
Physical fitness doesn’t do it.
Extensive academic education doesn’t do it.
Brilliance in the brain department doesn’t do it.
Youth sure doesn’t do it. But neither does age.
Mental clarity helps. Mental health is vital.
But the thing that helps more than anything is somebody else. Or a few somebodies. Other people can really accelerate our ability to figure it out – whatever IT is.
It can be friends. Family. Peers. Mentors. Advisors. Whoever is compiled into your group or groups – they can make the difference in helping you reach that sweet spot of making up your mind. They can help you avoid blind spots. They can help you see things more clearly. They can share insights that might spark a pivotal moment where you change your mind. Or make up your mind.
The Biggest Dragon For All Of Us – Finding Reasons Not To Do It
This dragon’s name is “Excuses!”
We often nickname him, “Reasons.” But he doesn’t recognize that name because it’s not his real name.
My real name is Randy. Not Randall. Call me “Randall” and I won’t respond.
The dragon called “Excuses” won’t answer when you call him, “Reasons.” That’s not his name. Maybe there’s another dragon called “Reasons” but that’s not your biggest dragon.
We don’t do it because we don’t want to. We’d rather find reasons not to. So we throw more raw meat into the mouth of the dragon of all dragons, “Excuses.” All the energy and fuel we need to fight our fight goes into this dragon.
The funny thing is we don’t seem to care if we misidentify that dragon. We intentionally do it because it makes us feel justified in not doing it. Nevermind that we’re without any justification for neglecting to do what we know we must do. Or what we should do. We just don’t want to.
Until we want to…we won’t do it.
I can’t make you. Nobody else can make you. But you’ll feed that dragon every day of your life in order to feel better about not doing it. He gives you something to blame. You can point at him and declare yourself a victim.
He’s super loyal, too.
He’s gonna be right by your side for as long as you’ll have him.
This Dragon Will Be Your Pet
Stride for stride he’ll follow your every step. If you let him.
He just won’t love you back. Instead, he’ll rob you blind. Stealing your dreams. Hindering every thought of improving or growing. Talking you into holding onto your bitterness, resentment, and jealousy. He’s very persuasive.
Want to see what he looks like?
Go to your nearest mirror and you’ll see him.
He’ll reach the end of the line when you decide to hit the EJECT button and stop welcoming him into your life. Until then, he’s gonna remain quite comfortable watching you limit your life.
You’ve got one job to kickstart things into a more positive direction…slay this one dragon and go from there.
“Past and Present I know well; each is a friend and sometimes an enemy to me. But it is the quiet, beckoning Future, an absolute stranger, with whom I have fallen madly in love.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons (her book)
Hate the dragons. Love your ideal future.