Book Review: Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters by Jon Acuff

Jon Acuff tells the story of sitting beside an elderly grandmother a few years ago on a flight back from a speaking engagement. They exchanged some small talk and he gave her a copy of his book, Quitter. He said she read it for a while then closed it, turned to him, and asked:

“What do you do when all the excuses you used to not chase your dream are gone? What do you do then?”

Jon said their was a sadness in her eyes and in the question that haunted him for weeks. That encounter was the impetus for his new book, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters.

Escaping averageStart: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters

Start challenges you to live a life of awesome. The problem is most of us settle for average. Average is easy. Average doesn’t ask much of us. Average requires little risk. We wake up. Go to the same old job each day. Complain about our boss, our pay, the work we hate. We come home. Veg in front of the TV for a while. Then the next day it all starts over again.

Jon challenges us to something better. He challenges us to walk down the road to awesome.

Finding our awesome

There have been many books written in recent years that talk about finding your passion. Jon indicates that in his experience finding your passion isn’t so much a discovery process as a re-discovery.

Many of us knew what we loved doing when we were kids. But then someone somewhere along the line told us our passion wasn’t practical. That we weren’t really that good. That we’d never be successful doing “that”. And we turned our back on our passions for something that others felt we were more suited to.

Now, as parents it is important to guide our children. You don’t want the judges on American Idol to be the first ones to tell your child that they really can’t carry a tune. On the other hand, what if when Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore his dad had pulled him aside and said, “Son, I know you really love basketball, but you do know the NBA will never be in your future.” And what if Jordan had believed him and pursued a more “practical” career.

The Road to Awesome

Jon defines five stages that we all must pass through on the Road to Awesome. There are no shortcuts here. You must pass through each stage.

Stage 1: Learning

The road to awesome always starts with learning. We experiment. We try different things. Spend some time remembering what we used to do that really gave us joy. Consider the question, if I died today what would I really regret not having done with my life. The learning stage may involve taking some classes. It may involve finding a mentor. It may involve a few failures.

Stage 2: Editing

At some point we transition from the learning stage to the editing stage. While the learning stage was adding things to our list, the editing stage is about subtraction. The editing stage is where we take all those ideas and decide what really gives us the most joy.

He tells the story of taking his family to a gem mining exhibit. The geologist showed them a variety of types of rock. With a bit of polishing or cleaning, many were quite pretty. At the end though geologist placed a few of the rocks in a plastic baggy for Jon’s daughters and sent them on their way. When it was all said and done these rocks were just rocks. No particular value. Jon got to thinking on the way home why are some shiny rocks just rocks and why are some diamonds? The reason is because someone decided the diamonds were more valuable.

The editing stage is where we decide which of our dreams are just shiny rocks and which are diamonds to be guarded, valued, polished, and protected.

Stage 3: Mastering

Mastering is the stage where you take those diamonds and polish them into a thing of priceless beauty. The mastering stage is all about practice. But what if you don’t have the opportunity to do my dream in your current job? Then find some place you can. Volunteer or take a part time job. You may not make much money at it but you’ll gain valuable experience. Be willing to be led. Find a mentor that a little farther down the same road to awesome.

Stage 4: Harvesting

The harvesting stage is where we are able to finally enjoy the fruits of awesome. But if we aren’t careful there are some exit ramps on the road to awesome that can trip us up right as we are on the verve of success. Jon highlights several:

  • Don’t be a jerk. We have all known successful people whose arrogance grows with their success.
  • Laziness. It’s easy as we pull into this stage to feel like we have arrived and take our foot off the gas.
  • Entitlement. Giving into a sense of entitlement can keep you from achieving the success you should be experiencing.
  • More. The opposite of laziness, when we start to achieve success, we can be tempted by the allure of more. If I just work a little harder I could accomplish even more. This can be a slippery path to burnout.
  • Fear of success. Lastly, for some of us the fear of success can be as poignant as the fear of failure.

Stage 5: Guiding

The last stage of awesome is guiding. This is about mentoring. It’s about reaching back and finding someone else who is struggling on the road to awesome and using the experience you have gained to help them down their road.

The Enemy of Awesome

There is an enemy of awesome that will try to keep you from ever starting down this road. That enemy is fear.

Fear is a funny thing because it will often argue both sides of the same argument. On the one hand it will tell you you aren’t talented enough, you don’t know enough, you don’t have the time, you can’t succeed, you might as well not start. On the flip side when you begin to follow the road it will tell you that you must be perfect. Each part of your dream must succeed. That thing you are working on just needs a few more improvements, just a little more polishing, work on it just a little more before you let anyone see it. And you never accomplish anything because fear tells you there’s always a little more to be done.

How do you defeat fear? First you write them down. Fears tend to not be so frightening when you see them on the page. The second way to defeat fear is to share them. Fear hates community. When you find your friend who seems to have it all together, struggles with the same fears you do, fear loses its power.

Get Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters

There are two sides to the financial equation. We often spend much of our time looking at the spending side and that is important. But the other half of the equation is income. Sometimes our financial problems are not so much an issue of out of control spending as it is we simply don’t make enough money. One of the reasons for that is it is hard to reach the level of success we are capable of when we are doing something from which we get no joy.

I think Jon Acuff is a terrific young thinker and author. He has a witty style that will keep you laughing but then in the midst of the laughter he will hit you with a line that will stop you in your tracks. The good news is with the explosion of the internet and other changes in our society it has never been easier to change course if you are stuck on the road to average.  The bottom line for me is I don’t want to be that 70-year-old grandmother looking back on my life and wondering what might have been. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters provides a framework to evaluate where you are and how you can get on that road to awesome.

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