Nobody wants to lead an average life—at least nobody I talk to. But it's easy to do. We get lulled into a coma of ease and familiarity. Then we medicate our boredom and futility with entertainment. Before we know it, half our life is spent and we've done practically nothing important.
Jon Acuff's new book, Start, is the perfect alarm to wake us up and help us pursue a truly meaningful calling. The subtitle says it all: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work that Matters.
Starting with Dave Ramsey, Jon looked at people who've succeeded in their chosen fields and noticed a pretty clear pattern. It's a five-stage journey he calls the road to awesome.
- Learning. This is where we all start. It's a time of experimentation and exploration when we try a lot of different paths and approaches. We rack up experience and start getting a sense of what works and doesn't work for us.
- Editing. Here's where we start applying that sense, where we start dropping the things that drain our energy or don't fit our aptitude and passions. Jon says that it's about getting focus and finding the work that allows us to be the best version of us, whatever that happens to be.
- Mastering. Now it's time to invest in the best version of you. It's when we master our profession, our calling, the particular brand of awesome that we're after.
- Harvesting. This stage is all about the rewards of all our learning, editing, and mastering. Don't confuse this with laying back. As Jon says, any farmer can tell you that harvest time is when you work the hardest. But it's also the time rewards are the greatest. Personally, I feel like I'm in this stage right now. I've never worked harder, nor have my efforts ever been more productive and satisfying.
- Guiding. The final step on the journey is to help others on the path. Jon talks about how Dave Ramsey has done this for him. I've been intentional about mentoring younger men in the same way. This is the time to encourage, help, and instruct.
There are no walls between these stages. You might be in a place of heavy learning and just beginning to edit things down. You might be mastering an area and really seeing the harvest start to come in.
We used to tie these stages to age–learning in our twenties, editing in our thirties, and so on. Start shows us that today these stages are tied to our level of engagement. You might be thirty and finally starting to figure it out. You may be fifty and looking to start something new. It doesn't matter. Whenever we start, the point is to start. Anyone can do it at any time.
I found a long list of takeaways from Start, but here are the big three for me:
- Passion is king. We all have our own unique definitions of awesome. Don't get trapped following someone else's definition. You'll never be the best version of you if you're always being a lesser version of someone else. And let's get real. Work is hard; it might as well be enjoyable too.
Jon tells the story of a girl in customer service for Apple. A job like that must be really hard, he told her. But she loved it. Her passion was solving problems and discovering new things. As far as she was concerned, helping people like Jon is what she was made for.
- Entitlement will kill you. Of the many things that will derail your journey to awesome, one I've seen hurt a lot of people is entitlement.
Jon offers a great metaphor for understanding why entitlement is so bad. It's like a ladder on the road. You walk up a few rungs and feel good about your elevated position. But you've stopped making progress on the road. Worse, the higher you climb the more disconnected you are from reality.
We've all known colleagues so high up the ladder, they're practically worthless to their team below. This will drain the awesome out of any area of life: work, marriage, friendships. It's a deadly distraction.
- The voices are wrong. We've all heard the voices of fear and doubt. They try to keep us from pursuing awesome. They tell us that we're not cut out for it, we're not ready, we're not able, we're too young, too old, whatever. But the voices lie.
Jon has an entire section dedicated to helping readers debunk their lying voices and live in the reality that, yes, they can be awesome despite their fears, despite their doubts.
Like everything Jon writes, Start is funny. But the humor comes with an important message that I'm convinced will help a lot of people who feel stuck in the land of average.