The Dungeon Master

Gandalf with iphone.jpg

The following story is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I was in the cave, patiently observing as my Lady in Waiting researched a mysterious problem with my Macbook. I was at a "genius" bar, but this was not an official Apple storefront. It was a knock-off. The bar was more of a "Smarty Pants" bar rather than one worthy of Mensa inclusion. I waited patiently, enjoying the spartan design of the cave and the hipster music floating in the air. 

M'Lady continued to search for answers on her company Mac, while I stood on the other side of the bar, feeding her details. Next to me, a new victim approached and asked for help. He held his iPhone out in front of him, like a pet rat that had mysteriously gone motionless. He was obviously in a bad way. 

"One moment, Sir." She greeted him without taking eyes from the screen in front of her. I'll summon Gandalf, he'll know what to do. 

A wisp of smoke mysteriously appeared, and through it stepped "The Wizard". (I'm fairly certain the smoke was generated by The Wizard, but it could have been a laptop burning. I’m not 100% sure). His ragged beard was red like the layers of earthen minerals embedded in a prehistoric mountain cliff. His spectacles were thick, and battle worn with smudges from obvious encounters with dragons and other mythical beasts who spit annoying liquids on your face. His eyes, weary from many late nights as Dungeon Master, or from leading leagues of Legends. This was no amateur. 

"How may I assist, kind sir?" His said with a slightly detectable bow. 

The young man in waiting, his plain blue hoodie unzipped to reveal a plaid shirt, presented his quest, "Um, yah, my phone won't charge very good anymore."

Gandalf's beady eyes narrowed. There was intensity in them. He hath seen this before. 

“Lay it in my hand.” His outstretched palm bore fingernails stained yellow with the remnants of cheese puffs – a common war-time nourishment. The young man laid it upon the wizard's twitching, chubby fingers. 

Gandalf tightened his grip around the phone, and carefully brought it closer to his face for inspection. He turned it over to peer cautiously into the charging port. “As I suspected.” He said confidently.

He lowered the phone and looked unwaveringly into the young man’s eyes. He did not even need to clear his throat. “Fortunately, we offer a special port repair service. It is $29.95 and the work is 100% guaranteed. If for some reason it stops working again, we will service it again at no charge.” He went silent. His gaze did not falter.

The young man contemplated for a moment, then responded, “Well, um, I guess so. How long will it take?” 

As I watched silently on the sidelines, I could understand his concern. The technicians in the back were already overloaded with repairs and the neighboring advisors were quoting other customers “days” for devices they were dropping off. But this was an emergency. This was his iPhone.

Gandalf did not hesitate in his reply, “It should take less than 30 minutes and it can be done immediately.”

Gandalf obviously had some authority with the technicians in back. The young man perked up. “OK, I guess so then. I pretty much need my phone to work.”

“Very well.” Said Gandalf, and he opened the drawer in front of him, at the “Smarty Pants” bar. He rummaged for a few moments then seemed to find what he was searching for. 

“Ah!" He said, while removing the P.R.E.D. (Port Repair and Extraction Device). It looked strikingly familiar to a paper clip. I’m pretty sure it actually was a paper clip. He un-folded the device to extend the point.  

“You never want to try this procedure yourself, at home.” Gandalf warned. “You could destroy my precious…your precious.”

He proceeded to dig and scrape the inside of the power port with the paper, I mean, extraction device. He thumped the bottom of the phone on the counter top a few times and some micro crud fell out. 

“Bingo.” He said, as if he knew he would be successful. He blew some magical clearing breath in to the port for good measure. 

The young man stared in disbelief. I stared in disbelief. Gandalf smiled a gratified smile. “I’ll escort you now to the other counter where you can submit your renumeration.” He led, and the young man followed. I can only assume this fellow was elated that his repair service only took 45 seconds rather than the full 30 minutes Gandalf quoted.

I watched as he reluctantly pulled his wallet from the worn and imprinted back pocket of his jeans. He slowly pulled the barter plastic from the sheath, eyes somewhat lowered in concession, and handed it over. He did not speak. 

“That will be $29.95. Sméagol will finish you off now. Good day sir.” Gandalf motioned to the figure at the collection machine, and bid farewell to the young man while simultaneously beginning his return to the Smarty Bar. Before reaching it, he had already greeted his next target, “How may I assist, kind madam?”

My spellbinding was broken by the exclamation of My Lady in Waiting, “Ah ha! I think I found something. Have you tried to restart your Mac?”.

“Yes, I have.” I said without trying to sound sarcastic. “Please don’t charge me for that." 

Dragons happen

Dragons happen.

Lately I’ve committed to making it a habit to write every morning. If I don’t have something in mind, then I commit to write gibberish until I’ve completed at least 20 minutes of writing. Yesterday I wrote up some affirmations and goals — which included writing more. That’s where it ended. Nothing was flowing. I felt stuck — and besides, I had a good excuse: I had to run downtown to check on a photo job in progress. Up, up, and away I go.

On my way back in to the office, one of my team hands me a soft, brown, bubble padded envelope from the mail. It was hand addressed and personalized with a black Sharpie. I wasn’t expecting anything, but surprises are always fun! I laid it on my desk, hung my coat, and scratched the ears of my dog, who always comes running to my office to greet me when he gets to work before I do. I contemplated brewing another cup of coffee.

Again, I sat at my computer and acknowledged that I hadn’t written anything significant yet this morning….but wait, I can distract myself with that package on my desk! I opened it up and there was a small book and a hand-written note. The note began, “Kevin, Handwritten letters are an under appreciated & under used form of correspondence. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your letter to me...”

It was from John, my friend at CreativeLIVE. He had given me a book called, The War of Art when I visited last and I absolutely loved it. I sent him a note thanking him for it, and for the impact it had on me. Here, now, in perfect synchronicity, he gifts another Steven Pressfield book, Do The Work.

Synchronous because Pressfield is synonymous with persistence. He is the consummate advocate for fighting the dragons of fear and resistance. His words are pointed and poignant — he doesn’t pull punches. The wisdom in his prose finds its way to your heart, bypassing the clutter of your mind.

John knew the book would speak to me when he saw the artwork on the inside of the book jacket. It is a knight fighting a dragon. I have always loved dragons and what they can represent. For me, they are icons of fearlessness, wisdom, and benevolent power. And there are also the other dragons — like the dragon of fear that needs to be fought on a regular basis. This was a dragon of resistance.

And so I had another one of those amazing moments where my answer appears seemingly from outer space, from this mysterious connection we have with the world and the people in it. I tacked the cover dragon to my wall, in front of my desk, just below a favorite painting that reminds me to face fear with blind courage. I got busy writing.

When I got home I read the book through, cover to cover, just as I had the first book, The War of Art. And as before, the messages resonated with me in a remarkable way — as if I had told the Universe, “I need some answers!” and it graciously delivered.

So I put down the book and did the work. I just started to write and it felt good — not because I was writing anything mind blowing, but because I was fighting that dragon and just getting started. That is literally the most difficult hurdle for anything worthwhile in our lives. Get started.

The beauty in getting started is you now have momentum on your side and that is a powerful ally. Dragons get very discouraged when you have help on your side. Get started. Don’t quit.

The biggest realization I’ve had, from Pressfield’s illumination and from my own recent discoveries, is that getting started and keeping the momentum going is really the hardest part — and, it is all we need to do. The details, help, and “how-to” will appear soon enough to assist you, but only if you are riding the good dragon of Persistent Work.

Is there a Dragon in your way today? In your life?

Facing Dragons and unexpected gifts

Dragon motif red.png

So I did a secret presentation in the San Francisco studio of CreativeLive last week, just before my publicly broadcast 2-day presentation. I was invited by the staff of CreativeLive to do a "20 minutes of Genius” talk, just for them – no cameras. That was a bit intimidating. “Genius?” I didn’t feel qualified to fill those shoes, but I knew I could share something meaningful with them, nonetheless. 

I decided I needed to share some things I’ve never publicly shared. I asked them all to agree to keep everything I said private, and I was actually pretty nervous – and I don’t usually get too nervous anymore before a talk. I gave my talk and felt really good about it. One of the things that I shared near the end was the realization that we don’t always know where, when, or how the “reason” or result of our actions, or f#¢k ups, will manifest or make themselves known. I believe there always is a gift, or lesson, but it can take years for the realization to hit – sometimes. Occasionally, the gift is quite immediate and may even try to sneak by you.

 My live program on creativeLIVE last week. You can still  get the 2-day business class!  at a great discount right now.

My live program on creativeLIVE last week. You can still get the 2-day business class! at a great discount right now.

Fast forward a couple days and I’ve completed my 2-day live course. Everything went smooth and I had a wonderful studio audience that I really connected with, and felt I had truly impacted. I was very grateful for the entire experience – including the amazing team at CreativeLive that constantly blows me away with their professionalism and genuine caring. This was enough of a gift already.

We had our little wrap party, with some wine, beer, sparkling water, and edible treats – some green and some red. I said goodbye to my students one-by-one, hugging them as they bid farewell. I was finishing my drink with my host, Jim, and my broadcast tech, John. The song, “Closing Time” played on my internal turntable.

At the end of my live program, I had mentioned some of my favorite books – readings that had significantly influenced my personal and business life and success. John said this made him think of his all-time favorite, and recalled the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. 

“Have you read it?” he asked me. "It rings a bell," I said, but maybe that’s because I was thinking of the classic, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu – which I have read. 

“Wait here.” he said as he ran out of the kitchen, leaving me hanging. I polished my sparkling water and burped. 

Seconds later he returned with a fresh copy of the book in hand. “I keep a stack of them on my desk to give people whenever I think they’ll dig it.” 

I took one look at the cover and knew that I had to read it. It was speaking to me already. I thanked him sincerely, and accepted the gift.

We finished up our drinks and packed up our bags. I headed back to my cozy airbnb and contemplated going out with some friends to dinner. Being the introvert that I am, (yes, that seems contrary to the qualities of a public speaker, but that’s another story) I was feeling like I just needed some down time to recharge and reflect. I also wanted to try this delicious looking Nepalese restaurant that was down the street. I found out they delivered, so I phoned in my order and sat down to read, The War of Art. 

The food came before I knew it and I tried to keep reading while I answered the door. That didn’t work well. I gave my full attention to my friendly delivery guy, tipped and thanked him, then plated the chicken curry and momos. I can’t remember the last time I ate with one hand and held a book with the other, but it had a very erudite feel to it. 

When dinner was consumed, I plopped down across the couch and continued to read until the book was completed and fully digested. Fortunately, it is a quick read. I think the eloquence and directness of the writing, mixed with the brevity, made it particularly poignant. I could not wait to read it again. There were passages I wanted to underline. There were words in there that moved me, and I knew they were worth scribing in my inspiration notebook. 

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.” – Steven Pressfield.

This smacked me in the face.

“We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, who we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why were were put on this planet.” – also from the book.

Gulp. I love dragons. How did he know? I have a little toy Dragon on my nightstand – my Dragon of Fear. It reminds me to face those fears when I fear them the most. I brought my Dragon for show-and-tell at the private talk earlier. He was now sitting on the desk across from my couch.

The next morning I boarded my plane to head home and before they could say, “Please put your devices in airplane mode…” I had my new book out for a second read, notebook and pen at the ready. The journey was one of the shortest I’ve ever had, despite the 2 legs and 1-hour delay. 

As I lay comfortably back in my own bed that night, I wondered if receiving this gift of inspiration was the actual, deeper reason for my visit to San Francisco to teach. In my talks, I had proclaimed how we can receive these lessons and gifts in very unexpected ways. I realized once again that sometimes it takes time to realize the purpose of an encounter or experience, but sometimes it happens immediately. I may have thought I was going there simply to teach – but in the final moments, before I left the building, I was given the gift I came there to receive. 

One of the other things I challenged my students to do in the live class was to actually, really, track everything they do during a work day for 2 weeks. This helps us to see where we misspend our important time, or use it less efficiently. Often, the simple act of recording something can influence you to change or improve – like recording what you eat, or when you exercise. I have found that simply writing down the realizations I have about the unexpected gifts & lessons in my life makes me more grateful for them – which translates directly to an influx of more gifts. Funny how that works.