The Ice Dragon of Self-Doubt
This Dragon spits ice, not fire.
It doesn’t burn you to ashes but freezes you in place.
It quivers the minute you start thinking of going on an adventure or trying something new, and immediately makes you doubt whether you’re capable.
What usually wakes him are the things we’ve been told about what is possible. Perhaps someone once told us we would never achieve anything worthwhile in our lives and we believed it. Or that what we are thinking on doing is too difficult, so we start imagining all the obstacles we might find on our way. Maybe we were overprotected when we were young and doubt our abilities to face danger. All this fills our brains with so many imaginary barriers that it makes us want to give up before even trying.
However, when the Dragon of Self-Doubt rears its ugly face, doing nothing because we’re afraid is not an intelligent response. It's either fight, or flight.
Keep in mind that the only enemy you are facing is yourself – the voices in your head that come-up with all the reasons why you can’t or shouldn't do something. The Dragon, in other words, is YOU, and if you allow him to gain the upper hand, you will never take that first step.
Some, like Luke Skywalker, find themselves with no choice but to go on their hero’s journey. If you recall, Luke found his house burned to the ground when he returned to his village compound. Having lost everything, he could do little else but follow Obi-Wan, become a Jedi Warrior, and save the Galaxy. Or like William, whose family and village were starving to death, so he had to push through and build his windmill.
Others are not so lucky. Most often, what they need at that moment of self-doubt is a big jolt… a giant Hagrid knocking down their door.
In my case, I had to lose everything – my money, my plane, my stuff – to go on my hero’s journey. But I had to wait a while longer. By then, as you remember, I was married and had two daughters so it wasn’t about me. It didn’t matter what I wanted. Three people depended on me and I could not turn my back on my vow to protect them. Like my stepmother, whose parents’ illness kept her from following her dream of going to the American West to help children at an Indian reservation, I had to put my dream aside for 18 years to fulfill my duty as a husband and father.
I am a man, after all, and that’s what men do.
The opportunity finally came about two years ago when I felt that I had no more time to lose and decided to finally do something meaningful with my life… to contribute something positive to the world. Something beyond myself.
The first thing I did was rediscover who I was, which was as simple as returning to the avocado tree; to the thing I loved most doing as a child – writing.
I said to myself: It’s time to become a writer!
That’s when the Dragon of Self-Doubt first appeared.
It hissed and blew ice from its quivering nostrils and large gaping mouth: “Old fool!” It roared, “You don’t know how to write! You’re too old anyway, and, besides, there’s no money to be made in writing. People that don’t make a lot of money are losers! How are you going to survive? Give it up!”
I confess I was scared. I had a pretty decent job at the time that had I stayed at for another ten years would have given me a lifelong pension, which basically means receiving money every month without having to work until you die. However cool that may sound, it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell my grandchildren. So I quit, gave up all the stuff I owned, and started my adventure. Like William, I thought I would figure it out along the way.
Trying something for the first time always makes us afraid and doubt ourselves. The best thing to do at that moment is to challenge our fears and doubts, just like I said you should do when you are angry.
When the Ice-Dragon told me I couldn’t write, I asked him how he knew I couldn’t if I had never tried it before... at least not since I was a boy. He couldn’t answer.
When he said I would be a loser if I failed, I repeated what I’ve said before: that the proper use of the word “loser” is for one who had the opportunity to do something heroic but didn’t, and, therefore, lost-out on what makes life exciting. As a famous poet once said: you never get any fun out of the things you haven’t done.
The Dragon kept getting smaller as my courage grew stronger.
The best way to face your fears is exposing yourself to them. Only the unknown frightens men, said writer and adventurer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Once men are caught up in an event, they cease to be afraid.
And once you dare to step into the battlefield, you’ll find that with practice and dedication your confidence will grow as your skills improve. What’s more, you’ll discover strengths in you that you never thought you had.
Someone once said that the adventure a hero is ready for is the one he gets and will bring out qualities in the hero he didn’t know he possessed. I think what this means is that when you jump off a cliff without a parachute (like I kind of did), and are headed straight to the ground, you’ll feel wings sprouting from your back, just like Hideyoshi discovered leadership skills in himself once he got out of his comfort zone and told Lord Nobunaga he would rebuild the wall surrounding his castle.
No matter how hard I know it will be, don’t ever pay attention to the Dragon of Self-Doubt. You will never achieve anything worthwhile if you start placing imaginary obstacles ahead of you.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.
This is the same thing John Steinbeck realized when writing the book that earned him the Pulitzer Prize: “I’ll get the book done if I just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.”
Mark Twain, author of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ said that the secret of getting ahead is getting started.
So remember: just take that first step, and then figure it out along the way.
The Dream-Scorching Dragon
This one is really nasty and doesn’t live in our heads like the Dragon of Self-Doubt.
It’s a shapeshifter.
Like a ventriloquist, it usually speaks through the mouth of someone we love.
To understand what I mean, I’ll tell you another story. This one is about my father.
He was born in Germany. When he was 3 years-old, his father abandoned him and his mother. From what I know, the old man walked out of the house one day, without warning, and joined a band of roving gypsies, never to return. We think he had the same illness my father later did. He was a practitioner of black magic and liked to slice the bellies of doves with a sharp knife to spill their blood on the floor and then read the hidden messages written by the blood drops. I know… pretty crazy.
My father learned to read at age 4, and his favorite book was one about cowboys and Indians. Unlike most boys, he wanted to be an Indian instead of a cowboy. One time, he begged his mother to buy him an Indian costume with a feathered headdress just like the ones he’d seen in the pictures of the book. He was very disappointed when he got it. “It was ridiculous,” he later told me. “It came with a grass skirt just like those worn by hula-dancers in Hawaii.”
When he turned 7, my father escaped Germany just before World War II broke out.
He arrived in our country, Guatemala, by way of a boat that carried bananas, and settled in his new house surrounded by open fields, steep ravines, deep rivers, and crashing waterfalls. He read all the time and soon discovered the book series Tarzan of the Apes which was based on the ‘Jungle Books’ which contain the story of Mowgly, the boy who was adopted by a pack of wolves.
“Tarzan was my favorite hero,” Dad once told me. When I asked him why, he said it was because Tarzan was the first hero who defended and protected Nature and wild animals.
Dad owned a horse and two large dogs. Almost every afternoon, after school, he rode his horse followed by his dogs out into the vast wilderness surrounding his house. From a high point, he could see a large blue lake backdropped by four enormous volcanoes, two of which were constantly erupting. His favorite spot was a waterfall dropping thirty feet into a deep, crystalline pool full of crayfish that he loved to catch. He’d stop to rest and swim, always on the lookout for lianas by which to swing from tall tree to tall tree like Tarzan did.
The area around his house was once inhabited by the ancient Maya who once ruled over my country and developed one of the most advanced civilizations on Earth. The fields across which my father roamed were full of shiny obsidian arrowheads, heavy stone hatchets, and dusty pottery fragments left behind by the natives which my father picked up and treasured all his life.
These wild experiences, and the books he read, filled his young imagination with a sense of adventure. By the time he was 10, all he wanted to be was a world explorer. He wrote about his dream in a short story which he proudly presented to his stepfather.
That’s when the Dream-Scorching Dragon appeared.
I never liked my step-grandfather. He was tall, stern and cold, stiff like stone and creaking wood. When he first met my father back in Germany, he took him straight to a barbershop to have his long and golden curly hair cut off. Then, to make him a ‘man,’ he would kick a ball at him real hard and bruise him. “Be a man! Toughen up! Don’t cry!” he’d yell at him. My step-grandfather also worked a lot, so my father hardly saw him. The old man had the idea that men are only defined by their work.
So my father handed him the story he wrote about wanting to be a world explorer… how, one day, he would climb the highest mountains, trek through the most inhospitable jungles, and draw maps to guide other explorers.
The old man adjusted his wire-rim glasses and started reading while my father looked up at him with a sparkle in his eye waiting for his approval. When he was finished, he looked down at my father and, in a stern voice, he said:
“So, it seems you want to be a nobody... a bum, basically. Is that right?”
Before Dad could shake his head and explain, the old man crushed the story inside his cold, hard fist, and threw the crumpled paper on the floor. “You will write no more nonsense!” He said, and walked away.
That’s the Dream-Scorching Dragon.
My father never became a world explorer. Never became like Tarzan of the Apes. Instead, he became a businessman, just like his stepfather, and regretted it all his life.
I have two possible explanations for what happened.
First, is that my stepfather thought the only way a man could earn a living and provide for himself and his family was by being a businessman and working long hours and was afraid my father would not be able to do so by climbing mountains and drawing maps. So he crushed my father’s dream out of love, wanting to protect him from hardship later in life.
Second, and this is the one I think was the real reason, was that my stepfather was jealous. As a boy, he, too, might have wanted to go on an adventure… on his own hero’s journey, but for whatever reason, wasn’t able to. Maybe some other Dream-Scorching Dragon burned his dream.
Sadly, there are many people like that in the world. People without the courage to slay that nasty Dragon and go on their journey so become Dream-Scorching Dragons themselves.
William faced the Dragon when people in his village said he was crazy, and his Mom told him he was behaving like a madman when he started filling his room with the stuff he needed to build his windmill.
Now that Greta Thunberg has inspired millions of kids around the world to strike for climate change, many grownups have started criticizing her on social media. They post nasty things, like that she’s being manipulated by other grownups; that she’s acting like Chicken Little telling everyone the world is coming to an end and making everyone afraid. Or that she isn’t offering any solutions to the climate crisis.
Think of it: grownups, without the courage or imagination to help out, are now trying to crush Greta’s dream of a better world. Shame, shame! It reminds me of something I once read…
"The boy who never built a castle in the air will never build one on earth."
One day, I hope you’ll also have a big dream that will inspire your own hero’s journey. Now that I’ve warned you, when the Dream-Scorching Dragon appears – and it will, trust me - I hope you will have the courage to keep its flames away from your dream.
The Shadow Dragon of Old Wounds
We all get hurt in life. Some more than others.
As we go about our lives, we stuff all that hurt into an invisible bag that keeps getting heavier as the years go by. The wounds we drag with us often make us go into dark places from which many never come out.
For many years, the wound left behind by my father when he took me to that horrible place when I was eleven years-old remained unhealed inside my bag. Like a heavy stone in my heart, it weighed me down. I hated my father for a long time. I thought of myself as a victim. I also didn’t respect him for not having had the courage to slay the Dream-Scorching Dragon and become an explorer.
When I finally decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer two years ago, I sensed my ship would never properly sail out to the open sea unless I first opened the bag of my wounds to see what was inside.
If you want an open wound to heal, all you have to do is give it light and fresh air.
What I did was write it all down – wound by wound.
I wrote my life’s story, going all the way back to when my father was a boy which made me understand he’d also been hurt. I also studied his illness and realized that what he had done to me was caused by his disease.
I took the wound of my parents’ divorce out of the bag and blew on it by going back through my mother’s own tragic story and realizing that my parents were not meant for each other and that their divorce had nothing to do with me.
I took out the pain and hurt I’d felt when I lost everything and discovered that only by losing it had I found out who I really was. I was surprised by knowing that despite the wounds I suffered, I was still here… I had survived!
I finally forgave my father.
My wounds healed and became scars.
I flipped my story from that of a victim to one of a hero.
The Dragon of Stupid Stories
Hopefully this book has reached you in time to prevent some of the stupid stories told by humans from contaminating your brain. You know the ones… like Earth is a giant supermarket and a dump-ground for human waste, that one can’t be happy without a lot of stuff, that my god is better than your god, my country is more badass than yours, women are crazy-scary, my skin color is the best, or that the world is a dangerous place… blah, blah, blah. Locust stories.
After I took all my old wounds out of the bag and made them heal, I knew I could not sail on my new adventure as a writer unless I first chipped-off all those barnacles encrusted on the hull of my ship like you would delete malware and viruses from a computer. Like many people, I had never really questioned all the stupid stories that had been written in my brain by what seemed like some kind of evil software programmer.
I wrote my own code, my own instructions on how to live my life based on what I really cared about and what gave me true joy and delight. I imagined the stories I wanted to tell my grandchildren.
Before the Dragon of Stupid Stories starts contaminating your brain with dumb ideas, you must know how it operates.
This Dragon usually hides behind screens. It will lunge at you from a social media post, advertisements, or spit its deadly fire through the news.
Like the Dream-Scorching Dragon, the one of stupid stories is also a shapeshifter and will speak to you through the mouths of people who seem to know what they’re talking about. Important and powerful people, who either talk in long-winded sentences and complicated words, or say things that get you all worked up with anger or fear. They do this on purpose to switch off your brain and make you think only with your emotions. That’s why this Dragon is so convincing and able to poison so many people.
To protect yourself, all you need is the Shield of Skepticism and Critical Thought which basically means you refuse to believe anything someone tells you until discovering for yourself whether it’s true or not, just like those scientists who didn’t blindly accept Carl Sagan’s claim that there are more stars in the Universe than grains of sand on Earth and decided to prove it.
The Dragon of False Pride
This beast is born from the belly of the Dragon of Stupid Stories.
It’s the one who makes us feel ashamed if we don’t make a lot of money because we have chosen to believe the story that if we don’t, we’re losers.
It’s the one that makes us go to the gym and workout our muscles because we have chosen to believe the story that real men have them and, if we don’t, we think it is something to be ashamed of.
It keeps us from reading poetry or keeping a journal, from dancing, or painting; from hugging a friend or telling him we love him, because we have chosen to believe the story that real men don’t do these things.
It’s the one that keeps us from asking for help when we most need it; from saying we don’t know because we think we’ll appear stupid; from crying when we really need to cry; from confessing we are sometimes afraid.
It makes us ashamed if we were to fail at something, so we don’t even try.
The Dragon of False Pride uses all his deadly fire and bad breath to write one question in your head:
"WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK OF ME?"
If you let him burn you, you will spend the rest of your life pleasing everyone but yourself. It will make you lose the hardest battle: that of being you, and the Universe won’t take long to avenge itself because you decided to go against its desire for each one of us to express our uniqueness.
I learned this the hard way so I don’t want you to go through what I did.
If humans keep repeating the same mistakes, they won’t evolve. It’s how natural selection works. Organisms which survive (like I have), pass on their secrets to the next generation (like you). The organisms that don’t listen, fail to adapt and are eliminated from the environment.
Are you listening?
Read the adult version of this chapter: 'Overcoming the Dragon of Self-Doubt,' a practical guide to overcome your fears and follow your dreams.
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