I now have a go-to book when gifting graduates of all ages and stages of life.
That’s really the point of Jon Acuff’s latest book, Start – we are at multiple points of “graduation” all through our lives. Any of us at any time can be faced with a new opportunity to start – though we usually call such times disaster, calamity, reversals, and setbacks and avoid them like the proverbial plague.
Start isn’t a feel good book, it’s a get real book that will alternately make you laugh and cringe – and most of the laughing and cringing are at Acuff’s expense.
Start explores the road that leads away from “average to awesome” through successive stretches of learning, editing, mastering, harvesting and guiding which are simply not locked in anymore to various stages of our personal timeline (learning in your twenties, editing in your thirties, mastering in your forties, etc.); we are presented with opportunities to start at any and every season of life. I really don’t go in for motivational tomes. I don’t. Typically they come up smelling plasticky to me. Not so with Start.
Acuff hits a good chord. How could he not with the subtitle “Punch Fear in the Face”?
Take and read.
Here’s a taste:
One afternoon in Atlanta, a guy named Lanny gave me some horrible feedback. I’d spoken at two camps he’d put on for about 5,000 students, and he had some evaluations he needed to go over with me. The feedback was horrible because it was true. According to Lanny, ten to fifteen people who saw me speak said that I “lacked passion” for my material. He said they felt like it was a performance, not material I was really passionate about.
I sat there a little stunned at first. I like to get feedback that says, “You’re awesome. Almost too awesome. You don’t need spotlights on you when you speak because the glow of your greatness illuminates the stage.” And this feedback was not that. The crowd thought I was fake. They thought I was going through the motions. They thought I was performing words I’d memorized.
And the sad thing is, they were right.
At the time, I was practicing my speeches eight to ten times per gig. I’d stand in my office, face out the window toward the Cracker Barrel next door, and do a full dry run of each speech. Over and over I would practice until I knew every line of my forty-five-minute speech. I’d do all the hand motions, time myself, and even give pauses for the invisible crowd to laugh in my office. (Invisible people think I’m hilarious!) I practiced this way because I didn’t want to feel out of control onstage. I was so worried about making a mistake that I tightly clutched my hands around my speech. I had it perfectly manicured so I could control every second. No surprises.
Lanny picked up on that and gave me some advice: “Jon, your speeches are so over-structured that you’re not leaving any space in them for something new to happen in the moment. That’s the best part of a speech, when something brand new appears. When there’s a surprise that both the audience and the speaker get to share. That’s what connects an audience with a speaker, the feeling that you’re going on a journey together, creating something together, and neither one of you knows exactly where it’s going to go, but you’ll end up there together.” Giving a speech that way takes a courage I didn’t have at the time, and so does taking your first step on the road to awesome.
Average is so popular because average is familiar. We all know how to do average. Ninety-nine percent of the people on the planet do average. The road is well worn, the decisions are obvious, and the next steps are crystal clear….
The road to awesome, though, is defined by the surprises. It’s not a block in a downtown city laid out long ago by methodical city planners. It’s a rambling dirt road with twists and turns that offers something new at every corner. Let’s leave room on our maps for some surprises.