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What Are Your Dragons? Learn How to Tackle the Difficult Things

Nobody dared go near the tower. A fearsome dragon sat on its top.

Until one day a knight rode up.

“Do you need help to get down?”


       -from Twitter, @MicroSF, O. Westin

I keep a copy of this microstory near my computer monitor to remind me that things are not always what they seem and that I often need to look at situations from a new viewpoint. Of course, I also want to understand how that dragon got trapped on the tower in the first place and what it is going to do when it gets down. In the case of this story, I decided that the dragon is a friendly dragon who appears fierce because he is trapped, and everyone is scared, so they do not come near enough for the dragon to ask for help.

Knight and dragon

And then the knight arrives. The natural assumption is that the knight is going to challenge and slay the dragon, but the knight does something totally unexpected. He asks the dragon if he needs help. Because he offers, we can assume that the knight then helps the dragon down – to continue on his peaceful way (in my interpretation). They might even become friends, with the knight and dragon questing through the countryside together.

The story gets me thinking about what my dragons are and how I can look at them with new eyes and see them differently. My current dragon is a long, technical course that I need to revise. It’s a complex course, and I find myself making excuses to do other things instead. But it needs to be done, and I often find that once I tackle something like this and immerse myself in the task, it goes better than I think it will. It just takes a lot of effort and time to immerse myself fully.

One of the things I am doing to approach this dragon is blocking out four hours of time every day to work exclusively on the course. I won’t look at email, I’ll put myself on "Do Not Disturb" in the IM system, and I won’t answer the phone during these times. I could even respond to emails with an out-of-office message letting people know when I will get back to them, but I haven’t felt like I needed to take that step, yet. If I thought I needed to, I might even let certain people know how to get my attention in a real emergency.

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Of course, then I have to follow through and work on the course during those blocks of time. It is easy to make excuses – I have an article to write, I have this or that analysis to do, my boss asked for this information or that information, a direct report needs some support, etc. I just have to recognize them for what they are – excuses – and buckle down and deal with my dragon.

Sometimes I like being the knight who rides up and does the unexpected. Sometimes people expect me to respond to a situation or a person with anger, and I surprise them and respond with compassion and questions. I often respond with questions about what is going on, what happened, why, and try not to react to things as they seem, instead diving below the surface to find out more. Of course, sometimes I don’t do that, and then I’m often embarrassed by my misunderstanding or my over-reaction. I find that I could have responded so much better if I had just paused and looked deeper. If I remember that I want the best for the other person, it makes it so much easier to respond with questions and compassion.

I am being the knight anytime I pause and ask questions and take the time to look at the situation from different viewpoints. Sometimes I can do this on my own, casting my mind around for different ways of viewing the situation. I can even think up different reasons why a situation might have developed the way it did.

A lot of times, however, I need other people’s help to find the alternative viewpoints, particularly when I am emotional about the situation. Then I talk to trusted friends and colleagues to see if they can help me see things differently. I often ask for “reality checks,” and sometimes they reinforce my current view providing other reasons why that view is critical. Other times, they offer me entirely different possibilities.

Even then, though, I will ask questions of the people directly involved in the situation to find out what is really happening. I know the dragon could always pretend to be friendly and then burn up the countryside once he is free. What precautions am I taking in that case? I will proceed with caution, but I always want to begin with assuming positive intent.

There is a lot to mine out of this simple microstory. What does it mean to you? Do you have dragons that appear fierce but need to be tackled? Could you do the unexpected and approach them differently? How influenced are you by what people expect of you? Can you do the unexpected to turn a situation around? Do you go out of your way to avoid your dragons and thereby make them more fierce? How could you look at them with new eyes and approach them more directly? Do you need to ask for help?

Dragons often turn out to be overgrown lizards rather than threatening monsters. How can you turn that to your advantage?