As a new parent with a new diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), I spent nearly two full years doing my best to stay afloat. Some days, it was all I could do to keep my head above (metaphorical) instead of sinking to the bottom of the 7 Cs.

And then another massive shift changed my world and my life forever: My wife Delena and I welcomed our second child—our daughter—into the world.

This was a beautiful, welcome change, and one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Even so, I have to admit that I wasn’t totally ready for this change. I had not fully adapted to—let alone accepted—all the ways my entire world had changed with an AS diagnosis and the birth of our son.  

I was in a kind of shock. And denial. I was actually a dad, and for the first time, I could see all the ways I lacked the maturity and wisdom I needed to raise my kids in our ever-evolving world. Those first few years of parenthood, I grappled with this change, struggling to figure out how to be the dad I knew I needed to be.

Admittedly, I had also not really grappled with the fact that my diagnosis of an autoimmune disease meant that I was facing a lifelong battle with AS. When our daughter was born, it hit me just how much I had been living in denial about my life—and this realization bled into my work, shattering my professional confidence and leadership.

Sure, I had grown the Digital Growth Institute into a seven-figure organization. But I wasn’t fully present. I lacked awareness. I was stewing with anger, and it was definitely and negatively impacting our company culture.

27.  Dragons

Change is hard. Change is scary. Change is painful.

Amid all that change, I was facing perhaps my biggest battle yet—a battle against four dragons that threatened to incinerate any chance I had at reaching the Territory of Transformation, and all of my passions right along with it.

During this point in my life, these four dragons paid me a visit.

The first?

The Dragon of Denial. I had not really processed the fact that not only was I a father—now to two young children, but I also had not come to grips with my AS diagnosis—or the ways that this diagnosis would impact me for the rest of my life. Rather than overcoming this denial, I tuned out, which started to affect every aspect of my personal and professional life.

That’s when the second dragon came into my life; The Dragon of Distraction.  

In trying to defeat the Dragon of Distraction, I disconnected from reality and logged online. Instead of connecting with my family, friends, and colleagues, I sought dopamine hits via the internet. But this lack of connection welcomed yet another dragon; The Dragon of Division.

While there were still positive moments here and there—glimmers of hope, optimism, and happiness—it just wasn’t enough. Before long, I found myself face-to-face with the fourth and final dragon. The Dragon of Depression.

The worst part?

Because I isolated myself as I welcomed these dragons into my life, I was battling all of this by myself, silently and secretly.

These four dragons stood between me and my own personal Territory of Transformation. I knew I either had to defeat these terrible creatures if I wanted to transcend my personal and professional pain—and it was clear to me that I was losing this fight. It got so bad that after our daughter was born, my wife gave me an ultimatum to address or end our disconnected marriage.

I had to choose: Either the business, or my family.  

I had to stop making excuses if I wanted to defeat these dragons. And I needed help.

Here’s why.

When these dragons come into our lives, we want to try and fight them on our own. I called David C. Baker, who had advised hundreds of firms like mine. I had two paths I could take: I could retreat into my Cave of Complacency or I could stand my ground and fight. With David’s honest counsel and insights, Delena and I decided that it was time to blow up Digital Growth Institute’s existing business model and chart a brand new path to achieve a balance between work life and family life.

26. Third Path

Opting to forge a new path over struggling through two existing, all-consuming paths was transformational for me. I broke through—and I defeated those dragons.

Here’s what you need to know about these dragons as you seek to achieve the growth you’re after.

The Dragon of Denial

The Dragon of Denial is the first to appear along a journey of transformation, and it can show up in a multitude of ways. Sure, Denial is going to look slightly different along a digital transformation journey compared to the diagnosis of a lifelong illness, but nevertheless, denial will unfold in similar ways in each.

In talking with hundreds of marketing, sales, and leadership teams, it’s clear that an overwhelming majority don’t believe they have a problem in the present moment that will come at a significant cost in the future.

Take AI, for example. Most brands might argue that they’ve been working hard to adopt new technologies, automation platforms, and data systems. They don’t open their eyes to the fact that there’s more they don’t know; that there’s more they need to be doing.

That’s when the Dragon of Denial rears its ugly head.

We don’t see issues like:

      • A necessary shift in direction
      • The need to alter timelines
      • Unseen capacity and capability gaps

In these instances, individuals and organizations alike are afraid to switch gears. After all, they’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and money into a project—so even when it becomes clear that they need to make changes, it’s nearly impossible for them to switch directions. 

The Dragon of Distraction

Our world is more connected than ever—and digital distractions are everywhere. Before you even seek them out, digital distractions find you and drag you off-course, preventing you from moving forward along your exponential growth journey.

You see, in our digital-first culture, the tools that were developed to boost productivity or free up our time are the same ones that eat away at our time. And most importantly, they pull us away from the things we care about most, personally and professionally.

How does the Dragon of Distraction present itself?

  1. Through offerings like social media, which eat away at our time
  2. Through work-based distractions that take us away from future-focused transformation

We love new technologies and the hype they can inspire. But at the same time, it’s critical that we evaluate these emerging tools and ask ourselves if they really will enhance your operations, or if they are just shiny, exciting, and new, and can distract you from your transformational goals.

Distracting new technologies may spur excitement—but people often bite off more than they can chew, which welcomes the third dragon to the party.

The Dragon of Division

Have you heard the old adage, “A house divided cannot stand”?

When you or your teams are battling the Dragon of Denial and/or the Dragon of Distraction, sometimes people take sides. Teams split. Factions form. And that third dragon shows up.

The Dragon of Division shows up when tensions are left to boil over and turn into conflict. Teams may face internal struggles, and folks are quick to place blame elsewhere.

This, as you might expect, has the potential to tank any kind of transformational initiative.

Here’s the thing, though: Transformational initiatives are often rife with tension. It’s important to remember, however, that tension doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it can even drive exponential growth.

28.  Peace and love

The key here?

We have to know that all of this tension and conflict initially stems from fear. Fear causes anger, which in turn leads to hate, which results in suffering. To keep division at bay, we must know this pattern, be able to recognize it, and get out ahead of it.

Here’s something incredibly important to know as you seek out digital transformation:

You can’t have digital transformation without cultural transformation.

And you can’t have cultural transformation without human transformation.

The best way to defeat the Dragon of Division?

It all boils down to empathy, peace, and love. After all, responding with a defensive or angry attitude only leads to more anger, more hate, and more suffering.

You have the power to control how you respond to criticism from others. But you need to understand that what lies behind this criticism—namely, fear and anger—is really confusion, conflict, and chaos, all rooted in a lack of clarity and understanding. So be intentional and take time to create space, pause, and listen to the questions, concerns, and criticisms of others. Come to the conversation with an open heart and mind.

The Dragon of Depression

When one or more of the first three dragons—the Dragons of Denial, Distraction, and Division—have been maimed, but not actually fully defeated, it’s usually the fourth dragon that will often deliver the fatal blow to any kind of transformational initiative; the Dragon of Depression. In a way, the Dragon of Depression is the most important—and the scariest—of all.

The Dragon of Depression lives in a dark place called the Valley of Despair. This valley can quickly overwhelm us with sadness and cause us to sink into the soil—sometimes forever. We can’t traverse this valley by ourselves. The only way to defeat the Dragon of Depression and get out of the Valley of Despair is through connection; through the support of an outside party.

When we get trapped in the Valley of Despair and are fighting the Dragon of Depression, it’s imperative to collaborate with someone who can bring objectivity to your situation. Truthfully, it’s best not to wait until you’re actively stuck in this valley, fighting a monumental battle against an immensely powerful dragon. You can’t wait until you and your team have lost all hope, or you’re starting to show signs of sadness and regret. These are natural emotional responses in the face of change, and you need to work through rather than deny them.

But the stakes are higher than before. You can, and should, manage how deep you wade into the Valley of Despair, and how much time you spend there. If you wallow in the Valley of Despair, you may never get out.

Depression is pervasive in today’s society. And modern technology can amplify depression, pulling us deeper into the darkness of our own thoughts. How?

  • When we succumb to the stress of feeling like we’ll never overcome the constant barrage of emails popping up in our inbox
  • When social media stirs up feelings of jealousy and causes us to engage in unhealthy comparisons
  • When we “doom scroll” and spiral endlessly through article after article about the things we find wrong in the world

This is exactly why we must foster healthy, regular, constant communication with the folks who are on the exponential growth journey with you. This gives you the space, time, and platform to connect as a team, review and celebrate your progress, and work together to find your unique path along the journey of transformation.

Feelings of sadness—and even mild depression—are common when change abounds. And the only way to get through the Valley of Despair and conquer the Dragon of Depression is working together to forge your own unique path.

Finding Your Own Path

Defeating these four dragons doesn’t happen through direct conflict; through a battle. It comes by finding your own path forward to achieve exponential growth. And while you may encounter additional struggles and challenges along the way, taking a unique path—the road less taken, so to speak—is imperative if you want to reach the Territory of Transformation.

Here’s the best part about reaching the Territory of Transformation. When you get there, your journey is only beginning. Once you arrive, you can see that there’s another Mt. Mutatio in front of you; another opportunity to achieve change.

There will always be another mountain to climb, another Territory to strive toward. Now, you just have to commit—with courage and confidence—to climb it.