The young knight, the wise knight, and the oft-relearned lesson.

The young knight radiated painful levels of keenness.

Christina, yes that Christina, sighed inaudibly and said, ”Very well. I will give you space in my pavilion and we shall ride together in the tourney. What was your name again?”

Her name was Liliane, and she had lived a lifetime in a month: first slaying the Demon of Cotterston, then knighted by the Good Queen Elisandra herself, and now, to be mentored by the Queen’s most puissant knight…

”We shall discuss strategy, and she will show me the best way to hold a lance, then she will compliment me on my broadsword technique!” thought Liliane. ”And perhaps, perhaps I shall best her in the grand melee, and as ransom she will offer me the Helm of Incendrius, and I will refuse to accept it, and we shall become the best, the very best of friends…”

Christina watched the young knight, smiled, shook her head.

“Let us prepare.”

They oiled the straps on their vambraces. They sharpened their swords. They polished their cuirasses, reinforced their shields, rolled their chain mail in barrels with a handful of sand. Then ritually, their squires armed and armoured them.

They were resplendent. They set forth.

Later: bloodied, muddied, sweaty and sodden, the knights retired after the first day of jousts and challenges.

Outside the tent smiled a great many young men, determined to show their appreciation of the valourous knights. Liliane giggled as she sat to remove her greaves. Christina, veteran of a hundred tourneys, winked knowingly back.

Liliane was emboldened to ask, ”What will you, um, wh- what are your plans for the evening?”

Christina replied, ”I’m going to take a nap.”

”But… you won the competition today! There are… groupies outside the tent! and Her Majesty’s feast is this night!”

”Oh, I shall definitely attend the feast and drink a cup to Her Majesty’s health. To do so I shall skip the cooing and froing, which is a pity. But since I want to win the grand mêlée tomorrow, I must rest now. Do you not feel tired?”

Liliane admitted that she felt, you know, a leetle bit tired after nine hours of combat and manoeuvring while wearing half a ton of metal in the hot sun.

”But… this a special occasion. And it’s only two days… I don’t want to miss a second of it! I can skip the nap, I’ll be fine.”

”Do as you wish,” said Christina. ”I will not say I told you so.”

Liliane polished her armour, sharpened her broadsword, and left in a cloud of perfume and pomade and pride. Christina settled down on her pallet and thought as she stretched.

She thought, You young fool. So diligent about taking care of your equipment, so lax about taking care of yourself. As if your body was not your most important weapon. As if your mind wasn’t your most important shield.

I could tell you. I could say, ”A magic sword in a weak hand is not just useless. It is dangerous.” I could say, ”The more a sword parries, the more often it must be sharpened.”

But you cannot see past the excitement and you would not listen, young fool. So tomorrow I shall hammer you into the ground in the grand mêlée. Perhaps you will learn then.

Christina rolled dreaming into the blankets, seeing past glories and glories soon to come.

It is five years later and sleep is a pleasant memory.

The wind scythes through the ravine, observing a valiant last stand. The knights of the Good Queen Elisandra are hopelessly outnumbered by the skeletal army of the Dread Necromancer Zod.

The fell and fearsome Christina has stood in the narrowest part of the ravine, holding the pass with sword and blazing eye, for three days and three nights. The bard is at the back, whistling and taking notes.

There is a lull amongst the undead ranks, as the disassembled troops grope to find their skulls and collarbones. Christina plants her sword in the pounded dust and waits for them to come again.

And then she is remorselessly pulled away to sit on a rock, sword replaced with stew, helm replaced with damp cloth. Liliane Traitors-foe, scarred and cynical and already more renowned than any knight before her, looms out of the sun and dust and offers a flagon of wine.

”Fine, sister knight,” growls Christina. ”A quick sup then I will be back to the lines. I thank you.”

The young knight, no longer so young, shakes her head.

”A leisurely meal, a long nap, confession from the archbishop, massage, and THEN you can return to the lines.”

”But… I wield the Sword of Adamant, against which none can stand!”

”True.”

”But… there are none other who can push back the advance!”

”You are correct.”

”But… this army must be defeated, or our land will burn!”

”Yes.”

”Therefore, I cannot rest!”

”We have barricades, and brave milkmaids with pikes to defend them. We have fire archers on the cliff walls. We will not advance, but we will hold while you sleep. Even if we would not, you still must sleep. A wise knight once taught me this.”

Christina rolls her eyes.

”That was tourney and play. This is disaster! We teeter on the edge of destruction. There is no time for… massages.”

”Your arms grow tired. Deny it.”

”I…”

”Your mind grows dull. Deny it.”

”…”

”One more day of this and you will be less useful than the milkmaids. DENY IT.”

”BUT I MUST!” roars Christina. ”The Queen and the land must be defended!”

Liliane held her arm. ”Wise fool, we may need to hold this pass for weeks while the mages find a way to break the Dread Necromancer’s spell. Weeks! No matter how much we would wish to fight without rest, we are mortal flesh. We rest now to fight better tomorrow. We rest now in order to fight at all next week.”

There was nothing she could do in the face of that much sense. Christina found a hay bale and wrapped her cloak around herself.

She drifted off, as ever, seeing past glories and glories yet to come.

Looking for someone to rescue you from yourself? You should join The Provocateurs! All of the wisdom, with less of the contusions.

photo by: pwbaker

Progress is a spiral, not a line.

[158/365] Knightseeing
Good Queen Elisandra summoned forth her boldest knight and said, “Brave Christina, there is a nameless evil that lurks in the Cave of Seven Rivers. I bid you, ride forth and slay it that the land might be free of its stain.”

Christina was a most valiant knight, in joust or tourney or battle. She was feared and flattered and fawned upon in court, and her life was full… except for one small thing: Christina had never been sent on a quest. So it was with great excitement that she gathered her lance and sharpened her bec-de-corbin and rode forth.

The road was not uneventful.

When Christina stopped to fill her waterskin a warlock, struck by Christina’s noble face, cast a malevolent spell to ensnare her affections. But Christina bore a piece of the winding-shroud of St Jerome, and could not be harmed by such diabolical sorceries. She feigned enchantment and then struck the warlock’s head from his shoulders with her broadsword.

Then Christina met a great raven who told her of the Helm of Incendrius, which renders its owner invulnerable to flame. Christina followed the directions of the raven, and dug at the feet of a lightning-blasted oak tree. There indeed lay the Helm of Incendrius. Christina tied it to her pommel and went on.

There were more tales than I have time to tell – of giantesses, impossible rainstorms, mer-men, wingéd steeds, and other tests. Christina: scarred, dripping wet, footsore, but pure of heart, surpassed all trials and came at last to the Cave of Seven Rivers. After praying to Our Lady of Lourdes, she strode inside.

The dread beast was a dragon – cunning with the passage of ages, armoured with plates of adamant, with talon and tooth and deadly flame. But Christina bore the Helm of Incendrius and the flames did not touch her. Her valour was steel, and the great roars of the monster did not make her quail. Her breastplate was forged by the great dwarven queen Galasax and no claw could rend it. Her lance burned with white light… and she slew the fell beast.

Christina returned to the court with the head of the dragon and there was great rejoicing. Good Queen Elisandra celebrated her most valiant knight, and the dragon’s head was fixed to the castle gate, where forevermore it would give warning when enemies approached.

The end.

But then, next Tuesday…

Good Queen Elisandra summoned forth her boldest knight and said, “Brave Christina, there is reports of a new evil: a demon infests the Cotswolds. I bid you, ride forth and slay it that the land might be free of its stain.”

Christina said proudly, “Your Majesty, this I shall do.”  In her heart she felt a great surety – she was the slayer of the dragon. This would surely be no challenge to such as mighty knight as she! So once more she gathered her lance and sharpened her bec-de-corbin, tied the Helm of Incendrius to her pommel and rode forth.

The road was much more eventful than Christina expected.

Firstly she was accosted by a pair of witches who desired to avenge their brother, the warlock. They ambushed Christina with curse and imprecation, and Christina had to fight more valiantly then ever before to finally slay the two and bury their hag-ridden bodies at a crossroad.

Then the great raven appeared again and told Christina of the Sword of Adamant – a sword quenched in the blood of a fallen archangel, and the only weapon that could harm the demon-queen of the Cotswolds. Accordingly, Christina dug to the heart of a mountain and found the sword, tied it to her baldric and rode on.

There were more tales than could fill half a lifetime: ghasts, drowned youths, curative plants, great curses, maddening songs, old men, cunning thieves, sad maidens, evil plots and a faithful hound, to name but a few. Christina cried out, “Why do you continue to challenge me? Am I not the slayer of the dragon? I have quested, I have been victorious! Why then am I still thwarted?”

A wise and ancient alchemist heard Christina’s words on the south wind and strode forth from her tent to meet the knight. She found Christina sharpening the ever-sharp Sword of Adamant, just for something to do. The alchemist sat down and made a pot of tea.

“Brave Christina, have you heard of the Spiral?”

“Yes, wise one, it is a line that circles ever outward, never meeting itself.”

“Beautifully said, bold knight. You’re in one.”

“I’m in a spiral? But I’m treading the most direct path to the Cotswolds.”

“I do not mean physically. The quest to slay the dragon was the first round of the spiral. Now you walk the second round, where the same challenges reoccur, but at a higher level. And when you have slain the demon queen, you will be ready to walk the third circle, which will be more challenging again.”

“But… I…”

“You thought that this path was linear. Having slain the dragon, the challenges in your path were left far behind and would never come again.”

“Yes, wise one.”

“But know this: all things circle around – each time they are harder, but your might is greater each time and thus you will continue to triumph. Does that calm you?”

“Yes, wise one, it does. I thank you.”

And Christina, fortified by sage words and very good tea, rode forth once more to glory.

The moral of the story

Your progress as an entrepreneur is a spiral, not a linear path. If you accept that premise, it has important implications to your business.

Calm the fuck down

Since your progress follows a spiral, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something terribly wrong when an old long-solved problem reoccurs, probably much bigger than last time. Example: you clarify Who your bestest people are, which leads to lots of new visitors, which allows you to do more work and dig deeper into what you do, which leads to you not knowing Who your bestest people are anymore.

If you think of this as a linear process you’ll beat yourself up at this stage: “But I figured this out! Why doesn’t it work any more? I suck!” If you accept that this is a spiral, then you say, “Ah, here we are again. Sooner than I thought, actually.”

Of course, when you’re at the beginning of a spiral, the changes happen much faster. It can feel vertiginous to be reworking a strategy that seemed perfectly solid three weeks ago, but you now realise is totally inadequate. Again, that’s normal.

You can relax into this certainty: this has happened before, and it will happen again.

The expert on a pedestal

If you think of progress as linear, you tend to put people into two categories: People Who Have Gotten This Sorted (experts), and People Who Haven’t Gotten This Sorted (clueless). If you’re an expert you know everything you need to know, and if you’re clueless you know nothing.

There are so many ways that this is a dangerous dynamic.

Firstly, the experts have no room to learn in. When major change comes, as it always does, the expert suddenly looks… clueless. But they’re an expert! They’ve already Gotten This Sorted, right? The only possible explanation is that they’re a fraud! Boooooooo

Secondly, they have no room to admit that things are hard. Because clearly the Land of Experts, which the clueless can only see as a glimmer on the horizon, is much more perfect than over here. If anyone in that glimmering Land of Experts isn’t gliding through it, then there’s something wrong with them.

Thirdly, experts are distant, alienated from the clueless. And that leads to worship instead of relationship. That’s a lonely and isolating place for the expert, and a desperate and unsatisfying one for the clueless.

Fourthly, worship is always followed by the inevitable tearing down of idols. Sometimes they haven’t even made a mistake and been too-harshly punished for it – sometimes we just want to see the statues come down.

There are more, this list just got too depressing.

In a spiral, everyone is close.

The experts are “people who are walking the spiral a few levels up from me”, and your clients are often “people who are walking the spiral a few levels down from me”. They might be close enough to hold hands, or further away – but still close enough to see and be seen, to build real relationships.

Since we’re all facing the same challenges at different levels, there’s no worship or contempt. There’s no desire to attack someone more successful when they stumble – hey, they’ve got more resources to use, but they’re facing bigger challenges! They might fail, or take a while to overcome that challenge.

cashandjoy-spirals

When you’re designing your experiences with your clients, you can bring so much more honesty and vulnerability to it if you accept that we all experience and re-experience challenges. If you’re undergoing one right now  – and you are, we both know it – it does not in any way invalidate the value you bring to other people.

You can talk about making money when you’re not making quite as much as you want to.

You can talk about relationships although you’re arguing with your kids again.

Because there are lesser challenges you’ve already overcome to get to these ones – you’re not making as much money as you want, but you are making some. You’re fighting with the kids, but within a framework of respect that doesn’t leave you shaking with rage afterward.

There are so many other benefits from spirals.

But since I’m already at 1600 words I should probably leave it here. Add your own thoughts in the comments on this idea: what does it make possible for you and your business?

Sick of being the lone hero on the rutted road? Then you need to have a look at The Provocateurs. It’s easier to travel the road with other adventurers, you know.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pasukaru76