Facing Demons – Turning the Mirror Inward for the Next Level. Warrior #4

facing demons

The strongest warriors do not run from or resist challenges. It’s time to embrace them. When facing demons, the biggest challenge is inside us. Without conflict, a story has no plot.

The Next Levelfacing demons

In his amazing presentation at Profit Con 2016, Mike Aguliaro of CEOwarrior.com said that there is always a next level. This level is a doozy.

This is our fourth article in the series on the Journey of Leadership and becoming Warrior Strong. Click these links if you missed Warrior Strong, Taking Initiative, or Conditioning. You don’t want to miss the juicy stuff that led up to this. We’re halfway through the marathon of this series, and there have been some big gems along the way already. The best is still to come.

Those stories were just the tip of the iceberg. Big self-doubts were keeping me from really stepping up in leadership until Profit Con a couple of month’s ago, and then Mike helped me peel back more layers in our recent phone conversation. I’m always amazed to learn how much more there is. Each time I get out of my own way, there is so much more potential than I ever imagined.

Let’s face some demons, shall we?

Demon Child

Since my conversation with Mike I have thought a lot about the little girl who messed up a dance recital and learned to hate sports. Even before that, she was told that she was too loud, too outgoing, and too fearless. I was compared side by side with the shy kids, and I was told to not overshine.

Sound familiar? I’ve heard similar stories from many of you. Despite our ability to relate, our memories of those experiences are still so lonely. No matter what, it seems like we are always facing demons alone. How can anyone ever really relate when my demon is an annoying, frightened little girl?

The Dream of Being Normal

The teachers at my schools in Minnesota in the 1980’s didn’t like the gregarious, over-imaginative little girl that I was. When I took initiative, they told me that I needed to step back and give the other kids a chance. They would take the time to coax the shy kids out of their shells, and each time I tried to connect or asked for attention I was chastised or ignored. We learned that the only thing anyone wanted was to be normal, so we all tried to be as average as possible. Keep you head down, and only do what people expect. Be normal, and don’t stand out.

I learned that if I wanted attention I had to sit back, wait my turn, and eventually someone else would decide that it was my time to shine… in moderation. After all, we wouldn’t want my head to get to big. The last thing anyone needed was for this little redhead to be even more of a hellion.

I learned at a very young age that the only way to win was to lose.

Exceptional Exceptions

The main shining light from those younger years was my 4th grade teacher. It was her first year teaching public school. She was young, open minded, excited, and ready to nurture young minds. The kids in her class didn’t just get along; we were all friends. She encouraged creativity and diversity, listened, took an interest, and went the extra mile. She was the coolest adult I ever met, and she made me think that maybe I might want to be a teacher someday.

Bummer it didn’t last.

5th Grade Demon

In 5th grade we all got transferred to the larger school for the intermediate grades, and I was nowhere near any of my friends that I had made the prior year. Suddenly these 10 year old strangers around me could talk of nothing but sex, drinking, and cigarettes. I was totally confused by this shift.

I know most parents think that you need to start keeping an eye out when your kids hit the teens. Nope. The pressure begins the moment you get double digits. Girls start wearing training bras. Some get their periods. Boys start thinking that girls are pretty, and suddenly they have more than one brain making decisions for them.

The perfect storm is created in the fact that the adults don’t talk about it. They feel uncomfortable talking about sex and drugs with kids, so they choose to be blind to what is already going on around them. This leaves the kids to navigate some pretty complicated situations on their own.

I was baffled  by this turn of events, and had no idea what to do. I didn’t want to connect with the stuff going on around me, so I kept to myself. Without a good leader to foster a healthy school environment, I went back to keeping my head down.

Child Left Behindfacing demons

My teachers didn’t know what to do with me. No one knew what was wrong. I sure as hell didn’t know.

Life is confusing to a 10 year old whose primary exposure to social dynamics has been negative reinforcement. Despite my normal grades, they had me take special tests to see if I was “gifted.” I didn’t figure out until later that they probably thought I was on the autism spectrum. Nonetheless, I could tell that they thought there was something wrong with me. No one ever asked me about it. Those are the sorts of things that people don’t talk about.

I completely lost all the social skills that I’d learned the previous year. I was the only kid eating lunch alone in the cafeteria, and that continued into 6th and 7th grade. The kids that were previously shy were now growing into their voices, and the things they said about the weird redhead girl sitting by herself were not friendly. It felt like everyone was judging me constantly, and I thought that the only way I could avoid their judgement was to hide from it.

To this day I have a really hard time eating in public alone. Maybe it’s time to work on that, too.

Another Formative Moment

In 6th grade they pulled me out of class a couple times a week and stuck me in this “Friendship Group” with other misfits. This was where we were supposed to learn to develop social skills. Pulling me out of class for these “special needs” things didn’t help my situation with the other kids in class. It just added credibility to their suspicions that I was a freak. Needless to say, this was not the kind of attention that I wanted.

We talked in the last chapter about how Mike says that we need to pinpoint the moment of conditioning, where we developed our limiting beliefs. Here’s another one of mine.

I remember the day that we played a rhythm game in “Friendship Group,” clapping in unison. I started actually getting into it, and I experimented with adding a complimentary beat to the pattern. The other kids liked what I was doing, and they also started to diversify. Just when I was thinking that this was actually really cool, the teacher stopped us. She said that improvisation was not what we were doing right now, and we needed to just follow instructions.

I didn’t get invited back to friendship group after that. They never explained why. I was pretty sure that even the misfits didn’t want me. I had thought that the only way to win was to lose. This is where I learned that losing is still losing. There is no way to win, so why try.

The Blame Game – Judging Outside

This wasn’t anyone’s fault. Assigning blame doesn’t change anything or make it better.

All too often, it seems like people want to lay responsibility on parents, teachers, bullies, the government, or anything where we can direct our anger. In the end, anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is what we feel when we can’t handle feeling what’s behind the anger. Let it go.

Everyone did what they thought was best with the tools and information that they had at the time. It’s a waste of time and energy to go facing demons where there aren’t any.

I don’t think my teachers ever told my parents that I was a total pariah, or if they did my parents never brought it up with me. My family didn’t talk about our feelings. School was always “fine.” That was how things should be, so that was how they were.

Therapy was what happened to people that weren’t normal. The last thing I wanted to be was more of a freak than I already was, so why would I talk to anyone about it? No one ever asked, so I assumed they didn’t want to know. Is that anyone’s fault. Not really.

I learned to be introverted not because I preferred my own company, but because I had learned that no good came from attempting to interact with others. That doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way forever.

Facing Demons – Judging Inside

Boo hoo. What a whiner. Even now my inner judge wants to justify everything in hindsight.

I didn’t have it that bad. My basic needs were met. No one was abusing me. I’m a privileged white kid. So what if I didn’t have someone to hand me all the answers and had to figure it out on my own. Don’t we all, in the end? What do I really have to complain about?

What indeed?

Does another child’s tragic childhood make my difficult and confusing experiences any less valid? Growing up is hard enough. Do we need to draw comparisons, martyr ourselves, and make this a competition? We already know how I feel about competition. If someone wants to one-up me on this, they can have it.

I’m not trying to say that I’ve had it worse than anyone else, but it is time to give some credit to some core experiences that made me who I am today. Thanks to Mike, it’s time for me to own my experiences and re-write my conditioning to better serve me.

If there is any adult that can listen to, hear, and understand the experiences of that girl back then, it is the adult sitting in this chair writing this now. Late is better than never.

Embracing Demons – Mine and Yoursfacing demons

Mike challenged me to take a hard look at some of the experiences that might be holding me back today, and that is exactly what I’m doing. I challenge you to do the same. How much time and energy do we spend avoiding the topics within ourselves that really need our attention?

All of this may or may not be surprising to people who meet me today. Many see me speaking on a stage and assume that I must have always been… however they see me. I don’t care what they assume anymore.

Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.

“They” may or may not be taking the time to read this series. Either way, it’s time for me to stop caring what “They” think about any of it. You will think whatever you are going to think, and your judgments are your own. Either this helps you, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t you probably stopped reading this long ago… or you’re continuing to read it simply to cast judgement like a creepy lurker. In the case of the latter, can’t you find something more productive to do? You’re not bothering me, so you’re only hurting yourself.

It feels really good for me to know that those judgments can’t hurt me. That’s a new thing since yesterday. Wow, I love writing.


For those of you who are finding this helpful, are you facing demons? How is it going? We’re doing some hard work together, and I appreciate you acting as my online diary for this transformation. If there is some deep stuff coming up for you that you would benefit from talking about, I want to make sure that you have the resources you need. Here are some options:

  • Join a mastermind group. Don’t know what that is? Then Google it.
  • Join the Masters of Mastermind Facebook group. We would love to have you share your experiences there.
  • Go to Mike’s website at CEOwarrior.com, devour all of his free resources, and then ask for more.

This was the long leg of the marathon, and it’s all downhill from here. Believe it or not, the biggest revelations are yet to come, so keep reading. Next we get to explore how all of this directly worked to make me a better leader today and how your experiences can do the same for you.

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