Achilles, Greek Warrior had a Twin Brother: The story of Fred
I attended a conference this past week where I delivered a talk. Actually, I delivered a talk on one topic and led a workshop on a different topic. While they both went well, they reminded me of Achilles’ twin brother, Fred.
Now, you might remember that Achilles from Greek mythology. Arguably one of the bravest of warriors, and a favorite of the Gods. You may remember this mythology nugget from 6th Grade, or from Brad Pitt’s (awful) rendition of Achilles from the movie “Troy” that had ladies’ hearts a-flutter. Son of Thetis, who was herself admired by both Zeus and Poseidon, he was prophesied to be greater than his father, Peleus.
To protect her son from her jealous husband, Thetis dipped Achilles in the river Styx to make him immortal. Only his heel, by which she held at the river’s edge was left untouched by the waters of the Styx. Achilles went on to be a great warrior, leading legions into battle before being struck down by an arrow to the heel, his one vulnerable spot.
Achilles’ twin brother Fred was a little different. Fred had the same origin story except for the last bit. He didn’t do the “leading legions” part. When he learned that his heel was vulnerable, that he wasn’t perfectly protected and was vulnerable, Fred decided that he had to wait. He decided that to properly lead, he should wait until he figured out how to protect himself 100%. Until he was completely prepared, he needed to wait to step forward.
I felt a little like Fred this week. I love leading from the front of the room, but I don’t often lead workshops. I am energized by the participants, love their questions and am grateful for their heartfelt shares. I know I can create value and I’m good in front of the room. I’m an extrovert’s-extrovert. The feedback I receive is consistently positive, and people are always generous with their comments. I know I deliver real value. But again, I don’t lead from the front of the room that often.
Fred knows he is a leader as well, capable of greatness.
So what’s the deal? Why am I not doing that kind of work more often? Leading would grow my brand, deliver more value and maybe open doors to possibilities that I can’t see right now. The truth is, for the longest time I thought my offerings weren’t good enough. I lived under the impression that I didn’t deliver enough content, and the work wasn’t impactful enough.
Fred understands my perspective, he thinks I should work on getting it “better”.
I was always trying to add more to the content, more quantity, and more value. But it never seemed enough. I spent so much time worrying about delivering “valuable content” and “making a profound difference” that I hesitated to share my work. I was effectively choosing the safety a “perfection” I could never achieve over “solid and deliverable” which I already had.
Fred waits as well. He doesn’t feel he can lead until he has it “all figured out.” Being a leader wasn’t enough unless you are perfect.
By waiting for perfection I deny myself the gift of making a difference for others and deny others the value that I bring to the table. I’m kinda angry about it, truthfully. And you should be too.
Fred’s legions wait for him to lead as well. They wait leaderless, neither being lead nor helping Fred become the leader he could be.
Also missing for me is connecting with others, laughter, ideas, spontaneity, power. All of these things are missing because of my willingness to choose the safety of “not good enough” over showing up and delivering the thing I ALREADY KNOW how to do.
Fred suggests it’s much safer over here. It may not be what he wants, but the safety of a predictable future is better than an unpredictable future with the possibility of amazing results.
We all have value to bring to the table. We can make a difference in so many places when we put our energy and time forward in service of others. When we get brave and share ourselves, extraordinary things happen. Unpredictable magic happens. Things we had no idea are possible to emerge. You can contribute in SO MANY WAYS. And you don’t need to learn anything new, be better at anything or perform. You can just lean in where it would make the biggest difference for you in your life or the biggest difference for others.
It’s time to lead your legions.
You can contribute as a leader at work, share your passion for travel through a blog, make a video series about lego-building, host talks about gardening at your local library, or entertain friends to discuss local hikes at home over coffee. You can call your friend who’s having a problem with his plumbing because you know something about it. You can pick up a friend or acquaintance at the airport. When you lean forward and contribute, you can make someone’s day. And if you’re lucky, you might just change their lives.
When you wait for perfection you deny yourself the gift of contributing. When we contribute, so many things can happen. You can ease someone’s load, remind them they’re not all on their own in this world, make them smile, or partner with them to share a burden that feels too heavy. No amount of “safely holding yourself back” is worth the cost of missing that experience.
It’s time to tell Achilles to get off the couch and get back into the work.