You have been given an infinite number of magic words in your life.

There are magic words for every circumstance, every dragon you have to fight, every quest you have to embark upon. They are different words every time. You will not know what they are. You will need someone to tell you.

The trouble is that you often don’t realize that they are magic words at the time.

Someone says, listen: Rumplestiltskin. Remember that. Remember it for when you need it.

But you aren’t spinning gold, you haven’t made a deal to a man with no name, you have no need of this magic word at this particular time. So you forget it.

And when the time comes you are lost.

Who Says the Words

I could be telling a story right now about remembering magic words when you are given them. I’m not telling that story because it’s useless. You will be given countless magic words, some of them useful, some of them not. You won’t remember them. You need someone to give you the right words at the right time.

This story isn’t about the one who needs the magic words.

This story is about the one who says them.

In your life, you will be both people, and you will be them all the time. You’ve had the experience of telling a friend over and over how to solve a problem in their life, and been ignored.

This is because they are not ready to confront this problem yet. They are not actually facing the dragon, so they have no need of your magic words. The magic words cannot help them when they are miles away from the dragon, so they forget them.

As time goes by, and you try again and again to give them this valuable gift that they will need, you will grow frustrated, and disillusioned. You will want to give up. You will start to mumble the words, and then to stop saying them altogether.
This will be exactly when they are actually facing the dragon down, the fire singing their cheeks. They will need the words then. They will be ready.

The question is whether your voice will ring out in that moment, and tell them what they need to know.

Giving Words Freely

You will never know whether the advice you are giving, the critical insight you are offering, will be heard or not. You have no way of knowing. All the battles are internal, and you will not be able to tell whether this person is truly in the teeth of it or not.

Which means you always have to believe that they need you now.

I was reminded of this just today. I had an introductory call with a new client. We discussed what he needed and what I could offer, and we exchanged some anecdotes about how silly other people could be, and how we were much more clever than that.

Somewhere in there we discussed this website, which he had read. He said this: “You have to understand that there are people out there who need you. You are robbing us all by keeping yourself in the shadows.”

I have been told this before. These are words I have heard many, many times.

Today was the day I was ready to use them.

I cannot tell you how many people have said something like this to me. I have been told that what I have to offer is valuable, and I have believed it. I was not ready to use this knowledge. I was not ready. I could not see my reflection in the dragon’s teeth.

I did today.

This was someone I scarcely knew. This was our first conversation. What struck me about it was that he gave me everything he had. He did not know me, and it was presumptous of him to offer counsel on my hesitation, but he thought it might be important for me to hear this.

It was.

You Are Always the Guide

When someone comes to you for any reason at all, you may have words to give them that will help with an important battle.

You must try to give them those words. You are just as critical to the battle as the hero is. You will be the hero in your turn, and the guide will be important to you then, but just now you are the guide, and without you he will fail.

He may be fine. For all you know, the person standing before you is not riding into battle. They may be riding off to their grandmother’s house to eat cake. They may never use the words you give them.

But they may need them. And without those words they will fail.

In business, in life, you will have hundreds of thousands of encounters with people you barely know. You will be able to help some. You will not be able to help most. It is so important that you try.

It’s easy to think that friends and relatives and professional counselors are better suited to the task. Sometimes they are. The wisdom of lifelong guides is often just as powerful as the wisdom of strangers.

We do not always have our friends by our side at the critical moment. Sometimes there is only the stranger. Sometimes the stranger is you.

By the Side of the Road

There are too many tales of this sort to tell, and they are only a small part of the story. They are the catalyst, not the plot. You remember the words, though. You remember them from all the stories you were told as a child.

These are magic beans.

His name is Rumplestiltskin.

You must pluck three hairs from the giant’s head.

Do not touch anything except what you came to seek.

Do not leave the path.

You must be home by midnight.

If this your mother knew, her heart would break in two.

You are kind, and so I will offer you some advice.

Follow her and take her swan’s feathers when she sets them by. Burn them and the spell will be broken.

Take this road. Speak these words. Beware this danger.

They echo over and over. Sometimes they are trusted guardians, parents, advisors and teachers. Just as often – just as often – they are strangers who happened to know the right thing at the right time. These strangers dispense their advice and appear no more.

Their part in the story is done.

Remember You Have Two Parts

You will always be the hero of your own life, but you will constantly be called upon to be the guide in someone else’s story.
We forget this duty frequently, especially if we have seen thousands of heroes come down this road before, and listen to our advice, and do just the opposite.

It is easy to get cynical and jaded and weary. It is hard to keep faith.

But this next one coming down the road could be the one who slays this dragon, who uses your words to complete his quest. He could be you. You could be him.

Give him everything you have.

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There Are Three Portals. Choose Wisely

THE APOLOGUE: WHAT CAME BEFORE

I grew up believing in stories the way some believe in God.

Stories were how I learned what was good and what was wrong. They were how I discovered there was a greater purpose to one's life than simple, immediate pleasures. Stories taught me that there were always keys to all the doors, that there were always words that would grant safe passage.

Stories taught me that there was such a thing as a hero's life, and that it was the only one worth living.

Go on.

THE LETTER: VIGNETTES AND VARIATIONS

Between each story I think a lot. I scratch out drafts, change words, decide to tell it through someone else's eyes. Every morning, I write out a sketch of what I'm trying to grasp, and over time it's taken the form of a letter.

These letters are personal, unpolished, and precarious. They're also where you'll first hear about new unfurlings as I create them. If this all sounds like your brand of whiskey, tell me your name, and give me a place where letters of this sort can be received.

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