Start | Notes & Review

Posted on April 12, 2014


Jon Acuff. Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters. Lampo Press, 2013. (266 pages)


1. You Are Here

I made a pretty simple discovery about what it takes to be awesome. …every awesome life has gone through the same five stages.

  1. Learning
  2. Editing
  3. Mastering
  4. Harvesting
  5. Guiding

…when I say it’s awesome, I don’t mean “eventually” awesome. I’m talking right-this-second awesome. (15)


  1. Retirement is dead.
  2. Hope is boss.
  3. Anyone can play.

The only costs were time and hustle. (21)

Life is now less about how old you are and more about when you decide to live. (25)

2. The Start

Average is so popular because average is familiar. (34)

You have to be:

a realist and a dreamer
practical and impractical
logical and illogical

You have to be brutally realistic about your present circumstances and wildly unrealistic about your future circumstances. (35)

People will say things like, “Step out in faith,” or, “Follow your dreams and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” Those kinds of ideas make for amazing mugs but have a pretty horrible success rate. At best, those ides are code for, “Don’t make any plans,” and at worst they are code for, “Abandon your current commitments.” (41)

3. What To Expect When You’re Starting

Find your true purpose.
Be your true purpose.
Live your purpose.
Repeat as necessary.

(a.k.a. “Lather, Rinse, Repeat”)

…lies about purpose:

Everyone but you knows exactly what his is. / You’ll only have one. / You should have it figured out by the time you’re 22 years old. / It changes everything instantly. / You have to know the finish line before you cross the starting line. (47-48)

…we’ve mutated that thought into: “Begin with the end in stone.” … Purpose is not a final destination. (49)

For these reasons and more, I’m not a fan of “finding your purpose.” I’m a fan of “living with purpose.” Living with purpose allows you to:

Start today.
Start where you are.
Start on what matters to you.

…the first secret about purpose. The door has been open the whole time. … The second secret about purpose is that it usually finds you. Purpose is attracted to motion. Purpose is attracted to momentum. (52)

  1. Start earlier.
  2. Stand on the shoulders of giants.
  3. Work harder and smarter.
  4. Harvest someone else’s fields.

Luck is a word people who are lazy use to describe people who are hustling. (58)

THE ENTITLEMENT TRAP. Why do we think we can skip thirty years of life experience?

  1. The Internet has changed our definition of expert.
  2. We celebrate accomplishment-free celebrities.
  3. Everything else in life is instant.

…the voices of fear and doubt…are governed by a simple truth: they only get loud when you do work that matters. (67) …they convey pretty much the same three messages to every person who dares start down the road to awesome.

  1. Who are you to do that?
  2. You’re too late.
  3. It has to be perfect

Simply put, if you don’t kill your voices, they will kill you. (73)

We’re going to beat our voices by doing two things:

  1. Documenting them.
  2. Sharing our voices.

4. Learning

…the road to awesome will not cost you any money. …But the road is not free. It actually costs you a different currency — in fact, the most expensive currency there is: time. (77)



I decided that every day, all day, I would be making sure my activities fell into one of those five categories. (78)

If you can’t — if the idea of setting your alarm thirty minutes earlier sounds horrible to you — then you may not be ready for awesome. (81)

Willpower tends to favor the morning. (82)


  1. Admit that you can’t possibly get it all done.
  2. Give yourself the grace to accept that as reality, not failure.
  3. Do the things you can do with your full attention.
  4. Celebrate what happens during Step 3 instead of obsessing over the things you didn’t get to.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

The number-one regret? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” (Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.) (89)

What’s something you can’t stop doing? Chances are there’s some passion or dream or activity that’s survived for years. (91)

Experiment. …scientists don’t fail; they experiment. (100)

5. Editing

…money isn’t a calling. It’s a consequence. That’s the problem; most of us ask results questions. (109)

Don’t buy the lie that changing the world has to be a chore or make you miserable. Be brave enough to have fun with whatever you whittle down in your life. (111)

AWESOME ISN’T A JOB TITLE. Awesome is the core of who you are. It’s your heart, your soul, the fabric of what makes you. A job title is just a consequence of you living out of your awesome. I’m not trying to tell people to go out and find new job titles; I’m telling them to escape average. (112)

You can’t be “anything you want,” but you can be something even better: the best version of you. … winning a Grammy isn’t your awesome. It’s not anyone’s. It’s just a result on a scoreboard. (115)

…always play to the size of your heart, not to the size of your audience. | Awesome doesn’t let the crowd determine the size of the performance. Awesome gets up for two people or 200. Awesome writes great books even if no one is going to read them. Awesome sweeps the parts of store floors that no foot will ever touch. | Awesome can’t help itself. | Awesome has a huge heart. And that’s what it always plays to. (117)

If you live your life that way, the results become gravy instead of the missing ingredient to your joy. (117)

You should never chase awesome with someone else’s definition. (21)

It’s never too late to start. | “It’s too late” is a lie that will stay with you if you let it. So don’t. (126)

STILL TOO MANY PASSIONS? …people with too many passions tend to do something nobody ever says out loud. Out loud they say, “I have too many passions. I don’t know which one to start on first.” But what they really mean is, “I have too many passions. So I won’t start on any.” (129)

6. Mastering

A dream you don’t have to fight for isn’t a dream — it’s a nap. (135)

Sometimes we get so caught up in waiting for the perfect context — the one we’ve always had in our heads — in order to begin being awesome. It’s a horrible mistake. Awesome starts the moment you do what you love. If you truly love doing it, the environment in which you do it shouldn’t matter. (138)

Volunteering does not slow you down. It speeds you up. It gives you a crash-course education that will be invaluable once you launch whatever it is you want to launch. It teaches you lessons you’d rather learn when your future isn’t at stake. (140)

Be led. Be taught. Remain a learner. (144)

We often think talent is the key to awesome. But if you pull the curtain back on most of the people we’d call “geniuses,” what you find is an incredible amount of hard work. (147)

Mozart was hardly some naïve prodigy who sat down at the keyboard and, with God whispering in his ears, let the music flow from his fingertips. It’s a nice image for selling tickets to movies, but whether or not God has kissed your brow, you still have to work. Without learning and preparation, you won’t know how to harness the power of that kiss. – Twyla Tharp

The temptation is to spend more time on promoting what you’re doing instead of practicing what you’re doing. (149)

7. Harvesting

Don’t become a jerk. Don’t get lazy. Don’t get entitled. (173)

The truth is that if you’re married, awesome is a team sport. (174)

The Wow person tends to be the dreamer. … The How person tends to be the strategist. (176)

Awesome is a little weird. … People understand average. (179)

One of the best things you can do to get support for your dream is to support somebody else’s first. (181)


Don’t fear the harvest. And don’t fight it. Lean into it and know that in many ways, your adventure in awesome is just beginning. That’s because every harvest ushers in a new start. (194)

8. Guiding

Nobody told me that after “Resolution” comes “Start a new story.” (197)

If you don’t start again, if you don’t share what you’ve learned with other travelers and head back to the land of Learning with a fresh start, yesterday’s successes will start to define your today and tomorrow. (200)

…believe that everyone is more interesting than you. (208)

Turns out the best way to always miss your target is to make sure you never establish one. (212)

I think the est way to know if you’re really helping people is to observe the pace of everyone else who is running with you. (215)

Even though the number of neurons in the human brain decreases as we age, the number of synaptic connections can grow as long as we live. If we keep using our noodle, in other words, we can make our brain better every day. – Erik Calonius, Ten Steps Ahead

Being born some way doesn’t amount to forever remaining that way…Your experiences with the world alter your brain’s structure, chemistry, and genetic expression, often profoundly throughout your life. – Steven Quartz and Terrance Sejnowski

Learning allows us to transcend our genes – Joseph LeDoux

In other words, the land of Learning can keep you younger than your genes say you are. (215)

I hope you punched fear in the face. I hope you escaped average. I hope you figured out what your diamonds are and started doing work that matters. I hope you realized the door to purpose has been unlocked this whole time. (219)

What Now? Action Always Beats Intention

Appendix A: 10 Ways to Accelerate Awesome with Social Media

Appendix B: 10 Things to Do If You’re Unemployed

— VIA —

The strength of this book is it’s accessibility, simplicity, practicality, and style — full of memorable quotes and axioms that sum up some of the best advice for meaningful work. For that, I recommend Start for mid- and late-adolescents who need to be reminded that this world does not dictate their lives, that we are not merely the consequences our society’s expectations, nor are we to accept anything less than our very best. And, we are reminded that if we settle for “average,” everyone around us, including and most especially ourselves, lose.

And if you need a little assistance to help get you there, the Appendices provide clear guidance and practical steps.

So, ready? Let’s Start!

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