Summary: The Warrior Within By D.J. Vanas
Summary: The Warrior Within By D.J. Vanas

Summary: The Warrior Within By D.J. Vanas

What a Warrior Is Not



What a Warrior Is



Prepare for Battle

We’re ineffective as warriors in our roles when we don’t know what we’re fighting for or why it matters to us. It’s a quick recipe to create confusion and deplete our warrior spirit. When we don’t know where we’re going, it’s easy to get distracted from serving others, to waste time and energy on the frivolous, or to let the wrong things (like greed, power, or adulation) drive us. When we know what matters, we have a clear direction on how to best use the precious time on our journey. Fear will still be present, but our purpose becomes bigger than our fear, which enables us to focus more on what we are trying to do and less on what might be holding us back.


Vision: The First Step in Every Creation

The first step in building a house isn’t a group of eager workers showing up with lumber, tools, and doughnuts. Someone, somewhere, saw the vision in their mind first. Sight is what we see with our eyes, but vision is what we see with our minds. Once the person sees it in their mind, they can create a blueprint, figure out a budget and timeline, gather materials and personnel, and make it reality. The miracle behind the power of vision is that before they cut the first board or lay the first brick, they know exactly what the place will look like. That is how vision works.


Count Coup on the Enemy

Count coup on fear by facing your own and acting anyway. That is courage in action. Exercising courage isn’t just for jumping from a plane, running with the bulls, or swimming with sharks. We exercise and strengthen our courage when we do things that scare us on a regular basis, whether that’s jumping headlong into a tough conversation, taking the first step on that big project, admitting we’re wrong, or asking for help when we struggle.

When we let fear get in the way of our progress, we won’t be able to serve anyone. How can we if we’ve raised a white flag on ourselves? The gritty, no-quit, bare-knuckle attitude that fuels a healthy warrior spirit is a willingness to face the enemy, fear, and kick its ass. When we do that, we usually see that:

The thing that scared us wasn’t as bad or big as we made it out to be.

We learned something valuable about ourselves.

We can gain wisdom when we believe there are no mistakes, only learning.

We can gain confidence for the next thing. And the next.


What Are We Afraid Of?

The fear of failing to deliver, of stumbling in public, of making a bad call or mistake can shut us down completely as we wait for the perfect moment, the perfect plan, and the perfect resources that will ensure our success. But they never show up. Often in our wait for perfection, the moment we can take action without risk, time passes—and so does the opportunity to make an impact. Those who dedicate their lives to serving others are often eager to please and if that fails, sometimes shame, guilt, and inadequacy are triggered in the void. Instead of seeing a mistake as just a mistake, we can internalize the shortcoming and label ourselves as the mistake.

Not everything you do is going to succeed and not everything you do is going to fail. We’re playing the odds here, but the more we face our fear of failure, the more experience we gain, the stronger our courage gets, and the less likely we are to fail. See how that works? Besides, it’s usually not the failure we fear most, but the pain of judgment and criticism, from ourselves and others, that always comes spilling in when things don’t work out.


Keep the Fires Lit

In our own lives and careers, we have a fire inside us. Our warrior spirit is an internal energy that fuels our drive, willingness to learn and serve, and commitment to excellence. Just like the village fire, we must tend that fire carefully and intentionally, or it can burn down to an ember—or even go out.

The sure way to stay stuck in “off mode” is to start beating yourself up over your newly emerged lack of commitment. You might be asking yourself, “What is wrong with me? Why don’t I care anymore or as much as I used to? I got into this to help people. Maybe I’m not the person I thought I was (or hoped I was).” But burnout can happen to any of us if we don’t keep ourselves motivated on purpose, with purpose and consistency. Can you imagine an elder barking at a firekeeper who let the fire go out and the firekeeper says, “Aw, my bad. I put a log on it last week. I thought it’d be enough. I thought it’d last.” It isn’t. It doesn’t. We must keep feeding our fires.


The Right Kind of Motivation

Does motivation by fear work? Yes, it can. But it’s the worst form of motivation. Motivation by fear requires us to constantly threaten ourselves with endless scenarios of bad outcomes. The problem with motivating ourselves with a stick is that we must keep getting a bigger stick, and eventually motivation by fear doesn’t work anymore. It just beats us down, jacks up our anxiety, and leads us to burnout.

On the other hand, motivation by joy is a much deeper pool to draw from, nicer to experience, and, more importantly, sustainable. It’s tapped when we frequently remind ourselves of what is going right, what is possible, why it matters, and how cool we are with all our capabilities, skills, and power.


How Our Warriors Faced Change, Setbacks, and Loss

Change is the one guarantee we have in life that we’ll experience from the moment we draw our first breath until the moment we draw our last. How we handle change defines our quality of life and determines whether we suffer defeat or enjoy victory.

What can we do to navigate change more gracefully when it comes and stay on the path we’ve chosen? We can follow the Six Stays. Here they are:


Change is life. It is an integrated, inseparable part of the whole. Because of that, change doesn’t need to be cursed, reviled, or avoided as we so often do. Instead, we can use our thoughts and energy to adapt to change and make it work for us.


When we panic or freak out, our adrenaline kicks in and allows us to do amazing things physically. But that state does not allow us to solve problems very well. Now, you don’t have to go through that experience to get some clarity in your life. Good news, right? You can create clarity with a few moments of deep breathing. Take a deep breath, hold for a count of four seconds, and breathe out slowly. That simple practice brings us back to a calm state. When we stay calm, our brains can do amazing things.


Going through the COVID-19 pandemic, did your values change? Maybe they did, and you realized clearly now what was important and what wasn’t. But maybe they didn’t, and your values were only deepened. Either way when we know our values—and what we value—everything in life becomes easier because now we know what to say yes to and what to say no to. We now have clarity in the midst of chaos and a piece of solid ground to stand on, regardless of what swirls around us. We know where to put our time, energy, and skills and where not to waste them.


Especially in times of change, it’s important to stay focused on what truly matters and what is important. If we get scattered and try to focus on everything, we’re really focused on nothing. Again, we don’t want to divide and conquer ourselves. When we stay focused on our values, what we value, and our most important goals, we know what to say yes to and what to say no to (or at least “not now”). If we see our time, energy, and decisions each day as arrows, we have only a certain number to shoot each day. Either we send them toward specific targets or we shoot in every direction and hope for something good to happen.


When things change, we must exercise our creativity and activate our warrior spirit to find a way forward and overcome the obstacles. We’ve all heard the adage, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Our goals and strategy (the “what”) may remain the same in times of change, but sometimes the tactics we use (the “how”) can change—and sometimes must.


A common philosophy in our Native cultures is that we are all connected. Inside the circle of life is one big, inextricable web connecting everything to everything. The Lakota say “mitakuye oyasin”—“to all my relations.” That doesn’t mean just your kids or your grandma, it’s everyone. Use your connections to draw strength. As mentioned before, we need each other and we’re better when we’re with the right people.


Becoming an Elder

Our tribal warriors never retired, but they did change roles as they matured and were no longer able to fight and protect as they once could. Ultimately our best warriors evolved into our tribes’ best elders, sharing the lifetime of experience, lessons, and stories with others. Elders were, and still are, the backbone of our tribal communities. Generosity and giving back were also central tribal values.

The truth is, getting older is automatic—but getting better is not. Getting better is by design. Keep growing, keep learning —and keep sharing. When you do, you’ll be fulfilling the role of an elder and the world needs that now more than ever.

People can lose hope when they don’t have reminders that things truly can get and be better. As elders, we can be that reminder and display our warrior spirit at work when we stay positive, show resilience, and continue to be a coach, friend, and encourager-in-chief to those we lead and serve. That outward display of cynicism or apathy sometimes shown by others may be because it’s been so long since they have seen a positive attitude, a resilient mindset, or a respectful demeanor that they’ve forgotten what it looks like. Be the example.