Book Review: Start – Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters

Do you want to become awesome? Then start.

Jon Acuff pointed out in his book, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters*, that to move from average to awesome, you have to start. While you will not achieve awesome overnight, by starting you are on your way. 

Acuff outlined  five stages that everyone must go through in order to be successful. Not everyone is successful because success is hard work; however, Acuff shared some shortcuts to take along the five stages. The stages are

  • Learning
  • Editing
  • Mastering
  • Harvesting
  • Guiding

Throughout the book, Acuff shared his journeys and observations as well as highlighted the journeys of others. Through these journeys, he delivered his lessons.  As he noted early in the book, being average is easy to achieve, and many are successful at being average. However, achieving true success is possible especially in our times. We have time to set on a path of awesome, or in some cases, we may be forced onto a path.  Technology is also a factor that plays into success. Everyone has an equal starting point on the Internet. Acuff spoke of climb to success as he leveraged the Internet to make his dreams come true.

Acuff’s book is 266 pages long and covers eight chapters. He included one chapter with questions and exercises to help you through the five stages; additionally, he added two appendices focusing on 10 ways to accelerate awesome with social media and 10 things to do if you’re unemployed.  It has been an enjoyable book to read, primarily due to the wealth of short stories.

Getting Started

Prior to addressing the first stage, Acuff discussed the reasons why more people do not start a path to awesomeness. In many cases, they doubt they are deserving of something better. As he went into depth on this topic, I could hear some of the same voices challenging me about myself. I can certainly see these doubts among some of my friends.  Acuff explained it is easier to start when you live with a purpose.

Perhaps one of the most important sections of the book focused on four ways to  shorten the time you spend in each of the stages: (Acuff, 2013, pp. 55-58)

  • Start earlier – You cannot escape the fact that you have to put your time in. Acuff provided ample examples of experts who put the time in.
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants – Simply put, find mentors, coaches, and others from whom you can learn. You do not have to do everything through hard knocks. I am a firm believer in this tip.
  • Work harder and smarter – Learn to use the tools around you. Also, put in the time. I am the process of writing a book or three but they are not getting written because I am not putting the time in.
  • Harvest someone else’s fields – Take advantage of the breaks you get.

Throughout the book, Acuff mentioned the importance of starting and that everyone has to work through the different stages… no exception.


Before you can master something, you have to learn it. It does not matter what it is. I have had a lot of adventures where I have learned a lot, but I do not believe I have really mastered many things. Setting on a path of learning for mastery is a long process. I have been a member of the Civil Air Patrol since 1975, and achieved success but I could do better. I have been pursuing martial arts since 1985, still, I do not have the level of mastery I believe I should have at this stage. As an instructional technologist, I have been pursuing this field since the later 1990’s; while I still have a lot to learn, I feel I am making a difference. Yet, there are many other things I would like to have a higher level of competency such as music, art, and magic. I simply need to put the work in, and that requires time.

Acuff talked about the importance of finding time, at least 30 minutes to dedicate to your learning path. He described a process for finding this time as well as better time periods of the day. Acuff also highlighted the importance of trying new things and failing. Failure is an important learning tool.


As I understand it, editing is about taking what you have learned and applying it as you move forward. Naturally, you will not bring everything forward with you, only what seems to work for you. Acuff called this subtraction. Where in learning, you added new ideas, knowledge, and skills to your toolbox; editing has you subtracting to a manageable toolset.

“Being awesome is about finding the core of who you are and what lights you up” (Acuff, 2013, p. 114).

In this section, there was a key discussion about what was important. Acuff recommended examining your calendar to see where you were devoting your time. Was it providing adequate time to the key things in your life? If not, adjust your calendar.

Acuff also provided sound advice in the case of having multiple passions. “Pick one and start” (Acuff, 2013, p. 129).


Mastering is about putting the work in. It means looking for opportunities to demonstrate and perfect your craft. Acuff provides great examples for finding opportunities when it is not your profession. These opportunities may come in the form of volunteer work, part-time jobs, or being led (Acuff, 2013, p. 144). When given the opportunity, give it your all. Also, recognize when it is simply a hobby and nothing more.

Acuff also mentioned the importance of taking breaks, and not always having your nose on task.


In the harvest stage, you should be able to take advantage of what you have mastered. However, Acuff noted that a number of people actually screw this phase up and never benefit. He offered an important warning:

“Don’t be a jerk” (Acuff, 2013, p. 163).

He went on to provide a number of examples. I am embarrassed to admit that I have fallen into this category. It was humbling to see it written in this section.

Acuff also warned what happens when you rest on your laurels or when you get big headed. He provided a personal example where he actually lost 99% of his Facebook fans due to neglect.

He noted that to stay on course, you should have a solid support system for family, friends, and even strangers.


In the guiding stage, you are helping others on their journeys. As Acuff noted, “helping other people better their lives is way more fun than obsessing about bettering your own” (Acuff, 2013, p. 202). He went on to outline different ways you could provide guidance. Once in the guiding stage, Acuff offered two final things to do:

“1. Find someone to guide.
2. Take another part of your life back to the start, and journey down the road to awesome again” (Acuff, 2013, p. 216).

Finally thoughts

I really enjoyed this book. It caused me to sit back and reflect quite a bit upon my own life. I am not satisfied with just average, I would like to leave something lasting behind. If I don’t, I can only blame myself.

Also, I am starting on a new adventure as I try to get my business, Tubarks Consulting, off the ground. I am very much in the learning and editing phases as I try to apply what I have been learning.

Perhaps the biggest lessons I extracted from this book were patience and perseverance. The road to success is a long one.

I would readily recommend this book to others. I think there are quite a number of lessons to be learned.


Acuff, J. M. (2013). Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters. Brentwood, Tennessee: Lampo Press.

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