Doing work that makes an impact
Being well liked
5 star reviews
Pretty much everything else
Doing work that makes an impact
Being well liked
5 star reviews
Pretty much everything else
The past two weeks have been absolutely nuts.
For some reason, I decided to take a vacation in the middle of planning a wedding, moving to a new state, launching a book, and rehearsing for a big transition at work. What kind of sick self-torture is this?
With all the craziness on my plate though, I still have not missed a blog post. Pardon me while I reach over my shoulder and pat myself on the back.
I hope you know by now that I would never actually say this to brag, but to hopefully make a point that will inspire you.
I haven’t missed a blog post not because I’m incredibly disciplined and know how to budget my time so well, but because I really don’t want to let you all (my readers) down. I know it wouldn’t be the end of the world for most of you if I missed a post here and there. In fact, you might even enjoy a nice break from me. But last year, I made a commitment to you all, and I intend to keep it.
For the creative, there is something powerful about making a public commitment to your work. I could promise myself to post three times a week, but a public promise to my readers means that they will hold me accountable. If I don’t show up, someone will miss me. Even if it’s only my mom.
This is extremely important for writers, or any artist who works in a more isolated manner. Whenever I’m writing a book, I always set a deadline, or a completion date for myself. I’m sure many of us do this with our projects. But we can’t stop there. Once I’ve set that deadline, I send the date to two or three close friends and ask them to help hold me accountable. Maybe I’ll ask them to proofread the book for me, but only if I can send it to them by the date I promise. The risk of disappointing others, or losing out on their support and services raises the stakes for me. It ensures that I’ll get my butt in the chair, no matter how crowded my schedule gets.
So maybe it’s time you and your work became official, even Facebook official. Maybe you need to stop dating your work in secret, just so you have an excuse to cheat when you’re feeling lazy. Maybe it’s time to make a public commitment to your work. I’m not saying you have to announce it to the whole world. As I have learned many times, the whole world doesn’t really care. But choosing a few trusted friends (like the few who are cool enough to read this blog) and asking them to hold you accountable will help you find more consistency in your work than you ever thought possible.
Creative: relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
Perhaps there are some readers out there who don't really feel that this definition applies to them. Or perhaps the word "creative" carries some unwanted baggage for you and you simply don't like the word.
Let's look at the synonyms then…
Inventive- having the ability to create or design new things or to think originally.
Imaginative- having or showing the ability to think of new and interesting ideas.
Innovative- introducing new ideas, original and creative in thinking.
Experimental- radically new. Not yet established or finalized.
Original- created directly or personally; not a copy or imitation.
Inspired- of extraordinary quality, as if arising from some external creative impulse.
Visionary- a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.
Resourceful- having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties.
I'm not here to debate semantics, I am here to try and help and inspire you to become your best self, give your talents generously to others, and hopefully glorify God.
Every year, twice a year, the entire Broadway community bands to raise funds for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. After each show, a member of the cast does a short speech informing the audience how they can make a donation. At Mamma Mia! I am part of a small rotation of people who perform this speech on any given night.
When my turn rolls around, I try and keep my talk as encouraging and simple as possible, while obviously leaving room for a few of my stupid jokes. After dispensing all the necessary information and receiving limited pity laughs in response, I always end my speech the same way, "Thanks so much for choosing Mamma Mia! Have a wonderful night. God Bless." Cue the band. Dance off the stage. Figure out new (better) jokes on the ride home. Nothing too flashy.
One evening though, after a matinee where I had done the speech, I received an email from a guy named Ryan. Here's what he had to say...
"Hey Jon --
My name is Ryan and I was at your show this afternoon. After explaining the Broadway Cares project, you said “God bless” to the audience, which caught me off guard. A quick peak at your Twitter feed, and boy, was I surprised — and impressed. I work in political journalism, where being vocal about faith isn’t exactly smiled upon, so it was an encouragement to me to see that kind of public display of faith from the stage — and in your online presence. I’m guessing that takes some courage. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me reaching out. Take care and keep up the good work."
If Ryan was surprised by my "public display of faith," then I was absolutely floored he viewed it in that way. I wasn't trying to "display my faith" or "evangelize," I was just saying what comes naturally to me when I finish a conversation with people. I was amazed how something so small could be such a big encouragement to him.
Then I remembered the kind of God I was dealing with.
A lot of times we think that in order to be "used by God" we have to have some life changing conversation, start a pre-work Bible study, or do a worship gathering in the middle of the cafeteria. These things may be what God is calling you to do in your work place or your school, but they are not the only way to witness to those around us.
Saying "God bless" was not some heavy evangelistic strategy on my part, but it did plant a seed in Ryan's mind. It sparked an interest that led him to my bio, which led him to finding me online where I speak much more openly and specifically about my faith. Did I need to quote a bible verse on tithing in my speech or write my testimony into my program bio? No. All I did was speak authentically from the heart, and God (in the way he so often does) used those two small words as a big encouragement to a fellow brother in Christ.
What if we make evangelism harder than it has to be?
What if we put too much pressure on ourselves to carry he entire "witnessing" load?
What if, instead, we brought whatever we had and simply gave God the reigns?
What if we just shared two small words of blessing? Would God maybe use that? Might he even multiply it?
I'm betting on yes.
I don't spend much time in cruise control. I'm either flooring it, or I'm in park with the engine completely off.
Of course, I’m not talking about my actual driving tendencies. I tend to steer away from breaking traffic law(most of the time). While driving on the highway, we're not really looking to make a ruckus. The majority of us aren't interested in challenging convention on the way to the grocery store, and gliding along just below the speed limit on cruise control is the best way to ensure that we don't.
In the real world though, I tend to do the exact opposite in my work as a creative. The last thing I want to do is cruise along into obscurity. To me, living our lives on cruise control is the fastest way to defeat the artist inside. The artist inside longs to challenge convention and make a ruckus, and the only way I know how to do this is at full speed, pedal to the metal. For me, this is the only worthwhile way to create.
Now obviously, working this way can be very tiring, and you're eventually going to run out of gas after a while. When I do, I don't try and push the car past it's limit. That would be bad for the transmission. I'm hoping to have a creative career that runs well into my sixties, seventies, maybe even eighties. This means that when I rest, I REST! It doesn't have to be for very long, but it does have to be a complete unplug. This allows me to re-fuel and it ensures that I'll be even more hungry to get back out there and cause another ruckus.
I guess my ideal work ethic looks like a combination of the tortoise and the hare. I try to be the hare in the short term, while keeping a tortoise mindset for the long haul.
Sounds like a guaranteed win. I'm sure hoping so.
I used to think that there was a certain hierarchy between the words amateur and professional. It was my understanding that one begins as an amateur and over time they cultivate the necessary skills, resources, and influence to become a professional.
What I recently discovered though, is that the difference between an amateur and a professional has very little to do with skill level. It has much more to do with the underlying reason for the activity.
Amateur is a French word meaning, “lover of”. A true amateur is someone who pursues a certain activity or craft in an un-paid manner. They’re in it simply for the love of the game. A professional on the other hand, is someone who pursues a certain activity or craft for reward. Professionals show up to be paid for their work.
I believe it’s important to do what you love. I also believe it’s important to be paid for good, quality work. Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I become a professional or an amateur?
I realize now that perhaps I don’t have to choose. Perhaps I can become a Proamateur, someone who pursues a certain craft or activity for love and money.
Growing up, I never gave much thought to money. My family was neither rich nor poor. We were decidedly middle class. Because I was heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, I never really had time after school for a job. The closest I ever really came to money management was a small paycheck for being a camp counselor during my summer breaks, and the closest I ever came to money problems was my parents telling me that college was going to be "tough to pay for." I didn't really know what that meant at the time, and since I had been accepted to my dream school, I didn't really care.
Today, as a budding 23 year professional with a 401k, New York City rent, my own start-up business, and a wedding coming up in August, I give a lot more thought to money than I once did. My attitude towards money has changed drastically in the last six months, and there's something I need to get off my chest, a confession if you will.
I want to be rich.
I know what you're thinking: "HEATHEN!!!" First of all, no one uses that word anymore. Welcome to this century. Second, I think I might agree with you.
Is it wrong for a Christian to want to be rich? Am I sinning if I don't renounce my possessions and move to Uganda? Can I have a big bank account and still retain my salvation? These are the questions that have been haunting me for the past few months.
Now I know all the sayings…"Money can't buy happiness.” “A man cannot serve two masters.” “It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” “Money can't buy me love.” But is money evil? Is money bad? And am I a bad person if I have it?
When I look in our world today, I see evidence that would support either side of the argument. There are men and women who earn millions of dollars a year and spend it all on drugs, irresponsible gambling, and personal gain. But there are also men and women who earn millions of dollars a year who tithe faithfully to their church, give generously to many charities, and provide for the physical and emotional needs of his family. So again, I'm stuck with the same question, is money good or bad?
Other than a few obvious exceptions (lying, violence, discrimination, ect) I think there are very few things in this world that are inherently bad or "evil." The Bible itself tells us that money is not the root of all evil but, "the love of money is the root of all evil." (1 Timothy 6:10)
What this verse tells us is that when it comes to money, it is not the thing itself that is sinful, but rather, our attitude toward the thing. It's not necessarily about how much you have or don't have, give or don't give. It's about the state of your heart. What is wrong with pursuing wealth if your heart is set on storing those treasures in heaven?
Despite what some Pharisees-- I'm sorry, I mean experts-- may say, the founding principles of the Christian life do not center around a list of things we aren't allow to do or aren’t allowed to be. Too many of us have fallen victim to this lie and now whenever we see someone with money or success, we automatically assume such a person is "earthly" and "materialistic."
Admittedly, sometimes this is the case, but not always. Your spiritual maturity is not evidenced by the size of your bank account, it is evidenced by whether or not you steward every dollar for God's glory. This does not mean giving every last dollar away to the church or to charity. It means living in constant awareness that the money is a gift, and it means intentionally leveraging every dollar to help you glorify God more in your life.
Just because there are a few who abuse something, doesn't mean the thing inherently bad. And conversely, just because something (like a church) is universally accepted as "good", does not mean that it can't be abused to the point where it becomes bad.
This is the thin line between ministry and idolatry, and our finances are just one of many areas in our lives where this line pops up.
Wealth can destroy, but wealth can also build. Wealth can corrupt, but it can also be used to give life. Which side of the line we fall on is dependent on the intention residing in your heart.
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A few months ago, Fast Company magazine released their “Productivity Issue.” The cover story for this particular installment consisted of ten interviews with ten highly successful businessmen and women focussing on how they got to where they are today. The subjects ranged from CEOs to underground DJs to network TV hosts. These are all highly rich, successful people who are living their dreams.
As I read through, I expected to find many unifying traits between the ten interviews. I expected to hear that all successful people write down their goals, or eat healthy, or get at least 8 hours of sleep every night while still getting up before 6:00am to do hot yoga. I was surprised to find that none of this was true. Some folks worked this way while other folks worked in a slightly different way, and even some worked in the exact opposite way. Beyond these interviews, I have read countless books and magazine articles about the world’s most successful people to try and glean what I can from them. What I’ve found is that all successful people have dramatically different tactics, strategies, and experiences that have lead them to where they are today. It seems that there is no unifying characteristic shared by all successful people, except one…you ready for this?
The one common denominator that connects all rich, successful people who live their dreams is that they have created their own specific definitions for what it means to be a rich, successful person who is living their dreams.
Terms like rich, success, happy, fulfillment, these are highly subjective and personal terms. Some folks hate the word rich because they associate it with greed and the desire for abusive power. Others long to be rich because they define it as living life on their own terms, having strong relationships, or storing up treasures in heaven.
The reason that most or us will never be “rich” or “successful” is because we will either fail to define these terms for ourselves, or we will live by someone else’s definition that they have set for their life. This is a problem. You can’t achieve someone else’s dream or someone else’s success. These things are way too personal. The truth is, anyone can be rich, anyone can be successful, anyone can live their dreams. In order to do it though, we have to be brave enough to cast off all other definitions of what this kind of life is supposed to look like and begin defining and pursuing it for ourselves.
Bottom line, the journey towards a rich, successful life of your dreams starts when you define exactly what that life will look like for you personally.
Any child who graduates the fifth grade understands the function of a basic if-then statement.
If I eat too many cookies, then I will gain weight.
If I get a better haircut, then then I’ll get more dates.
If , a² + b² = c², then don’t even ask me because geometry is the most evil form of adolescent torture.
In a way, anything we hope to achieve or accomplish in life can be stated as a simple if-then statement. “Then” is our desired result, and “if” is what needs to be done in order to get there.
If we’re honest though, most of us do our best to convince ourselves that we can get to the then without going through the if. We want the result, but we don’t want to commit to taking the actions that will lead us to the result. If this has ever been your mind set, then I have another if-then statement for you.
If there is no if, then there won’t be a then. If we don’t take action and put in the work, then we will never see the results we desire. If you want to achieve great “thens” in your life, then start by committing to the ifs.
A little bonus encouragement for you: If we put in the work, then happens naturally. A proper then, the result we dream of, actually takes no effort once we’ve laid the proper ground work. When we take the necessary action, the results actually take care of themselves.
I love the gym. I know most people will roll their eyes and close their browser after reading a sentence like that. I probably would too. To be fair though, I didn't always love the gym. Back when I played big, bad, team sports, I dreaded when my coaches would whip the team through off season workouts and sprints. In between huffs, puffs, and the occasional dry heave, I remember wondering why anyone would ever voluntarily put their body through such torture. It hurt so bad. Once my sports career is over, I thought, I'll never have to deal with this evil sorcery ever again.
Well, my sports career did come to an end, and in my euphoria I stopped working out altogether. You can probably guess what resulted. I got fat. Okay, maybe that's not "Christian" to say. We're all beautiful in God's eyes, but let's be real. I was fat. The worst part was, it took me a year and more than fifty extra pounds to realize it. At the time, I was a high school senior with aspirations of being an actor. If I wanted to be a sexy leading man, then I needed to look like one, and I certainly did not. It was at that point I knew I'd be making a return to the gym.
The first few weeks were AWFUL. To avoid a gym membership, and possibly the embarrassment of being seen in gym shorts, I worked out at 5:30 in the morning before school with one of my friends who played varsity football. Not only was it disgustingly early in the morning, not only was I doing all the sprints and workout I once dreaded, but I was now carrying the equivalent of a third grade child around my midsection while doing them. The huffs and puffs, dry heaving, and pain were back with relish. Boy, I really wanted some relish in that moment.
Fast forward six and a half years, and I now voluntarily put myself through high intensity workouts 3-5 times a week and I absolutely love it. I need no inspiration or workout partner to get me to the gym each day (I've sweated off the third grader as well, I might add). I have learned to love the pain, because the pain led to growth in my muscles. It led me to become more healthy and to feel more alive. Once I noticed the correlation between pain and growth, I didn't really mind going to the gym. In fact, I look forward to it now.
This principle of pain being a sign of growth is present in so many areas of life.
I remember as a child, I would often wake up in the night with extreme muscle spasms in my legs. I screamed and yelled while my mom came in my room and held my hands until I was finally able to relax again. She assured me that what I was going through was totally normal. "They're just growing pains" she would say. Medically speaking, it's more likely that my spasms were a result of my particularly athletic and active schedule (this was before I quit team sports) rather than the pain of my bones actually growing. Although, as a 23 year old adult, I now stand nearly six foot five, so maybe there was something to my mother's claims.
Who was I to complain about leg spasms though? I was eleven pounds, eleven ounces at birth. My mom knows about pain. Ask any mother what the worst pain in the world is and she will say without pause, "birthing a child." Was is worth it though? And would she go through it again? Well, statistics tell us that the majority of mothers would give a resounding yes and yes.
Pardon the pun, but isn't it interesting how our worst pain comes from the labor of creating more life? The writer of Hebrews talks about this with such incredible wisdom...
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)
Finance author and radio host, Dave Ramsey likes to say that "money is amoral." It is neither good nor evil. It is how we use our money that determines the role it plays in our lives.
Here's something to chew on, pain is also amoral. It is neither good nor bad, but it is actually our reaction to the pain that determines its role in our lives. Will we persevere and endure through the pain? Or will we retreat back into comfort and complacency?
We see in the verse above that after the endurance of pain comes a promise of pretty epic proportions. A harvest of righteousness and peace? Count me in! Give me some overalls and call me a farmer. The problem is, most of us are so averse to, and downright afraid of pain that we never actually get to the harvest. We resist the "training," and as a result, we never get to the "later on" that the verse is talking about.
But what if we began to take a different attitude towards the pain in our lives? What if we began to ask a different question? Instead of saying, "Why would God allow me to hurt like this?" What if we said, "What life is God going to bring by me persevering through this?" What if we started looking at all our suffering and hardship as growing pains? What if we knew that the pain was just making our muscles bigger? What if the pain was from the labor of producing new life? By simply changing the question, we begin to change our perspective. We begin to see our pain not as a present unpleasantry, but as a sign that "later on" is on the way, a sign that the harvest of righteousness and peace is coming soon.
For some reason, I think most of us forget to include pain and hardship in the promise of Romans 8:28. But God truly does work ALL things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. Pain is not excluded from that promise, and that's good news to somebody who has been brave enough to read this far.
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