Cultivating empathy in us and our kids
Jordan Raynor sits down with Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle, Children’s Book Author & Illustrator, to talk about how we can learn to celebrate the wins of others, why empathy is key to mastering any vocation, and the types of side-hustles that can improve your “one thing.”
[0:00:05.3] JR: Hey there. Welcome to The Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work, for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I’m bringing you a conversation with a Christian who is pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We’re talking about their paths to mastery. We’re talking about their daily habits and how their faith influences their work.
I’m so excited about today’s guests. Jeremy Slagle and Beth Stafford. Jeremy is a member of this community. He’s a regular listener of the podcast, reached out, pitching he and Beth for the podcast. I got on the phone with Jeremy, so impressed by him, his work, his story. I knew they had to be on the show.
Beth and Jeremy are both crazy talented graphic designers, who have teamed up to publish two really great children’s books. They teach kids about the value of empathy. You’re going to hear about these great books on the podcast. I’ve read both of them to my kids and loved both of these books. Loved them so much, they actually backed their Kick starter campaign for one of them called Hip Hooray Hippo, which like its predecessor was very quickly funded.
Beth and Jeremy and I, we recently sat down, we talked about how we could learn as professionals to celebrate the wins of other people and how the gospel gives us the resources to do that. We learned why empathy is so key to mastering any vocational discipline. We also talked about the specific types of side hustles or side projects that can actually serve to improve your one thing that you’re focused on mastering for the glory of god and the good of others.
You guys are going to love this conversation with my new friends, Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle.
[0:02:00.4] JR: Beth, Jeremy, thank you so much for joining me. This is going to be a lot of fun. I’m a big children's book fan. I loved you all’s books. I’m excited to have this conversation.
Hey Beth, let’s start with you. You and Jeremy are both crazy talented graphic designers, I was just talking about how much I love your portfolio, but neither of you had worked on a children’s book up until Chin Up, Chinchilla. I’m curious what the story is that led you two to working together on this project.
[0:02:25.3] BS: I had written this book several years ago. I was inspired by my daughter who was maybe two or three at the time and I would see her watching TV and she would change her expression when a character she loved was in peril and I would see that reflected. She was sharing the emotions of the person that she was watching.
And so, I had this conversation with my husband about this thing. I see empathy growing in her and how can we encourage that because I feel like that’s such an important skill to have as a person and as a child. If you had that skillset then, how could that help you moving forward? So, we were talking about it and I ended up writing this book, Chin Up, Chinchilla, about empathy and how to share someone’s sadness. And then my husband who is also an illustrator was trying to work on a book with me. And so, we were trying to do this and it just wasn’t happening. It’s so funny, people will look at us and say, “You’re both creatives so you should be able to make this thing happen.”
For some reason, every time he would draw one that he loved, I would say, “That’s not really what I had in mind.” Or he would draw a chinchilla and be like, “It’s perfect,” and he wouldn’t like it. And so, it was just a little bit of back and forth like that. And so, Ben had actually shared some of those sketches with Jeremy. So, Jeremy was aware of the book but he just knew that we were working on it and it got to a point where my husband just said, “You know what? I just don’t feel like I’m the right person for this person and I don’t want to hold you back. Feel free to find someone else to do it.”
[0:03:52.1] JR: Probably better for your marriage too.
[0:03:53.9] BS: Yeah, you know, yeah. I think he felt a little bit of guilt that we weren’t making progress. But I wasn’t holding that against him.
[0:04:00.4] JR: By the way, I had no idea what a chinchilla was. Can I be totally honest?
[0:04:02.7] BS: Hey, that’s fine.
[0:04:05.6] JR: Thank you, Jeremy for the helpful illustration. Beth, you’ve already touched on it and this is a very short children’s book, but what’s the gist of the story of Chin Up, Chinchilla?
[0:04:16.0] BS: The story is about a little chinchilla and there’s a hedgehog character who encounters the chinchilla and he wonders, “Why might this chinchilla be sad?” He starts to play through all these scenarios that he’s wondering, “Maybe it was this or maybe it was this?’ And he doesn’t really know, but he’s trying to figure it out in order to extend some form of kindness to this chinchilla to help him feel better.
[0:04:38.0] JR: You guys published Chin Up, Chinchilla in 2018, you guys crowdfunded this in Kickstarter and then you guys just successfully funded Hip Hooray, Hippo in 2020, which is also on the topic of empathy. But there’s a different angle to this. Jeremy, can you talk about the angle of this new book?
[0:04:55.0] JS: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve talked about this a couple of times between Beth and I. it’s one thing to kind of learn how to empathize with someone when you can tell they’re sad and you’re kind of trying to figure out how to engage and encourage but the other side of that is sometimes, the person that you need to engage with is winning at life. And sometimes they’re winning at life more than you are.
How do you engage with them and celebrate along with them when maybe they won first place and you won second? It’s actually more difficult I think even for adults to kind of wrap their minds around, “How do I engage, how do I encourage somebody, how do I even find joy myself through someone else’s wins?”
So, the second book is about this hippo and it appears that everything’s going right for this person so now, I’m supposed to join in. I’m supposed to celebrate with them. That’s kind of the gist of the second book.
[0:05:47.2] JR: This is why I wanted you guys here. I think this is a huge struggle for adults. I think it’s much easier to empathize with somebody who is going through something sad, something tragic. But the other side of the empathy coin of celebrating wins, I think it’s tough. Especially for those of us listening to this podcast, right? Who are ambitious professionals, we care deeply about exceptional work for the glory of god and good of others but if we’re honest, it could be hard watching other people win when we’re not.
So, Beth, I’m curious in this, it might sound like a silly question. Did you write this primarily for your daughter or did you write this for adults?
[0:06:19.3] BS: You know, I think about these books in terms of what do I struggle with as a person, as an adult that I want to make a easier for my child or other people’s children. If I had that concept explained to me as a child, could that have changed the way that I approach people throughout my life when I saw them get something that I wanted?
I don’t know that it’s that clear cut that just because I read my child this book, she’ll be better at it, but you might as well try.
[0:06:44.8] JR: A lot of children’s book authors I think are aiming at adults before they’re aiming at kids, have you guys read Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones? I think that’s helping more adults grasp the gospel and the through line of Christ throughout scripture and also helping kids.
But I’m curious for you guys, what were the children’s books that you guys really loved? Maybe that served as ideals as you guys were writing and illustrating this project. Jeremy, why don’t you take a stab at answering it?
[0:07:09.5] JS: Wow. I’m the worst person to ask this question to. Because my kids are all grown up, I have high schoolers now and honestly, the things that resonated with me growing up were not necessarily words but pictures. And I think that’s why Beth and I worked so well together. I struggled throughout grade school with just education in general but I was like a rock star in the art room.
For me, everything I remember in children’s books is not about the story or the words or the way they were written but I just always got sucked into the pages of the book and the pictures of the book. There are people that I really admire so when it came to the creation of the illustration style and that Luke Flowers is one of my favorite illustrators. There’s a whole bunch of really amazing illustrators out there that I went through and did a lot of research on.
Having never done a children’s book before, and I do have an illustration background, but I went back through looking at stuff by Eric Carle. I looked through a lot of the classic illustration styles. I love that retro feel to the work, brings me back to the kind of books my parents used to read me. The question about what books you read, the person to ask that question to is Beth because she is an avid children’s book reader and collector and phenomenal at that side of it.
[0:08:29.7] BS: I love books that are clever. I love books that rhyme and I love books that are not too long because I really do get tired of reading out loud sometimes to my own child.
[0:08:39.7] JR: Children’s books are way too long, right?
[0:08:41.6] BS: They are. You know, I thought really great idea for children’s book would be to highlight only the essential words you need to say, that way if you’re a parent trying to make it through quick, you just read the highlighted words. But if you have more time, you could read the whole thing.
[0:08:54.1] JR: It’s like the CliffNotes version.
[0:08:55.4] JS: Yeah. The abridged version of a children’s book.
[0:08:58.0] BS: Free business idea for anyone out there who wants to do that. But there are authors like Mo Willems, who is just so clever and simple but brilliant. And Oliver Jeffers who is so clever and Karma Wilson who does a great job at rhyming and just makes it easy to read those books. I think I take inspiration from all of those people who are using creativity in different ways but I love to read books by them and so I wanted to have those things in my book as well.
[0:09:25.7] JR: Mo Willems is incredible. We’re recording this during the coronavirus crisis and my five-year-old Ellison who is an inspiring illustrator actually, that’s what she’s wanted to do since she’s three years old, she watches Drawing with Mo, and she’ll like illustrate with Mo and she loves it. By the way have guys read Because by Mo Willems? This is one of my favorite books, children, adult. Full stop. I read it to my kids constantly. I actually think there’s a really deep theology of work that probably accidentally slipped in there from Mo Willems. But if you’re interested, check it out, we’ll try to put that link in the show notes.
Beth, back to the topic of empathy. Because I think we talk a lot about in this podcast but how to master your craft. You’re a graphic designer and I’ve heard a lot of product managers and designers talk about how important empathy is in mastering those particular crafts. Can you talk about the role that empathy plays in mastering your work as a graphic designer?
[0:10:19.0] BS: Because I am trying to help people communicate a message, I try to approach it from how would I want to be treated if I were on the other end of this deal? I mean, I’ve had moments where I knew a client was going to be spending more money if they did something. This is just from a business standpoint. If they made a decision, they were going to have to charge me more money and I didn’t necessarily think it was the right decision. So, I’m empathizing with them and thinking, “If I were on the other end of this, wouldn’t I want somebody to be honest with me and tell me this might not be the best choice for you?”
Instead of choosing to only function, thinking to myself. Or I think about maybe something looks bad doesn’t work right and I would want somebody to tell me that. So, I think just from a business owner standpoint, I try to always think about how I would want to be treated as the client.
[0:11:03.5] JR: Love your neighbors as yourself. Very practical expression of empathy. Jeremy, you want to take a stab at this question?
[0:11:08.2] JS: Yeah, absolutely. You talk a lot about world-class people and what they do. I think I would distill it down to the fact that world-class designers listen more than they talk. It’s really important that designers are recognized as designers and not artists. We’re here to serve. I don’t mind sometimes people call me an artist like, “Oh, he’s an artist,” and usually it’s my mom or something like that. But what I really do is you know, if I was an artist, I would go and hang logos and brochures and designs and website layouts in a gallery and hope somebody would come by and choose one, right?
But that’s not what designers do. Designers don’t get to design whatever they want. We have to empathize with our clients to design for them. And I think the less masterful counterparts, a lot of times, look at their career as a fine artist rather than a designer and not somebody who is out to serve their client, but to scratch their own itch and hope that somebody appreciates what they bring to the table. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned as far as what a masterful designer does is they’ve really listened before they speak.
[0:12:15.7] JR: Jeremy, you know that in Master of One, my book, I talk about these three keys to mastering any vocation, right? Apprenticeships, purposeful practice, and discipline over time. For you personally, which of those three keys have you found to be most critical in your pursuit of mastery as a designer?
[0:12:35.3] JS: Those are all really good. For me, probably apprenticeship has been one of the biggest. I’m like your daughter. I would draw every time someone would put crayon in my hand. I was always seeking to draw or express myself visually. Like I said earlier, I was horrible at school. Went to private schools my whole life and always felt behind in every class for the art room. It was kind of like an oasis in the desert for me.
I spent every free minute in the art room, still in contact with my art teacher. In fact, she’s my kid’s art teacher now in high school from the same school. And then when I was in high school, a friend of mine introduced me to graphic design and gave me access to his computer and I basically learned enough, this is pre-internet so there was no Skillshare, there was no YouTube. I was buying books at Barnes and Noble to teach me how to use the software at the time. I was creating t-shirts for the theater productions and illustrations for year book and any time the school or my youth group had an event coming up, I was designing the flyers for it, trying to get kids to come out.
It was actually those pieces of art that landed me my first job. I didn’t go to college for graphic design, I ended up landing my first job with my high school portfolio for the most part at a t-shirt shop and I’ve grown from there.
I have had amazing mentors growing up, they’re kind of like my Yodas. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ll be working on a project and I’ll kind of like have one of those voices speak to me. Probably like a lot of students have their college instructors saying the same thing when they’re critiquing their work. But for me, apprenticeship and mentorship has just been a huge part of my career.
[0:14:14.4] JR: It’s so common in the arts or in graphic design or something that’s like really technical, right for there to be that kind of apprentice mentor relationship. I wish it was more common in knowledge work, right? Because I do think it such a key to mastering anything, whether you’re a founder or an executive or an artist or a designer.
Hey, Beth, I’m really curious to get your take on something. You all’s work on these books, it’s very much in line with your “one thing.” Your core competencies as designers. But these are very much side hustle projects for the two of you. I’d love to know if you think that this project, this side project has had any impact on your primary work either positively or negatively?
[0:14:59.2] BS: For me, it’s more of the fringe benefits of doing this. I don’t really use writing that often in my work. I usually am given writing to lay out and I do some editing with that but it’s not very creative on my end. But just learning how to promote things has been really helpful because prior to this, I’ve never run a Kickstarter campaign or kind of push to social media campaign out there and so I think I learned a lot from it, just the process of having to promote what I’ve made from that standpoint.
[0:15:28.9] JR: I love that you guys crowd funded this in Kickstarter. Both projects were successfully funded really quickly. Beth, what did you learn is the keys to mastering that specific type of product launch?
[0:15:39.7] BS: I think a lot of it has to do with organization, being really organized in knowing when you have to push things out, when things have to launch, your timelines, what kind of content you need. There’s just so many moving parts and pieces that if you go into it just trying to wing it, you’ll never succeed. And then really having a good support system, a good group of people who are already willing and ready to support you and rally behind you because a lot of our supporters were people who are friends, family, but also people connected to them and we really couldn’t have done it without all those people.
[0:16:14.9] JR: Sounded like you guys had people ready to go when the project went live to donate, right?
[0:16:20.1] BS: Yeah, the first time we launched a campaign, we had been talking about the book for quite some time. And so, a lot of people knew it was coming and they were excited and they were ready to go. But I think with the second book, we just kind of launched it a little more softly. And so, we did see a big difference in how quickly we were funded on both campaigns.
[0:16:39.9] JR: I know there’s a lot of creatives listening to this, probably a lot of people who have considered a Kickstarter project. I wanted to make sure they’re hearing this advice because I think this is genius. I don’t talk much about this part of my story but one of my first companies, I ran a crowdfunding platform for local government projects. We had 180 cities and counties in the United States as customers.
We ran a ton of successful projects and the number one lesson, the number one predictor as to whether or not a project was going to be successfully funded is what Beth and Jeremy are talking about. It’s getting donations lined up before it launches. And we found that if you got the progress bar past 50%, the project, 100% of the time is successfully funded. The whole strategy was, all right, get to 50% as quickly as possible line up backers before you launch because momentum is everything.
Jeremy, I want to go back to this question about how a side hustle or side project can contribute to mastering your core competency or your one thing. This is your first children’s book. Did you find that exercising those muscles in a new medium strengthened your muscles in kind of the core work you’re doing within your design agency?
[0:17:47.7] JS: Yup, absolutely. I do a decent amount of pro bono work. I do projects for my church and for other organizations I care about. And I kind of use this in the same model for that as far as you know, how I was approaching. And one of the things I always do for myself is if I’m going to do a pro bono job or something that I know isn’t going to be a huge money maker for me. I at least should look at it from the perspective of using it to grow a skill or work on something that I’ve wanted to do.
I use Skillshare a lot just because I love skill share’s platform and I love how there’s always something to learn when I don’t have any projects to work on, I’ll find something to learn. And so, I’m always looking for a practical application for that. It’s kind of like an artist or designer looking at a blank canvas and trying to figure out what to do. For me, if I give myself an assignment and say, “Through this assignment, you’re going to learn these skills that you’ve wanted to learn,” then it really helps you develop new skill.
I basically looked at this and said, “I’ve always wanted to create my own brushes in Adobe Illustrator. I’ve always wanted to learn – have a kind of a more tactile style to my work.” And so, I really pushed myself to do something different than what I’ve done in the past and to learn some new skills through that process and since then, it’s kind of turned into a workshop that I go to conferences and teach now. I’ve gained a totally new skillset that’s been really cool.
I love to teach. So, being able to go in and get hands on, we get brushes and ink and paper out and we get our hands dirty and it’s really fun because it’s kind of like taking the analog world and applying it then to digital illustration processes. It’s been really fun to learn that.
[0:19:27.0] JR: I think there’s a lot of genius here. I’ve recently been experimenting with this myself. I think when your side project is close enough to your core competency. I like the way you’re’ thinking about it. It’s skills. It’s still related to your one thing as a designer, you’re just learning new skills to add to your tools. And I can’t share much about this yet but I’m working on side project myself right now that I’m basically only working on Saturdays, very much in line with my mission at Jordan Raynor & Company but totally different than any type of writing I’ve done in the past. It’s a very different form of writing and it’s making me better at writing my core thing, right, which is like full length non-fiction.
I think there’s a lot of wisdom there. Jeremy, you listen to the podcast, you know we talk a lot about routines, daily habits and routines, I actually want to hear from Beth on this. You guys are both running successful graphic design businesses, I think a lot of people dream of launching a Kickstarter project or a side project like this but they’re not sure where to find the time, you went through this twice, what advice would you give to somebody like that?
[0:20:28.0] JS: I think you have to start planning way ahead because you can’t always control the time available to you. I have a child that I have to take care of and now she’s in school, but at the time of our first launch, she wasn’t. Between watching her, working full-time, trying to do this Kicktarter campaign, you can’t always say, “I know for sure that I’ll have three hours to work on this today.”
I think benefit to what we did is we were able to set our own timelines and factor in all of that, knowing that we have client work to do which is what’s really paying our bills. And this wasn’t for that purpose so how can we fit it in, but also not let it drag out forever so that it never happens. So, Jeremy was really good at saying like, “We need to set a time where we’re going to do it, then we can learn how to prioritize.”
You do have to be flexible. You have to work hours that you normally wouldn’t and you have to say no to things that you might like to do in order to get it done. It also helps to have a partner who you can split up some of the work with so it’s not just one person doing everything.
[0:21:28.6] JR: My side project right now, I have a partner on it, and that’s been tremendously helpful for accountability but also just for dividing and conquering. Jeremy, I’m curious for you, you hear a lot of people on this podcast talk about habits and routines. Is there a particular habit or routine you can point to that makes you especially purposeful present or productive?
[0:21:48.7] JS: Well, my typical day, I usually get up around six or 6:30, do my devotional time and prayer time, make my breakfast and then I kind of get started. But for me, what I’ve learned is that from about 7 AM, or whenever I can get started on a project till about 11 is what I call my magic time. I feel like if I can just really focus on work between seven and 11, I can get an entire day’s worth of creative work done in that time.
It was something I learned early on, and so I typically don’t schedule meetings until afternoon and then I used to also like go to the gym in the mornings and I realized, “Man, I’m going to the gym during my most productive time.” So, I’ve moved my workout’s to the end of the day. And then the other thing for me is that I have really respect evenings and weekends as family time. Make sure that we’re always – have dinner together as a family. Make sure that I’m available to my family after 5:00 and I don’t work weekends whenever possible. That’s my typical day. But for me, it’s – I realize especially the older I get and the longer I do this, that I have a battery that runs for so long.
If I don’t give myself time to recharge that battery, I’m worthless. It’s like trying to run an RC car off of a dead battery, it just doesn’t function. And so, I got to recognize when I can really, really power through stuff and really, really effective. When is a good time for me like afternoons to just spend time with people and do less super creative work, more meetings and such. And then when I need to spend my time with my family and prioritize that.
[0:23:19.0] JR: If you guys are listening to this and thinking, “Man, it seems like every guest says the same thing about doing deep work in the morning and shallow work in the afternoon,” there is a point to that. There is a genius here. It is not rocket science, but it can be difficult to get started but there is lots of science to support deep work in the morning, first things first, and everything else in the afternoon.
So, Beth, you and Jeremy both share a love of Christ, which of course is part of the reason why I invited you here. I am curious to hear you talk about how your faith influenced your desire to teach empathy through these books. Is there a spiritual element to this for you?
[0:23:56.5] BS: Yes. Definitely. I think if you don’t have empathy, you tend to view others as your enemy. And so, there is this Christ-likeness in taking on the emotions of other people and sharing in that and not looking at them as someone separate from you but seeing yourself in them. And so, I think that’s what Christ does to us. He could have viewed us as being separate from him, but he came in our likeness and became like us truly in every way while still maintaining his godhood.
So, I just think that empathy really is one of the main characteristics we see in Christ. He is so caring and so loving and that’s important to me to have that same reaction towards people.
[0:24:44.2] JR: I love that but I love that you are not overt about this in the book. I mean you are writing the book to let’s call it two the six-year olds. You are not making the connection between your faith and empathy. You are helping all people conform more closely to the image of Christ whether they’re Christians or not. Was that an intentional choice by you, Beth?
[0:25:04.6] BS: I think so. I wanted it to be something that people wouldn’t put down because it says ‘Jesus’ on the front. And I think a lot of people would and so I think there is such a great opportunity Christians have and I know you’ve talked about this before that to infuse those hope filled messages without plastering that this is all about Jesus. Because any step that you can take to bring people closer to that truth, it is going to awaken something in them, I think.
For us, you have to relate to a child too. They are not going to understand these deep theological ideas right away. And so, when I do take this book to schools and I get to read it to kids, I get to go through each scenario and just ask them basic questions, “Have you ever been hurt before?” Because that is something that could have happened to this chinchilla.
And so, we go through every scenario and it is amazing how almost every kid raises their hand. This applies to every single person. We have all experienced these things. And so, I think there is something really beautiful in that.
[0:26:01.3] JR: There is two things I really love about this. One I have been thinking a lot about lately is when we create art, when we create work like what you are talking about that just reveals truths about how God designed us and share that with Christians and non-Christians alike, you are causing other people to glorify God whether they recognize it or not. If you’re helping people be more empathetic, they are becoming more like Christ and that is a good and beautiful thing.
Secondarily, I think this is what you meant by what you said, Beth, you are causing them to yearn for the true master narrative of the world.
So, let’s go to the flip side of the empathy coin Jeremy with Hip Hooray, Hippo. Man, I really cannot say that more than two times fast, we were talking about this a few minutes ago but this is all about celebrating other people’s wins, right? What do you think is going on spiritually that keeps us from doing that, especially professionally celebrating other people’s wins professionally, and how can we overcome that?
[0:26:56.6] JS: People know this about me. I kind of hate social media and I think the reason I hate social media is because people tend to only post their wins. What happens is in many ways, I am over stating that a little bit, there are people doing social media well and there are people encouraging people well. But I feel like I really don’t like the fact that everybody posts their own wins. And so, what it does is it actually causes people to almost slip into depression because they compare themselves to others on such a regular basis.
“Oh, that mom is so much more involved with her kids.” Or, “That family is so much more this or that.” All they’re showing is the best parts of who they are and you start to create a picture in your mind that somebody else is so much better than you are. And I think that that’s just a massive problem right now. It causes depression. It causes anxiety.
What I love about this book that Beth wrote is that what’s it really trying to do is help people understand like, “No. When someone else’s kid gets that college scholarship that your kid didn’t get, celebrate with them. It is good for you to see what that is being a good thing for them.” But also recognize at the same time that they are only showing their best of their lives. You are only seeing the good things. I like this book. And I think that is why this book even more than the first book is better for adults.
I think people especially that are addicted to social media or spend inordinate amount of time on social media could really learn to celebrate with people when they are doing well, rather than reflect it back on themselves in some sort of a narcissistic way that says like, “Oh, now I don’t match up.”
[0:28:34.7] JR: No, I think there is a lot of wisdom there. As Christ followers when we see somebody on LinkedIn posting that their venture just got acquired or a fellow author hit the New York Times bestseller list, we should, this isn’t always the case, we’re full-on human beings but we should be able to access the resources of the gospel and be content.
There is a verse in Ephesians that talked about our equal spiritual blessing. We have all been blessed equally spiritually as heirs with Christ in our adoption as sons and daughters of the King. We have not all experienced the same level of blessing personally or professionally, but that equals spiritual blessing that puts us all in the same footing should be, hopefully will be, enough and I think that is a lifelong process of learning to ensure that that is enough.
[0:29:23.9] JS: I was reading the other day in Philippians 2, starts out by saying, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing of the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love being one in spirit of mine. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or being conceit rather in humility, value others above yourselves not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interest of others.” And I think that really sums it up well.
[0:29:54.5] JR: Yeah it does. So, I actually am in the middle of a devotional series on this so if you are listening you are not receiving this, you can get them for free at jordanraynor.com/devotional.
I am curious though what has the Lord been revealing to you maybe through those devotionals, maybe through other texts about your relationship to your work, Jeremy and how your faith influences your relationship to your work?
[0:30:17.6] JS: Well, Called to Create is one of my favorite books, and I feel like a lot of what I have really enjoyed through a lot of your writing is that reflection back on the creator. The thing that is just really resonated with me, and I think it is even I’d say probably my mid 30s I’ve been a believer my whole life. I grew up in a Christian family. But this real emphasis on God as a creator has really changed a lot for me. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created.”
And all of the things God could introduce Himself, it was a creator. You know he made man in his image. He desires beauty in the midst of chaos and I love that we are image bearers of God. We bring beauty and you reintroduce a word in my vocabulary winsome, which is if you followed any of Jordan’s stuff, you find a lot. But it is one of those words that I don’t think has a better word to describe and that is one of my new favorite words and I love that.
One of my old pastor’s calls it “smells like Jesus.” We did a whole message one week about what did Jesus smell like? When you look at Jesus, you realize like you spent time with the lepers and the down-trodden and the sinners and what did he smell like? He smelled like a human who loved people unconditionally. And I love that about God and Jesus.
And so, to me being able to be an image-bearer of Christ and as well being able to be a creative, meaning somebody who gets to use that attribute of God every day in my work, is a really high calling, as far as I am concerned.
[0:31:55.9] JR: And let us not forget Jesus also smelled like a woodworking shop for the majority of his life I think we forget that a lot in the church.
Hey, Beth, a lot of people look at a graphic designer like what would be different about your work if you weren’t a follower Christ, if you are not making all of the t’s in a logo crosses and putting the sneaky fish in every logo. What is different about your approach to your work because of your faith in Christ?
[0:32:20.0] BS: I think there is an honesty there, kind of like what I was talking about before. And a dependence upon him. I realize that I can’t always come up with the best idea on my own and I struggle. I work by myself now. But my husband worked with me for a time. But being alone and trying to figure things out and a lot of that feels like it falls on me just learning to depend on God as a great Creator and knowing that he can bring inspiration and he is the one who has given me these gifts. He is the one who can help me use these gifts.
So, I think there is just a humility there too. I am not always the best thing since sliced bread. I need to rely on other people. I need to rely on God.
[0:33:02.8] JR: Yeah and I think humility is the key. I talk a lot about this in Master of One. It was the recurring theme of all the Christ following masters in that book. Humility was at the core of their faith. It was the also the core of their pursuit of mastery and I do think it is required to pursue mastery of any vocation.
Beth, you mentioned your husband. My team found an interview you did it on another podcast, where you were talking about the perspective your faith gave you during a time in which your husband lost his job. Can you share that story and that perspective with us?
[0:33:32.4] BS: So, my husband had lost his job due to some financial constraints and I was currently working for myself and we just didn’t know if we are going to be able to work together and he was in the midst of trying to find a new job. And it was about that time that we got a phone call letting us know that I struggle to talk about this without crying because it was such a huge moment in our life but we got a phone call letting us know that there was a baby girl that we were going to have the opportunity to adopt.
So, it was during a time that could have been really scary to not have a solid income to have a baby coming to wonder how we could do all of this? And God really showed up in an amazing way and allowed us to get a client, who is still a wonderful source of income for us, but at the time like just came out of the blue. We were able to start working for them and start working together and then we were able to work together for six years which has been amazing and it has allowed us to stay home with our daughter.
And so, at the time it could have seemed like, “Wow, everything is coming together and how will we make this work?” But God knew so much more than we did in that moment. And I am so thankful that he lost his job now. And I think so often when we are in the middle of it we just think, “This is the worst thing that could happen.” But God sees so far ahead and we’ve been so blessed by that.
[0:34:56.6] JR: I love that. Thank you for sharing that. We also adopted a baby girl about six months ago and it was a born baby case, right? So, we got a call, she was born, we had to make a really, really fast decision. And it came right as I was about literally the next day, I was going to record my audio book for Master of One. The launch of the book was coming up a month later and you guys have listened to the podcast, you know I have high standards for excellence for everything that I do.
And I just remembered praying one morning, “God, I don’t know how I can be an excellent father and be excellent at this work that you called me to do.” And I can’t remember exactly where I was reading the scripture but there is a verse, 1 Corinthians 12, it says, “I will show the most excellent way,” is the terminology used there. And then of course, it goes into 1 Corinthians 13, “the most excellent way is love,” right?
And it was just a very, very small reminder of God’s provision of just reminding me, “Hey, I’ve called you to adopt. I have called you to care for orphans and widows, you need to obey Me, be excellent in your service to Me, and I will figure everything else out.” Of course, he did and even if he didn’t, he still would have been good and I still would have been obedient to that call. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Hey, Jeremy, in terms of ambition and your drive and desire to master your craft and continue to pursue mastery of your craft, how has your faith influenced that pursuit?
[0:36:18.5] JS: I think that everything that I do needs to reflect Christ. And I feel like everything I do needs to be done in a way that loves my neighbor as myself. And so, for me, it is less about becoming the next great designer and more about loving my clients more. I talk with a lot of young designers. I do portfolio reviews and such. And I know a lot of them have ambitions to go out and start their own thing.
And I have seen many, many crazy talented designers go out and try to start their own business and fall flat on their face because they are relying on the talent alone. For me, what I have learned over the last 10 years of running my own business and being out on my own, being good at what you do is good. It is important. It is really important. And continuing to grow and push yourself is important.
But what’s really important is loving your clients in a way that helps them see Jesus and recognizing that that if we just expect people to take whatever we do because we are talented without understanding that we are all supposed to do what is in the best interest of the client and even when they give feedback that we think is dumb. Because that is what we do as designers and creative our first response is like, “Well, I am the designer. You’re the client.”
But I found many, many times that 90% of the time when a client gives you an observation about something, and you are at least willing to consider it and at least willing to maybe try it that I would say most of the time they’re seeing something you don’t see.
And I think there is a humility to that any recognition that at the end of the day, this client has got to live with this logo and this packaging and this brand for the rest of their business that many of the people I have worked with have sunk their entire life savings or taken out massive loans in order to do these project. And at the end of the day if you bulldoze them and you don’t see them as an equal partner in the project and an equal creative in the project, you’re missing the whole point of it.
[0:38:19.2] JR: Jeremy, you are familiar with the show. Three questions I love to wrap up every conversation with. I love for both of you to answer each of these, if we got enough time but Jeremy let’s start with you. Which books do you gift the most or recommend most frequently to others?
[0:38:34.1] JS: I think my favorite book over the last couple of years that’s just been so fun, and I think this goes back to the winsomeness, I love Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines. We put them on, we got the audiobook and it is read by Chip Gaines. So, we listen to it in the car and the family just laughs and laughs and it is just a great family road trip book to read.
Aside from that, I’ve got a buddy whose name is CJ Casciotta. He wrote a really great book called Get Weird that I recommend to a lot of people. And I am also a fan of David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.
[0:39:07.2] JR: Yeah, that’s been recommended a couple of times. We have actually started a leader board of the most frequently recommended books here in the Call to Mastery and I think that one is going to move up the rankings. You guys can find that as always at jordanraynor.com/bookshelf.
Beth, what about you, which books do you gift the most to others?
[0:39:23.2] BS: Lately, I have been recommending Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. It was written in the 70s, but it is an allegory. And the main character is much afraid and she encounters the shepherd who wants to lead her to the high places, but she’s lame. And so, she’s going on this journey with the shepherd and battling members of her family who represent different things like guilt and anger and all of these different things. It is a very beautiful story and it really helps you see your own relationship with Christ in a new light, I love it.
And then another book that I really enjoyed is Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey and he talks about the gospels and stories of Jesus and stories that Jesus told through the perspective of someone who has lived in the Middle East. So, you get deep cultural references and what that would have meant when they said certain things.
So, it is just mind-blowing the things that you will miss as someone who lives in America as oppose to someone who actually lives in that culture.
[0:40:22.3] JR: Those both sound amazing. What was the title of the first one again?
[0:40:26.0] BS: Hinds’ Feet on High Places. It is from the verse in Habakkuk, “The Lord is my strength and he’s made my feet like hinds’ feet.”
[0:40:32.9] JR: I love that. That sounds great. Jeremy, who would you most like to hear talk about their faith influences their work, maybe on this podcast?
[0:40:40.4] JS: From what I understand one of my favorite actors, Chris Pratt, is a follower of Jesus. I highly recommend I believe it was MTV Music Awards or one of those, maybe like the Teen Choice awards or something like that. Do a Google search. It is like nine things for you and he is speaking basically to a teenage crowd and one of them is God is real. It is really, really great and I love Chris Pratt. One of my favorite sitcoms is Parks and Recreation. And he is one of those guys in Hollywood you’d actually want to hang out with.
[0:41:12.5] JR: Totally. I am a huge Parks and Rec fan. That is a really good answer, I am surprised we haven’t heard Chris Pratt’s name in response to that before. Beth, how about you?
[0:41:22.3] BS: Brian Godawa. I don’t know if you are familiar with him. He is a director and screen writer. He wrote the movie To End all Wars, which came out back in 2001. And I feel like that is a beautiful story where you see Christ portrayed, but it is totally different than you would think.
So, he talks a lot about world view, the importance of having quality stories in Hollywood that teach a positive world view without being cheesy and corny.
[0:41:49.7] JR: Yeah. I love that. That is one of my favorite conversations to have. It is part of this conversation today.
All right, so Beth let’s stick with you for a second, one piece of advice to leave these audience with. These are people like you, who are just trying to do great work for the glory of God and the good of others. What piece of advice would you leave them with?
[0:42:07.4] BS: I would say don’t be intimidated by the fact that you only have a small offering. I think about the boy who only had five loaves and two fish. And I think in some ways these book feels like five loaves and two fish. I am just a small voice. I am self-published. It feels like such a tiny offering. But just realizing that God can do something great with something small and believing in that and not letting that keep me from doing it in the first place.
[0:42:35.3] JS: I want to actually piggyback on exactly what she just said. I mentioned on our call earlier there is a really great movie about a woman named Vivian Maier.
[0:42:44.2] JR: I am so glad you brought this up. I forgot to ask about this, yeah.
[0:42:47.4] JS: Yeah and she was basically a nanny who took photos. And whenever you saw her, she had a camera around her neck. If you have a chance, there is a documentary called Finding Vivian Maier and to people that knew her, they talk about her as being sad, reclusive. But what they found is after she passed away they went through her room and found boxes and boxes and boxes of negatives.
Basically, she has become known worldwide as one of the best documentary photographers of our time. But she kept it to herself. She never shared it with anybody. And I think that what Beth was just saying, it is really important as we discover and develop what God made us to do, that we also spread that with other people. We give that joy to others, so that they can celebrate along with us.
And I think that is exactly what these books have done for Beth and I is that they have allowed us to discover something that we have always wanted to do and develop a new skillset and do something different.
But the most important part is if we just kind of kept that to ourselves and went to Kinko’s and made a printed-out version of this and staple them together and the furthest they got was our own coffee table, what’s the point, you know? So, spreading and being willing to take that little that you have and putting it out into the world is really, really important.
[0:44:02.4] JR: In the words of Steve Jobs, “great artists ship.” In order to love our neighbors we got to ship product, we got to create, we got to create new things and I think I said in Called to Create, an entrepreneur is somebody who takes a risk to create something new for the good of others, right? You got to share your creations with the world.
Hey, Beth and Jeremy, I just want to commend you for the incredibly beautiful functional and eternally significant work you guys do as graphic designers. Thank you for helping us, as professionals, in our kids cultivate Christ like empathy in our lives in our work. Thank you for serving your clients through the ministry of excellence. I am just so grateful for you guys. Hey, I know the crowdfunding campaigns are over but people can still buy these books. Where can they do that?
[0:44:46.4] BS: Yes, they are available at happycargobooks.com. And you can buy Chin Up, Chinchilla right now. And Hip Hooray, Hippo should be available to ship out in June. That is our hope.
[0:44:58.5] JR: I love it and I read both of these to my kids. I love them both. Thank you, guys so much for joining me on the Call to Mastery.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:45:06.2] JR: If you guys can’t tell, I love design, I love product design, I love graphic design, I love illustration, even though I am not talented at all in any of these things. That was a lot of fun for me. I hope you guys enjoyed hearing from Beth and Jeremy. Hey, thank you guys so much for tuning in to the Call to Mastery this week, I’ll see you next time.