The next right thing for your work
Jordan Raynor sits down with Emily P. Freeman, bestselling author of The Next Right Thing, to talk about her response to The Next Right Thing in Frozen II, the genius of “theme days” on your calendar, and how to avoid the temptation to “fake mastery.”
[0:00:05.3] JR: Hey everybody. 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. Each week, I host a conversation with somebody who is following Jesus Christ and is also pursuing world-class mastery of their vocation. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits and how their faith influences their work.
Today’s guest is the wonderful, Emily P. Freeman. Of course, she is the host of the wildly popular podcast, The Next Right Thing, which just surpassed seven million downloads. Trust me, that is a lot of downloads for a podcast. She’s also the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book by the same title, The Next Right Thing, which I was honored to endorse.
Emily is a masterful communicator, whether she’s blogging or writing books, or producing podcast content, she’s exceptional at communicating gospel truths in really practical ways. Emily and I sat down. We talked about her response to the song titled The Next Right Thing, showing up in the movie Frozen 2. We talked about the genius of theming your days on your calendar and how to avoid the temptation to fake mastery in your career.
You guys are going to love this episode. Please enjoy this conversation with Emily P. Freeman.
[0:01:40.1] JR: Emily P. Freeman. Thanks for being on the Call to Mastery.
[0:01:43.6] EF: I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.
[0:01:46.2] JR: I promised my kids that I would start here in this conversation. Since Thanksgiving, there have been three songs played on repeat in my house by my five-year-old and three-year-old talking to Alexa. You can guess where I'm going with this.
Number one is Who Let the Dogs Out by Baha Men. Of course, number two is Waving Through a Window from the Dear Evan Hanson soundtrack. Number three is The Next Right Thing from Frozen 2.
[0:02:13.5] EF: That’s right.
[0:02:15.8] JR: By the way, I intentionally did not read up on what happened here. I've got to know if there's a story here. Please, tell me the Disney writers were huge fans of your podcast and that inspired the song.
[0:02:27.9] EF: I can tell you that but then I would have to confess that it was not the truth. Let me tell you, ever since, like I started getting wind that there was a song called “The Next Right Thing” back in I don't know, months before the movie came out. I was like, “Well, that's cool.” Since then, I have gotten questions from, “Do you know Kristen Bell? Did you write the song? Did Disney pay you?”
People were both thrilled and angry, thinking that Disney stole it from me, which first of all, I'll be the first to say, I did not come up with the phrase “The Next Right Thing”.
[0:03:03.2] JR: Yeah. You talk about this in the book. Yeah, yeah.
[0:03:04.9] EF: Right. I mean, I'll take it, but I constantly tell people like, “Dr. Martin Luther King and LaMotte, Mother Teresa, Alcoholics Anonymous and the big book of –” There's so many, people who have said this before me. Yes. The story is that I did not see the movie until I got 1 million, trillion DMs on Instagram from people giving me a screenshot of either them at the movie, or the song by Kristen Bell.
The funny thing is which is cute that everybody thought they were the first person to tell me. Right. “Oh, Emily. I don't know if you've seen this, but there is this movie, it is a cartoon.” They go through the whole thing and I'm like, “That is so cool. Thank you.” I finally saw it. Loved it. Loved the movie, the whole thing.”
You know what after I saw it, what happened was that I became fascinated with the writers who wrote the song, the Lopez, there's a husband and wife who wrote song. I had to of course listen to a podcast. They were on talking about it. It's really beautiful. It's just their inspiration for the song, for the character in the movie.
Then it was really based on how people who they worked on a movie with – I think it was maybe one of the directors or producers who had a great loss in his life and they watched him go through that loss. He did it by simply doing the next right thing. That was a real spiritual and personal transformation that happened for them. Then they put it into this song, which I thought was really beautiful.
[0:04:34.9] JR: It’s a dynamite song. I mean, come on. Disney's standards, this thing's – you’re a musician, I'm a musician. It's complex. The chord structures are interesting. I'm all-in. I’m all in on Kristen Bell and “The Next Right Thing” and Emily P. Freeman and The Next Right Thing.
[0:04:49.7] EF: That’s right.
[0:04:51.6] JR: That’s right. Everybody listening right now knows you as the host of this phenomenally successful podcast. I don't think a lot of our listeners probably know your story. What's your story vocationally, Emily?
[0:05:04.3] EF: It's funny. I went to college as a piano major. Some people don't know that. I went to a Bible College, Jordan, and they're not really known for their – these particular schools, you don't go there to major in piano, but I did. It was a couple years into it and I realized like, I really loved playing the piano, but I really wasn't looking to have that be my lifelong vocation.
I ended up transferring schools. I went to University of North Carolina in Greensboro and I studied sign language interpreting. That's what I got my degree in, educational interpreting for the deaf.
I thought, okay, this is it. I'm going to do this forever and I'm going to. I was really fascinated with the language piece of it of listening to someone who was teaching, or speaking and then being able to understand what that person was saying in such a way that I could translate it into American Sign Language, so that it would provide accessibility to these deaf students and the whole thing. I did that for years.
Then after I got married and had – we have twins actually, so it was like, we went from zero to two real fast. That changed my working full-time situation. That was when I started to write on a blog, was when I stopped the full-time sign language interpreting life that I was living. Two years into having twins, I was like, I can't remember my name, I don't know what day it is and I have to do something to help me feel like a grown up.
I just started this blog and shared it with some – just my girlfriends in town. I mean, it was for a couple years, I just wrote and I didn't know about the internet. I mean, I did, but I just didn't think about an audience or a reader beyond my own town. Then slowly, I began to be aware. Like, “Oh, wait. What if I wrote things on here to actually connect with people beyond myself? What if I wrote things I was learning and things that I thought were important?”
It was just one of those, I stumbled into it back in – this is back in 2007. That's how I – I'd always been a writer, but it was one of those things where I thought that was a hobby for when you're a kid. I never thought I could take it seriously, because I think a lot of us had this idea that to be a writer, someone has to come and crown you with permission to do that work and to call yourself that and I had not received my crowning yet. I just figured, well, I guess that's not really a thing that I can pursue. But that's where it started.
[0:07:23.0] JR: So, 2007 you started blogging. When did you sign your first book deal?
[0:07:26.7] EF: I signed my first book deal in I think it was 2009.
[0:07:32.6] JR: One of the things I like about your story is this pattern of placing little bets. Your first foray into writing wasn't trying to go get a traditional publishing deal. You sat down, you started blogging, right? Can you talk about the value of placing little bets in your career?
[0:07:49.0] EF: Absolutely. I'm glad you asked that question, because I think just speaking specifically about writing, I work with and meet so many writers through the course of my work. What I find to be true across the board is that writers think that you're not a real writer unless you have a book published.
I talk with writers who talk about – it's like they have book-shaped eyeballs. Everything that they see is they see it at the lens of a book. Not only do I think that that's a dangerous way to look at the work, but I think that it's the wrong focus. I will say when I started writing, I might have been the opposite. I think I did think that in order to be a real writer, probably real writers wrote books, that felt right. I never ever thought I would do that. That really wasn't the goal.
I did write on a blog pretty consistently when my kids were little. I did it week after week for several years in a row. It was my first, probably my first step forward making progress toward that book. The destination wasn't let's write a book, but it was like, well, I'd like to learn more about writing. I would like to become a better writer. How might one do that?
I ended up looking for a writing conference. I had a friend who was going to one and it was in Charlotte, which is a few hours from where I live. I thought, “You know? I'm going to go there. I don't feel qualified. I probably won't belong. I don't know a single person, but I’m just going to go.” I did. I learned a couple of things there. I didn't meet an editor who discovered me, like you're a model at a gas station and they're like, “You! We want you.”
[0:09:25.4] JR: You. Over here. Yeah.
[0:09:27.2] EF: Yeah, that didn't happen. What did happen, a couple of things. Number one, I met several other writers. I met a lot of writers, but I met a few who I stayed in touch with. I met some like-minded peers, friends, people who saw the world in a similar way and had to write about it.
The second thing I learned was that I wasn't the only one who didn't know things and I actually knew more than I thought. I was sitting in the back of a workshop about how to pitch magazine articles or something, or how to write magazine articles, but I remember during the whole lecture, I was like, “Oh, that's so smart. I'm probably the only one in here who has never written for a magazine.”
Then during the Q&A, I remember people started asking questions not only questions that I had, but also questions that I knew the answer to. I thought, “Okay. Maybe I'm further along than I thought. That was such a human experience for me leaving that conference.” Like I said, I didn't need an editor, I didn't meet an agent. I did meet people and I also got a little glimpse at myself. In that, I feel that was one little step, one next right thing in the right direction of I didn't realize it at the time, but it was moving towards that book.
I always think about the work that we do. I think often, we confuse the work as the art like, “Oh, I'm going to write a book, or I'm going to write a song, or I'm going to do this creative thing. Then look now, I have my art, here it is.”
In fact, as I'm doing this and as I learn and as I pay close attention to the way God makes and the way that he makes us is that it's really that we are the art. That the fact that we have a book, or a piece of artwork is evidence that the art has happened, that we are becoming someone and here's my book, it's evidence that that's happening. That's secondary to the true art, which is the beauty of the change and the redemption and the transformation that's happening on the inside of me.
[0:11:21.3] JR: That's beautiful. One of the things I like most about your path to mastering your vocation, I could be misremembering this, but I seem to recall you having a conversation, I think it was on Annie Downs’s podcast, about taking the time to fall in love with ideas, especially work project ideas before choosing to commit to them and pursue mastery of them.
I think this is in the context of launching The Next Right Thing as a podcast, instead of a book. Am I remembering that correctly? If so, can you talk about that?
[0:11:53.1] EF: Absolutely. Here's what happens I think with a lot of us and then I'll tell you that specific story is I think that we have an idea and then we immediately begin to talk ourselves out of it, because it's going to be too hard to implement and then we don't ever do our good ideas. Then the world is missing out on that thing we had to offer. For me, a lot of that is inspired first of all from B. J. Novak and Greg Daniels who wrote – well, Greg Daniels created the American version of The Office.
In their writing room, B. J. Novak talked about this on a podcast. I think it was with Tim Ferriss or somebody. They had this thing where they called it blue skying, where we are going to share ideas, we're going to camp on an idea for hours and no one can say it's any of these ideas are bad ideas. You just go crazy. Dwight flies to the moon, okay. It's a blue sky idea. We're going to allow it. Then later, they're going to slash all their darlings, right?
At first when it first comes, you got to give those ideas a chance to breathe. It's like, they're so brave coming out and they'll stop coming out, if you keep killing them as soon as they pop their heads up. That was a way that they described it, but I also have found this to be true in my own work that if we allow ourselves the freedom to sit with an idea and let it flit and flitter around for a while for weeks, for sometimes months before we – because what will happen is as we allow those ideas to live, give them a chance at life, they will begin to categorize themselves and it’s like our brains, I call it our brains will work for free. It's the subconscious part of our brain of figuring out some of the parts that are difficult.
The good ideas, sometimes there's a big gap between where we are and where we're going to get there. Depending on your situation, the gap could be money, support, just knowledge. There's a lot of things that can be in that gap. If you don't – if you haven't allowed yourself the time to fall absolutely in love with that idea, it's going to fall through the gap.
If you have given yourself to this idea fully and for me, for example, it was this idea of this concept of decision-making. This way, I was paying attention to how we make decisions and then what happens when we have an unmade decision. I was, Jordan, fascinated. I was obsessed with how I felt God – it's almost like he was in on some joke, because I looked around and I thought this is everywhere. It’s like the blue car syndrome they talk about, where you’re going to buy a car and you see it everywhere.
I started seeing this whole decision-making thing everywhere, where I thought, look how attentive I am when I have to decide between two good things, or two hard things when I'm living in the state of indecisiveness, I become attentive to how God might be speaking through my husband, through my pastor, through my best friend, through the way the leaves are turning on the trees.
I mean, we become the hyper aware and I'm like, “Oh, okay. Maybe God is less interested.” He's getting my attention through this unmade decision, but actually there's something going on deeper within me.
What might that look like if I follow that thread? I thought, because I'm a writer, I thought, “Oh, this is my next book. I'm going to write a book about this.” I sat down and I tried to write it and it was the worst. Nothing was – I mean, it was not coming like my other books had. The idea felt the same. You’ve written a few books, you can start to know, okay, this is book-length worthy.
[0:15:20.9] JR: Yeah, yeah. Totally. Yeah.
[0:15:20.9] EF: Sometimes we’re like tweet-worthy. Then this felt a lot longer, but it wasn't happening. I was so frustrated. What I realized was at the same time simultaneously, I started really falling in love with just the audio medium. I was listening to more audiobooks. I was on the scripture reading team at my church, so I was reading scripture on Sundays out loud and I was listening to more podcasts.
It was so funny the way it converged, because I started – I was working on this “book” and then I was consuming audio content. I thought, “If only there was a way to talk about this book, instead of having – talk so that people could.” I realized they came up without a long time ago. It's called podcasting. I didn't have to reinvent the wheel.
[0:16:07.6] JR: Yeah. It's a thing. Yeah.
[0:16:09.1] EF: That’s a whole thing. That's when I thought, “Oh, what if this idea that I've been trying to force into this medium that the art just did not want to fit in, what if it became 10 to 15-minute episodes instead?”
Immediately, when I gave the work permission to run in the direction of a podcast, it fell into place as far as the format of it. It made more sense to me. The good news was I had already really fallen in love with the idea of it being a podcast. The bad news was I didn't know how to host a podcast. I didn't know the first thing. That's where the gap was for me in that.
It’s like, okay, here I am. I got this idea. I think it should be podcast. I was so deeply in love with that and committed to it that I'm like, this love will carry me through the dark night of the soul of technology of trying to figure out how to actually get it.
[0:17:00.5] JR: It is the darkest of nights starting a podcast.
[0:17:02.7] EF: It’s the darkest of nights. Wires. I mean, everything is it's the worst. But it didn't matter, because I gave it the space, because I loved it and I'm like, “We're doing this.” It was just like your face set like a flint. If that had not been allowed to happen, I don't know, I might never have done the podcast, because I would not have given it the space and I would have talked myself out of it too quickly.
The ironic thing is that a year and a half later, the podcast became a book anyway. Now we have The Next Right Thing book, but that would never ever, ever would have happened if I hadn't allowed it to be what it wanted to be when it wanted to be it.
[0:17:39.3] JR: I want to put a fine point on something you're saying for our listeners. I think it's so important that we all understand this. You fell in love with a message, a topic, this topic of decisions. The medium was secondary. I think a lot of people start with the medium. They say, “I want to write a book, or I want to start a podcast.” Well, here's the deal. You need to have something compelling to say, a vision for what you believe the Lord is giving you to communicate to the world through a fresh perspective and in a fresh new way. Especially in this day and age where the medium can be pretty much whatever you want it to be.
It can be three-minute podcast episodes, it could be three-hour podcast episodes, or it could be a blog post, or a tweet. I think a lot of times we get hung up on the medium before we really dig in with the Lord in prayer to make sure we have a message we're sharing with the world.
When you chose the podcast medium though, you didn't know what you were doing, neither did I. By the way, I didn't even listen to podcasts before we started this. I'm not an audio listener. Who did you look to to try to emulate? Because I had my list of a few people I went and listened to. Who did you listen to and said, “Yeah, I want to copy bits and pieces of these shows.”
[0:18:51.7] EF: It's funny, because I actually did the opposite at first. I heard what I didn't want to do. It wasn't so much people were doing it poorly. It was just I knew I didn't want to have – I knew I didn't have the capacity at that time to schedule with interviews and to figure out the technology it takes to host interviews at that time. It was like, that wasn't the part I was falling in love with. I knew that number one, it wasn't going to be an interview style podcast.
I also knew I wanted it to be short, like 15 minutes or less short, because people who are struggling with decision fatigue and chronic hesitation do not have time to listen to an hour-long. They want a quick win, some quick encouragement for what is my next right thing look like today? What if I'm stuck in decision fatigue today? What’s that going to mean for me?
I live in a town where for us, commutes are 15 minutes long everywhere we go. That's just my life. I know that's not true for everyone. Of course, I created the podcast so in my mind I'm like, “Oh, a commute is 15 minutes everywhere you go.” That was another piece of it. I wanted a mom, or a dad to be able to drive to the grocery store and by the time they get there, they've heard of an entire episode. There are a few things I knew for sure.
The third thing was I wanted it to be something where I heard Oprah Winfrey talk about how –she had the Oprah Winfrey Show for over two decades and she then started the own network after the show went off. It’s like, we had a show every day at 4:00 and we did that for years and years and years, so we can have a network. It's better to have a show on every channel all day than to have one show at 4:00.
It's funny, because later I listened to an interview she did and she was saying that the network did not go as they thought it would go. It did not take off the way they thought it would. Upon reflection, they realized that what they had done that 4:00 timeslot was so successful.
Part of it was because they had created a habit for America that 4:00 – I mean, and I still think this way, because I watched Oprah all going – I would come home from high school and I would turn on Oprah with my mom and we would watch it. It wasn't really about Oprah necessarily. I mean, it was, but it was our 4:00 habit.
[0:21:07.8] JR: It's just what you did at 4:00.
[0:21:08.9] EF: It’s just what you do at 4:00. I still to this day when it's 4:00 weekday, I'm like, “It's time for Oprah.” I mean, just like – it’s Pavlov dog thing.
[0:21:17.6] JR: It’s time.
[0:21:19.2] EF: It’s time. I loved it. I miss it still. I thought that was a fascinating observation, because I thought, “Oh, that's a habit that we collectively had as a community.” Then when she spread it out over a whole network, the habit was diffused. I thought the same thing about a podcast episode. Let's drop it. Most people drop their episodes the same time every week, but it's the same thing. I want Tuesdays to become for people the day they look forward to, because if they lack clarity, they're going to get a little bit for 10 minutes every Tuesday.
[0:21:51.8] JR: Yeah. I love that. Hey, so in the book, you talked about how when you were starting out as a sign language interpreter, you hated being called a beginner, even though that's exactly what you were, right? You go on to make this point that yeah, we want to rush to mastery, right? You used that word, but we can't. This is called the Call to Mastery. I talked about this in Master of One, one of the keys to mastering any vocational discipline, it's just discipline over time, over a long period of time.
How did you learn the value of good old discipline over time and how can we do the same?
[0:22:28.3] EF: I mean, I'm still learning it, number one. I think that that whole idea of being a beginner, it's like we love new beginnings, spring and starting over. Then when it becomes personal, we don't like it anymore. We don't like being a beginner. When I was a sign language interpreter, I had a supervisor who wrote on my supervisory sheet that I was good for a novice interpreter. Well, I didn't know what novice meant. I was like, that word must mean brilliant. That word must be the most awesome word of all.
I went home and Ask Jeeves, I think it was back when Ask Jeeves was – I mean, who came up with let's have a butler who is a search engine. We'll call him Jeeves and he will answer all your questions. I asked Jeeves what novice meant and it meant a beginner. I was like, “Oh, no. She didn't. She did not call me a beginner.” I was still in college, Jordan. I was a senior in college. It was my internship. Here I was offended by her saying what I actually was.
I think that’s so true in so many areas of life. We get frustrated and it doesn't just have to be vocationally. I think we are beginners and sometimes as a new parent, or even if it is, you go into a new job and you immediately feel ashamed for the fact that you don't know where the bathroom is, or you can't remember your password, or you don't know how this new technology works. It's like, we feel this weird sense of shame.
I think it probably comes out, maybe it's a Western thing that we think that we're all supposed to know everything right away. What happens is we fake mastery and we give off this aura that we've mastered the thing, when in fact, we don't know what we're doing.
I remember a episode of Parks and Recreation where Andy Dwyer gets hired by this fancy man in Britain and he comes back to Pawnee and tells us why, he was like, “I don't want to go back there, because I don't know what I'm doing.” April, his wife, was like, “Andy, I'm going to let you in on a secret that everybody knows. Nobody knows what they're doing. You just have to do it, until you learn what you're doing.”
I think you ask what is my path of the discipline of mastery and I think it's really less about figuring something out and more about doing it terribly for a really long time until it starts to get better and really finding that place within me of confidence to do that. It takes a great amount of confidence to do something poorly and to keep on doing it. I think that's part of the practice.
[0:24:54.0] EF: It also takes a lot of confidence to ask good, curious questions, right? In all the interviews I did for Master of One, humility was the common denominator for these Christ-following masters. They admitted and were transparent about what they didn't know. That's the only way that you can grow.
Emily, we talked about routines and habits here a lot. I'm really curious what your typical day looks like. I mean, we're in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, so probably a little different right now, but typical day for Emily P. Freeman from sun up to sundown, what does it look like?
[0:25:26.5] EF: It does look a little different, but I would say that now that – listen, when you're talking to parents too, if anybody's a parent, it changes with the ages of your kids, I would say too. Right now, it is coronavirus time. I've worked from home forever, and so that's still pretty much the same. I wake up and before coronavirus, I had about an hour-long morning routine that I would walk through and it was this a pattern of pray, read, write, read, pray. That was this PRWRP and I like little acronyms to help myself remember things and talk about things.
Now it looks more like RP. It's pray, write, read. It’s a little shorter and I found that I've have to extend a lot of grace to myself with my routines that I was used to and loved, because everything has to maybe be a little bit shorter than it was before. I'm just having to extend a little bit more compassion towards myself for some of those routines, because I came from – listen, when I was in college, I was like – spiritual disciplines were very – I was very rigid with thinking. Everything was black and white. There's good, there's bad. This is how it has to be.
Then I went through a long process, like many of us probably have of understanding God's grace toward me and of understanding that spiritual disciplines are not really about the discipline themselves. They're about putting ourselves in the path of God, so that we can hear his voice and play and listen to him and be fully ourselves. It's a less rigid thing than what I used to think.
[0:26:54.9] JR: That is a point, there’s a means to an end, it's not the end –
[0:26:56.6] EF: Absolutely. Yes. I think John Ortberg talks about if you're practicing a discipline that does not cause you to draw closer to God, then that's probably not a discipline that you should be doing. That was helpful for me.
As far as in the morning, I do definitely sit and read and pray and journal usually. It's very terrible writing. That's what I call journaling. Terrible writing, at least.
[0:27:20.1] JR: That's a good definition of journaling.
[0:27:21.2] EF: It is. Yeah. One page. I just try to fill one page. Then when I do try to have some type of like, okay, now I'm going to work, because I can very easily just slowly morph into opening my computer and checking something and then three hours goes by and I haven't actually started yet.
I really try to have a start time like, now I am working because when you're working from home. That is a beginning. I have a little office in my house, which by the way I wrote three books before I ever had a desk. I just did it on the corner of my sofa, or at the kitchen table, or at the coffee shop. Definitely, I never would think that in order to write books, you have to have this fancy office, or this retreat center. You just got to have words and a way to put them down.
[0:28:04.7] JR: Grit. And grit.
[0:28:06.4] EF: Yeah, a lot of grit. Yeah. A little bit of blinders on your eyes.
[0:28:10.1] JR: Exactly. Yeah.
[0:28:11.4] EF: It's funny, for many years, in fact I finished grad school a couple years ago and it was during that time was the busiest time in my life. I started following what I called themed days. Each day of the week has a theme attached to it. I was doing the podcast at the time, but I knew I can't give this podcast all the time in the world. I have to give it one day. Mondays are my podcast days. It's like, Monday I –
[0:28:32.7] JR: I love this. Talk more – All right. Yeah.
[0:28:35.3] EF: I have to, because otherwise, I'll just work a little bit on every day. For two years, I would wake up on Monday morning, I did not know what Tuesday's episode was going to be, but I would sit down and I would typescript out pretty much an episode. I would write it, record it, edit it and then upload it and then it would be scheduled for the next day. That was all on Mondays before 5:00. It worked that way for two full years. Every Monday, I did the podcast episode from start to finish.
[0:29:07.3] JR: What's changed? What are you doing now?
[0:29:08.9] EF: What's changed was I realized that I didn't want to do my own plumbing anymore, because I'm the only one who could host that podcast, but there are a lot of people who can edit the podcast. There's lots of people who can put the music in, there's lots of people who can do the show notes. I finally got smart after the book released and I hired some people to do the work that they are good at. They're better at it than I am.
When you hire people, here's a fun fact, when you hire people to edit your podcast, they need more than 12 hours to do that. Now I still do it on Mondays, but I work a week ahead, and so at any given time.
[0:29:43.9] JR: You’re one week out.
[0:29:45.6] EF: I'm a week out. That's right.
[0:29:46.9] JR: Wow, good for you. I’m impressed. All right, so Monday is podcast day. What are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday?
[0:29:52.9] EF: Tuesday's are Hope Writer days, run a membership, co-run a membership site for writers called Hope Writers, where we help writers in all stages of the writing life find and follow their own path to sharing their words with a reader. We do that by helping them really balance the art of writing with the business of publishing. I am one of the co-founders. We've been doing this about five years now and I'm the director content.
Usually, Tuesdays are our days where we host a conversation with someone in the writing, publishing, writing industry. We call it Tuesday teaching. It's live every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. I host that every Tuesday and that's live, so I have to be ready for that interview every Tuesday. I also, since I'm already doing Hope Writer early work on Tuesdays, I just give that whole day to Hope Writers. We have a team now of 20 on our Hope Writer team, and so there's also a lot of people management and meetings and conversations.
I've found though that when I came up with my theme days, Tuesdays and Thursdays I think were Hope Writer days. Now I have to do a little bit of Hope Writers every day, because it's grown to be this large, moving machine of people and processes. That's taken up more time. When I was in grad school, Wednesdays were my day to read, write papers, do the homework, that stuff. I really needed that, because you have to go into this deep work place of focus. If I was task-switching, because that’s a thing; every time you switched from one task to the next, you lose 20% of concentration and you can't get it back till the next day.
[0:31:20.1] JR: Oh, you’re preaching one of my favorite sermons here on the Call to Mastery. By the way, this is why I love theme day. We haven't talked much about my prior role, but prior to focus on writing full-time, I ran this pretty well-funded tech startup called Threshold 360. It’s a team of – grew to a 100 people. I would have themed days for Mondays, or product days, just focus with my product team. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and usually Thursdays were sales days. Friday was everything else.
Now that I have more control of my calendar, because my team is smaller, I've actually moved to theme weeks, right? I'll say for example, this week is just the podcast. All I'm doing this week –
[0:31:59.0] EF: Lucky.
[0:32:00.1] JR: Yeah. It is. I'm very fortunate.
[0:32:02.1] EF: I love it.
[0:32:03.4] JR: I also recognize, I'm not going to be able to do that forever. Right now, it is glorious, glorious. Hey, you mentioned Ortberg. You seem to be a huge Ortberg Dallas Willard fan.
[0:32:13.6] EF: Yeah.
[0:32:14.2] JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. All right, so let's go here. I want to talk about the habits of Jesus. I love this Dallas Willard quote that you quote in The Next Right Thing. He says, “The most important thing about you is not the things you achieve, but the person you become.” I couldn't agree more. I've been thinking lately, what if the way to achieving more and I don't like the word achieve, so let's just say, what if the way to doing better, more masterful work is in becoming more like who we were designed to become like in Christ, do you see habits in the life of Jesus that can make us more fruitful, or make us more exceptional professionals, but also husbands, mothers, fathers, etc.?
[0:32:59.8] EF: I see the main one is one that Dallas Willard talked about when Ortberg asked him, when he first started out, John Ortberg called up Dallas, he was like, “I want to be healthy spiritually. I want you to give me your advice.” He called him up. Dallas had a long pause on the phone and he said, “You must relentlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Then Ortberg wrote that down and we've heard the story, because now John Mark Comer had an entire book about it.
[0:33:24.7] JR: Right, right. A real favorite. Yeah.
[0:33:26.4] EF: When I saw that title, I was like, “John Mark Comer. That's Dallas Willard.”
[0:33:30.5] JR: Come on.
[0:33:31.0] EF: Come on. Then John tells the story, or John Ortberg tells the story that he was like, “That's so good.” He wrote it down and he's like, “Okay, what else?” Dallas said, there isn't anything else.
[0:33:42.9] JR: Yeah. That’s it.
[0:33:43.5] EF: I thought, okay, now that's something. Just the unhurried presence of Jesus is probably the habit that if we could learn to cultivate his unrushed, unfettered presence, I think that would inform every other habit that we practice as we're with people. My husband John is one who embodies that for me.
[0:34:08.8] JR: There are way too many Johns in this conversation. Geez.
[0:34:10.4] EF: There’s too many Johns in this conversation. We'll call him John F. Yeah, but definitely just this present person in the room is becomes a fixed point for the people around him, or around her. I think that people ask me, I went to school with I learned from people who worked with Dallas Willard for years and years and years. I went to Friends University in Kansas and James Bryan Smith is the head of that program and started it, because really it came out from years and years ago, Jim told Dallas, he was like, “Dallas, you should write a curriculum for Christ-likeness. You talked about in divine conspiracy about a curriculum for Christ-likeness. You should write that book.”
Dallas said, “I'm not writing that book. You should write that book, Jim.” Jim wrote in what ended up becoming The Good and Beautiful God series that ended up becoming an entire program at Friends University. That's where I went to school and studied, and so that's really near and dear.
I think that that is so pivotal, so that idea of we're all getting a spiritual formation. The question is and that's something that Dallas says is what kind? We're all being formed, but how we walk into a room and that's something that people ask me like, “Well, what did you learn in school? What's the biggest thing you learned school?”
I'm like, “Well, I'm learning how to walk into a room.” Yeah, I'm learning theology things, informational things and practices and habits, but if we can walk into a room remembering that our friend Jesus walks with us, is within us, beside us, behind us, before us, it changes everything. That for me, that's when my most excellent work comes out. Like I said almost as an afterthought, rather than as the main thing, because it's really about the person we're becoming.
[0:35:54.8] JR: Agree. It's walking in not just with Jesus, but in the way of Jesus. I tell John Mark, I think that book, I think we'll look back 10 years from now and say that that was one of the most influential books in the church of this decade. I just think the topic is so relevant, so timely, so important, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. One of the things I love this point that John Mark makes suddenly in the book, but Jesus was unhurried, but he was busy, right? He was productive.
I believe that elimination of hurry is the means to being productive, right? We can't be creative, we can't master a craft if we're hurried from thing to thing. Hey, so real briefly, we talk a lot about this intersection of faith and work on the podcast. Your husband served as a youth pastor for 10, 12 years of your marriage, right?
[0:36:45.7] EF: That's right.
[0:36:46.6] JR: I've got to imagine, you two have encountered your fair share of bad theology about work. I’m curious about the types of conversations you guys are having with your teenage kids. They're about to go off to college in a few years, they're going to enter the job market. What are you telling them about how their faith connects to their future vocations?
[0:37:10.0] EF: Wow, you just threw me a really easy question there, didn't you?
[0:37:15.2] JR: You're welcome. Yeah.
[0:37:16.1] EF: Yeah, thanks for that. No, it's a great question. I think that you mentioned the theology of work, or the false theology of work. I'm glad you mentioned that because we see it in the church a lot. Just yesterday actually at dinner, we were talking as a family about how some things in the church are of God and then some things are just of the culture. Sometimes, church leaders confuse those two things and call something biblical when really, it's cultural.
I think one of those things is we have – there's this call to excellence and I'm all about it. Yes, whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise and also doing our work with excellence and as Christ followers, man, don't we want to be the best business people in the world? Don't we want to be the best writers, the best everything because it's a reflection. I think there can be a twistedness that’s to what end? It's like the question becomes, yes, the best, but why and who's getting the glory for that? Where's the motivation for that?
When you look at the life of Christ, many would have probably said he was a failure. If you looked at the actual outcome, now big picture outcome, yeah, but at the time, he didn't really look like this massive success that they expected. They expected a king on a throne. They got a baby in the hay. It just didn't ever quite look the way. I think that's talking to teenagers. I think that's they more than anyone, they have this idea that's being formed every day, whether we like it or not of what success is and also what failure is. I think they've got it backwards a lot of times.
We're trying to teach them to be bored. We're trying to teach them to take themselves with a light heart. I think that we learn to laugh at ourselves. I think that if we become so focused in on success the way that maybe the world has it, that's a dangerous, scary, dark, cold road to walk down. I think constantly, bringing in this comparison of is it from the Bible, or is it from our culture? That's an important conversation.
[0:39:19.0] JR: I couldn't agree more. We talk a lot about this on the Call to Mastery. I'm always sensitive to this, because we do talk a lot about the pursuit of mastery and the pursuit of excellence. I do think that's biblical. 1st Corinthians 10:31 tells us to do all things for the glory of God. What is this glory? What is this character? This character is excellence.
I don't think we are called to be successful. I don't think we are called to be the best in our fields. I see no evidence of that in scripture. I think we are called to make the most and steward well the gifts and the talents the Father has given us as an act of worship. The results don't matter, right? I think it is in the striving to do our work well as a worshipful response that brings honor and glory to him. Would you agree with that?
[0:40:08.4] EF: Absolutely. I would just add the striving with the energy of Christ. I think that's where we can get crazy is when we are bootstrapping. You're right, having our eye on the outcome and letting the outcome determine something. When in fact, it's we're just called to come out. We come out, we walk with Jesus, we do our best, we do our good work and then we can walk away like the outcome is not really our business, because it's not. There's a lot of freedom there actually.
[0:40:38.2] JR: In the way of Jesus, we have to let strivings cease in the words of Keith and Christine [inaudible 0:40:42.8], right? There's got to be a time where we step away from the work and be okay with the results, whatever those results are, because our worth, our identity is not tied up in the outcomes, right?
[0:40:54.6] EF: That’s right.
[0:40:55.3] JR: Emily, three quick questions I love to end every conversation with. Number one, which books do you gift most frequently to others?
[0:41:03.3] EF: Ooh, I love his question. There's a book of blessings by John O’Donohue called To Bless the Space Between Us. It's this beautiful little hardback book. He's an Irish priest and poet. I think he was a priest. I might get that wrong, but I know he was a poet and he wrote these beautiful blessings. I mean, it's blessing for beginning a new job, or blessing for – obscure type of things and it's a really lovely book that I love to gift. I quote from it all the time too, so that's one of my favorites.
[0:41:31.1] JR: That's a good one. You guys can find that at jordanraynor.com/bookshelf. Of course, you can find Emily's book there as well. Hey, who would you most like to hear talk about how their faith and how the gospel more specifically, influences the work they do each day in the world?
[0:41:46.0] EF: A person's name. Is that what you're asking?
[0:41:48.1] JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or it doesn't have to be a person's name. It could be a type of vocational job. I'd really love to hear craftsmen or something like that. Yeah.
[0:41:57.1] EF: I tell you what, I'm fascinated by the weight and impact of that fame has on a person's faith. I would say that whenever someone who is in the spotlight, like the global spotlight, or even just America spotlight who's not a pastor, or a Christian singer. I think Lauren Daigle or something like that, but she's sings – I'm thinking someone in Hollywood, someone who has had to withstand the burning lights of the world's focus and then has continued faithful in that.
I talked with Candace Cameron Bure once about some of this a little bit and she – maybe she's not exactly the person I had in mind, but I do think it's fascinating to listen to someone like her talk about navigating those – the Hollywood Way with also your faith. I think that's a really fascinating conversation.
[0:42:53.1] JR: Is there a specific name you do have in mind?
[0:42:55.9] EF: I don't. I don't have any names in mind, but I wish that I did.
[0:42:59.5] JR: Yeah. I wish I did too.
[0:43:00.1] EF: Then you could find that person and interview them for your podcast.
[0:43:02.4] JR: Yes. Well, we bring a lot of these people on. I think John Mark Comer had the same answer, somebody from Hollywood.
[0:43:07.4] EF: Oh, really?
[0:43:08.1] JR: Yeah. It was somebody from Hollywood and somebody from politics. Yeah, which we've got some good political guests on the roster. All right, one piece of advice to leave this audience with. Again, this audience of people who love Jesus. As a response to that, want to do good work for his glory and the good of others. What do you want to say to them before we sign off?
[0:43:26.9] EF: Well, I'll just share my favorite quote of all that I share all the time with everyone, because I think it's relevant no matter if you're – no matter where you are in your vocational walk. That is from James Bryan Smith. He repeats this mantra often, and so now I've taken it as my own. He says, “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God. The kingdom is not in trouble and neither am I.”
[0:43:53.1] JR: I love that. I love that regardless of what decisions we make, regardless of what we do in our work, the king's plans won't be thwarted. He doesn't need you and me, right? He is going to work everything for his glory, for our ultimate good on the other side of eternity and for his kingdom.
Emily, I want to commend you for the exceptional work you do in helping us do the next right thing in our careers, in our lives. Thank you for serving your audience to the ministry of excellence. Thank you for continuing to hone your craft and just communicating gospel truths in such beautiful and really practical ways.
Hey, you guys can get the book The Next Right Thing and of course, subscribe to the podcast at emilypfreeman.com. Emily, thanks again for hanging out with me today.
[0:44:39.4] EF: Thanks for having me.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:44:41.4] JR: I’m an even bigger Emily P. Freeman fan after that conversation. I love that she goes by Emily P. Freeman and Annie F. Downs. These women crack me up. No, genuinely, I love it. I love Emily. I'm so grateful for her heart, for the Lord, for the gospel and for helping us all make great decisions as we seek to do our most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others.
Hey, thank you guys so much for tuning in to this episode of the Call to Mastery. If you're new here, make sure you subscribe so you never miss an episode in the future. I'll see you next time.