Mere Christians

Jon Acuff (Author of Soundtracks)

Episode Summary

Yanni, Chris Pratt, and everything in between

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Jon Acuff, Author of Soundtracks, to talk about Yanni, 3 questions to ask of every soundtrack, and how to teach kids about the goodness of work.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:04] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I bring you a conversation with a Christian who is pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how their faith influences their work.


Today’s guest is my friend, Jon Acuff. He’s the New York Times best-selling author of Finish, Start, Do Over and one my all-time favorites, Stuff Christians Like. He’s a great writer, maybe an even more exceptional speaker on stage. He was named one of INC magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers on earth. Guys, I promise, this is going to be the funniest episode of the Call to Mastery we’ve ever produced.


We talked about Yanni to Chris Pratt. We talked about the three questions that Jon ask of every soundtrack that enters his brain. All this comes directly from his new terrific book, Soundtracks. Then we talked about what we’re teaching our kids implicitly and explicitly about work and how that’s going to shape their excitement and their ambition to do great work in the future. You guys are going to love this terrific episode with my friend, Jon Acuff.




[00:01:36] JR: Jon, thanks for being here.


[00:01:37] JA: Thanks for having me today.


[00:01:39] JR: Do you know what I was listening to as I prepped for this conversation?


[00:01:44] JA: Yanni: Live at the Acropolis.


[00:01:46] JR: Live at the Acropolis. Because, “bold statement” in your book, the best album of all time. Are you guys staying by that?


[00:01:55] JA: It’s not close for a second. I mean, somebody I’m sure is going to say like Born to Run or like Joshua Tree, that’s great. But yeah, if you haven’t heard that, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life or your ears.


[00:02:06] JR: I haven’t heard it since my parents like cassette player in our Toyota Previa growing up.


[00:02:14] JA: They sound awesome by the way. If they had that album —


[00:02:18] JR: A hundred percent they did.


[00:02:20] JA: You probably are not in therapy because they probably made a lot of good decisions.


[00:02:23] JR: No, I’m not because of Yanni. It was terrific, and I loved the little fleeting story you mentioned in the book about this album and what it says about risk. Can you share that?


[00:02:35] JA: Dude, it was my favorite thing to write, because I’ve been dying, like this is my 7th book because I’m very accomplished.


[00:02:41] JR: Of course.


[00:02:42] JA: I’ve been waiting to talk about that for so long and I finally had something where it fit. It’s a hilarious story the way it’s told, but the reality is like, he put on a concert in the Acropolis, and so the joke I did was like, “Your HOA won’t let you change your mailbox.” Imagine trying to like due a concert in a temple from the Stone Age or the Bronze Age. What I read about it was, it cost $2 million to put on and he did the money himself, and at the time, his net worth was $2, 050,000.00.


[00:03:13] JR: I love it.


[00:03:14] JA: You do the math. I joke about it, but I did write — like I’ve written so much to that album. I write to like moody, ambient, no lyric kind of stuff, so that album —


[00:03:25] JR: Yeah, me too.


[00:03:26] JA: Then occasionally, he’ll just rift in the middle with some positive statements. So yeah, that, he pulled it off and that it catapulted him to like new stratospheres. I absolutely, yeah, if you said like one concert you could go to, like that would have been amazing. I probably would still be wearing the t-shirt.


[00:03:42] JR: The best concert I’ve ever been to, kind of similar, not as cool as the Acropolis. It was by [Happenstance 00:03:47]. I was in Rome with some friends, walking down this route. I am a huge Billy Joel fan. We passed a poster and all I can read is, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, the rest of it is in Italian. Some angel of an Italian walked by. He was like, “Do you want me to translate that for you?” We’re like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Billy Joel and Bryan Adams are playing a free concert at the Coliseum tomorrow night.”


[00:04:08] JA: That’s amazing.


[00:04:10] JR: It was unbelievable, 500,000 Italians singing Piano Man in English. I’m weeping like a teenage girl.


[00:04:18] JA: That’s unbelievable. Yeah, that’s hard to beat. That really —


[00:04:22] JR: The Live at the Acropolis can do it. Jon, I’ve been a fan of yours since, man — how long ago did you publish Stuff Christians Like? That was the first thing I read.


[00:04:29] JA: 2010 was when that book came out. Yeah, 11 years ago.


[Crosstalk 00:04:33]


[00:04:34] JA: I know, right?


[00:04:35] JR: Was that book before or after you decided, “I’m going to be a full-time speaker/author”?


[00:04:41] JA: That was way before. I got paid $30,000 for that book, which again, awesome. I never want to just diminish that. That’s amazing. That anybody pays me anything for my writing is, I feel thrilled about. But take-home was like $13,000 and so like, no, there was no part of me was like, “I’ve made it. I’m now going to reach full-time.” No one at that time — I had spoken a handful of times, but no, it really wasn’t until going on eight years now that I started my own company. That was where I was really like, “Okay. You know what? I’m going to do this. I feel like I’ve got the pieces in place. I feel like I can do this.” I spent three years kind of learning from Dave Ramsey on how he did things. I felt like I had a pretty good foundation. But I would say, it was been the last eight years that I’ve really said, “This is it.”


[00:05:29] JR: You and I are both doing this work, creating content full-time now. I know it’s dream for a lot of people listening, right? But it took us both a long time to get there. It took you, what, six year to become a full-time speaker? Is that right?


[00:05:42] JA: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s hard to even say like to get there. Like in 2020 when everybody was like, “All live events are canceled. You have to find another there and you have to kind of figure out something.” “Okay. What am I going to do as stuff opens up? I’m going to do virtual events.” Yeah. I mean, it’s taken me a long time, whenever somebody’s like, “I want to do exactly what you do.” I don’t tell them usually how long it will take because I don’t know if it would have encouraged me to know that.


In 2008 when I got my first speaking gig, if somebody have said, “It will take you 13 years to get to this place.” Like I don’t know that I would have find that encouraging. Usually when somebody tells me — I remember, I did a book signing with John Maxwell, which in hindsight was a mistake. Not because — he’s an awesome person, it’s just like, if you want to be invisible, do a book signing next to John Maxwell. I could have been on fire and no one would have put me out with one of his books.


It’s like 100 people in line, he’s got so many people. They’ve got like wheelbarrows of John Maxwell books, then like nobody is in my line. They’d step out briefly because they don’t want to lose their spot and be like, “I love your blog.” Like, “Not enough to buy one of your products, though. I love you.” This dude patted me on the back —


[00:06:52] JR: Can you publish [inaudible 00:06:52] stuff for free? Keep it up.


[00:06:55] JA: Yeah, exactly. Somebody patted me on the back that I didn’t know and said, “Ten years, buddy. Ten years.” That wasn’t super encouraging. So yeah, it has taken a while, that’s for sure and I’m still working on it.


[00:07:05] JR: Of course. We’re all still working on it. How did you make the leap though? Like talk to the technicalities of that. Were you saving money from a full-time job or freelance work?


[00:07:14] JA: Yeah, dude. I was doing side hustle like crazy. I was getting up at 5:00 AM, I was writing my blog, I had freelance clients. For me, it was like once I discovered the faucet that is side hustle, I was like, “Why would I ever not have this faucet to some degree?” Like if I could teach my kids like, “Hey! Always have a good side hustle.” That would be one of the lessons that I would want them to leave the house with. I was writing jingles for like tire companies, like it’s hard to rhyme radial in a barbershop context jingle, but I figured it out. I did laser hair removal ads, like tons of those, which I know a ton about, obviously.


I’m doing all this side hustle, I’m a copywriter. So yeah. Then I’m going, “Okay. But where is our financial runway?” I’m a big believer that a lot of people, like they cripple their dreams because they saddle every bill of it right out of the gate. So you force your dream to be a home run before it had time to even learn how to walk. So yeah, I was doing a bunch of stuff on the side as I kind of prepare and kind of tested the waters. But somebody told me, “You’ll never get the boat right up against the pier. There’s always going to be some degree of jump.”


[00:08:22] JR: A part of it for me, so I was running this fairly well-funded tech startup before I made the leap to go writing full-time. I don’t think you can fully see what the next thing is until you make the leap, right? Like it’s not just like financial runway, but at some point, you just got to take a leap of faith like, “I’m going to figure this out.”


[00:08:42] JA: Yeah, and your message is going to crystallize as you share it, like that’s the other thing. You don’t have this fully formulated, like I can’t stand. I don’t think you say this, but like I can’t stand when people go, “Figure out your niche first.” I don’t think that’s true. Like it puts this incredible pressure to be like, “I only talk about hair products for like redheaded uncles and that’s my Instagram platform.” Like it’s taken me years to realize, you know what I care about? I care about helping people finish their goals. And sometimes, that looks like career goals and I write a book called Do Over. Sometimes it’s about finishing the last part of a goal. It’s called Finish. Sometimes it’s about how overthinking gets it’s in the way of that and it’s called Soundtracks. But didn’t start out to go, “That’s what I care about.” I did a bunch of things and I was like, “Oh, wow! I see a draw line here. I see a pattern. Okay. Why don’t I own that??


[00:09:31] JR: Yeah. You just place a bunch of little bets and you see what works, right and what’s bearing fruit. You talked about this a minute ago. I want to go back to it. You love speaking, you love being on stage. That’s where you eat. You built this whole business around speaking in live events, pandemic happened. What was 2020 like for you?


[00:09:50] JA: One of the most important question I think you can ask yourself during 2020 or during the changes, what would have made this easier? And then you go build that thing. So what would have made this season easier? You don’t shame yourself for not having it, but you go, “What would have made it easier?” And you build it. I asked myself that question in March and I realized, you know what? Having a YouTube channel would have made things easier because I would have had an extra revenue stream, I would have a studio figure out, I would have been better on camera. Okay. Let me go do that.” Having a podcast would have made things easier, so I launched All It Takes Is A Goal podcast.


I really started to build some other stuff, knowing public speaking. Live events are coming back. I have a live event like in two weeks from now, like I can’t wait. I’d be on a plane tomorrow if somebody had a live event. Then I learned how to do virtual. So I partnered with my speakers bureau, we have a studio, we have a full-time person that produces on our side, so I really learn how to do virtual events. So yeah, I just had — it was roll up the sleeves time and go, “Okay. What are some —” like the other thing I like to say is like, what’s the thing you told yourself some day I’ll do? Because guess what? Today is some day, like we’re all in the middle of some day.


[00:10:57] JR: Could you can’t go speak? Right.


[00:10:59] JA: Exactly.


[00:11:00] JR: I loved in Soundtracks how you explained the difference between reacting to problems and responding to problems. Explain the difference for our audience and how did that play out for you last year.


[00:11:09] JA: I mean reacting like — and I did react. There were definitely like at least six to eight weeks of just grumpy, frustration like, “Man, it will be done by the Spring. Man, it will be done by the Summer.” But responding is when you start to build. I think reacting has a degree of panic associated with it and responding has, “Okay. I’m going to have to plan. I’m going to have to do some things. I’m going to have to let go of some entitlement.”


I think when you respond, you let go of entitlement. Like when you react, there’s also sometimes of thought of like, “Oh! I shouldn’t have to do this. This is like — it used to be so much easier before.” And respond I go, “Okay. Here’s where we are, let’s figure it out. Let’s plan, let’s figure out how to have some peace around this. Let’s do the best we can.” It’s much more thoughtful, it’s much more deliberate. It’s honest about the challenges. That was one of the things Tom Ziglar in the book when we talked about his dad, Zig Ziglar. Talked about like, you don’t ignore the honesty of the problem. If you pretend there’s not a problem, you don’t get to fix it. You admit that there’s a problem, like there was no degree of hustle or like good attitude that would make people schedule live events. There was nothing I could do that would go, “Oh! No, don’t cancel that 600-person even. I’ve got a positive attitude. But what I can do —” Here’s the difference.


I can be really furious about that or I can go, “You know what? I bet that if I did a bunch of Zoom pop ins for free to clients that have been amazing to me, like that would encourage them. It might turn into some other business, but it would definitely encourage them and give me a chance to do 15 minutes on Zoom as a practice. It’s all win.” So let me respond that way.


[00:12:47] JR: Is that what you did? You reached out to your best clients like, “Hey! Can I like hop pin for 15 minutes?”


[00:12:52] JA: Yeah. Can I hop in for 15 minutes and encourage the team? And they’d be like, “Oh my gosh! That’s amazing. Let’s do it.” Then I get to super serve them, and it didn’t all the time turn into something, but a lot of times it turned into, “You know what? We’re thinking about doing a digital summit. The idea you shared with 15 of us, would you share it with 1,500 of us?” I was like, “Yeah. I totally would do that. Let’s do it.”


[00:13:09] JR: Serve, serve, serve.


[00:13:11] JA: Yeah. That’s the hard thing, it’s not complicated to do. It’s really not, but it’s hard.


[00:13:17] JR: It’s not complicated, but it’s hard. Right. Exactly.


[00:13:19] JA: You got to put your ego aside, you got to do so much grunt-work, got to beat that voice in your head that’s like, “You should be doing something more important right now. This is just like block and tackle.” I’m like, “No, dude. Block and tackle matters.”


[00:13:30] JR: It totally matters. It’s funny we’re having this conversation today. I spent most of my day today interacting with 200 people who joined my launch team. We just did a new round or recruitment for my launch team. We have a perennial launch team for my books, so we don’t re-create it with every book. I sent individual messages to all those people, right? Like it doesn’t scale, but it matters. It’s not glorious and I’m exhausted, but that’s what it takes, right?


[00:14:02] JA: I mean, think that’s the challenge and we don’t talk about those things I think as we live in such a scale it — it’s funny, I had a friend the other day who goes, “Man, that guy makes $80,000 a month on his like Facebook whatever.” I was like, “Well, how many hours a month does he work on?” He’s like, “I don’t know” and I was like, “That’s the problem.” You know that 80,000, you don’t know that like, maybe he spends 40 hours a week on and it’s very difficult. And maybe he spent 10 years to get to 80,000. But we tell these stories, even though we know like people say all the time, “There’s no overnight success. There’s no get-rich quick scheme.” We still believe there could be. You may need moments where Jordan Raynor says, “Yeah. I spent all afternoon texting people encouraging phrases.”


[00:14:48] JR: It’s Warren Buffett, right? Nobody wants to get rich slow. That’s the problem.


[00:14:51] JA: No. No.


[00:14:52] JR: It’s not rich, it’s impact, but you get what I mean.


[00:14:55] JA: Yeah. Totally.


[00:14:56] JR: I learned something new about you in this book. You mentioned that you’ve tried to model your career after Seth Godin. I thought that was interesting. Why Seth?


[00:15:04] JA: He’s really deliberate about scale. He could do 500 speaking events a year easy and he’s really deliberate going, “No. This is the amount I do. This is the work I do. I am consistent with what I write.” He could run a 200-person team. I spent two days in his office, he did this, the Future of Publishing Mastermind and I applied and got to go do it and it was awesome. I got to see his team. It’s not a massive team. It’s a deliberately sized team. I just really respect, because I can sometimes get distracted by the monster of more and go, “I need to have this. I need to have this. I need to have this,” and I’ve just always really respected his attention to craft, his attention to consistency and his attention to scale.


[00:15:45] JR: I really respect people who make the deliberate choice to keep team small, because I do think there’s this culture of just addiction to growth of revenue, addiction to growth of teams. You and I exchanged emails about this before. You’ve been like, “Yeah. I’m trying to keep my team small.” Right?


[00:16:02] JA: Yeah. I mean, like I’ve come to the point where — Carey Nieuwhof, I’m sure he’s a mutual friend of ours.


[00:16:07] JR: Yeah. I love Carey. Yeah.


[00:16:08] JA: Said that his thing is like, let God determine the size. So I’m trying to live out of that. Because like I sometimes play it small out of fear, so I’m trying to find the spot where it’s faith based, but it’s still not numbers for numbers sake. That it’s like, okay, like I’m going to —I I always go back to the story of the talents. The guy that the five talents didn’t go. I can’t believe that you got 10, I’m going to obsess about that. He crushed the five, like he immediately put a thorp. Whether I get five or ten and there’s been so many things where I’m like, “I can’t believe I get to do this job, like it’s amazing.” I want to be faithful to that.


I’m actually at a time where I am adding people, opening my company to other voices and really kind of sharing what I do, so that I can reach more people, but I want to do it in a way where it’s not just because I’m like, “I need to have 100 staff members.” I would suck at a hundred staff members, like I don’t need to do that.


[00:17:03] JR: You’re really kind to endorse my last book, Master of One. In that book, I talked about these three keys to mastering anything vocationally, right? Number one is apprenticeships, either direct or indirect. Number two is purposeful practice, just putting in the work and number three is like discipline over time, like commitment, faithfulness to something for a long period of time. Which those three keys have you found to be most critical for you personally?


[00:17:30] JA: I think the discipline over time and it’s the hardest one for me. I’ve had the good fortune of being around great leaders. I talk about Brad Lomenick 13, 14 years ago when I had Stuff Christians Like just kind of starting to grow. He would let me take him out to Chili’s and ask him questions. I had no money and I was like, “Can I take you out to dinner to ask you questions?” I’d be like, “Wow! I’d balled out tonight at Chili’s with Brad.”


Like I’ve had the benefit of that. I used to work closely Dan Kathy from Chick-fil-A so I got to see how a billionaire interacts with people and how you serve people. Certainly, learned a ton working for Dave Ramsey and Reggie Joiner and all these different leaders. That one, I think I’ve been really fortunate with. I would say the discipline over time is the one that I think is really valuable and also really challenging.


[00:18:18] JR: Yeah. I think it’s challenging for anybody. By the way, Brad is the best.


[00:18:21] JA: Yeah, he’s awesome. I did his podcast the other day. It’s so fun, and he’s helping with my podcast. He helps with sponsors with my podcast. That’s a working relationship that I still feel really grateful to have.


[00:18:32] JR: It’s one of my favorite episodes of this podcast, is Brad, was released a while back. I think another key to mastering whatever you do vocationally is, is kind of what you’re talking about in this newest book, Soundtracks. It’s the ability to, as the apostle Paul said, “Take thoughts captive,” to distinguish between bad, mental soundtracks as you call them him and the good ones. I really liked the three questions that you encouraged readers to ask of every soundtrack. Can you share those with us?


[00:19:05] JA: Sure. The first question is, is it true? Is this thing that I’m hearing true? That can be — If you’re a 15-year-old and you tell yourself, “If I get a bad grade, I’ll never get into college.” Like as a freshman, “If I get a bad grade on this thing, I’ll never get in college.” Is that true? That’s not true. The second question is, is it helpful? Is it helpful? Does it move you forward? You might hear a soundtrack that says, “Doing a podcast is hard.” That might be true. Is it helpful though? Does it pause you or push you forward? Does it stop you or encourage you? The third question is, is it kind? Is it kind to yourself to play that on repeat? There are so many studies about the importance of kind, repetitive thoughts and what they do for you.


Those to me, if you can ask those questions, you can weed out a lot of broken soundtracks and you can also have a litmus test for, “Okay. This soundtrack is good and helpful. I’m going to deliberately work on that.” I always tell people like, “Fear comes free. Faith takes work.” You don’t have to say, “Today, I’m going to deliberately think these negative things.” Like you didn’t have to tell yourself, “I hope today at the grocery store, I remember a stupid thing I said in a meeting three years ago.” Like that’s going to happen. The positive side of things is where it takes work, it takes being deliberate, it takes being repetitive and that’s a challenge.


[00:20:28] JR: Another key to mastering is just seeking. We talk a lot about in this podcast, seeking out critical and constructive feedback. Like proactively seeking it out. You talked about, I highlighted this and showed it to my wife, I’m like, “Oh! This is me.” You’re talking about going to your wife with like a new chapter of a book and be like, “Hey! Read this.” It should be like, “Okay. Cool. Do you want feedback or do you want compliments?” That’s me, because most of the time I just want compliments. How have you developed the skill or how are you developing the skill of like genuinely seeking out feedback rather than stroking your ego?


[00:21:02] JA: Well, part of it is being honest with yourself. Knowing, “Okay. I don’t want feedback on this thing. Like I got this thing. I know this.” Part of it is being honest, part of it is going — like I’ve heard so many people say this and this is my original idea. I heard Brian [inaudible 00:21:18] say it. Where you give it at least 24 hours before you share it. When I write something fresh, like I’m not ready for feedback so I need to let it sit. I need to think about it a little more before I even send it out to the world or I’ll be discouraged. Sometimes it’s given it time. The other is, I think reminding yourself of the other person’s motive, so that’s a soundtrack.


If I know I need feedback, I might and I’ve done this so many times before. I’ll write on a Post-it note, this person’s goal is that I created an amazing book. Their goal isn’t, they ruin my day. Their goal isn’t, they make me find new words, and I’m all out of words because those are the best words I had, like that’s not their goal. Their goal is like, this book is amazing. If I can remind myself of that, it makes it easier to take the feedback.


Also, whenever it comes the feedback, you have to be willing to give on things and you have to be willing to fight for things. There has to be sections where you go, “You’re right. You know what? I’ll give on that totally.” There are other things you have to go, “No. That is the thing and I care about that and here’s why.” If you’ll explain why, 90% of the time the person goes, “Oh yeah! Well, I didn’t know that” or well, you didn’t explain it. You just said — Anne Lamott talks about in Bird by Bird, where she had a book that some editor was like, “This is terrible. Tell me about the book.” She liked marched in front of him for two hours, laid out the whole book and he was like, “Amazing. Do that. Like you haven’t done that yet, do that.”


Then the other thing is like, if I’m working with my editor, Brian Vos at Baker and he gives me feedback, amazing, because he’s an expert. Like there are experts that like it behooves me to listen to and I need to take that and I need to receive that. I need to ask those experts. There are also people that if I don’t respect their opinion, I shouldn’t ask them for their opinion because it’s just going to make the relationship awkward because I’d be like, “No, I’m not doing that.”


[00:23:11] JR: Yeah. It’s not a good use of their time. It’s disrespectful to them to even ask in the first place, right?


[00:23:16] JA: Yeah. If I do something like that, I’m looking for them to give me compliments or to think like, “Wow! How vulnerable he is to get feedback.” If I know I’m not going to listen to the feedback, I’m shouldn’t waste either of our time.


[00:23:28] JR: Yeah. I haven’t shared this in the podcast yet. I send in my next book with WaterBrook a couple of months ago.


[00:23:34] JA: Congrats.


[00:23:35] JR: Thanks. It’s my first time working with this new editor, who’s phenomenal. Her name is Becky Nessbit. They’re in Nashville where you are. I had to call Becky and she gave me these phenomenal notes, and I like wasn’t in a place to receive them. I responded really poorly. I talked about — I had to call her back later that afternoon, I’m like, “Hey! I’m sorry. You’re world-class at what you do. I’m sorry. I want to try again”


[00:24:00] JA: Yeah. I do apologize to my literary agent.


[00:24:02] JR: It’s like, they want this to be a great book. Writing down their intent is great. You did this with your literary agent?


[00:24:10] JA: Yeah. I mean, I had to say to him during the proposal process, like, I do apologize multiple times, because he would give me feedback and I’d be like, “You’re wrong.” Like I wouldn’t scream, “You’re wrong” but like my attitude definitely said it. Like I always like a 12-year-old who was like, “I don’t want to wear coat. You’re trying to ruin my life by making me wear a coat.”


So yeah, I think, you can do it as perfectly as you want. But I remember, there’s a book called Death by Suburb that I love and my favorite in that is he said, he prayed that God would take away his anger and all God did was teach them how to be better at apologizing. That wasn’t the solution he wanted. I was like, that is legit. Yeah, there are moments where like, you’ll do your best and you’ll still go, “Wow! I get to practice apologizing because I need to apologize.” That’s part of it.


[00:24:57] JR: You mentioned Maxwell. I’ve never seen him in action, but I’ve heard he is constantly writing down ideas. It seems like you do the same thing. I was kind of picking this up as I was reading the latest book. You write down a lot of ideas, a lot of quotes even if you’re not sure how you’re going to use them. As a writer, I’m curious like, how do you retroactively make creative connections between those ideas or assigned relevancy to them? Are you reviewing them once a quarter? How does that work for you?


[00:25:26] JA: Dude, I wish like — I always love questions like that. I love when I hear other authors talk about, like David Sedaris does like diaries and he does like — and it sounds amazing. I wish I was like that. I mean, I’m looking at a wall of ideas. I have a huge Post-it note that kind of like, they’re massive and I’ve got a bunch of ideas on there. I don’t know if I’ll use them a lot. I see one up there that says, “Fear gets a voice, not a vote” and I’ve already used that I a speech, because I was like, “That’s a good —” the reality is, fear does get a voice. People who are like, “You could be fearless.” I don’t believe that, because like every time you do something slightly bigger than the last things, there’s no fear. If you tell yourself, “No, I’m now fearless.” You fail constantly.


I like the idea that it gets a voice, but not a vote. Like it doesn’t get vote on, “Yeah, we shouldn’t do that.” Like I don’t want to make decisions based on fear, and so I have notebook. A lot of times I keep them there. I tried so many different systems, but I have a notebook and like my new attitude is, I was thinking about this the other day, and I haven’t written it down yet. I mean, I’ve written it down, it’s an idea I haven’t shared it in public. Is like I was walking down the street in Tybee Island Georgia off the coast of Savannah. And there are all these acorns everywhere, like thousands and thousands of acorns and there was one big tree. I thought, that’s like ideas, like I wonder — I think sometimes we’re wrong thinking every idea will turn into something and sometimes it’s just like a million acorns and there’s one amazing tree.


I try to capture as many as I can and some of them turn into something, some of them are just, they work for that moment. And when I read them again like a week later, I’m like, “That is crazy town. What was that even mean?” But I know if I don’t collect them, then I’ll never — the review was the hardest part to go back to them and say, “Okay. This has a home. Okay.” I’m looking at my journal right now, number 70 because I number them. When I use them, I’ll cross them out. Number 64 was a tweet about that I owe Funyuns an apology because they’re delicious. I decided in like the third grade, they’re terrible and I had like a 30-year absence of our relationship and I tried it the other day like randomly and I was like, “This is fantastic.”


[00:27:37] JR: Really missing out, yeah.


[00:27:38] JA: Yeah. I’m not going to put that in the book, but like I’m going to put that on Twitter. But like idea number 70 is, my rep secret is 50. Like I was talking to a campus pastor who was like, “Man, I’ve got this new position where I need to speak and do the announces every Sunday. How do I do that?” I was like, “Well, here’s what you’ll do. It’s five minutes. You practice it three times completely before the time you do it on Sunday.” And I said, “If you do it 52 times a year, you only have 52 practices. If you do it three times per, you get four years of experience in one year.” That’s how I look at things. All I wrote down was number 70, my rep secret, 52 weeks of Sundays or you do it three times, which gives you four years in a row, four years of experience in a one-year window. Okay. I might use that in a speech. I might use that on a podcast. I don’t know where I’ll use it, but I thought it was valuable enough and so maybe I’ll develop it.


[00:28:29] JR: Yeah. I love it. What does your day look like, from the moment you get out of bed to the moment you go back to bed? What’s the tick-tock of your day?


[00:28:37] JA: Well, it’s different, it’s different on the season. I’m in a book launch season. I try to not do podcast when I’m not launching something just because like —


[00:28:45] JR: By the way, I stole that idea from you.


[00:28:47] JA: Which idea?


[00:28:47] JR: I asked you to be in the podcast, I don’t know, six months ago. You’re like, “Hey, yes when my next book is out.” So we’ve started doing that. I’m get a book coming out on October.


[00:28:54] JA: Yeah. Well, I stole that from every musician and every movie star. Like Tom Hanks in a normal year isn’t just like, “Yeah, I’ll go to New York to talk to Stephen Colbert for an hour for no reason.”


[00:29:07] JA: Stephen Colbert is like, “What do you have coming out?” “I’m so excited, I got — Big is coming out, whatever.” Like today, every day is different but I try to start the morning fairly similar anywhere. I get up like 5:45, I make coffee, I help my kids get out the door for school. They’re teenagers, so there’s not a ton there, but I got to make sure they’re up and that they’re having breakfast and they’ve got their stuff. Then I’m going through the Gospels this year, Amy Downs did that and I thought that was a cool idea, like so just all four gospels. I do like a Gospel, chapter of the Gospels or two. I’ll read a couple of pages of a book that I’m reading with a friend. If I’m doing like a water goal, I’ll try to drink some water and then I’ll try to write 30 to 60 minutes every day on a future project, not an urgent project. So I’m working on the new book, so I’ll write on that.


Then I try to do Monday through Wednesday without any meetings, and then Thursday and Friday are a bunch of meetings. I find it hard to get back into a writing flow if I have a meeting that kind of is in the middle of things, so I can’t — like if I have a Monday morning meeting at like 10:30, it’s hard for me before or after to get into the flow. I’d rather leave that time open. But then like today, I did some podcast, went to lunch with a friend, went out on a walk with my wife, worked on pre-sale stuff that I’m trying to get ready. I’ve got two virtual events tomorrow, so that will be the shape of that day. Yeah, it really depends.


I wish I had a formula, and I think that we often think people do, but I just don’t know. Like life is way too messy and too fun for that. I want to own the things I can own, but like — I like Laird Hamilton. He’s just like Michael Jordan of surfing. Him and Kelly Slater. Laird, I remember, it’s funny the things you remember. In an article of the Outside magazine, he was talking about his diet. He’s like, “Yeah. I’m really consistent.” Like he has his own company, Laird Superfood.” But he was like, “If I have to eat something because I’m traveling, I don’t make a big deal about it.” He’s like, “I eat a cheeseburger at McDonald’s because that’s what I had an option for that day.” Like it’s not — he’s like, “That going to be my thing that day.” I like that versus, I can go from really not being careful to really perfectionistic and I’m trying to land in the middle.


[00:31:18] JR: I’m going to shift gears for a minute and talk about how your faith influences your work. Your dad was a pastor, you obviously have considerable skills as a public speaker. Did you ever think you might be a pastor yourself?


[00:31:29] JA: No, I never really thought that. I think a lot of pastor’s kids do, which is natural. I think a lot of time, like J.J. Abrams’ parents worked in Hollywood. Like 14, he was interning for Steven Spielberg. I think it’s very natural for you to say, “Oh! My dad is a plumber, my mom is a dental hygienist,” whatever the thing is, but I never really felt that. I didn’t even feel like I was going to be communicating from stage. I just knew, I really like sharing ideas and wanted to see how that would kind of shake out.


[00:31:57] JR: But you’ve always, I think with words, you started your writing career really writing for the church. I mean, Stuff Christians Like, the blog, the book was obviously aimed at the church. But I love that you made this pivot to this broader market. Can you talk about your thought process there, are about starting with that smaller market of just Christians and expanding more broadly?


[00:32:15] JA: Yeah. Well, I didn’t. I mean, like Stuff Christians Like was just a whim. I had like 50 other terrible ideas, I thought I’d write about it for like — it wasn’t original, there was stuff white people like, which was like this funny send up of Caucasian, if you will. I was like, “You know what Christians like? Ripping off popular secular ideas.”


[00:32:33] JR: Exactly right.


[00:32:35] JA: The first one was, stuff Christians like, number one was ripping off popular secular ideas. I thought I’d make fun of the stuff we do for like a week.


[00:32:41] JR: Person subculture, I love it.


[00:32:42] JA: Yeah, and then it took a life of its own. It was just what I knew and it was at the time like, it started to get momentum in ways I hadn’t expected. I was like, “Oh, man! This is really fun.” So I didn’t get into it because I was like, “I have to finally write Christians satire. Like I’ve always written it in my diary alone and now I finally may able to do it.” It was like, had a bunch of ideas and that one kind of grew a little so I was like, “I’ll do this. Let’s try it.” I had fun with it, I love communicating with humor. That’s enjoyable to me.


But with that particular idea, I felt like I had done it. I mean, I wrote the site for like eight years or six years or something and it’s like, there’s only so many worship leader jokes you can do where it’s like, “Oh my gosh! Oh! Their jeans are crazy. I know right. Tell us that the 50th time. They wear scarfs? What? Scarfs? That’s crazy.


I just felt like it was time. I’ve done that, there were bunch of other, smarter, funnier people in the space and I was like, “They can have a turn with the topic.” I’ve always been about life change and the potential of life change, so that was curious to me. I did the book, Quitter about that journey. Like what do you do when you feel stuck in a job and you want to change that. So I shared that story, and that’s kind of what started. Then I started to go, “Oh wow! It’s really fun to talk to corporate audiences. Oh, okay! Wow! That’s interesting.” Then I started to go, “Okay. I’m going to do Start which is more of a corporate book. I’m going to do Do Over, like Finish, Soundtracks where the goal of those books is I get to speak to teams.” Because that where people are, like that’s where — and I get to Comedy Central or Microsoft or whoever, or a soft software company and say, “Hey! Here’s some ideas.”


And companies like, I think sometimes people in the church don’t understand is, it’s like, companies want their people to win and be successful, like a good company cares about their people. When I say, “I’ve got a book about overthinking that will really help you guys be more productive, higher retention rate, employees are happier.” They’re like, “Cool. Come show us those ideas,” or like, “I have a book about finishing goals.” “Awesome! We’re going to do a sales kickoff. It’s been a challenging year. If you can help slingshot us, that would be great.” Then I go, “I can.” That’s kind of how it evolved.


[00:34:58] JR: Do you see a connection for you? I mean, you’re an ambitious guy, you’re a very driven guy. Is there a connection for you between that ambition, and pursuit of excellence, and your faith or those things largely separate for you?


[00:35:11] JA: I have some degree of hang-up about success and faith. I don’t think a lot of people do, but I think that’s something that I struggle with, is like success is simple. You should do a podcast on that.


[00:35:23] JR: Yeah. We talk a lot about that.


[00:35:24] JA: Because I remember, a Christian musician told me, and he was in Nashville and he said, “If you get a $75,000 suburban, people would say, ‘Good for you. That’s a great family car.’ If you get a $75,000 BMW, they’d say, ‘Jesus rode a donkey. Like he rode a donkey.”


[00:35:39] JR: Leave that with you.


[00:35:42] JA: Yeah. You interpreted how you will, but as if like, there’s a line where it’s like, “Oh! They got a big house, but the sin started with a screened in porch.” Everybody knows Jesus. Jesus is fine with a certain-sized house. You add a pool, he is furious. I think with my being ambitious, I’ve had to like really learn to be open handed with that, and that God determines the size and the pace, because I think I sometimes make it smaller out of — well, I don’t want to ruffle feathers or I don’t want to be shamed online by Christians. Like we’re not the nicest audience to each other.


[00:36:18] JR: No, not at all.


[00:36:20] JA: That was one of the things I really learned being in the Christian space and corporate space. Like sometimes, and not all the time, there’s amazing people of faith having amazing discussions. But sometimes it felt like, when I write a business idea, the business audience judges the idea. When I write a Christian idea, the Christian audience judges the shape of my soul. Like they go like, “You’re not a Christian if you believe this” versus like, “Oh, yeah. That idea works.” I just — that’s not fun.


[00:36:51] JR: No, that’s not the gospel. Listen, I’m writing devotional series on Arthur Guinness right now, so hear you. Yeah. No, that’s interesting. We talk a lot at the podcast about like, it’s not about success, it’s about stewardship. It’s just about, God is giving you, Jon, these talents as a communicator. It’s the Parable of the Talents going back to a few minutes ago, right? You’re called to steward them well.


[00:37:16] JA: I want to steward those well and I want to not get lost in it. So like, I want to not have my identity tied up into my work, which is challenging given the career we do. I would say, like there’s a lot to that. I want to live fully out of who I meant to be. I want to run as fast as I’ve been given the ability to run. Like I want to do all that and I don’t want to — I’m always like how do these successful leaders wreck it? Where were the steps? Like that’s always a curiosity for me. I refuse to believe it has to be that way, but I think there are decisions along the way that corrupt it or change it. I was just always curious about that.


[00:37:53] JR: Define wrecking it and then can you offer some hypotheses about what you think these people do to wreck it?


[00:38:00] JA: Well, wreck it like lose their whole company, lose their whole ministry, get fired in like a ball of flame, scandal. Like the 50th scandal, not like the 1st scandal. Like, “Oh yeah!” Like the people two years before, like yeah, this is not going to end well. This is a slow-moving train, but it’s still going to crash. I mean, that’s the kind of thing, I think. I’m not like good at fame. Like fame for me, like I’m not good at it. I want to be influential, I want to serve people like crazy, I want people to win, like I want people to publish their book and grow their company.


But so for me, a hypothesis would just be like — I think one of my favorite stories is, a friend of mine was leaving a big church to go pastoring another big church. He asked the head pastor at his old one like, “What should I do? How do I not just blow it up?” He was like, “Make a list of things that you think are weird and give it to a friend and say, ‘If you see me doing any of these things, tell me.’” And my friend was smart enough to know, you know what dude, no one is going to do that because it’s so hard. It’s so hard to be like, “Hey! If I’m just blowing up my life, would you have an intervention that’s super challenging, and emotional and awkward?” What he did was, he wrote a letter to himself and gave it to three friends and said, “Just hand me this letter. That’s all you have to do and I’ll know.”


I love being deliberate that way, I’m going like, “No. I’m susceptible to that.” I don’t look at anyone who’s failed and go, “They did something I could never do.” Nope dude. Nope, I am capable of all of that stuff. I think relationships matter. I’ve been telling this story. I have a friend named Ben and we go on walks. The older I get, the more I’m like, “Walks are dope.”


[00:39:37] JR: Yeah, me too.


[00:39:39] JA: Walks had a big 2020, everybody walked in 2020.


[00:39:41] JR: Big, big year. Big year for walk.


[00:39:44] JA: And so hot, yeah. Ben and I go walking, this is like three weeks ago. He was like, “What’s going on?” I’m like, “Man, I missed this opportunity and I felt really sad about it and I felt really afraid that I never get another one. I felt like I’ve blown my chance. I felt like I was the biggest idiot from missing the opportunity.” He was like, “Well, what would you have had more of if you’ve done that opportunity?” I was like, “Wow! That’s a really good question.” “What would you have more of than you do right now?” I was like, “Okay.” Then he said, the second question was, “Would you have gone deeper into your ego or deeper into your heart?” Like, I knew the answer to that one instantly. I was like, “My ego.” He said, “Well, that makes me sad because I don’t think you would have valued our walks and this friendship and I would have missed out on this time.” That’s a gift.


I think a big part of it, like I love Chip Dodd, The Voice of The Heart, his books about saying like, I don’t get to receive that gift from other people unless I’m brave enough to admit I’m scared, I’m afraid, I’m lonely. Then other people can speak into that, but if I feel as a leader, influencer or whatever title, then I got to have — act like I have it all together, like, “Get it dude.” It’s so isolating, it’s so game over.


[00:40:49] JR: Yeah. That’s good. I think my favorite line in Soundtracks, I’m going to read it verbatim. I got it right here. “We spent 18 years teaching our kids that work sucks and then act surprised when they graduate from college and don’t seem eager to get a job.” Big theme of this podcast is how our faith influences our work. I’m curious, what are you trying to teach your kids? Your kids are a little bit older than mine. What are you teaching your kids right now about work and how are you teaching them those things?


[00:41:17] JA: I’m trying to give them tools, like I’m trying to give them tools, not my expectations. I think, people ask me all the time, like — well, not all the time, like five people have ever, but all the time sounds like — it’s like when you’re speaking you go, the other day can mean any time.


[00:41:30] JR: Right. Four years ago.


[00:41:32] JA: Yeah. Exactly. People have been asking me, how do I get my kids excited about goals or work or whatever? I always say like, we are 45 and they’re 15, so it took you 30 extra years to understand the value of goals. Don’t expect a 15-year-old for you to save this magic phrase, or give them a book and they don’t change their frontal lobe. Like give them some grace. What I try to do is, come beside my kids versus being in front of them, pulling them toward this thing.


That’s the dance, because like, my daughter, my 15-year-old recently had to get an 8:30 mile for her lacrosse team. She was like, “Dad, I want to train in January. Let’s run some miles together.” I was like, “Awesome.” We did Strava, we run some mile. We didn’t make it like super crazy and she ended up getting 7:48. I’m so proud of her and we did it bit by bit. She ran by herself a lot. It wasn’t like, “Hey! Let’s get up at 4:00 and drink egg yolks and you have to do it.” Like because that would have suffocated it.


I’m trying to like be beside them, but then also be honest about, “Yeah! This part of my job is difficult, because every job has difficulties. This part my job is amazing because there’s a lot of amazing things that happen in the context of work.” I try to show them both sides of that and I have a weird job, so I try to walk them through what I’m doing.


[00:42:47] JR: But you talk to them a lot about your job.


[00:42:48] JA: Yeah, and they think it’s hilarious. Like we got to Land O’ Lakes — I tweet about Queso so much, that Land O’ Lakes, the company sent me 24 pounds of Queso. So, like, they think that’s hilarious. That’s like the funniest thing to them.


[00:43:01] JR: That’s amazing.


[00:43:01] JA: They’re like, “Dad, you got to get some free makeup from Glossier, but I’m not a makeup influencer. Like I have to be really good at like lip gloss and I’m terrible at lip gloss, people know that. Yeah. They think my job is funny. I try to bring them to the moments where it’s super fun for them.


[00:43:19] JR: Yeah. That’s awesome.


[00:43:19] JA: And we try to tie the good moments to the challenging moments. So when you go like, “Hey! Remember when I had to do this thing and it was like a crazy week. Like we’re now in Disney, those two things are related. This is how I pay for stuff. This is how we —” I would love them to graduate our house with like an appreciation of hard work.


[00:43:37] JR: That’s really good. I love it. Jon, three questions we wrap up every conversation with. Number one, I know this varies depending on the person. But in general, which books other than your own do you gift most frequently or recommend most frequently to others?


[00:43:37] JA: Easy, the War of Art by Steven Pressfield.


[00:43:56] JR:  The most popular answer on this podcast.


[00:43:58] JA: Yeah. That one and then, I just bought 10 copies of, A Creative Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb. It’s from the 1940s, nobody knows it and it’s probably like 30 pages long, it cost like three bucks. It’s the best book on how to generate good ideas.


[00:44:17] JR: I am going to buy it as soon as we get off the line. Who would you most like to hear on this podcast talking about how the Christian faith influences the work that they do in the world?


[00:44:27] JA: Oh! Chris Pratt. That is my answer.


[00:44:29] JR: Great answer. Solid answer.


[00:44:32] JA: I’m very good at answers.


[00:44:33] JR: Yeah. You’re very good at answers.


[00:44:34] JA: Pretty solid. We started with Yanni, I’m leaving on to Chris Pratt.


[00:44:37] JR: And ending with Chris Pratt, I love it. The whole spectrum.


[00:44:39] JA: Yeah, I love to hear him talk about his faith, but also like Twitter, when people are mean. I mean like, I think that’d be fascinating.


[00:44:45] JR: Yeah. Last question. One more piece of advice to leave this audience with, and audience of people doing a bunch of different things. Some of them are writers, some of them are entrepreneurs, marketers, janitors, whatever. What they share is a desire to do great work for the glory of God and the good of others. What do you want to leave them with?


[00:45:02] JA: I think I’d say like, let it be light and easy. That’s what we’re promised. The burden and the yolk is light and easy. I had that on a Post-it note. I’m looking at it right now. Before I wrote Soundtracks, I wrote that on a Post-it note and said, “Okay. I’m usually a jerk during the book writing process because I’m so stressed. This one is going to be light and easy and I’m going to deliberately pray for that, repeat that, work on that with my overthinking.” So yeah, I would say like, light and easy is a good goal.


[00:45:30] JR: Jon, I want to commend you just for the great work that you do, just for serving your clients well, serving your readers well through the ministry of excellence. Guys, the book is Soundtracks. I read every word of it, thoroughly enjoyed it. You can pick it up wherever books are sold. Jon, remind me of the name of the new podcast.


[00:45:49] JA: All It Takes Is A Goal.


[00:45:50] JR: All It Takes Is A Goal.


[00:45:51] JA: It’s about — I mean, my big belief is that goals are the fastest path between where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. Then they feel amazing when you finish them. I think that it’s really fun to finish goals and I want that feeling for other people.


[00:46:04] JR: I love it. You could find everything from Jon it Of course, we’ll have that link in the show notes. Jon, thanks for joining us.


[00:46:12] JA: Yeah. Thanks for having me Jordan. I really appreciate you reading the book.




[00:46:17] JR: That was a lot of fun. Seriously, if you haven’t listened to Yanni: Live at the Acropolis, go stream it now. I always love talking to Jon. That was a blast.


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