Ruling and subduing our God-given territory
Jordan Raynor sits down with Nona Jones, Head of Faith-Based Partnerships at Facebook, to talk about her traumatic upbringing and how that’s impacted her life and work, how to cultivate curiosity on the path to mastery, and the importance of budgeting time to reflect in between meetings.
[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 their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I host a conversation with a Christ-follower who is pursuing world-class mastery of their vocation. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how their faith influences their work.
I am thrilled to bring you guys today's guest, Nona Jones. She is the Head of Faith-based Partnerships at Facebook and before that had a crazy impressive career in corporate America in the nonprofit sector and a couple of other places. Nona and I sat down and we talked about her traumatic childhood and how that's impacted her life and her work. We talked about how to cultivate curiosity along the path to mastery and the importance of budgeting time to reflect into our days. I think you're really going to enjoy this conversation with my new friend, Nona Jones.
[00:01:12] JR: Nona, thanks for being here.
[00:01:14] NJ: Thank you so much for having me. This is my pleasure.
[00:01:17] JR: Yeah. So, I realized this when I was prepping for the conversation. We share a book birthday, Success from the Inside Out. January 21st, 2020, right?
[00:01:26] NJ: Yeah, that's right.
[00:01:27] JR: Yeah. That's when my last book, Master of One, came out. I’m really glad that we released these books in January instead of March, right?
[00:01:35] NJ: Yeah. When the world shut down, yeah.
[00:01:38] JR: I felt bad for all my friends releasing books around that time. Hey, Nona. You’ve talked pretty openly about the beginning of your story, right? In your pretty traumatic childhood that led to really you coming to faith in Christ. I was wondering if you would start by sharing part of that story with us.
[00:01:56] NJ: Of course, yeah. Well, it's interesting. I’m in ministry now and I think a lot of people tend to assume that I may have grown up in the church, but that's not the case. So I was born to a mother who actually didn't want to have children. My mother and my father had been married for about 13 years before she found out she was pregnant with me. And, I think the reason why she didn't want to have children is she grew up in a really dysfunctional situation. She was 1 of 12 kids. They had very little money. There was a lot of violence, so she decided early on she didn't want children.
Halfway through her pregnancy, my father started to have stomach pain, and he went to have some tests run. When the results came back, he was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, and they gave him six months to live, which, when you add that to the fact that my mother didn't want to have children in the first place was just a really difficult time because now she was basically going to be raising me alone. So my father, he fought really, really hard to defy that diagnosis but he passed away shortly before my second birthday.
And it was right after that that my mom moved us to the other side of the country. She was following after a guy who she barely knew, but he promised to take care of her and me. And that relationship essentially disintegrated right after we moved, and so there was like a string of men that came in and out of her life the first few years that we were there. But when I was around five, she landed on a guy who became her live-in boyfriend. Shortly after that, he became abusive to me, sexually abusive. My mother was verbally. She started to become physically abusive as well. It was just a really, really difficult time.
This all started when I was about five, and she didn't know that he was abusing me, but I told her a couple of years into it because it was happening pretty frequently. She had him arrested which I was really grateful for. But on the day of his release from jail, she took me with her to pick him up and brought him back home. The abuse resumed from then — and so having essentially told her what was happening and she basically chose him over me, I decided that it was pointless for me to tell her that he was continuing to abuse me.
And so, I really internalized I think the dysfunction that was happening around me, feelings of being unwanted. My mother told me she didn't want me, so all of that essentially added up to when I was about nine I tried to take my life unsuccessfully. I tried again when I was 11, unsuccessfully. But it was shortly after that, I was in the sixth grade, and my classmate invited me to go to church with her. I didn't know what church was. I thought maybe we were going to go over her house. Her mother came and picked me up, took me to the church thing. And I remember when I walked in those doors that day it was incredible because for the first time I actually felt love. I felt like I was welcomed, like I was wanted.
The very first sermon I ever heard that day, the pastor said, “God is a father to the fatherless.” He was preaching out of Psalm Chapter 68. Having not known who God was, having no sense of higher power, I immediately was like, “Well, who is God because I want my father.” So that really became the catalyst for my faith journey starting at 11 years old. The abuse did not end right then, but I think it was absolutely that, that became my saving grace and really gave me a sense of hope for the future. That's that's kind of how my life started, and it's really just a testament to grace, just the miraculous power of God.
[00:05:34] JR: And into friends willing to share the Gospel and just build relationships with us. So that's the beginning of your story. Let's fast forward all the way to today. How did you get to Facebook? Your career story is like super interesting to me. How did you wind up at Facebook?
[00:05:44] NJ: Yeah. So my life is – I often describe myself as a statistically improbable product of grace because –
[00:06:00] JR: I love that.
[00:06:01] NJ: That life, it’s so clear that God was involved. But the short answer to how I ended up at Facebook is God. I was in a job that I loved. I thought I would be in it for the rest of my life. I was helping lead a network of alternative schools for girls in Florida, schools for girls who had experienced trauma which was part of my own life mission, and so I was loving what I was doing. In April of 2017, I found myself in prayer. I was just asking god for some wisdom and direction relative to that role. As I was praying, I heard the spirit say this assignment is over. That really caught me by surprise because that definitely was not what I wanted.
So I prayed again a few days later and I heard the same thing, this assignment is over. So I said, “All right, Lord. Well, if this assignment is over, then what's next?” And the only thing, the only direction I got was resign at the end of the fiscal year which would have been June 30th, 2017. So I essentially had two months to prepare my resignation letter and basically just meet with my boss. I met with her that day. It ended up being a Friday. I met with her. I gave her my letter of resignation. It was around one o'clock PM. We talked until about 1:40 or so, and then I got in the car and I was driving home. At 2:05, my cellphone rang. It was a unfamiliar number. It was a 650 area code. It just said San Francisco, California, which I wasn't going to take the call because I was like, “This must be a telemarketer.” But the spirit told me to take the call, and so I did.
After that happened, the woman on the other end said, “Hi. Is this Nona Jones?” I said yes, and she said, “I’m calling from Facebook.” It was like Facebook doesn't call people, so [inaudible 00:07:42].
[00:07:43] JR: Maybe it is a telemarketer, yeah.
[00:07:45] NJ: Yeah. I figured. I was like, “What is this?” And she proceeded to tell me that, in fact, she worked for Facebook, and apparently the week before Mark changed the mission of the company to focus on community building, which was interesting to me, but I didn't know. She basically said that the company had found out that the largest community that was the most meaningful to the people who were in them were communities of faith. So she had gotten my name to talk to about helping the company with this new work.
And in my mind, I thought it was like a committee or an advisory board. It didn't dawn on me that it was a job until I got home because I said to her, “Well, listen. Send me some information. I’ll look at it over the weekend, and we can talk Monday.” When I opened my email, there was a job description in it. So, yeah, that’s basically how it happened. Two weeks later, I had my offer letter on my birthday. So it was quite an interesting journey.
[00:08:36] JR: What's the 30-second pitch description of what you do at Facebook?
[00:08:41] NJ: There's my job description for Facebook and then there's what I believe I’ve been called to do. So I’ll tell you what I’ve been called to do. I believe that I have been called to Facebook in order to equip the church globally to do discipleship digitally. I think COVID-19 has definitely awakened people to the reality that you don't have to have a date, time, or location in order to have church. You can actually be the church 168 hours a week. And so my job is really to help people use Facebook's tools in order to discover that possibility.
[00:09:14] JR: Very relevant for this moment. By the way, I’m really curious. I was reading your story, and it's a fascinating trajectory to Facebook, right? So you're doing business strategy at a Fortune 100 company. You're doing public affairs for this utility. You're in the non-profit sector. You're now at Facebook. And as I’m reading through your bio, this book came to mind that I’m really curious if you've read. It’s called Smartcuts by Shane Snow. Do you know this?
[00:09:37] NJ: Nope.
[00:09:37] JR: Oh, my gosh. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll have to send you a copy. Basically, the gist – It’s your story. It’s how people do remarkable things professionally in really short periods of time and it's all about lateral thinking, right? So you climb up a ladder but you jump to this tangential ladder that exponentially increases learning and the speed at which you're able to get to the next one. So as I was reading through bio, I was like, “Oh, that's it.” Setting up my next question, you progress pretty rapidly up the ladder in the world of business. I’m curious to hear what you think about what's the difference between good and great in business as an executive. What separates great executives from the merely good ones?
[00:10:19] NJ: I think, well, it's a few things. One is, and this is something that I’ve had to learn through trial and error in my life, the main one really is how you regard people because I think as a leader, you're only as effective as the people who choose to follow you. Let me be super clear here. Just because you hire somebody, just because they're on your staff doesn't necessarily mean that they are following you. It could very well mean that they're just employed by you. I believe that the best leaders are people who inspire vision. They inspire the greatness and the people who choose to follow them. So I think that's number one.
I think the second thing is, this is going to sound strange, being very clear in your convictions. This is what I believe we should do but holding them loosely. So some people have really deep convictions about what should happen. That's great. But if you don't hold them loosely, when new data comes that maybe disproves your convictions, you can end up taking your organization in a very bad direction just because of your so-called gut. So I think you always want to have a point of view but hold it loosely and be willing to allow new data to prove you wrong. I think that's hard because leaders I think naturally have some degree of ego. I mean, you wouldn't be a leader if you didn’t, but you can't allow your ego to make your decisions for you. So those are just a few thoughts I would offer that I think separates the good from the great.
[00:11:55] JR: Isn't the difference their curiosity?
[00:11:58] NJ: Oh yeah.
[00:11:59] JR: It's the willingness to perpetually be learning and asking good questions. That's how you’re able to have convictions and hold them loosely., I think.
[00:12:08] NJ: I talk about that pretty extensively. That's actually a chapter in my book where I actually invite people to build curiosity. I think you have to be a perpetual learner. I try to read a book a week. I think that's – It’s not even just leadership or management or tech. I’m reading actually a few books concurrently now, but one that I’m reading is called Something Deeply Hidden. It's a book about quantum physics and it's like, “Why would I be reading a book about quantum physics? It has nothing to do with my life.” Well —but it's interesting because there are some theories that are proposed in quantum physics that actually can help shape the way that I make decisions in the world, and so something like that I do. I recommend to people. You should always be reading something and don’t just read something relevant to your specific job. Just read something that's interesting. That could give you a new way of seeing the world.
[00:12:57] JR: Yeah. It's a means of cultivating analogous thinking, right? The best ideas I find for my business are the ones from outside my industry, almost always. The best analogies are always from some other realm. That's really wise. Nona, I’m curious. What does your day look like? From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, what's the tick tock of Nona's day?
[00:13:17] NJ: Well, I will give you the book ends of my day that are pretty consistent, and then the middle gets muddy. So I typically will wake up anywhere from 6:30 to 7:00. It depends on the day, but I always start my day working out. So maybe that's going for a five-mile run outside or I might get on my elliptical over 45 minutes. Then from there, I spend time in prayer and study. I try to take an hour to start my day in the word of God and praying and meditating and repenting and whatever it is I really need to do before the Lord. Then after that, I really look at my calendar. I do that before I go to bed at night too. But I look at it again. Make sure I’m clear on what's going on in my day just so you know —
The night before is super important for me because I look at my day and I also make notes. If you were to look at my calendar, you would see there is no white space. Every single minute of my day has a name. That's on purpose so that I can make sure that I’m actually making progress. But, yeah, I take a look to see what's going on with my day, just make sure that I don't have any overnight pings changing my day which usually happens. Then from there, I’m usually in meetings with our product team or perhaps my team as well. I have a couple of businesses as well, so I’m also sometimes fielding conversations with staff on those entities.
And then sometimes, I’m also working on whether it's a sermon because my husband and I pastor a church. So I might be working on a sermon that day. I have two little boys, so I’m also dealing with things to get them prepared for school or helping with their homework. Every day is different, especially in the middle now. I end my day with a workout as well, so I work out twice a day. The reason for that is just to release the stress. I find that when I work out that second time, whatever I have pent up frustration, anxiety, the endorphins help to calm that down. Then after that, it's just time for dinner and family and then reading and trying to get my mind calm for the night.
[00:15:10] JR: I love that you name every minute of your day. I do the same thing. I am curious though. You said there's no white space on your calendar. I’m curious if you budget time for breaks, if you budget time to just take a walk around the office or walk around outside and clear your mind.
[00:15:25] NJ: Yeah, that's on my calendar.
[00:15:27] JR: Yeah, I love it.
[00:15:27] NJ: What I’ve come to realize is if it's not on the calendar, it will not happen. So I do. I put on my calendar. Sometimes, I’ll have like a 15-minute stretch break. I also budget on my calendar just what I call reflection time. I try to if I can. It doesn't always work this way, especially when seasons get busy, but I try to reserve my mornings for the kind of focused work time. Typically before noon, that's when I have like my work blocks which works out well because my team is on Pacific time, and so they're mostly sleeping [inaudible 00:15:59].
Then between noon and 1:00, I’ll either try to grab lunch or I’ll start catching up on emails again. Then, yeah, from 1:00 until about 5:00, 5:30, sometimes 6:00, I’m in meetings. I try to – Because I only do 30 minute meetings and so I typically will do usually like three or four 30-minute meetings. In between those meetings, I try to have reflection time, so I can make sure that after the meeting I’m actually contemplating what we discussed and what needs to happen next versus going from meeting to meeting, to meeting, to meeting, to meeting. So I try to budget that. It's not perfect but I try.
[00:16:35] JR: Yeah, that's good advice. I like that a lot. You're a super goal-oriented person I got to imagine, right? You got so much going on at Facebook, with your writing, speaking, raising a family, running half marathons. I’m curious. Do you set personal goals outside of your role at Facebook? So at Facebook maybe you guys have OKRs or KPIs or whatever. In your personal life, do you have goals for you and your family?
[00:16:56] NJ: Absolutely, yeah. I have goals for my health. I have goals for my children. Yeah, goals all over the place but I try to make them as reasonable as possible. So I want them to be stretch goals but I want them to also fit within my lifestyle. So, yeah, I have goals. Right now, one of the things I’m working on is between now and the end of the year I want to get my ACE certification which is essentially a exercise science program. Because as part of me wanting to be healthier, because I tend to be a study type person, I figured one of the best ways for me to do that is to actually get an ACE designation which is a certified personal trainer. I don't plan to be a personal trainer but it's like, “Hey, why not go through the program?” [inaudible 00:17:40].
[00:17:41] JR: Yeah. It’s a good objective measure of what you want to try to accomplish. I love that.
[00:17:44] NJ: Exactly, yeah.
[00:17:46] JR: Yeah. I’m a big fan of – I love Google's OKR framework and I’m a big fan of personal OKRs too, right? Making sure you're having personal objectives and your results. Nona, we spend a lot of time in this podcast talking about the role that our guest’s faith plays into their work, how their faith influences their work. I’m curious for you what role you think your faith plays, specifically in your ambition for your work and your pursuit of vocational excellence. Do you connect those things?
[00:18:15] NJ: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. The way that I think of my faith is my faith is actually not. It’s not something that is separate from me. My faith is my identity, and in so many ways I don't compartmentalize my faith because it's who I am. I take my faith with me everywhere that I go. I think people at Facebook, they even know like I’m a person of faith, so I’ve had people who are atheists, who are agnostic actually ask me to pray for them or just tell me something that's troubling them because they know that I will be a person who will encourage them, and I’ll always try to point them to God.
So, yeah, it's who I am. It’s not something that I separate. It’s not something that I kind of lay outside of my office. I think it's part of my identity and I really pray. That's my prayer every morning that I will take God everywhere that I go, that He will go before me, and people will see Him in everything I do.
[00:19:10] JR: Yeah. You spread the aroma of Christ when you're at Facebook or wherever you are. I was reading in your story that for understandable reasons that we've already talked about, when you were a kid, you basically tried to make yourself invisible. You're like, “Hey, I’m just going to hide myself.” I think it's ironic because one of the biggest temptations of our age largely fueled by your employer is to use our work to make ourselves visible, right? We make ourselves look important and we look to that visibility to provide something that really only Christ can provide, this ultimate sense of self-worth. So you're a very public, very visible personality. I’m curious how do you fight that temptation not to place your worth in your relative visibility and accomplishments?
[00:19:58] NJ: Well, I will tell you. It hasn't always been that way. There were many times throughout my career that I was very much so concerned about what I accomplished. I was concerned about what people thought of me. I was very concerned about being the best, and that's just exhausting. It's exhausting but I think part of my healing journey really was what helped me to see. You can accumulate all of the things, the titles, the positions, the money, the cars. You can accumulate all of that and still feel empty, still feel hopeless and worthless. That’s part of the reason why I wrote the book because I discovered that success is not something you accumulate. It’s something that you discover and it's something that you find in yourself and in God.
So, yeah, I did all that all that stuff and I think partly what I discovered too is that the reason why I was so successful at an early age is because there was a lot of insecurities within me that really were outgrowths from the abuse I sustained as a child and from being told that I was not wanted. I’ve also found that many of the most successful people similarly experienced a lot of rejection and neglect, and sometimes that becomes the fuel that really motivates success. What I’m trying to do, even with this book, in my ministry, in my life, I’m trying to help people discover good success. Not the kind of success that empties but the kind that fills.
[00:21:30] JR: It’s kind of alarming how common it is in the stories of some of the most successful, especially entrepreneurs in the world. There's some real tragedy and trauma in their childhoods, right? You see this with Elon Musk, with Jobs, you see it with Bezos. It’s kind of alarming. It’s crystal clear I think to our listeners how your specific role in the work you do contributes to God's mission in the world, right? You're a minister. You're working at Facebook, helping equip the church with these tools. What about the other 50,000 employees of Facebook? Are the millions of other people all around the world doing jobs as computer programmers and doctors and lawyers, some of them listening right now who are doing work that's not overtly evangelical, what would you say to them as a minister about the eternal significance of their work?
[00:22:17] NJ: Oh, my goodness. So one thing I saw, I was reading through the Book of Genesis and I was reading in particular about the assignment that God gave to Adam and Eve. It was interesting. He told them essentially to rule and subdue the territory that He gave to them. And I saw that and I thought that was really interesting and I thought that that was something that God was really speaking to all of us as Christians, that no matter what our vocation is. I mean, in that sense, their vocation was as the garden keepers and some instances it’s as the zookeepers. No matter what our vocation is, God doesn't just give us a job. He gives us territory. He gives us a domain where we are supposed to live out our faith, where we're supposed to represent Him. We are supposed to be the ones that take care of that place.
I would say that no matter what you do, you are called to ministry in that place. If you are a trash collector, your territory really includes protecting the environment. That is something that God has called you to do. If you are a doctor, the territory that God has given you is the health and the well-being of the patients that God has placed in your care. If you're a banker, the territory God has given you is one to protect people's resources and multiply resources so that they can do more in the world. So you have to learn to see your job not as a job but as an assignment from God, which is why even when you ask me to describe what I do, I always describe it in the language of my assignment because my job description says one thing. My job description says nothing about ministry. It says nothing about discipleship, but I know that this is why god called me to the role I’m in.
[00:24:00] JR: Amen. Very well said. Nona, three questions we'd love to wrap up every conversation with. Number one, which books on the whole do you tend to recommend or gift most frequently to others?
[00:24:12] NJ: One book that I am like the fan of the world for is a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Such a great book. I try to read this book annually because it really helps to just re-ground me. It’s both an asset and a liability. One of my assets and liabilities is that I’m very, very curious and I have a lot of interests. What that means is I will create stuff and launch stuff and do new stuff when I really don't have the time. But because I’m so interested in it, I’m like, “Yeah, let's just do it.” Essentialism helps me return back to the reality that, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Is this something that's actually pointing me to the best and highest purpose for which God created me or is this just something that I’m doing because it's nice to do?” So Essentialism is absolutely one.
Another really great one, a book that I love to read is it’s called Approval Addiction and it's by Joyce Meyer. It’s a book that I have to read personally because of someone who grew up in an environment where, as I said earlier, I was told I wasn't wanted. No matter how successful you are, you can kind of create this insatiable need for approval from people. So that book really helped me to gain a sense of healthy perspective in my mind and also in the way that I interact with other people.
[00:25:29] JR: Those are really good. Who would you most like to hear maybe on this podcast but just in general talking about how their faith influences the work they're doing 40, 50 hours a week?
[00:25:40] NJ: Someone who I work with and admire is Sheryl Sandberg. I think she really has just a great story. It’s certainly tragic in that she lost her husband very, very unexpectedly. At that point, my goodness, she was at the top of whatever game anyone could imagine. I mean, named one of the hundred most powerful people by Time Magazine and just doing all these incredible things. Here she suffers this incredible loss, and one of the things that she has said several times is that it was her faith that really helped to get her through that.
[00:26:12] JR: That's a good answer. I’m a big fan of Sheryl's, yeah. Last question, one piece of advice to leave this audience with, this audience of Christ followers in a bunch of different vocations who just care really deeply about doing good work for the glory of God and the good of others. What do you want to leave them with?
[00:26:28] NJ: Our charge is not to make our name great. Our charge is to make the name of Jesus great. I think we have to walk into every situation with that in mind because what I have found across my career is there will be so many people, especially if you have talent, who will try to lull you into this idea that you are amazing and you are great and you're the best thing since sliced bread. But the bible tells us that pride comes before a fall, and so I want people to maintain a sense of humility and recognize that everything that we have, everything that we are is a gift from God's hand. So if you have that mentality, no matter what your vocation may be, God will be able to use you. He'll be able to advance you because He'll be able to trust you. I think that's the differentiator. We should not necessarily strive to be famous but we should strive to be trustworthy by God. If He can trust us, He will elevate us, but our aim should be to make Him pleased.
[00:27:33] JR: Nona, I want to commend you for the just important and eternally significant work you're doing every day throughout your entire career. Thank you for your passion for making Jesus famous and for your commitment to the ministry of excellence. Hey. Nona released two books this year, guys; From Social Media to Social Ministry and Success from the Inside Out. You can easily find those wherever books are sold and you can find Nona at the best Facebook URL of all time, facebook.com/nonanotnora. Not Nora Jones, very clear on that. Nona, thank you so much for being with us.
[00:28:11] NJ: Thank you for having me. This has been such a pleasure.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:28:15] JR: I hope you guys enjoyed that conversation. If you're enjoying the Call to Mastery, make sure you subscribe, so you never miss an episode in the future. If you are already subscribed, do me a favor. Take 30 seconds right now and go leave a review of the podcast. Thank you guys so much for listening. I’ll see you next week.