Posts filed under: Podcast

UAC 189 | Sabbatical


In this episode, Thane Marcus Ringler gives three reasons why he’s going on a sabbatical. These three reasons include time, money, and focus. If you found value in the show and you want it to continue, please listen to this episode. Thane enumerates simple ways you can contribute to help the show go on. If you want to be an active up and comer, consider becoming a contributing member of the community to help shoulder production expenses. Tune in to find out how.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”189: On Sabbatical”]

On Sabbatical

This is a show all about the process of becoming and learning how to live a good life. We are in that process our entire lives as we are lifelong learners. Thank you for being a fellow up and comer. We believe the best way to live life is by living with intention in the tension. It’s a fancy way to say that we need to infuse intentionality into all that we do, a reason why behind what we are doing that helps us attach our lives to our purpose and align it with our direction and identity. That is what our show is about. We appreciate you being a fellow up and comer on the journey. We are all on the same journey, the journey of going through life and trying to figure it out.

At the end of the day, no one has it all figured out. We’re here to remind you, myself and each other of that truth. If you want to find more about the show, go to A couple of reminders before we get to this episode. If you haven’t left us a review and rating on iTunes or Apple Podcasts, it’s such a great way to help our show be found by more people organically. You can go to Apple Podcast and search for The Up And Comers Show. It takes about a minute to leave us a review or a five-star rating there. If you want to share an episode that you enjoyed with some friends in your community, that’s an awesome way to also spread the word about what we’re doing.

Finally, if you want to support us, we are always on Patreon where you can make monthly donations and I’m going to be sharing a new way that you can support us later. Stay tuned for that teaser. We are excited to dive in this episode with you but I want to say thank you for being here and for being with us on this journey. We started back in September of 2016. It’s been quite a ride of 189 episodes now, 80,000-plus downloads over 50-plus countries. It’s been wild. It’s neat to see all that’s come from the show. What I’m going to cover with you in a shorter episode is an update on where the up and comers are at and where we’re going.

What we are doing is going on a sabbatical. What that means is we’re going on a bit of a pause with the show. That’s a bummer for me and for the readers if you’ve enjoyed the show but there’s still good in it. I wanted to share a little bit about the why behind the sabbatical or the pause that we are on. The why boils down to a couple of key factors. The first is time. Time is always there but it’s also a limited and finite resource. In the season of life especially that I am in, the time to produce and put on this show is stretching for me. Taking a little space, putting a pause into the show was needed in regards to the time that I have and what committing my time to especially as I look to build my business more and further the sustainability for our family.

[bctt tweet=”Time is always there, but it’s also a limited and finite resource.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

The second big reason why is due to financial reasons. Money is always a factor. With this show, it takes money to produce it. In fact, each episode costs about $125 an episode, which adds up over time especially when you have a website, you have producing, editing fees, hosting fees, all the things associated with doing something well takes money. For us, it’s about $125 an episode. That adds up over time especially when you’ve done about 190 of them. It’s quite an investment. For us, we aren’t getting anything in return for it financially. We’re investing that because we believe in it, we believe in the cause of the show and we’ve done that for a while. With that being said, it’s something that no longer makes sense for me financially.

The third reason why is to provide focus and space for the next step that I’ve taken in my own work and career. I partnered with an organization named GiANT Worldwide. You can find out more about them at It is a great way to find out more about what they’re up to. You can get a 30-day free trial where you check out all the resources they have online. Ultimately, they are unlocking human potential as I aim to do in my individual coaching practice especially within teams of organizations. With that, I’ve been committing a lot of my time and focus to the onboarding process with them and to developing more business through them. Those are the three reasons why this show is going on sabbatical. First, time being a little shorter. Second, money being a little tighter. Third, being a change of focus in my own career.

What does that mean for the future? The future outlook is unsure but hopeful. Here’s the reason why because I want to empower you, readers, to contribute to our cause, to be an active up and comer and a contributing member of this community. This is going to be easy because I’ve set up a new way for that to happen. It’s called It is a great way to support creators or people that are creating something in this world that you believe in or that you want to support because at the end of the day, we all are consuming things but if we want to consume intentionally and if we believe in consuming this show, it’s great to be also contributing to it as well. Now we are going to be needing you to contribute if you want the show to continue going as I do and as you do, hopefully.

We need people to contribute to funding or raising funds needed to cover the expenses. is going to the place where we can do that. It’s where you can go and you can buy me and us a coffee. What that means is you’re contributing money to cover the expenses of the show. Our goal for this fundraiser is to raise $2,750. What that will cover is the next round of 25 episodes. We prepay our production team in increments of 25 episodes, which is why that is the number that you see there. That means if 27.5 of you give $100 or 275 of you give $10, then we will be back and running with this show.

UAC 189 | Sabbatical

Sabbatical: If we want to consume intentionally, and if we believe in consuming this show, it’s great to be contributing to it as well.


That is a lofty goal but something that I know is attainable through the help and contribution of all you readers. Everyone can be contributing in between somewhere. Any and all contributions are welcome. I’m excited about this potential to get the show back up and running and for having your help and teamwork in doing that. It’s something that has been such a blessing to me and I hope to you. It’s been a wild ride. There have been many interviews over these 190 episodes. Some of my favorites are Jamie Winship, that was such a great one, George Towers, a great guy, great message.

I liked Rachel Kois. That one was helpful on sustainability. There are many episodes. Cody Burkhart had a couple and my grandpa had a couple. Those are meaningful conversations that I know will be impactful to you. If you’ve missed some, this is a great time to go back and catch up on some of those that are special conversations that I’ll cherish forever. The one that came to mind is Eric Wood. What a great man and a great story. It’s inspiring. Take this time to read some past episodes, to catch up on things you missed. If you feel prodded, called, led to contribute some, we would appreciate it. I know that every dollar earned is meaningful to us and to you. Where you choose to put that dollar or that money that you earn is important and it requires intention.

If you have the intention to help support us in this way, that would mean a lot. In the meantime, always feel free to reach out on the socials @UpAndComersShow on any of the platforms and/or by email, We love hearing from you. If there are things you want to share or ways you want to support us in other avenues or means, let us know. Send us an email. Send us a message. We’d love to hear from you.

That’s all I have for now. If you want to find out more about the work I’m doing in partnership with GiANT, go to GiANT.Tv/thane. That’s going to be a great way to see some of what we’re up to there. The core of it is this desire to build invincible teams by unlocking human potential through team communication, self-awareness and self-leadership. I’m excited about the work ahead with that. If you have a team or an organization where you can use more, benefit in unlocking the potential of that team through communication, which a huge part of it is through individual self-awareness or for simply from leadership development, there are some great technology, a massive tool kit and a lot of resources that we can provide to help you do that. We would love to partner with you in that way.

Reach out to me personally at If you want to start a conversation, you can also go to my website, Connect with me there, schedule a discovery call. Let’s chat. That is all I have for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this shorter solo episode with an update of where we’re at and how you can play a part in getting us back and running. Thank you so much. I sincerely hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

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UAC 188 Sean Hanson | Ministry And Masculinity


In this episode, Thane Marcus Ringler and his guest, Sean Hanson, come together for a fellowship conversation on ministry, masculinity, and management. Sean launched BUD Ministries, a nonprofit seeking to unite, disciple, and equip young men to be unshakably devoted in their pursuit of Christ. Thane and Sean discuss the modern challenges of spreading the Gospel, how masculinity means having a “humble swagger,” and the challenges of running an organization. 

What inspired Sean to launch BUD Ministries? How did he discover God’s call in his life? Join in the conversation and be inspired by Sean’s story of how God called him to ministry! 

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”188: Fellowship Ft. Sean Hanson: Humble Swagger: A Conversation On Ministry, Masculinity, And Early Lessons From Running An Organization  “]

Fellowship Ft. Sean Hanson: Humble Swagger: A Conversation On Ministry, Masculinity, And Early Lessons From Running An Organization

This is a show all about learning how to live a good life and the journey of becoming. We believe that journey is best traveled with intention in the tension. Meaning, we have a reason why behind what we do because life has many tensions that we get the chance to live in the midst of daily. Thank you for tuning in and being a part of this Up and Comer community and being a fellow Up and Comer alongside us in that journey. I’m excited about getting to this episode. Before I do, I want to remind you that there are three easy ways that you can help us out as a part of this community. First is leaving us a rating and review on the Apple Podcasts. Thats an awesome way for us to get seen by more people.  

It takes about one minute of your time and that would be a great way to help us out. The second is sharing this episode or one that you enjoyed with a few people in your community or on social media, tagging us @UpAndComersShow. Were on all the channels. Take a screenshot of this episode and post it up. Finally, if you want to support us financially, we are on Patreon, and we are in expense. If you can and want to support us financially, thatd be a great way to help us cover the expenses and keep this show going. If you have a company and want to partner, definitely reach out about partnerships at Any other questions, thoughts, comments you have, send them over our way. We love hearing from you. Email is usually the best way.  

This episode is a fellowship episode featuring Sean Hanson. Who is Sean? Gathering men together while a student at Pepperdine Universityhe used his passion for mens ministry and a Master’s in Business Administration to launch BUD Ministries, a nonprofit seeking to unite, disciple, and equip young men to be unshakably devoted in their pursuit of Christ. Since its incorporation in 2017, BUD has successfully spread to college campuses throughout the country that now meets on a weekly basis using specific books and devotionals tailored for young men. Sean, born and raised in Malibu, California now resides in Nashville, Tennessee, alongside his siblings and nieces. His ideal day is spent playing soccer, smoking cigars around a fire, or shooting skeet. That’s a little bit about Sean. 

This is a fellowship episode that is more of a peertopeer conversation type of format. We get to talk about a wide range of things, including all things healthy and godly masculinity, what his journey has been, what hes learned, whats been helpful and what hasnt. Early lessons that hes learned from running an organization and being an entrepreneur, what the upcoming generation needs and how it is similar or different from our own. There’s not that big of a gap, but technology is changing things rapidly. That was an interesting segment.  

We talk about the ups and downs of being in full-time ministry and how its different than he expected. There are a lot of good nuggets in here. I enjoyed this time with Sean and getting connected with him further. Hes a great guy, has a great heart, and is doing great work. I know youre going to be encouraged as I was by getting the chance to spend some time with him. If you havent checked out before, definitely go check out BUD Ministries. There are great things going on there. I love what hes building through it. Without further ado, please enjoy this fellowship episode with Sean Hanson. 

Sean Hanson, welcome to the show. 

Thank you so much, Thane. I appreciate it. Im excited and honored to be here. 

It’s a joy to connect. This is going to be a lot of fun getting to dive into a lot of things that were both passionate about and a lot of the work that youre doing. Id love to start by talking a little bit more culturally speaking. I know you live in Nashville. How long have you lived there and what do you love most about Nashville? 

I moved out here many years ago from California. My older brother and older sister and their spouses and I have a niece that all live out here. I wanted to be near family, but I love Nashville. Coming from California, I tell people, its mostly the efficiency that I love which sounds funny, but you can get about around town in about fifteen minutes to anywhere where in California youre like, “We’re going to Target, and that’s our Saturdays. 

What part of California did you grow up in? 

I was in Southern California. Right outside of LA. 

I resonate deeply with that. Being in LA for years and now in Denver, it feels like such a shift. COVID has been different in general, but there is something about the amount of time and energy you lose in Los Angeles or Southern California that is lifesucking in a lot of ways. How has your perspective or view of the world shifted or changed now that youve lived in different environment for the last many years? How have you seen yourself grow in that? 

[bctt tweet=”Take the time to stop, pause, and pray. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

My mind immediately goes towards the different forms of Christianity because I work in ministry. That’s where my mind goes to first, but going from California, where its hard to find groups of people that are serious about their relationship with Christ and down to pursue it with all their heart. You move out here and wgrew up in it. Itbecome a part of us. Some people use the term cultural Christianity and that was never the case for me. Id never experienced that before. That’s been something that has changedhad to get used to, and has grown me a lot in terms of even finding community. 

I love that newer experience for you because Im the opposite, growing up in the Bible Belt and then being out in LA after that. Id love to hear a little bit more on cultural Christianity when youre coming in a sense not having that experience in your past, and you come into a new environment where thats more predominantly the culture. How has your perspective of that been unique? What do you see as some of the challenges or even benefits of that culture from someone whos an outsider coming into it? 

One of the benefits is everyone is open to listen, which is huge. Sometimes in California, you want to try and get them to the table. You’re trying to get creative and be like, “How do I tell you about the gospel when you’re like, That’s not anywhere near what I want to talk about and listen to?’ The strategy is different, but out in Nashville and in the Bible Belt, pretty much everyones down to listen, have a conversation and at least respect the culture. That’s a huge benefit. On the other side of that, the difficulty that comes with it is everyone has a preconceived notion. I mainly had church experiences already and sometimes that can be detrimental if it was a poor experience with the church or a poor experience in the community. They’re spurned from talking about it and think they know the answer to whatever question or whatever topic you have. 

As we shift into what you do with BUD Ministrieswith it being a widespread ministry, how do you cater it to those different cultures because beyond and even within America, there are so many cultures presentmany different pockets, views, and perspectives even within the United States. As someone whos running a ministry in a platform that does span across the US, how do you think about maybe reaching multiple cultures within what youre doing? Do you cater to or how do you go about that thought process? 

That is a great question and one Im still figuring it out and wilcontinue to figure out for quite some time. The term in the Christian world, you could say, is cultural exegesis. That is difficult when youre trying to deal with a lot of different cultures and different cities at different colleges, whichas we both know, colleges even have their own culture outside of the city or the state. It does get a little hard and confusing to navigate, but I rely on one, my team. We have multiple regional directors that oversee the student leaders at the different schools.  

We rely on them to ask hard and tough questions on a regular basis to figure out what is the culture and what are the guys are talking about or what are their church backgrounds are coming to our weekly group meetings. Two, would be prayer. Discerning Gods voice on that is the best direction and guidance I can be able to get and receive. Trying to figure out, “How in the world do we reach guys in Abilene, Texas, which is super different than the guys that were reaching in Malibu, California at Pepperdine, whereas Abilene Christian University? Taking time to stop, pause and pray and not act like Im a good strategist, which Im not and going to the best strategist is usually always the right goal. 

UAC 188 Sean Hanson | Ministry And Masculinity

Ministry And Masculinity: Discerning God’s voice is the best direction and guidance you can get and receive.


It’s true. It’s like, “Why do we put so much onus on ourselves for solving difficult problems when the creator of us wants us to go to him? We have access to that resource that’s endless. It’s hilarious how we get that mixed up so often. I relate deeply to that. One of the things I love about that is the lazy approach to any ministry or organization or anything is to say, “Heres a one-stopshop solution, and Im going to apply it to everyone in every place because they can figure it out on their own,” versus saying, “Your story is unique and largelywhat shaped that story is a culture youre living in or around. How can I learn you and where youre at so that I can better speak your language so that you can hear and receive the good word?” Thats a much more intentional, harder path, but I feel like its way more effective. Kudos to you for recognizing that and also working to try and cater to those differences. 

I know in the conversations that weve had in the past, too, thats been a huge part of your life and the different career paths that youve gone through and are going through right now. Definitely, like that backup too. 

I want to get into your experience with BUD Ministries, running it, and what thats like, but I want to talk about how you got into it because your career path has been windy and most peoples arebut its interesting. Id love to know a little bit more of the origin of when that pivot came of saying, “Im called to these men and were going to find a way to make this work, and then hereBUD.” Id love to know that story because I think theres a lot of value in that. 

I always tell people that ask, “When did you know youre going to be in ministry? I said, I think I still dont know.” Ministry is something that I had sworn off. Id never imagined Id be in ministry. I had no desire to be in ministry. It was something that Gods Holy Spirit captured my heart and pulled me towards. It was a passion. My background is in business. My MBA is in business with an emphasis on real estate financeIt’s far from your atypical ministry. It was about several years ago now, I remember sitting on my couch in my apartment in Nashville, Tennessee. I was working on two different projects, one being real estate and the other being a weapons security company. Ministry was something that was still doing. It had been five years in the making since starting BUD back in college at Pepperdine and had been spreading to other schools at this point. 

I felt the Holy Spirit break me. I was sitting on my couch and was like, “God, what am I supposed to do? My heart, my passion, everything I want to dive into and the reason I want to wake up in the morning is to walk through life with these college guys and introduce them to you because of how good youve been to me. It was as simple as that. reach guys that also are on the fringe, what I call the forgotten Christian market. Im like, “You mightve been partying last night. You might only come to Bible study for smoking cigars around a fire, but thats my jam. Those are the guys that I feel called to walk with and get from point to point B, even if theyre not totally down. As they get serious, I want to get them there. 

I remember sitting on that couch and God was like, You know what to do. I went in the next dayI sent in my resignation to the real estate company and decided to dissolve my weapon security company. I was like, “Let’s do it. Lets go allin on the one area of business that is going to make the least sense financially and it was one of those stories where two weeks later, I didnt even know Giving Tuesday was a thing. Apparently, thats a big thing, which is good to know now. I had a call and then another call and, therefore, thousands of dollars out of nowhere. It’s where I was like, “I felt like God presses on my heart to give this to you and to BUD to support the work that youre doing. That was how I was able to live. It’s such an affirmation of, “I got me no matter what, even if you call me the craziest things possible.” 

It’s such a cool affirmation of the faith that takes a step without knowing but knowing that the step is whats needed. The thing that I want to dive into a little more is understated is that this isnt something that is out of the blue. It’s something that you are already doing. You had started BUD back in Pepperdine. What led to you originally starting it then? I want to underscore that because Im excited to hear the story, but even the fact that it was many years since starting it that it happened. A lot of timesespecially as Christians, we think, I have to wait until God makes it clearI’m athe end of myself and then Ill take action.” If were honest with ourselves, if we pause enough and if we seek God, we’ll have indication or prodding, its up to us to take that first step though. Youd already been taking those steps which led to that ultimate pivot then, but it wasnt out of the blue. It was five years in the making before that, even. Id love to know, even originally with BUD, how you started or got that off the ground at Pepperdine? 

[bctt tweet=”There is joy in the midst of pain and suffering. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

It truly came out of necessity for meIt sounds selfish, but it was a pivotal moment in my life and college career where I was playing soccer and, through that, injured my back and fractured my L5-S1 vertebrae into two places. This took away my identity as the sports guy, the athlete and came to a crossroads of, “What are you going to do? Are you going to sit around and soul can try and still grab at that or are you going to turn and press into me?” Meaning God and “Create your identity around something much more everlasting?” That’s where this came out of. It was hard and tough. That sounds way better than it does. It was brutal and ugly. It was a tough journey of what I call finding joy in the midst of pain and suffering. How in the world when youre in so much pain and taking fouhydrocodone a day just to get through the day? How do you find joy when thats altering your personality and it’s terrible?  

Those couple of years was a large journey. I need people around me. Every single person at this school has their own pain that theyre going through. Theyre trying to do the same. Theyre trying to find that joy, not just happiness, but that steadfast, neverchanging joy that comes from Christ. They’re trying to find that in the midst of their pain that theyre going through in this season. I started reaching out to guys and I was like, “I know youre going through something similar type of pain. Let’s meet up. Let’s hang out around a fire. Let’s share thatbe open and vulnerable, which is abnormal for guys. “Lets talk about it, drop the masks and start talking about Jesus because thats where were to find out the direction and roadmap to get through those pain. That’s how it started. It’s the origin story. 

The idea that every single person has their own pain is powerful. It takes us all a long time to realize that and it takes a lot of effort to keep reminding ourselves of that because a lot of times until we experience literal pain, its hard to understand that its common for a lot of people. Not only just physical pain but all types of pain on top of that. It alters who we arehow we show up, and that allows us such another level of empathy, but also humility. You’re talking about that like, “I cant do this all on my own. I cant be superhuman or Superman or beyond what my peers are or even I think Im capable of.” We’re all human. It’s an important realization we all have to come to and remind ourselves of because even when you come to it, I can easily fall back on. I can do it on my own, I can make this happen or I can work harder, a lot of those things that still arent true. How did you get from that pain point to where you are nowWhat were the different seasons or phases of BUD as you went through that process? 

What came out after that season of finding joy in the midst of suffering was a prayer journey. If you know me, I harp on prayer 24/7. Its because I know my shortcomings and I think if I do anything outside of prayer, it ends up being bad. If Im not in prayer to break that down even more, what is prayer? Prayer is where youre having a conversation with the creator of the universe, the heavens and earth, which is pretty wild in itself and thats so cool. That was the journey after that where BUD didnt progress or turned into something after the prayer journey. It was coming to terms with I was praying a lotI was that guy trying to pray over other guys and trying to pray out loud. 

was like, “This is futile. My words are either me regurgitating what Ive heard from other people or me being concerned about how I sound when I pray out loud.” I didnt feel any power in it. I went through this journey of, “This seems fruitless and pointless,” and I dont even know what prayer is. It wasnt until I started figuring out, receiving training, receiving wisdom from mentors and people I looked up to in the church that taught me, “You can just sit and listen. There are in multitude of ways that God wants to talk to you. That was something that completely changed my entire life, and as to your question, it completely changed the direction of BUD and what that community looks like. 

UAC 188 Sean Hanson | Ministry And Masculinity

Ministry And Masculinity: People are trying to find that joy, not just happiness, but that steadfast, never-changing joy that comes from Christ.


I resonated deeply with it too, in the sense that I read a little meditation or devotion and talking about how prayer is so often weaponized for our ego’s purposes of telling God what we want to happen or telling God what we want from Him. That is not at all what the intent was in what prayer is. This contemplation is a closer form of word to what prayer is meant to be. Its this sitting, receiving, being with and in communion with someone, which doesnt mean just talking at them. If this show is me talking at you, this would not be worth reading to and it would be horrible. 

Prayer is active contemplation of sittinglistening, receiving, being with and sharing as well. That’s a part of it, but its way overemphasized, especially in the Western world, in our practice of it here. It’s way more powerful then. It loses power when we do all the talking. Since the ministry is focused on men, Id love to dive into something weve talked about and that is, what is healthy or godly masculinity entail? What does that mean? What does that look like? How do we foster that? That involves both of our personal journeys, but also your ministry and the people that you aim to serve. If you think about this idea of healthy or godly masculinity, how would you in a short or succinct waydescribe it? 

It’s a huge point of topic in conversation, especially amongst college students and young men with all the social pressures, all the changes and you name itI get made fun of this all the time because I love this term. I call it humble swagger. What that means isonehumility. Being a man of God, I think masculinity is humility. Where I pull that from is the scripture and the story of Jesus and trying to learn from and model how he was a man on this earth. Everything he did, he did it with humility. Thats something that is a lost art amongst men, especially in this day and age. It’s something that Im trying to learn and do better and something that hopefully Im able to teach to the guys that are part of this ministry and the guys that we come into contact with. 

On the other side of that is sometimes it gets a bad stigma, humility amongst men, and guys can see it as, “That’s a little feminine. That’s not being a man. Maybe its letting people walk all over you. That’s not true. That’s why I had that cheesy word, humble swagger because now it is cool to be humble. One of the best pieces of advice Ive gotten from a mentor is he said, “Do you know how I knew that guy was the wisest man in the room? Because one, he was the least likely to talk and twohe said, I know nothing about anything.’” He was referring to a spiritual conversation and the guy he was referring to was a well-known pastor. I loved that term because he was humble. He was probably the smartest and wisest guy in the room but his point was, I didnt know anything outside of what God tells me.” To me, that was the coolest you could ever be. That’s my term for you in terms of masculinity now is walk into the humble swagger. 

Its like that pairing of humility and confidence. Thinking of the lost art that humility is, you mentioned working on growing it. That is something that we have a responsibility to do in some ways of working on how do we improve and grow in our capacity for humility. It’s also something we receive. It’s both. It’s passive and active, but how do you approach it? What is helpful for you? What have you found to help you become more of a humble man? 

The verse that comes to mind and thats been on my heart is Proverbs 24:5-6, and it says, “The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grew stronger and stronger. Don’t go to war without wise guidance. Victory depends on having many advisors. That’s not only the verse that I’m going for growing and humility but pretty much every area of life. Surrounding yourself with men that will challenge you in humility and also show it and exhibit it in their life, thats true discipleship. Walking through life with men that are trying to model their lives after Christ. That’s how Ive been trying to grow it is surrounding myself with people that I want to emulate because I see them marrying Jesus. 

Wise guidance equals growth in many ways. That is the reality of being human is recognizing that we cant do it alone. We need other people. That is the core of humility is not thinking more of ourselves than we should, in that sense. If you look at the wayswhat prevents us from pursuing that communitywise guidance or humility, and even more personally, whats prevented you in the past, or what has gotten in the way from you going down this path? 

[bctt tweet=”Drop the masks. Let’s be open and vulnerable to each other. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

It’s because we can easily see it as weakness. When we need to reach out for hope, especially as were talking about masculinity, it’s tough. Its tough to reach out and say, Im not doing this to the best of my ability. I might be failing at this in life. That often prevents us from reaching out to that help or saying, “Maybe I need a mentor, guidance or a group of guys every week that Im going to have to tell, ‘I messed up bad last night. The person Im datingI need prayer for that.’” That’s tough. The culture right now is trying to say that would be weakness and looked down upon. We dont need to share everything were going through. Even that phrase, “No one really cares,” that’s personal. We need to be careful of who we share and divulge personal, intimate information with, but that theres such a need for it. 

Its universally true in every generation that comes through. It doesnt matter, the cultural moment. I dont know if that has ever changed. Technology adds to the importance of it because we have this fake feeling of connection without real connection or support, which is the more important aspect of that. Its like, how many times do we not think we need it or dont want it because were afraid of being vulnerable or authentic or having our real self be known. Having your real true self of all the good and bad and everything in between bknown is the most powerful experience we can have as a human. That’s what God promises is saying, “I know you better than you know yourself and ever will know yourself. I love you.” 

That is going to transform you. That reality, when it hits you, transforms you. We can experience that in small ways here and now through each other by doing what youre talking aboutBy saying, “Here I am.” By receiving that supportlove, encouragement and challenge from that person that you communicate with is life-changing. We experienced moments of that. Its attainable for all of us. That’s why I love what youre sharing and having this conversation with you because I know that I have benefited so much from that. The people, the mentors in my life, who I was able to share and gain wisdom from, they’re the ones that I know their nuggets of advice and wisdom, and they stick with you, especially in those formative years. 

Even to this day, that role should persist and can carry forward in each season of our life because of how important it is. Its essential. We over-complicate things like this idea of masculinity. We over-complicate what is helpful or what it should be or what it looks like. All those things dont matter as much as what do we carry within ourselves that can express it in all the different flavors that each person has. Every person is different. Inevitably, theres going to be a wide range of how it looks with each person, but that underlying humility paired with the confidence of knowing who were called to be as men are the foundation of it, I believe. You hit the nail on the head there.  

It’s also tough. Someone brought up in conversation was the idea of fatherhood. Im also reading John Elder’s book, Followed By God, which helps too, which has been amazing. Were talking about masculinity, humility and trying to emulate how Jesus walked on this earth is so tough when father figures and even good dads that I know. It’s becoming harder and harder because of how we live our life in COVIDsocial media and not taking up more time. Going out fishing is more of a rarity these days. Seeing that father figurewhether you call it a father figure, a mentor or your actual dad, they are so much rarer and but they are so needed in terms of teaching us how to live out that humility. 

Still being involved deeply with men in college, what do you see as different in the challenges of the college of this next generation versus what you and I had to go through when we were in college? What do you think has changed or shifted in that time period or that generation gap and what remains the same? Im curious to know what that kind of breakdown from your experience has been? 

Not to say age is too much, Thane because were not too far out of college. The main thing that keeps stirring up when Im having conversations with college guys is loneliness. That was the thing when we were in college, but its only been exacerbated. That feeling of, I am not connected to anyone. I have no community. That’s where ages open up a window for the enemy to climb right in with everything else with comparison. From the conversations that Ive had, loneliness has been the main theme. Everything weve been talking about adds to that. Being on Instagram 24/7, scrolling and two hours go by, youre like, I havent hung out with anyone. I havent even talked to a real person. I have been looking at what other people are doing and feeling bad about my own life. Im sitting in my bed in a dark room and now I need to do a homework assignment. It goes my night of ever having community.” That’s been the biggest issue that Ive seen. 

We got the early phase of that, but this is much more of a welloiled system phaseI even think about if I had to go through high school with social media being where it is now, I cant imagine. It was so early on and I think I just had a Facebook but the technology piece has added such an interesting component. As you said, loneliness is not how God designed us. He didnt design us to be by ourselvesHe designed us to be in community, fellowship, and relationship with him and with each other 

We have to be intentional and proactive to counteract our tendencies that are shaped often by technology now. That’s a human reality. We all face that. Theres no one immune to that. I love that you bring that up. Id love to learn speaking to ministry because Im curious to know more of your perspective now that you are in full-time ministry. Is it helpful or not helpful to think of ministry as separate from other vocations? Like vocational ministry versus being in the business world. Do you find that being helpful or unhelpful, or how do you think about that in a way that is helpful? 

I think it’s helpful to connect the two, especially if most people that youre trying to minister to are not in a typical full-time ministry. To be able to speak their language and understand what theyre going through and as college guys, their career aspirations, there’s a small percentage that is looking to do full-time ministry. Connecting the two also helps you have a better understanding of everything going on that needs to be prayed for and talked about. One example to add to that would be the immediacy of everything. That would be the other thing other than loneliness that is different is things were quick and fast when we were in college, but its a whole new level now. 

Even when it comes up with the money, you look at everything going on in the stock world with cryptocurrency and the rise of SPACs. You couldnt think the market can get any quicker, but it has. Whether its money or things were looking at online with our eyes that we shouldnt be, its immediate in your hands in an instant. When things dont come in an instant, which oftentimes what God wants for us in His timing, they do not come in an instant and maybe weeks, years and decades. If were modeling the Bible, thats exactly what its going to take. Thats been a huge issue that Ive seen with guys and college guys. Connecting the two ministry and secular is that instant gratification becoming even worse and how thats crippling college guys because they dont know how to wait. They dont know how to pause. They dont even know what is working towards something. 

I even feel that in general, younger people regardless of the erathat is true because were younger in age, weve had fewer years of life. We want things to happen faster than they do. That’s the naivete of being younger. The older you get, the more you realize how long it takes to do anything well or sustainably. I felt even in 2020 with a couple of my grandparents passing and understanding the idea of legacy better by reflecting those celebrations of the life of man like, I need to be thinking, projecting, and pursuing an impact of the legacy of saying, What do I want my grandkids to remember when Im gone? That’s a real, lasting legacy. That’s something that I can build towards even now by shaping the character of who I am, what Im committed to as a man, and even the choices I make more in a longterm view of like, “How can I think about a ten-year goal instead of a ten-minute goal? 

Shifting into that more has been a healthy practice for me, but I can only imagine how much harder it is with technology being preeminent. Regardless of if youre in collegein career or whatever stage of life, everyone feels that. It’s real to call it as it is and say, “Our short-term gratification muscles have gotten strong because theres a lot of dollars at stake for those muscles. How can we start taking ownership back of those long-term muscles? That patience, persistence and endurance that outlasts the storms that are going to come because life has storms and were going to face them. Let’s get some endurance back. Lets get some strength for the long run back. We all need that reminder a lot in daily life. That’s a sweet thing to bring up. 

It reminds me of looking through rhythms. If you go through the Bible and if you look at Jesus rhythms, its a pendulum swing. You go from working from rest and not resting from work. He goes back and forth between abiding in God and resting and then working and bearing fruit. His rhythm is different than all of our rhythms now. If I look at my own life, Im like, “This is bad. I prayed ten minutes before this meeting. Im good to go. I know what I want to do. I knew I didnt need to say. God, thanks for that.” Then I look at Jesus and Im like, “You took 40 days or more. Is that what were supposed to be doing? That is wild. That’s radical. That’s something thats been on my heart and mind that Ive felt convicted of personally isam I not taking enough time to stop, pause, and listen before act and getting caught up in, “II did that, thats inefficient or if I took that much time, that is laziness? If thats what Jesus was modeling, then maybe our whole view on that is all skewed and wrong. 

As you say that, Im convicted in the sense that if I ask myself, “Is efficiency from God or is it from the devilIt’s that idea. Which one is it from? Thats a great questionI dont think its a simple answer. It’s too complex for that. The easy understanding is its less from God because this bent towards efficiency. What is that about? Its about becoming our own deity. Its like, were becoming self-sufficient because were efficient that we become a superhuman that we can operate at a higher level. It’s like elevating ourselves ultimately, which I never thought about. That is one of my core drivers. My wife will tell you.  

She calls it out on me a lot and its good because a lot of my pet peeves are things that fuel inefficient or the things that I struggle with, something that feels inefficient that we do or that she does, or even that I do. That isnt necessarily healthy or helpful. I love even thinking about that with you now is like, “What is a godly form of efficiency? What youre saying is the answer of understanding the rhythms that are necessary for walking with God through life. That’s what Jesus did. He walked with God, not out in front of God, and then return to God. Not on his own and say, “Come on, God. You can do this. Come with me. He was with Him and he pursued Him too in that. That’s a good word. In going into full-time ministry now, how has it been different than you thought it would or whats the feeling or the experience like that is different than you expected? 

The feeling that I always have to keep at the forefront of my mind, that I now know that I didnt enter into it, is I have to be okay with it all shutting down. That is terrifying, but as soon as I lose that mindset, I should not be doing what Im doing. I didnt know that was needed and essential coming into this. That’s a big thing that I think Ive grown, learned and stepped into is, “God, if you want to shut this down. If I was no longer walking with you, iyour blessing and your hands are on it and your favor is not on it, and Im doing a lot of work for you and not with you, then shut it down tomorrow.” That is terrifying. Im a business guy and my mind is like, “That’s my paycheck. That’s my retirement fund. How am I going to be okay with that if now my career and my finances are attached to my calling and my mission?” love that it is. It keeps me humble. It keeps me thinking, “None of this is my own doing.” In a sense, being in ministry also acts as an accountability partner in itself, which, me being a prideful human, is awesome. That’s something that Ive learned that I didnt even know I needed and I love it now. 

I can relate to that in a lot of ways. My wife and I, we were longdistance dating and its hard. We had this picture of walking forward with a hand wide open of saying, I want to hold this with an open hand. That is true with what youre talking about. Even now, as I work on supporting my family and not just me, its a different season. Its a different time. It’s not the same experience. I see all the ways that Ive gripped things too tightly. It’s like I’ve been exposing more things like, “Youve been closing your fingers around this ball in your life. Nowwere going to work on taking those off and completely getting a place of surrender.” 

UAC 188 Sean Hanson | Ministry And Masculinity

Ministry And Masculinity: Prayer is having a conversation with the Creator of the universe.


Youre talking about saying, Im committed to this with an open hand of saying, ‘It could be gone tomorrow and if that isgreat,’” because thats what you wanted. We all know in our hearts when were therebut it usually takes some prying of the fingers off that ball for us to get there and I relate to that. Once youre there though, its such a freeing place. We’re freed up to do whatever it is that we hear God calling us to do. That is a place of openness where we can hear and receive from God as he wants to communicate with us. I think the reason why we arent in that place very often is because were bent on security, safety and control of things. It’s scary, hard and were all human too. That’s part of it. 

It’s such a clash between what weve been indoctrinated in since birth and thats what makes it difficult. I struggle with it every single day where Im like, “Are you sure you dont care about status and how much would I make God? Are you positive?” That’s radical, but that is what hes calling us to. Helike, “If I tell you to drop everything and move, its not going to make you any money, it might be for a season. A lot of people are going to doubt youquestioning you and think youre wild and off your rocker. That’s what I want you to do. Thats obedience. That’s what radically pursuing and furthering the kingdom of God means. That’s tough. 

That’s what Jesus did too. All those experiences, like people questioning us or not thinking its wise or makes sense is exactly what Jesus experienced. That’s more in line with some of the persecution than a lot of the modern church like to make it out as some blatant attack from the enemy. It’s more this inner doubt persecution of, I dont think thats wise. You shouldnt be doing that. You need to be doing this.” All those more seemingly innocent things that when were truly following Gods path, that should be a common experience because thats what Jesus experienced in many ways. 

It even seeps in a lot in ministry. You think, “Ministry is a safeguard. Were good. Not at all. As you know and have experienced yourself, I have even through my own heart and my own mind. Even with my advisory board and people that are donating, youre like, I have to meet these numbers with this ministry. I have to grow to these many schools and these many guys by next year and five years from now.” You lose sight. Youre like, “That is jacked up. That is twisted. What if my measure of success was how deep I got to go with this one guy last year and see him not even coming to weekly meetings to then being baptized for the first time and becoming on leadership and leading another guy and he became baptized. This is a true storyWhat if that were the measure? Its tough because even the ministry it’s a constant battle for how do we measure success and security with the worlds view of it versus Gods view of it.” 

As we bring this conversation to a close, Id love to know with COVID and 2020, youve had to do a lot of pivoting and reworking as everyone hasbut figuring out how to make it work even in a new era, all the restrictions and everything thats happened. You did a lot of cool things, even the conference in 2020. I know you got some things in the pipeline. Id love to know what you are most proud of thus far, and what are you most excited about ahead? 

It was cool to see Gods prompting the Holy Spirit and being like, “We know group meetings in person are tough now because we cant even have them. Let’s get on Zoom.” College guys, including everyone thats not even a college guy, Zoom burnout is real. He led to something we call Summer SessionsAlso, as you talked about our Unshakable Conference, that’s something that Isuper happy with, that he led in that direction. Summer Sessions ended up being 30 different colleges represented by college guys, 150 guys, every Thursday night, getting on Zoom and bringing in speakers from seven different industries that were Christian men to come and share wisdom and teaching. Going from there to then the conference, which we had about 350 guys from eight different countries and eighteen different breakout session speakers and four keynotes. 

It blows my mind. To your question, I dont take any pride in any of it because I think Im still shocked that even happened and it all went smoothly to an extent. Those are things that Im grateful for. I cant believe that God did that through us as a vessel. Moving forward, we have what were calling the Unshakable SummitWe’re going to be having a fatherson retreat. felt led that as weve been talking about a lot about masculinity on our time together on this interview, thats been something on my whole heart is how do we take guys and their fathers or even if its not their blood father, its their father figure, and how do we build that relationship between the two? How do we have fun and go fishing and four-wheeling but also add in the aspect of spiritual development? That’s what Im looking forward to most. 

There are two questions to wrap us up here. The first one, if you could study one other person for an entire year, who would it be and why? The first one, the gut-level response. I know theres a lot of great people to study. 

Im going to sound such a fanboy, but John Mark Comer. I love his books and his podcasts. We talked a lot about the rhythm of Jesus. That is something he goes in on. That would be one person. 

The final question that we ask every guest on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? short message they get from you on their phones every morning. 

Rise and shine and give God the glory. That was something that I hated growing up, but my mom would come into my room and sing that song. If you havent heard it, you can go look it up on YouTube. Look up Rise and ShineThat’s what Id say. It’s simple and that’s what I love about it, is the simplicity. 

Those things that our parents do that drive us crazy, but theregood reason because it sticks and it will bear fruit. Sean, thanks so much for coming on. This has been a blast. Where can people find more about your work and what you guys are up to or even connect with you? 

You can either go to That’s our website, and you can check out anything from there. where you can check out our events, conferences, and retreats, or check us out on Instagram @BUDMinistriesThose would be the best ways. If you want to get in contact with meemail me at 

Until next time, ihas been a blast. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your experiences. I know its been an encouragement to me and Im sure to all our readers. 

Thank you so much, Thane. It’s been an honor. I appreciate it. 

For all of you readers, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out. 

Following up with one last things to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether than be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter than brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released the first Sunday of the month. This is just a once-a-month newsletter than I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time. 

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About Sean Hanson

UAC 188 Sean Hanson | Ministry And MasculinityGathering men together while a student at Pepperdine University, Sean used his passion for men’s ministry and a master’s in business administration to launch BUD Ministries, a nonprofit seeking to unite, disciple, and equip young men to Be Unshakably Devoted in their pursuit of Christ.

Since its incorporation in 2017, BUD has successfully spread to college campuses throughout the country that now meet on a weekly basis using specific books and devotionals tailored for young men. Sean, born and raised in Malibu, CA, now resides in Nashville, TN alongside his siblings and nieces. His ideal day is spent playing soccer, smoking cigars around a fire, or shooting skeet.

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UAC 187 | Learnings From Marriage


Marriage is not the end-game for many relationships. It is where the journey actually begins. In an age where many marriages fall through the roof, how can you fight the statistics and maintain a healthy and long-lasting relationship with your life partner? In this Couch Conversation episode, Thane Marcus Ringler and his wife, Evan Ryan Ringler, share learnings and advice from their own partnership and marriage. They catch us up on some of their experiences, challenges, and how they each help the other in their relationship that so many other couples can relate to, showing that what is most personal is most universal. Tackling communication, conflict resolution, growth in the relationship, faith in God, and more, Thane and Evan paint us a clear picture of what it takes to keep a marriage within that loving place while also encouraging growth. Listen in to learn more.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”187: Couch Conversations With Evan Ryan Ringler: Learnings From Marriage And Rhythms For Healthy Partnerships”]

Couch Conversations With Evan Ryan Ringler: Learnings From Marriage And Rhythms For Healthy Partnerships This is a show all about learning how to live a good life and the process of becoming that we’re in our entire lives. We believe living with intention in the tension is the best way to do life. To walk through this journey and dance that life often is, there are many tensions that we are best suited for standing in the middle of, holding the tension, living in the tension, balancing on the tension. That is a part and process of life that we believe is important. Thanks for being a fellow up and comer for joining us on this journey. We need each other, we can’t do it alone. We need each one of us to play our role and to be the best version that we can of ourselves.

where can i buy clomid in ireland If you wanted to play your role in helping us do this show, there are three easy ways. One is leaving a rating and review on사천출장오피[카톡- Po 34]《Po o34.c0M》출장만족보장콜걸샵Y─♟2019-04-10-04-35사천▨AIJ↽출장샵강추출장시흥출장안마♮릉콜걸샵✚출장시╳사천 Apple Podcasts . It takes about one minute of your time. That is such a great way for us to be found organically through the Apple Podcast app. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please go ahead and do that so you don’t miss any new episodes. A second easy way to help us out is by sharing this episode or one that you enjoyed with a few people in your community. That’s an awesome way to spread the good word about what we’re doing here.

Finally, if you want to support us financially, that is also a sweet blessing to us as this show does cost money to make. Money and time, it’s not free. We would love your support. You can go to and go to The Up And Comers Show where there are monthly tiers for donations. If you want to partner with the show through your business organization, reach out We’d love to start a conversation with you there. This is another episode of our series called Couch Conversations where my wife and I are sitting on our couch. Evan Ryan Ringler, welcome back to the show.

Thanks for having me, Thane.

We thought it’d be fun to open up with a little random question, shooting from the hips. I usually end with a one-off. We’re going to start with one-offs here. I might as well get us off and running here. This one is going to be right up your alley because I know you and that you love to be the investigator. You love to be involved in crime scenes solving the problem, “What has happened here?” As an investigator, this question is going to resonate deeply. If you went into the witness protection plan, what identity would you like to assume?

This is hilarious. I thought we were doing fun marriage questions.

We’re going to get to marriage later. These are fun random questions.

Is this to protect me?

You’re taking a new identity because you’re in witness protection.

I would want to take on an elementary school teacher or a librarian. Either of those. My name couldn’t be Mrs. Ringler. I would want it to be the name of one of my favorite teachers.

[bctt tweet=”Holding space is a practical, tangible action that you can take, do, or practice that unconditional love.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Mrs. Ellenwood.

That works. That’s not one of my favorite teachers but we’ll go with that, Mrs. Penny Ellenwood.

That almost sounds like someone from Clue literally. Speaking of something like Clue, this is a plug that is not sponsored but it would be cool. There’s a great company called I surprised my babe with a little gift, which was a murder mystery case that was unsolved. We had to go in and crack the case. It was intense, fun and hard.

They give you a lot of stuff. My questions all involve marriage.

Maybe then I’ll do one more and then we’ll do yours as we segue into marriage. This one is interesting. What is the dumbest thing you made your parents buy you as a kid?

I had some cool stuff. I had a kickback net that was not dumb. That was helpful in my soccer. When I was ten and below, stuff you don’t need like a toy. I’m sure my mom’s like, “I can think of 30 things that we bought her.” That’s what’s coming to mind. What would you say?

I think of dumb toys. I also think of fads. In the gym, I forgot my headphones. I was listening to whatever the guy had on and it was hardcore oldie rock but also the screamo that at one point it got to a place where I was like, “I think if I listened to this, I would go insane all day.” There were some classics that came on that reminded me of Guitar Hero. When you look back, it was like, “What hilarious game that was but that was so big.” Things like that as buying the guitar and the game, it was dumb. It was fun and we definitely loved it and used it for 6 months or maybe 1 year but then it’s completely out of sight, out of mind, never touched it again. It’s not to say that it was the worst purchase but that was something that was on my mind.

The clothes thing too like Limited Too, Abercrombie and Hollister. It had my soul. I was like, “No. I need this.” My mom’s like, “I don’t think we do.”

I’ve got one that came to me speaking of that. In high school, I thought I was pretty cool. I convinced my mom to order me a pair of fake Jordans, Fordans, from an Asian website. They were laser-etched orange Jordan Retro 5s which realistically I had no business wearing. Honestly, I wore them probably 2 or 3 times and realized, “I’m not comfortable wearing these shoes.”

UAC 187 | Learnings From Marriage

Learnings From Marriage: If you’re in a place where you’re not feeling encouraged in your partnership or marriage, know that it can be redeemed because nothing is outside of God’s redemption.


Becky did it. I am surprised.

That was one of the dumbest things ever made my parents buy me. The other one blends into the first one. Let’s transition.

What is your favorite non-traditional body part? You can’t use your answer from our video. Keep it PG.

My favorite non-traditional body part that’s different from the video is your earlobe. I think your earlobes are very cute and they’re fun to play with. You have cute earrings in them now but even when you don’t have cute earrings in them, I love them.

You’re saying that because that’s the first thing you looked at.

It’s genuinely something that is non-traditional.

My next is what do I do that’s a pet peeve of yours or that annoys you the most?

There’s not a lot, which is a sweet blessing and partly because my memory is bad. Honestly, I think that’s a contributing factor.

I’m sure there’s plenty that is not coming to mind.

The one that does come to mind, it’s not like I get upset about it but during the day, there’s more of a state of discord in general tidiness. It’s not that you are unclean. It’s just that you leave things everywhere, not all the time but a lot more than I’m used to because at least during the day, I like my ducks in a row, things put away and in order. You’re on the other end of that spectrum which is funny because when it comes to cleanliness, we’re opposites on that. I let things go and you want to have a clean environment. It’s interesting to see the parallels. We’re opposites in different ways which surprised me when I realized that about you on the tidiness side.

[bctt tweet=”Even though a marriage is in a good place, it always has room to grow.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

That’s a laziness thing. That’s something I can and will get better at. I’m sorry.

The same is true with me in cleanliness.

We share that on some stuff like lunch stuff.

We both contributed that on the counter right there. What about you? I want to know about the second one. You’ve already shared a lot on the non-traditional.

It’s all of your body parts. Your pinky toenail.

That’s on the video. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

There are many cute things on Thane. His cute little ears. What is something that annoys me the most that you do? When I am working and I’m focused, I’m at a level five. I’m crunching numbers or trying to make sure this matches that. Thane will come in. He’s on a break. He will grab a handful of nuts, chew and eat the nuts right there. He will turn on the water full blast to rinse his hand from the nuts.

A lot of salt on there.

I’m sitting there like, “Let me know when you wrap up.” I love that you’re getting nutrition and it’s just the noise. I like quiet when I work.

UAC 187 | Learnings From Marriage

Learnings From Marriage: Marriage is harder than it is easier because it is a process of living in a continued partnership, which is hard, and that involves acting more selflessly than selfishly.


Lots of things that we can get annoyed with as humans. We’re going to dive into all the things for a little shorter conversation, we thought it’d be fun to catch up a little bit on what we’re learning, processing and focusing on in our partnership and marriage. From stemming from the quote of that which is most personal is most universal. The things that you’re facing are the things that most people will probably relate to. That’s where vulnerability and authenticity are powerful and helpful. We want to mirror that here. That’s our heart in it. As we dive in, I’m curious to know from you if you had to make a descriptive statement of where you think we are in a marriage. How would you describe it?

We’ve been married for a while, which feels like no way and then at the same time it’s way longer. I would say we’re at a sweet place. I feel we seek to hear the other first. I feel our communication is open and helpful. It’s been fun learning more in the marriage scene and knowing that God did make you for me and vice versa, seeing different strengths and things I need in a partner. You have this. That’s been sweet to see and divine. Do you want some more on that?

I like it. We’re shooting from the hip here. We have not prepared anything. I resonate deeply with we seek to hear the other first, communication being open, learning each other more. It’s amazing how much we’ve learned and I feel like we still have a million light-years to go.

We recognize our need for God more in marriage.

To touch on a few of these, one, I love that you said how God prepared and made us for each other in that. What’s cool in seeing that as an aside, I’ve been partnering with an organization named Giant and they have some training tools that are effective and one of them is called the 5 Voices. It’s a personality assessment of types to understand what style or what your voice is like so that it can be heard and so that you can better hear others. It was a cool small testament to that is that we were complete opposites but completing all five by our partnership in that. It is a cool affirmation that we do help each other in ways where the other is weak and can provide the support that the other person needs to grow while being true to who we are too.

That’s a beautiful place to be and communication being open I’d say is one of your strengths. You do a good job of communicating how you feel, what you need and even thoughts that you’re having that I am weaker. I am not as strong in communicating how I feel, communicating what I’m experiencing emotionally. Even sometimes communicating my inner dialogue, I am not as confident or can access as well those things. Your example of leading me in that has been sweet to see. The communication being open is a testament to both of us but I think you’ve led the charge on that.

Will you hold this space for us? If you were like, “I can’t deal with this now.” I feel that happens a lot in relationships like, “What are you talking about?” Thane holds a space for me to be heard, seen and known in that. He tries to come in and understand with me so we can move through it. The only part you are weak at because you’re not used to it is sharing your feelings. It couldn’t happen without you holding that space.

That’s a sweet thing to know and it’s important. We think about holding space and conflict resolution. We think about holding space in settings like coaching or other intensive conversations or communication elements. How important is that for partners? We’ve talked about this a lot I feel like is that the thing that’s transformed me or you or anyone is not the right answer. It’s unconditional love. Unconditional love is a thing that changes us from the inside out, which is sustainable, long-term, real change. Ultimately, what Jesus has done. That’s the biggest form of that. We get to mirror that in the relationship. I think holding space is practical, tangible action. It’s less tangible but an action you can take, do or practice that unconditional love. It’s hard because my tendency is to then get into, “Here’s a problem. Let’s solve it,” which isn’t the point. That’s been a learning process for me.

The other thing I would add to our list is reframing lies. With the holding space piece, I feel we both are able to say how things went in a previous relationship. I was worried about something because of those actions in a previous relationship. I came to Thane and said, “This popped up. I know this isn’t reflective of you. I don’t believe that you would do these things. I was triggered.” It’s helpful to name it out loud and then have Thane affirm that’s a lie. That’s not true. That’s not who he is and then try to work through that because inevitably we will all bring things into a relationship if we’ve had previous relationships relationally. You bring a lot of things into relationships but from a relational standpoint, bringing some baggage in and then trying to clear that out, I feel we’ve been working through and have made some strides in.

It’s sweet to look back, see growth, to see actual steps and progress made. To that point, I feel grateful. In a lot of this we were able to learn at least a level of self-awareness before marriage that we haven’t had to hit as many rock bottoms between us. We’ve been spared more hardship in conflict resolution than maybe others because of some of the development we did on our own. To credit you in that, as it goes, if you feel that, think that or have that experience and then don’t communicate it then it turns into a narrative that perpetuates and keeps popping up. That’s applied to things that may not apply and may not be indicating that. Since we’re seeing that narrative or have that narrative run then we’ll put it on top of things. That keeps going until it builds into a massive thing versus a smaller thing at that moment. I’m proud of you in the example you gave of how you handled that because as a team, we need that from each of us.

[bctt tweet=”The benefit of counseling isn’t as much as putting out a fire now but as preventing the fire down the road.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

We’re on a team. I am for you. You’re for me.

When there are disagreements and there are and when there’s arguments or conflict and there is, it’s hard for you to feel like you’re on the same team. It’s amazing, even though we know it and we can say on this show and it sounds good, there are real moments where the feelings are so strong in the opposite direction that it’s hard to see that we are on the same team. That’s a part of the hard work that relationships are. That’s the hard work side. There’s an extreme joy side too and both are equally true.

We know everyone’s on a different part of the spectrum. if you’re at a place where, “I don’t feel like my partner and I connect that much,” think through and like, “Why aren’t we connecting? Do we take time together each day? Are we checking in? Do we have these rhythms that say our relationship is a priority? If so, what are they?” First, establishing those things because when you’re in the rhythm of, “Where are you at? How are you? What do you need more from me on?” We don’t do it every day but I’d say we do it often. We’re able to better align and come alongside one another.

If you think about where we’re at now and where we’re going, the next question I was thinking about is what do you think is the biggest area of growth ahead for us? What do you see as the biggest growth opportunity is?

Continued growth in these areas that we named. Growth will come when we have more stride in our careers. Even now I’m feeling that growth of balancing both working from the same place, working at home but as our time is more allotted to work, the balance of our relationship and keeping our priorities, what we want them to be and having those be the other me and then self-worth. I feel like we have plenty of room to grow even where we’re standing. How would you answer that?

The one thing that comes to my mind when I thought of it is establishing relational rhythms that’ll be much more important in different seasons. We’re in COVID season, meaning we’re together all the time and we’re in early marriage season which means we don’t have any kids. Our job responsibilities aren’t as heavy as they will be and life isn’t as chaotic, hectic or scattered as it will be at other times. Having committed rhythms to our cadence, communication and relationship is something you hear talked about a lot. I’ve always thought like, “I’m excited to accept those but it hasn’t been necessary for us yet because of where we’re at in life.” That’s great. It’s understanding there’s a season for that. Once things start shifting, meaning on the work front, on the COVID front, normalizing life a little bit then those things become much more important. I’d love to set those up before we reached that point, yet I don’t know how soon that’ll be.

What came to mind was we want to go to marriage counseling not because we “need it.” To break that down a little bit, I feel there’s the stigma around counseling like, “We don’t need it.” Our marriage is in a good place but it always has room to grow. I’d be happy to go to marriage counseling with you, have a third person speak into our marriage, see where our blind spots are and come alongside. What’s helpful in that is doing it when we “don’t need” it because then we’re becoming better equipped. Financially, that could look like different things at different seasons. On the same hand, I was thinking it’d be sweet to establish those rhythms when we “don’t need them” because we always need a date night. How do we want to do our check-ins? Is it daily? Is it weekly? How do we make it fun and not regimented of this checkbox of, “He’s good. He’s a five?” What are some of the rhythms that come to mind?

One of the things that are more front of mind because I heard a podcast about it is setting aside a time for conflict resolution throughout the week and this example that I heard was every Friday at 1:00 PM. It was like, “Anything in the last week that was triggering, frustrating or we had an issue with is discussed.” The example they gave was this guy who would write things down on a list and then when he got to Friday, he’s like, “That’s dumb. I don’t need to talk about that.”

It naturally resolves some of those lesser important things and then the things that are still there that are still deep or important are able to be discussed, debated or fleshed out within a set time and then you are able to shift back and forth a little bit. I thought it was a cool rhythm. Something like that has always been on my mind to give more space before diving into it. I think that’s one thing we’ve experienced. When we dive into conflict, when it happens, I don’t think that’s always been helpful for us but vice versa if we wait too long then that’s not helpful either because we would both sit in it for longer. It’s a weird dance.

UAC 187 | Learnings From Marriage

Learnings From Marriage: Marriage is harder than singleness in that you are in a constant growth process because you’re living with someone who’s holding up a mirror to who you are, who you say you are, and where the differences are in that.


There are ways to move through the conflict then and say, “We’ll talk about it more. Get what you need to say to feel okay, reconnected and then we’ll address this for how can we not run into this in the future?”

The rhythms of a date night or monthly check-in about where we’re going as a family or a team. I think about daily small check-ins. We haven’t been as consistent as I’d like to be but praying together has been such a sweet daily connector. In one of my sessions, we talked about that as well. This is uniting, such an important practice and it produced so much benefit. It doesn’t have to be that crazy. Those are some of mine. What do you think?

I’m thinking of two things. We were at a friend’s wedding. It’s COVID-safe. The couple that we were eating dinner with has a family of five. They were sharing how once a month they will do a little trip for a getaway with the kids or maybe it’s every year, like a big vacation for the kids and then vacation for mom and dad. I thought that was sweet. My sweet friend, Hannah, she and her husband will do six months check-ins for larger things. For instance, if Thane takes a job and we’re like, “We’re not feeling 100% about this but we’re going to give it a go. We’ll have a six-month check-in, reevaluate and see if it’s working for you or me.” That way there’s a date and a set time to say, “This is only going to be this way for this long.” You can reevaluate if needed earlier but it takes some pressure off of bigger decisions like that.

It was cool talking with a guy at a meeting about the common thing that is experienced in relationships, couples and marriages, small steps can lead to drift. Once you’re in a place of drift then it needs to be like removing that drift to where it’s back in alignment with one another. It made me think more about like, “What are drift producing elements?” Even having conversations with several other people in our community, this idea of having a filter of commitments is such a helpful framework of reference. It’s been on my mind because it’s such a simple yet powerful tool for building this hierarchy like a pyramid. At the top is number one, priority to your commitment and then, 2, 3, 4, all the way down the pyramid.

Anytime there is something that is a question mark or something that you’re unsure about, it goes through those filters and starts up top and goes all the way down. For me and for us, it’s the first God which means that my number two priority, my wife. If by chance there was something that she was doing or wanted me to do that wasn’t in alignment with priority one then I answer to God before Evan, which is crazy. Filtering our priority through God and then filtering second through you and through us. I’m like, “My commitment is second priority, very close to the top, is Evan.” What does this look like in light of that?

Third, which I thought was helpful, is myself. What is the commitment to myself that I’ve made as a man, as a child of God, in my work or what I feel called to do? Is this in alignment or not with that? It then goes down into coworkers, teammates, clients, community and beyond. That simple pyramid framework of filters in commitments helps us so much any time there’s a question mark. In decisions and steps we take, there will always be question marks in life. Having those filters is going to be helpful to prevent drift as we think proactively and preventative. As you’re talking about that, I love that you brought that up. I don’t think that the benefit of counseling isn’t as much as putting out a fire now but as preventing the fire down the road. I want to be preventative in many areas. It’s funny you talk about it here because this is helping us think through it even on this show.

I think that can be two-fold. This example happened with some people in our community, maybe there’s a business relationship that’s not God-honoring and that business relationship was taking precedent over some of the other priorities. That was a practical example. I feel like there are things that seep into relationships that cause drift such as it could be innocent, looking at your phone when your husband’s trying to talk to you and you’re not listening. It could be looking at porn in private. It could be 1.00001 million things. They could be subtle, not subtle. Those are the ones that we can sift through that filter of like, “What the heck am I doing on my phone? What is that putting into my brain? Is that helpful?”

For me, it’s make it personal. The thing that I would say is the biggest stimulant for drift would be career or work. That looks like if I checked my email in the morning or evening when it’s not work time, why am I doing that? There’s no point to do that. It’s taking away from you and me at this special time or I’ve been a lot of self-work with this training for this program and realized in conflict, I go to gear number four, which is multitasking. It’s like busying myself with what is comforting, which is work and work is comforting because it’s what I feel called to and I feel passionate about all this stuff. I realized that in conflict, I default to work, which detaches me from us and that can lead to drift especially when repeated over time and not corrected. I don’t think it’s been a huge issue but it can be. That’s real. I could see how that competes.

Something I was thinking about too when we’re talking about this filter that could be fun to do. I think we have an idea but even going a step further and writing out like, “This is the man of God I want to be. This is the woman of God I want to be.” Helping each other stay accountable to that and do these practices or life choices. Does your day-to-day reflect that person? That could be fun too to keep us centered.

[bctt tweet=”Relationships take work. It is both easy and hard.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I love that idea. We will do that. Any other questions that you were thinking on or musing on? I know we didn’t talk about it beforehand.

I feel led to say if you’re in a place of marriage that’s dark, scary or you don’t feel connected, there is redemption and nothing is too far outside of God’s redemption. To encourage whoever is reading that might be in that place that relationships take work, let’s start with that. Relationships are easy and hard. It’s both. With that, setting small things of connectedness, going through some hard stuff, it could be hard past history that you need to walk through together to get through. That is all possible. It could involve some hard work. I’m grateful to Thane, to have a partner that does the work with me in all things. I felt I needed to say if you’re in a place where you’re not feeling encouraged in your partnership or marriage, that it can be redeemed and nothing is outside of God’s redemption.

For the majority of people, marriage is harder than it is easier because it is a process of living in a continued partnership, which is hard and that involves acting more selflessly than selfishly. That’s a learned thing a lot of times. It’s not natural, I don’t think. Don’t expect fairy tales. That’s a reminder. The other thing that you made me think of and that I would like to say now that we’re making a little statement here is for anyone who’s reading who is single know that marriage is not the answer to all your problems. Marriage is harder than singleness in that you are in a constant growth process because you’re living with someone who’s holding up a mirror to who you are, who you say you are and where the differences are in that.

That’s helpful, awesome and challenging. For anyone who’s reading that is single, know that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you are if you water it there. Start watering where you’re at. God knows if you’re worried about finding the right person, you’re going to find the right person. That’s going to happen. There is no perfect person out there either. We’re all imperfect humans. I love my wife and I believe she’s perfect but she’s not perfect. I’m not perfect either. Be encouraged if you are a single person like that. That is a beautiful season of life and place to be. It’s of worth and value as much as marriage is. I can say that wholeheartedly now having experienced both.

Both are gifts. I feel like part of me wishes I would have embraced singleness more because unfortunately in a lot of Christian circles, it is always, “When are you going to get married?” It seems like something’s wrong with you. There are such purpose and blessing in being single also. Both are gifts.

We don’t have anything figured out. If you gain something from this, we are so glad. We are trying to figure it out one day at a time and hopefully always will be. That’s been in front of mind for me is I want to be discovering and learning my wife until kingdom come, the day I die and beyond. She’s an endless ocean of a human that I get to learn, discover and explore. I’m grateful for that and the excitement or the adventure that is. Until next time, this has been a lot of fun. This is Couch Six. For those of you who have read this far, if you want an insider tip to something that will change your life, look no further than Splendor.

If you’re a fan of Catan, you will be a fan of Splendor. Thane and I shamelessly got this game and I’ve played it 14 of the 21 days.

We did play almost every night for two weeks straight.

It has created some conflict mostly on your end when you lose to me.

I will say she’s come on strong. Go check out Splendor if you are into games and want to find a new one. You’re welcome for that tip. Until next time, we hope you all have an up-and-coming week because we are out.

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UAC 186 | Sustainable Approach


It is not wrong to give your best in your business and strive hard to achieve success, but it is unacceptable to disregard your physical, mental, and personal states just to accomplish that. An entrepreneur can only be considered successful if they truly understand how to use a sustainable approach when running a business. Sharing his personal experiences with Thane Marcus Ringler is the Founder of EntrepreneurHQ and Owner of The Perk Coffee Co. & Green Spaces Coworking, Austin Gray. Austin explains how he found growth even outside the business scene by appreciating the help from his mentor, business partner, and loving wife, all while keeping a strict workout routine throughout the year. He also talks about his mission of bringing entrepreneurs together, contributing a lot to building his business mindset.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”186: Fellowship Ft. Austin Gray: Get Creative And Make It Work: An Entrepreneurial Conversation On Community, Sustainability, The Shame Cycle, And Doing Business For Good”]

Fellowship Ft. Austin Gray: Get Creative And Make It Work: An Entrepreneurial Conversation On Community, Sustainability, The Shame Cycle, And Doing Business For Good

This is a show all about the process of becoming, learning how to live a good life and living with intention in the tension. Life has a lot of tensions and the best way we believe to live in the midst of those is by infusing intentionality and a reason why into all that we do. On this show, we get to talk to fellow Up and Comers on that journey who are living on purpose and on a mission. We get to share their stories. It is such a joy to do that through long-form interviews, fellowship episodes and sometimes through solo combos that I share some thoughts I’m stewing on.

Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of the show. This is a show all about learning how to live a good life and living with intention in the tension. Life is filled with so many tensions and the best way to face those is by infusing intentionality or reason why into all that we do, living on purpose and mission. We talk to and interview people in the process of becoming which hopefully, we are all in our entire lives. It means we’re learning. We never stop growing. That is what this show is all about. That is what this Up and Comers community is here for. We hope it’s an encouragement and inspiration to you on your own journey. Thanks for being a fellow up and comer.

If there’s any way you could help us out, there are three simple, easy things that you could do right now. The first is leaving us a rating and a review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts that takes about one minute of your time. That’s a great way for us to be found by more people, naturally or organically. If you want to spread the good word about the show, the second way to help us out is by sharing it with a few people in your community. Either sending them a text with a screenshot or a link, recommending an episode you enjoyed to several of your friends or family members. The other way is sharing it on socials, tagging us @UpAndComersShow, and giving us a shout-out there. We’re on pretty much all the socials.

Finally, if you want to support us financially, the best way to do that is through Patreon. We have a Patreon where you can make monthly donations to help cover the expenses of putting the show on as a great way to support us tangibly on this journey. If you have a company and want to partner together through sponsorships, definitely reach out or if you have any other questions, comments, thoughts, suggestions, we’d love to hear from you at the That is all the housekeeping.

This is a really fun fellowship episode which is a little bit more of a peer-to-peer conversation than a full-on interview. It is featuring Austin Gray. Austin Gray is the Founder of EntrepreneurHQ and also owns The Perk Coffee Co. and Green Spaces Coworking with his business partner, Jayson. In his free time, he loves spending time with his wife Bayleigh and they enjoy all of the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer, but specifically snowboarding, mountain biking, fly fishing, and hiking with their dog, Jade.

Austin and I got connected when I joined the Green Spaces Coworking group, which was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being there. I was a part of their Startup September. They have a great mission, a great space there, and a great community of people. I knew ever since that moment, I’d love to get Austin on the show and we finally made it happen. We talk about a lot in this episode, including his mission in life, the importance of community, starting new things, focusing on sustainability even at a young age.

[bctt tweet=”Money becomes an issue when it’s the only thing you ever think about.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

We talked about the shame cycle, rethinking the “American dream,” Austin’s entrepreneurial journey thus far, lessons learned from COVID-19 while owning a brick-and-mortar business, and so much more. There was a lot of thought-provoking conversation in here, also a lot of really fun, real talk, life on life, what’s happening on with boots on the ground conversations as well. If you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re someone who likes learning, if you’re someone who wants to know about the ups and downs, and ebbs and flows, then this one is definitely for you. Go check out what Austin is up to. He’s got some cool stuff going on. He’s got a great humble attitude and demeanor, and provides a lot of value. You’re going to want to check it out. That’s all I’ve got for you. Please sit back, relax and enjoy this fellowship episode with Austin Gray.

Austin Gray, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me, Thane.

It’s going to be a fun conversation. I have been looking forward to this and ever since we first met at the Coworking Space, that is a big part of your story now, I thought it would be great to be able to share a conversation here. I’m glad we finally got to make this happen.

Thanks for having me on once again. I’m excited to be here.

One of the things we are sharing right now is a warm beverage. I’m drinking Costa Rican from The Perk, which also has to do with your story. There are a lot of tie-ins. I’m feeling caffeinated and excited to learn all about that and share some more of that.

I’m excited about that. That’s one of my favorite ones we do. Trevor, who helps us run Green Spaces here, we were having a conversation about that before. He was saying that he likes Costa Rica the best as well. I’m drinking a cup of our Sweater Weather, which was our holiday seasonal blend. I brought a couple down to Denver so we can drink these up before we changed seasons.

UAC 186 | Sustainable Approach

Sustainable Approach: If you want to move forward in any area of your life, apply dedicated and focused effort twice a week to something you want.


That was a cool blend I liked, from what I read online on that. I appreciated the style and emphasis with that one. Before we dive into Green Spaces and The Perk, and all that you’re up to now, I’d love to know what question are you asking yourself the most.

Something I’ve been personally going through is, what is my personal mission in life? What am I here to do? I wouldn’t say I have an absolute crystal-clear answer on that yet, but I’ve started to get clear on that. Where it lies is I’ve realized that I’m passionate about creating community. I’ve realized that I’m passionate about building relationships with people. I’ve realized that I’m most passionate about creating a community for entrepreneurs which is a big reason why I’ve launched the new project, EntrepreneurHQ.

We have seen a trend between Jayson and I. We’re investing in businesses and we’re starting businesses together that all comes back to one thing, and that is community. Whenever you talk about coffee, there’s a community aspect to that. Whenever you talk about coworking, there’s a community aspect of that as well. Personally, I’ve gotten clear up to a certain point on my personal mission that I’m passionate about creating a community for entrepreneurs because that leads to things later on.

When you have gone through this process, this is something that many of us, myself included, can often find ourselves in this place. What is my mission in life? That’s a great question and a very common question, especially at this stage in life, and I’m sure in every stage in life and different nuance and ways. As you’ve approached this season of asking it this time, sitting with it, and trying to delve into discovering the answer, what has been helpful for you in that process? How have you gone through that? What does that process look like for you?

I find most peace when I’m outdoors. I moved to Colorado in 2010 to go to school at CSU, and like everybody else who’s living in Colorado, I came out here with the mindset that I was going to be here for a short amount of time. For me, it was the four years I was in college and always expected to move back home, but I have found such a love for the outdoors. I’ve found peace and serenity there. It doesn’t matter what activity I’m doing, but there’s some spiritual connection there for me, and that is ultimately where I’ve found my meaning of God. When I talk about a personal mission, it’s how do I get outdoors and find quiet time to connect. That is ultimately what helps me get clear on things whenever I’m uncertain about things in life.

What are your favorite activities or what do you find the most peace in doing outside?

It depends on the season. I love the seasons that we have in Colorado. If it’s summertime, definitely on the mountain bike. I used to be into trail running. In the last couple of years, I love mountain biking in the summer, but snowboarding and skiing for the wintertime. I’ve also found a lot of enjoyment in cross-country skiing. There is something about being on mountain bike trails whenever there’s snow. It’s very peaceful. All the people are at the downhill ski resorts. It’s nice to get away and unplug in nature on some cross-country skis. I’ve enjoyed that. I bought an uphill ski. I have skins that I put on my skis and go hike up mountains and then ski down. That’s been a lot of fun as well.

You’ve got the whole gamut there. That’s impressive. You’re living the full-on Colorado lifestyle.

[bctt tweet=”Allocate some time to be fully present with the people who mean something in your life.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I’m telling you, I get bored of things easily. I have to switch it up a lot, but there’s one underlying theme there. It’s getting in the outdoors. There are many good things that happen whenever I get outdoors. As I said, it’s more of a spiritual thing for me. It’s a way that I can get away from these screens, the iPhones, and the notifications, all the things that were blasted and bombarded with in our generation. It’s a way to disconnect from all of that.

It’s so important and something that I’m thinking about a lot in my daily life of what does that look like to be connected but then to disconnect, and what are the healthy rhythms of that disconnection for our own self-care and help. When we think about balance in life, as someone who has many hats and wearing them in many positions, doing a lot of things, and constantly on the go sometimes because you’re bored of things or sometimes because you’re an entrepreneur and that’s what you do. Alongside what we’ve been talking about, what helps you strike a balance in all of this? What does it even mean to you? Everyone has a different definition of what balance means. I’m sure one of those rhythms are getting outdoors. How do you even evaluate or think about where you’re at in your own pendulum swing? Where can you find or how can you find a balance in that?

You’re bringing up questions that I ask myself too. That’s another question like, “What is the optimal balance between living a fulfilled life?” I’m passionate about business in this season of life. I’ve got a couple of different businesses. I’m spinning up new projects. That’s like my vice, my problem. I can’t stop starting new things. Up to this point, I’ve accepted it about myself. What’s good is I have a business partner named Jayson. He’s an awesome guy, and he always brings me back to reality.

When I talk about the balance between professional, personal, and physical areas of life, I break things down into three pillars, which are professional, physical and personal. Professional is anything career-related. Physical is anything health and exercise-related. Personal is anything family-related or friends-related. In 2020, I started writing on a blog. Writing has helped me distill my thoughts. I have millions of thoughts bouncing around. One day, I was writing and this came out. I came up with if you want to move forward in any area of your life, my hypothesis is that I should apply dedicated and focused effort twice a week to something that I want to move forward.

With EntrepreneurHQ, I’ve set up what’s called Productive Cycles. Productive Cycles are Tuesday and Thursday coworking sessions where we jump on Zoom. They’re designed to help entrepreneurs focus. I created this by scratching my own itch. My hypothesis was that if I have all these projects going, if I can identify the highest leverage tasks to move those projects forward on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and eliminate all distractions, then my hypothesis is that those projects will continue to move forward with time. I’ve applied the same principle to the physical area of my life. I still enjoy lifting weights after playing in college. That was a habit that I’ve had all my life and it feels good when I do it. It’s a confidence booster. There are endorphins there. There are all the scientific benefits that happen to your body whenever you train your muscles.

Not only is it physical, there are mental benefits as well. There’s a big benefit to getting your mind to a certain point of when you want to physically and mentally give up, and then mentally choosing to push a little bit harder. That applies to many areas of life. With lifting weights, I’ve tried and tested different times or amounts per week. I used to say, “I want to lift weights five times a week. I’m going to lift every single day of the week.” I found that it wouldn’t happen. I would get busy and life would happen, and then I would run into the shame cycle. I’m like, “What is the sustainable approach to this?” “What is something I know that I can do every single week?”

I’ve identified that if I go to the gym two times a week, week over week for 52 weeks of the year, I stay in pretty good shape. I took that principle and I applied it to outdoor cardio. If I get outside two times a week and do some form of outdoor cardio, I’m going to stay in good cardiovascular health. We’re starting to see a trend here. This is where the 2X principle came from. I’m a few years into marriage at this point. What I’m trying to do with my personal life is identify ways that I can apply the 2X principle to my relationship with my wife, and also my relationship with my family and friends.

A simple way as I’m going to call my parents twice a week, or I’m going to do something special for my wife twice a week, whether that be plan a date night, go and grab her flowers, pick up some little thing at the store that made me think of her, all these little things that you can do twice a week to move that area of your life forward. I’m not sitting here and telling you I’m perfect at this, but it seems like a more sustainable approach to have a balance between those three pillars.

UAC 186 | Sustainable Approach

Sustainable Approach: Even though it is true that earning money isn’t everything, it provides a base level of security to a certain point.

I love that because sustainability, especially in our younger half of life is probably one of the least thought of parts of the process. It’s something that we would all do well to embrace more of, that long-term, what can last the test of time for ourselves and those around us. I’d love to hear more on how you’ve come to this idea or conclusion as early as you have. Arguably, it’s something that usually isn’t thought about until well into our late 30s, early 40s, even 50s. Being younger in life and still viewing and approaching things with a sustainable approach is rare. We’d do well to have more of that.

I’d love to hear what your process has been or what you think has led to that. Everyone can relate to the shame cycle. The shame cycle is a human condition and we all fall prey to it all the time. It’s poisonous for me, especially, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Enneagram but I’m a three and that’s like the antithesis of shame cycle. Anything you aren’t achieving, you’re shaming yourself for. I definitely have experienced that and still work on not succumbing to that. This is a long-winded question, how have you found yourself valuing sustainability at a young age?

There are a couple of reasons. We’ve seen generations above who have prioritized professional careers over everything else. The American dream has been all about making money and creating wealth and doing that at all costs. Our age of people has grown up seeing people who are older than us prioritize that. We’re also seeing one if not two generations above us get to retirement age and be like, “All I’ve done with my life is work. You’re spending your time going fly fishing on a three-day trip right after college. That’s something I’ve never done.” These are the older people saying that, “I wish I would have done that when I was your age.”

Hearing that from people who were older than me get to a point in life where they have not done those types of life experiences has challenged me to think about, what would it look like if I could succeed at business, if I could succeed at health, and if I could succeed in my personal life? How would that look?” What I don’t want to do is work my whole life away because what’s the point of just making more money? I have two viewpoints on this. Our society and the Millennial generation have almost gone so far on the other side of like, “It’s bad to make money. We don’t need to focus on that.” The reality is money does provide a base level of security up to a certain point. You need money to provide food, water, and shelter for yourself. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to focus on money early on at all.

It’s a responsibility that you have to take care of your own self and your family to do. Where it becomes an issue is when it’s the only thing you think about, and there’s no balance there. What I don’t want to do is to be working 12, 14 hours a day, and not spending any time with my wife. I want to value all of these things equally and allocate equal amounts of energy towards them. While family is the number one priority, you have to say, “If I am prioritizing my family, then I do still have to allocate time towards my professional life to provide resources, to put food on the table for the family.” That’s one reason. I know that was a long-winded answer.

Secondly, I was challenged about the whole concept of sustainability and deeply thinking about it. When my business partner, Jayson and I co-operated Green Spaces since 2018, it made me dive deeply into what the word sustainable means. While Green Spaces is focused mainly on what does it look like to create companies that help make sure that we have a sustainable planet long-term, you can take that principle and apply that to your personal life. What does it look like for me to live a sustainable life? It doesn’t make sense for me to go work 14, 16-hour days, and not spend time with my wife and expect to have a good marriage. There has to be some sustainable balance there. It also doesn’t make sense for me to just focus on making money and not prioritizing my health because nobody wants to be old, rich and fat. How do you balance all of these things together?

I had a meeting with a guy and I was talking about this golf program that I’ve been getting off the ground. He was one of those gentlemen who has worked very hard and found himself in a large position with outside influence, but his body wasn’t holding up well. He couldn’t do things he enjoyed as much like golf, which is his favorite thing to do. Having that reality that everyone has something they want that they don’t have often. The goal is to have a little bit of each of those pieces as much as we can that’s right for our season in time as you’re talking about, that’s sustainable and can blast through a lifetime to where none of them get too far out of balance. If you think about your own life where you find yourself now in the season you’re in, which would you say has been the biggest challenge for you in maintaining a balance? Is it professional, personal, or physical? Which category have you seen yourself struggling the most and why do you think?

Hands down, personal area of my life. It’s good to have these concepts that I’m talking about at the forefront of mind. If we talk about what’s happening, I work a lot and I have to make a conscious effort to shut it down by 6:00 every night. I work hard to do that and it is so hard. I launched this EntrepreneurHQ thing and new members are signing up. I’m getting notifications on my phone that two new members signed up and I’m all excited about this. I’m in work mode and I’m like, “That onboarding email sucks, I need to refine that. The first name is not being populated in the Zapier integration, so I need to fix that.” My head is totally in the workspace, even though I’ve shut my laptop for the day. That’s not fair to my wife.

[bctt tweet=”Always take the emotions out of the business and look at everything logically.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

If I’m hanging out with my friends in the evening, that’s not fair to my friends. The least I can do is allocate some time to be fully present with those people who mean something in my life. It’s a hard thing to do, especially I get super amped about creating new businesses and selling new products. It’s fun and challenging. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I do think that I personally struggled the most with being present in my personal life. I realized that the first piece is acknowledgment.

I have these conversations with my wife of like, “I’m sorry. My head is in work mode right now. I apologize, I was not paying attention. Can you stick with me? I promise you, I’m working on this.” I have an amazing wife. She’s understanding and she’s helping me through all of this, but I would say that’s my biggest struggle. Health is easy for me because it’s a habit I’ve formed since high school. I have this internal alarm. It’s like if I haven’t worked out in a certain number of days, my body starts telling me, “You’ve got to get to the gym,” or “You’ve got to get outside and go for a run.” That hasn’t been a struggle for me at this point. Personal life and being able to shut it down after work is my biggest struggle.

That’s so common. I relate with that, same on all of what you shared. Even in the sense of the physical side, there’s something to it. The body is like, “This is the point where it’s no more waiting. Get back in the gym.” You’re right. It’s something about it. By nature, people that go down more on entrepreneurial paths are intrinsically motivated and get a lot of fulfillment from that motivation. When we see the benefit of that and feel the reward of that fulfillment, it’s hard to turn that off. It’s not saying that we necessarily value that more than our family because we share the same priority that family comes first, yet our actions don’t always indicate that because we get excited and lost in the fulfillment that whatever we’re working on brings. There’s that dance. It’s like removing ourselves from the shame cycle. We’re keeping that on us for not living up to our own expectations or goals but saying, “This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just I need to reallocate my focus so that it can show my wife that I love her more than anything.” It’s such a practice. I share that with you.

Before we started talking about it, it was much tougher now. I’ll hear something and she’ll be like, “Where’s your head at now?” She understands me so well at this point. I love her for that because she knows that my brain goes a million miles an hour. It’s so awesome when you have somebody who can support you in that. Now that we’ve communicated to each other that this is an area that I struggle, she brings me back in, “Where’s your head at? We’re having this conversation.” It’s not in a condescending way. It’s like, “I’m helping you out to bring you back in,” but I’m excited to see as we grow together how I can continue to come up with ways to combat what I call the monkey mind.

Speaking of marriage, you mentioned a few years in, how would you describe or define the season or chapter phase that you guys are in marriage now? I’m curious what’s the place after a few years you find yourself in, and how you would describe the season for you guys?

To be real and honest, it’s challenging. Loving somebody more than yourself and prioritizing their needs, their wants, and always having their back is challenging for both of us. We both acknowledge that and have those conversations. It’s been really good. We’re focusing on what are the good things that we love about each other. Let’s get back to that. Let’s figure out a way to encourage each other, to love each other, and to have fun because that’s what this thing is supposed to be.

I love that you bring that up because it’s a choice. At the end of the day, it’s a choice on both sides and you keep choosing it for it to work. There are going to be ebbs and flows always. I hear you on that and I love those words of wisdom there. Thank you for sharing. If we rewind the clock a little bit, I believe you played football at Caro State. After competing there, you jumped into the workforce. I know you were at HP for a while. I’d love to hear a little bit of your story in the transition from college to corporate, and then the transition from corporate to entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial endeavors that you’ve been in. I’d love to hear what those transition times held for you, what they taught you, and what you learned from those different seasons.

This could turn into a three-hour conversation because every season brought different things. What it comes down to is I’ve always known that I’ve had the entrepreneurial itch. My dad was a business owner. He always went out and found his own work. In his construction company, he builds some residential rental homes. He’s never worked for anybody. I worked alongside him growing up in the summers. I learned the principle of work ethic. Even through playing football, I played with some amazing athletes and some very hard workers, but from a work ethic standpoint, I would put my dad up against anybody. He has another gear and that principle from a young age has always stuck with me.

UAC 186 | Sustainable Approach

Sustainable Approach: Loving somebody more than yourself and prioritizing their needs and their wants is pretty challenging.

The example he set of, “I’m going to go out and find my work. I’m going to solve interesting problems without being told what to do,” has always been embedded in me. From an early age, I knew that about myself and I never wanted to go the corporate route at all. Early on, right after college, I was optimizing for life experiences. At the time, I was into fly fishing and archery elk hunting. I wanted to be able to take a whole month off in September and spend it in the woods, archery elk hunting.

One of my friends had a fence company. He built fences. His family was in the ranching industry and they had some connections with some ranches near Steamboat. He had a contract in place and he needed some help. I said, “I’ll come help you in the summers,” and with my construction background, it fits naturally into that. I was able to take September off and do my archery elk hunting. I did that for a couple of years and felt the need to start figuring my life out. You can’t just work in the summers and take the fall off, and then take the winter off and go skiing and do that. I jumped into the corporate world and I was at HP for a year before being completely done with it. I don’t like being told what to do. I like coming up with ideas on my own and I like chasing after things that I come up with. I’ve realized that about myself and I know that’s an ego thing, but it is what it is.

At that point, I started doing some entrepreneurial side projects. I was building websites, running Facebook ads for some clients. I jumped into this entrepreneurial community and that’s how I met my mentor. This guy still mentors me to this day. I run some startup out of Austin and I got embedded into that community. I started meeting other entrepreneurs and started bouncing ideas off of people. As I said, I met my mentor during that time. That was when I started taking off. When I had some encouragement from a person who was a little bit older than I was, who was a little bit further on their path on the entrepreneurial career, when I had a little bit of guidance, it was game over. I had actionable steps to take. That’s when I made the transition completely from HP into diving into buying businesses with my partner, Jayson.

I’ll take a step back. One thing I forgot to mention was I was working on all of these little startup ideas. For example, I tried to build the Airbnb for tiny houses and ended up building it with a no-code tool. I got to the point where I started getting people on the platform, and then went to another idea. My problem was I was coming up with ideas, I would get them to a certain point, and then I would have the shiny object syndrome. I shared this with my mentor and we did a personality test. He’s like, “I’m the same personality that you are.” Here’s what one of my mentor has told me, “Commit to the people rather than the things. Figure out who in your life you can make a commitment to and start practicing.”

I started with my wife and this leads into the story about how I met my business partner, Jayson. At the time, I was working remotely for HP. I had moved to Winter Park to optimize for a lifestyle decision to be close to outdoor activities. I started working out at The Perk Coffee Shop, which was originally Jayson’s. Jayson and I got to know each other and for whatever reason, he started the coworking space in Winter Park. We started working alongside each other. For whatever reason, we felt this urge to start working together. I applied that principle that my mentor had told me of commit to the people rather than the things.

Whenever we started this initial partnership together, it was like, “Jayson, I’m going to make a commitment to you because I know this about myself. I come up with ideas and it’s so easy for me to move onto the next idea, but I want to try this.” We shook each other’s hands. We went into partnership, looked each other in the eye and said, “I’m committed to you.” That was a few years ago. That was ultimately what has gotten me through COVID-19. It would be easy to give up on these things with what happened from a revenue perspective, with our brick-and-mortar businesses. Having that commitment to that person and that partner in the business has helped me in this

Commit to the people rather than the things, what great advice. I love that journey. It was a great overview of the path. I love that everyone’s path is so unique, catered, and tailored to their own journey and what they need. There is no right path in that sense. I’m interested in learning a little bit more on what you’ve seen in going through this in a committed partnership versus what you see in others who were doing it on their own. That’s something that I have experienced on the other side of trying to do most things on my own, and now I have a partner in my wife, and other aspects I’m looking for partnerships in. It’s a different journey and has inherent limitations to it. I’d love to hear maybe now that you’ve been around entrepreneurs for quite a while, and you’re involved with networking with entrepreneurs and the businesses you run. What have you found that’s unique value out of having a committed partner like the organization structure that you and Jayson have versus solo, versus even a team of more individuals?

It comes down to one thing for me. I proved very early on before I was married and in a committed relationship. After college, it was easy to provide for myself. I proved that if I was going to be providing for myself, then all I need to do is work hard for a summer. I can then take many months off and optimize for life experiences, but that’s not the stage of life I’m in. Would I change anything about that? Absolutely not. That was unique to my personality. I needed to have those experiences. The question that I would ask is, what stage of life are you in and what is most important to you right now? Different stages require different amounts of commitment. Once I got married, now I feel this commitment to provide for my wife. As we start thinking about having kids, I’m feeling that responsibility. I’m working a lot more now than I was the year after college, but it’s what motivates me. It’s because I am committed to my wife and my future kids one day, if God willing.

[bctt tweet=”Commit to the people rather than the things.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

As far as the business partnership goes, there is a deeper level of responsibility that I feel each and every day for when I wake up. I feel like my body is naturally waking me up. I literally couldn’t sleep. It was like at 4:00 AM, I’m ready to go because there’s so much that needs to be done. We’re in a challenging time. Our brick-and-mortar businesses, we’ve lost revenue there. We have to get creative and make this thing work. That responsibility is not only for my wife and my future kids one day, it’s now for my business partner and his wife because of the equity agreement that we have.

My actions on a day-to-day basis don’t only affect my family, they affect my business partner’s family. To me, that’s motivating. I can’t sit here and tell you that that’s the one and only path for everybody, but for my personality, that is. To answer your question, I would probably ask a question, what stage of life are you in? Identify that and then, what are your priorities? What are you trying to optimize for right now? Along with that, is there anybody else that you’re specifically trying to provide for? That all goes into the equation.

What I love about what you shared too is it highlights the importance of taking ownership. The fact that there are a lot of people like my wife, she works with a company that arguably takes the award for dysfunctional team of the year award. It’s one of those things where there’s a group of people that are all on the team that have their own backs and no one else’s. They’re only taking ownership for their own role and part in that. What I love about what you shared is that you say, “This is more motivating for me because not only is it my skin in the game, it’s this other person that I care about, and I want them to succeed as much as I want to succeed.” That’s such a more empowering place than this defeating, “I want to succeed. I don’t care if you do or not,” mode, which unfortunately, a lot of corporate environments can induce, and a lot of dysfunctional teams can induce. That’s a sweet perspective to hear in such an empowering place to be, especially in partnerships like that.

Speaking of this season we’re in and the challenges you faced, I’d love to hear a little bit more about owning multiple coworking spaces, and then a coffee business as well. How those have complemented each other and been uniquely compatible in the sense that they’ve taught you some of the things or your skillset is wired for both of them? How they’ve been challenging and different, and how you’ve had to overcome those obstacles in owning them and moving forward as an entrepreneur in that?

With COVID-19, we own brick-and-mortar businesses. As you can assume with people being locked down and confined in their houses during the early stages of COVID-19, and then with people being more uncomfortable going into public, it’s been a challenge. That’s just me being real and transparent. I’ll take it back to the beginning of COVID-19. When it happens, we lose half a revenue overnight. I remember going into this “What the heck is going on” mode for two weeks. It was depression. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but this is where having a business partner is so valuable because at that point, it would have been easy to give up.

I remember getting on the phone with Jayson and we came to the conclusion, and it was him who led this. He was like, “The reason I got in partnership with you is because I am so confident in your ability to go back down to Denver and figure out a way to make this thing work.” That is ultimately what I needed to hear right at that time. I switched out of that mode. It was like, “Let’s take emotions out of it. Let’s look at this thing logically. Logically, what do we have? We have two options forward. We can give up or we can get creative and figure out a way to make this work.” Right then and there, that’s the option we’re choosing. We are going to get creative. We’re going to figure this thing out together and make this thing work. From that point on, things changed.

People started showing up in Winter Park with the push to remote work. People were moving to their second homes in the mountains. Other people were uplifting out of San Francisco and Chicago, and moving to the mountains. Our Winter Park coworking space has thrived throughout this whole time. With coffee, it’s been up and down. We’ve had closures that we’ve had to abide by. Our approach with this whole thing is we’re going to do whatever we need to do to stay open. We are also going to do whatever they’re telling us to do from a mandate perspective. We’ve followed that this whole time. Given the constraints we have, we’re going to do the best ability that we can do every single day. That mindset throughout this whole time has led us to things like investing in this roaster that we got.

We were so excited about it and we had always looked into this. It’s a zero-emission roaster called a Bellwether Roaster. It’s a new technology and it reduces emissions by 90%. We’ve been looking at it for a couple of years. We got to this point where we were like, “This is something we have to do to diversify right now.” Had we not been in that mindset of, “We have to get creative and make it work,” I don’t know if we would’ve taken that risk or invested that capital. We knew that we could invest that capital to increase our margins on our bean sales by roasting in-house. Also, that opens up new sales channels.

UAC 186 | Sustainable Approach

Sustainable Approach: Doing something to the best of your ability sets you up for success.

We can go and acquire wholesale accounts in Winter Park. Jayson’s done a fantastic job of going out and acquiring those wholesale accounts. We’ve also invested in building out a Shopify store. Now we can sell subscriptions to our coffee. We can do monthly deliveries. We can do one-off deliveries. It goes back to that mindset of getting creative and making it work. That’s coffee. With coworking, we’re looking at the market and as you know, people have been pushed to working from home and a lot of people enjoy it. What we’re looking at is how do we take the concept of coworking and replicate that in an online format in the short-term.

I fully believe coworking is going to come back stronger than ever over the long-term because a loneliness pandemic is going to set in. People are going to realize that they need to be around people. In the short-term, we’re getting creative by creating a community. It’s like creating coworking in an online setting. What do you get when you join a coworking space? You get a desk, but that’s not what most people are paying for. They’re paying for the network, for the connections, and the community. That is what has led us to creating EntrepreneurHQ, which is the online community for entrepreneurs. That’s ultimately how we’re getting creative now. I will say it probably a thousand more times before this thing is over. It comes back to that decision. You can either give up, or you get creative and make it work.

Give up or get creative and make it work. That’s the rally cry that everyone needs to hear and preach to themselves, especially in the era we’re in. I’d love to hear a little bit more. Speaking of EntrepreneurHQ. I know this is one of the newest endeavors. Where is it at now and what do you see for what your hopes are that it can be?

I launched and we’re at six paying members. I’m going to document this process. I am sure I will fail many times and I already have. I tried to do a launch before, but didn’t get any traction so I had to change up the offer. This whole game of building online businesses is such a challenge and there’s so much strategy that goes into it. I get so excited by that of figuring out the pieces to that puzzle. It’s been fun. What it comes back to is I love being around entrepreneurs and I love what happens when you get entrepreneurs in the same room or over the same Zoom cal. Ideas start to happen. Friendships are made. People start working together on projects. We’re already working on some new projects together with people who are part of the crew.

Ultimately, what I see is when entrepreneurs come together, big problems are solved. The way I see Green Spaces and EntrepreneurHQ working together is I believe there are many people out there who are aspiring entrepreneurs like myself when I was working at HP. They’re also early-stage entrepreneurs. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, what is the next goal that you’d like to achieve? The first milestone in that process is to take the leap of faith. The first portion is to help aspiring entrepreneurs take that leap of faith and to provide encouragement and resources for those people.

Once you’ve taken the leap of faith, you’re considered an early-stage entrepreneur. You’re an early-stage entrepreneur as well. You know all the challenges that come along with that. You also know that and tell me if I’m speaking too far out of line here, at least for me, it’s this way. I can’t go and talk to all of my family and friends about strategy and how I’m thinking about. People’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about version rates and the sales funnel. Whenever you can get in the room with entrepreneurs and start riffing on that stuff, it gets fun. You’re like, “You should test this. You should test that. Here’s how you should think about this. I’ll give you feedback on that.”

As an early-stage entrepreneur, you’re thinking about millions of different things. How do I change up my ad copy? How do I structure my landing page? How do I drive traffic to this? Which sales channels should I focus on? What are my strategies for onboarding once I get new users? Those are the struggles of an early-stage entrepreneur. If you can get those types of people together, now you can start voicing those struggles that you’re having. On top of that, the biggest benefit for when I joined an entrepreneur community early on was there were people who had gone before and who had some success already. Whenever you can connect early-stage entrepreneurs with successful entrepreneurs, things start to happen. Whenever you can get advice from people who have gone before, that is where the gold is.

[bctt tweet=”When entrepreneurs come together, big problems are solved.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

The ultimate goal is to provide a network of people who have been successful in entrepreneurship, and then connect them to aspiring early-stage entrepreneurs to provide resources, advice, tips, tricks, strategies, and ultimately help those early-stage entrepreneurs along in their path. Where the Green Spaces philosophy comes in is there are massive problems within this world, poverty, clean water, hunger, climate change, you name it. There are a ton of social and environmental issues that need to be addressed. The reality is if you want to address those, you have to have some capital to tackle those.

What I get most excited about is creating a community of entrepreneurs who can build success together with the principles that, “We want to use business for good, but we’ve got to figure out a way to generate some capital to do that.” If we can aggregate a like-minded crew of entrepreneurs who have that end goal in mind to solve big problems in the world, business becomes more than just about making money. It’s long-term. The definition of entrepreneurship in its simplest form is a problem solver. When you can get problem solvers together who have the capital to tackle big problems, that’s what I get excited about. It’s a long-term mission and it’s a process. We have to start at step one, and step one is getting early-stage entrepreneurs together while building the list of mentors to help those people succeed.

What a great vision. I love that. That’s sweet to hear. It gets me pumped up and this idea of business for good. It takes all of us. No one can do it on their own. We need each other. Every single person has unique skills, giftings, and abilities within that can benefit the whole. There’s no shortage of opportunity. As you said, when entrepreneurs come together, big problems get solved. Especially when you bring them together under the mission and umbrella of running and pursuing a business for good, not for self, but for others, and ultimately the environment and the world around us. That is such an empowering place to be. It gets me pumped up and why I’ve been proud to be a part of Green Spaces in the past as well, and hopefully in the future. I love what you guys are doing. Before we wrap up, I’ve got a few one-offs. This has been a lot of fun, Austin. I’ve appreciated it. Just a few questions and we’ll be on our way here. Less, more, and none. What do you want to do less often, more often, and not at all?

Can you give me a few seconds to think about this one?

It is deep reflective and it’s shot from the hip. Take as much time as you need.

I’m into ski touring but it’s hard to fit into my schedule. I’m down in Denver a couple of days a week or a few days a week. I feel like I have to squeeze it all in on the weekend. I love exploring. I had this idea of going on a hut trip sounds so fun, like hiking into a hut, doing some backcountry skiing. For me, that’s a long-term deal because I don’t have the avalanche training courses. I need to make time to do that. I want to give the mountains the respect that they deserve. If you’ve been following anything in the skiing world, there have been a lot of people who’ve lost their lives to avalanches and it’s very unfortunate. If anybody out there is considering backcountry skiing, do your homework first and get your education. That’s something that I am personally going to do forward, step foot in the backcountry.

I’m learning how to ski. I’m skinning up the resort to get my legs underneath me and learn how to ski because I’m normally a snowboarder. I want to do more of that. That’s a long-term goal for me to work towards. I allocate time to that. Less of the monotonous tasks that come along with the business. I don’t enjoy the accounting stuff. I don’t enjoy going back and forth. Even though I enjoy connecting with people, I can’t stand when it’s a three-email sequence of like, “Does this time work for you? Does this time work for me?” I want to do less of email. Less of email in general would be awesome, and then not at all. I could easily say email for that one as well. Email for not at all and less of email too would be awesome.

UAC 186 | Sustainable Approach

Deep Work (Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World)

What can you not imagine living without?

At this point? It’s crazy. The first thing that comes to mind is my MacBook because that’s how I do business.

Honestly, it takes one computer problem where you’re down and out, and you quickly realize that 95% of what we do for work nowadays involves that. I’m with you.

It’s so contradictory because I said that I want to do less of email, but I told you that I couldn’t imagine living without my Mac.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?

I’m a huge Deep Work fan by Cal Newport. I read that and that pushed me into creating productive cycles. It’s thinking about how to work productively. The points that are made in there are very fundamental and they’re obvious points like eliminate social media, decrease your notifications. For me, that’s the extreme part of it, but what I’ve taken from that is when I’m working on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Productive Cycles, I put my phone and my laptop on do not disturb. The principles in there are obvious, but he paints the picture of doing your best work is fulfilling in itself. That principle can apply to many areas of life. Do something to the best of your ability and set yourself up for success.

Doing your best work is fulfilling in itself. I couldn’t agree more with that. It’s beautiful. If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach and why?

I’m teaching a course called Zero to Blog. That’s the first one that comes to mind because that’s what I’m actively teaching. What it does is takes somebody with zero experience in writing or building a website. I help people set up their website web flow. I’m going through the principles of SEO. We talk about writing your first article.

Check that out. If you’re wanting to start a blog or have any interest in writing, that’d be awesome. What are you most proud of in your work or life thus far?

I would say my marriage because I didn’t expect to get married as early on as I did. That has fundamentally helped me so much for the rest of my life. The principle of commitment has taught me so much because as somebody pre-married who jumped around between idea to idea in business, making that commitment to somebody else transfers to so many other areas of life. It’s challenging but it’s also rewarding to be able to look somebody in the eye and say, “Let’s figure out a way to have fun. Let’s figure out a way to love each other well, and let’s focus on the good qualities about each other even in challenging times.” To me, there’s a lot of reward in that. Once again, that principle translates over to business for me.

The final question that we ask everyone that comes on this show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short message they get on their phones every morning from you.

Today, you can either give up or you can get creative and make it work.”

Austin, thank you so much for taking some time and sharing this conversation. It’s been encouraging and informative for me to hear and I’ve enjoyed it. Where’s the best place for people to find out more about all the businesses and work you’re up to?

I’m most active on Twitter, interestingly enough. It was a platform that I let sit idle for a long time but it seems to be there’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity on Twitter. I picked it up again. I’m @AustinRileyGray on Twitter. I write on my blog as well and that’s

Austin, thanks again for coming on and sharing a bit of your story, and what you’re thinking and working on. It’s been sweet to hear.

Thank you so much for having me on. If anybody’s read this who is an aspiring or early-stage entrepreneur, and you want to connect with somebody who’s been there before, I love meeting new people. Feel free to reach out. I love the entrepreneurial spirit and I’m always down to connect.

Until next time. Thanks for coming on. For all you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

Following up with one last thing to note, if you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering, or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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About Austin Gray

My name is Austin Gray.

I’m the founder of EntrepreneurHQ & also own The Perk Coffee Co. & Green Spaces Coworking with my business partner, Jayson. In my free time, I love spending time with my wife Bayleigh.

We enjoy all of the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer but specifically snowboarding, mountain biking, fly fishing, and hiking with our dog Jade.



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The human heart is the chamber of humanity where dreams, disappointments, hope, and other emotions and desires are found. The Wild at Heart author himself, John Eldredge, sits with Thane Marcus Ringler and talks about the impact of global trauma on humanity and why the human heart prefers denial and falls short in self-kindness. John is a best-selling author, a counselor and a teacher. In this fascinating conversation, they talk about the importance of where we look for encouragement, the trauma that was experienced in 2020, how we often prefer denial as humans, what practicing self-kindness looks like, John’s journey from counseling to writing and speaking, the importance of guarding the heart, and so much more. Enjoy this really deep and impactful interview with John.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”185: John Eldredge: Guarding The Heart: Why Humans Prefer Denial, Practicing Self-Kindness, Asking God’s Opinion, Being Protective Instead Of Defensive, And Knowing That Your Story Matters”]

John Eldredge: Guarding The Heart: Why Humans Prefer Denial, Practicing Self-Kindness, Asking God’s Opinion, Being Protective Instead Of Defensive, And Knowing That Your Story Matters

This is a show all about the process of becoming, learning how to live a good life and living with intention in the tension. Life has a lot of tensions and the best way we believe to live in the midst of those is by infusing intentionality and a reason why into all that we do. On this show, we get to talk to fellow Up and Comers on that journey who are living on purpose and on a mission. We get to share their stories. It is such a joy to do that through long-form interviews, fellowship episodes and sometimes through solo combos that I share some thoughts I’m stewing on.

Thank you for being here and joining The Up and Comers community. There are three easy ways to be a contributing member of that community and to help us out. First is leaving a rating and review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. It takes about a minute. That’s a great way for us to be seen by more shows or by more people. The second way is by sharing this episode with a few people in your community or on the socials. You can screenshot this episode and tag us @UpAndComersShow. We are out there. We’d love to hear from you. Finally, if you want to support us financially, that would be a huge blessing for us as well as this show does take money to produce. You can do that on You can search for The Up and Comers Show and find ways to make monthly donations there. You can also reach out if you have a company and are looking to partner together through sponsorship opportunities. Those are some great ways to be a contributing member of this neat community.

I’m so grateful that you’re tuning in. I’m excited about this interview. The man that is featured in this episode needs little introduction. John Eldredge is the man of the hour. He is a best-selling author, a counselor and a teacher. He is also President of Wild at Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recover their own hearts and God’s love and learn to live in God’s kingdom. John and his wife, Stasi, live near Colorado Springs, Colorado. This was a fascinating conversation. It’s helpful for me. I gained so much wisdom and insight from talking and hearing from his perspective. Even in the research I did, hearing more of his content was healing for my own soul.

In this interview, we talk about the importance of where we look for encouragement, trauma that was experienced in 2020, how we often preferred denial as humans and what practicing self-kindness looks like. John’s journey from counseling to writing and speaking, the importance of guarding the heart, some differences between men and women and so much more. He’s a wealth of knowledge. He’s lived an impactful life. If you haven’t read Wild at Heart, that’s a great place to start. That’s a classic. His new app that’s called Pause that they created for free, I would highly recommend checking that out. It’s something that I’ve incorporated this last season in my own life and believe in it. It’s centering in on Jesus and it’s a meditation app to help you do that throughout your day. It’s helpful, practical and available for free. I hope you enjoy this deep and impactful interview with John Eldredge.

In this world, we are often told about the importance and benefits of being self-aware but rarely are we ever told what that means. How do we become self-aware? What are the tools we can use to help us? What does the process look like? Is it even attainable? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard self-awareness thrown around a lot without the idea ever being clarified or explained. Over the past seven years, I’ve been on a journey of discovering answers to these very questions. I spent much of 2020 putting these tools and processes in place for others to learn alongside me. Through the eight-week course on Thane Marcus Academy, you will learn and practice what it means to grow in self-awareness truly. To help you take the first step, I’m offering you a special discount of 20% off by using the code Upandcomer at checkout. Head over to to begin your journey of growing self-awareness.

John Eldredge, welcome to the show.

[bctt tweet=”The heart is where the action is. ” via=”no”]

Thanks, Thane. It’s good to be with you.

It’s good to be with you again. I wanted to start here. What question are you asking yourself the most?

That’s going to reveal a lot about the progression of my own faith journey over the years coming into a deeper and deeper need for the love, the counsel and the direction of God. Not everybody’s asking the same questions and people have different seasons in their life but the question I’m asking the most is, “God, what are you doing with me, in me, with us? Where are we going? What are you saying?”

What a great question. I want to ask more of that for myself. We’re going to dive a lot into many aspects of your story in the time that we have together. I’m sure there are a lot of people that are familiar and there are a plethora of ways to find out about that. I’m excited about this conversation. The follow-up question I have for you on that is as you stand in life, do you find yourself being encouraged or discouraged as a whole?

It depends on where I’m looking. If I look at the news, if I look at the world and all its heartache and brokenness, it’s rough out there. One of my go-tos during the pandemic has been nature shows because if I can’t get out in beauty, if I can’t bike, hike or travel, I loved watching nature. I was watching the latest David Attenborough, Our Planet, and the extraordinary beauty of the world was reminding me of the goodness of God, his generosity, and his heart for people. When I look there, when I look at the heart of God, I’m encouraged. Honestly, day-to-day, it depends on what I’m focused on.

Speaking of the pandemic, seeing as it’s still affecting us all in many ways, I’m curious to hear what your experience has been like personally of what you felt through the year of facing a global pandemic, something that we have never encountered. How has that affected you, your work, your family and your life?

Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul

I had a good conversation with a friend of mine the other day about this who is a psychologist. I trained under him. I got my graduate work under him. His name is Dan Allender. He specializes in trauma. I was reaching out to Dan because we’ve been using the word trauma to describe our own experience and what people are going through but I didn’t want to be overstating it. Sometimes if you overstate things, you miss the opportunity to speak into the conversation. I felt very strongly that what the pandemic has been like and here’s why. It’s because I’ve seen the effects on me.

What’s my journey been like through the pandemic? I think at first it was, “We can do this. Let’s rally.” This is the first round of quarantines. “I’m going to clean my garage. I’m going to make sure I exercise. I want to eat well,” like everybody else. By about the eighth week of that, you’re binge-watching Netflix. I’m eating way too much dark chocolate and the tendency to go to a glass of wine or a beer. I was like, “Wait a second.”

As I look back on 2020, I can see that none of us have been through global trauma before like this. None of us have navigated this. To be kept in a state of constant uncertainty, to have your normal taken away and a lot of the things taken away that help you thrive like traveling, seeing family or going to church for many people, going out for dinner, I’ve been hammered by it. I can feel the effects. This is why I began to use the word trauma was that the sense of the loss of time, the fogginess, the mental haze, the ability to remember things, focus on things with clarity, turning to comforters and self-soothing behaviors. Those are all the indications that someone’s been through trauma. I’ve got it. Everyone I know has it.

I will be honest and say, I think I’ve done well with my mental health because I made an intentional effort. Things like nature shows and getting out and walking the dog. We were talking about the power of the news to make someone lose hope. Getting off the news. Five minutes a day at the most, get in, get the basics and get out. I’ve been intentional about not letting this thing steamroll me and even then I feel it. I’m exhausted, the weariness by about 2:00 in the afternoon. That’s it. That’s all I got. I want to tell the world, “I’m done now.”

I love that you’re saying this because we’re all feeling that. For some reason, it is hard for all of us to acknowledge or recognize that. Making an intentional effort is such a crucial part of that. I’m curious when we hear this, in your mind, what prevents most of us from actually taking action on that? Meaning we can hear, “I need to be more intentional to recognize and adjust my life to deal with the season of grief or loss that we’re in but putting the actions in place.” There’s a difference between hearing it and then acting on it. What helps people to take action or recognize or acknowledge that we’re in a place of trauma?

Human nature, being what it is, it’s not until you’re in some serious pain. We prefer denial. “I’m doing okay. Maybe I gained a few pounds. I don’t go to the gym anymore. I’m fine. I want 2021 to be a better year.” It’s a massive collective denial. You usually don’t get out of denial until you want it and your longing for change is greater than your desire not to be disturbed than your denial. I think that kindness, that most people do not know how to practice self-kindness. It is kindness towards ourselves that say, “I’m living in a rough period of human history. I need to do a couple of things that helped me take care of my soul, of my body to weather the storm. I want to be well coming out of this.” I think coming out of denial, choosing kindness and a strong desire to say, “When this thing is over, I don’t want to be hammered. I don’t want to be one of the statistics.”

[bctt tweet=”Throw yourself into work. Attack life, and hopefully, you’ll win.” via=”no”]

Speaking of practicing self-kindness, what does that tangibly look like? I know that’s something that I am not great at. I can use a lot of work in that realm. I think most of us as humans are pretty poor at that, it seems like. What does a practice of self-kindness look like?

This will help folks. Step outside your own story for a minute and act as though you were giving a good friend the best counsel you could. In other words, if you were giving advice to you standing outside your life, what do you need to let go of and what do you need to start doing? I don’t mean big plans. Anybody who loves their friend doesn’t set up a big plan, “You need to start training for a marathon.” What we normally try and do is say, “I think you’re spending a little bit too much time on social media. I would recommend that you cut that way back.” That would be an example of kindness of what you should stop. “Do you know what you need to do? You used to ride your bike more. You need to get back on your bike. You used to play music or listen to music. I remember you used to listen to a lot of music. You’re not doing that anymore. You need to get that back.”

Step outside your life and act as if you were giving advice to someone you care about. Say, “What do you need to be in a better place in a month?” The problem with 2021 is where it’s 2020, with a new date on it. Nothing’s changed. We are in the 13th, 14th month of 2020 and everybody thought, “New year. Here we go,” but still a pandemic, quarantine, restrictions, all the social tensions and all the news of the world. We’re all navigating this after almost a year of trauma. Be kind, step out of your life and say, “If I were advising me, what I do need to stop doing that’s draining me? What do I need to start doing that’s going to bring me some life?”

I love how simple that is or actionable. It doesn’t need to be this ten-step method. Sit down with yourself and say, “What do I need to let go of? What do I need to start doing,” and make it a single small step? I feel like that is such a helpful practice that we can all instill. Going back to preferring denial, there comes a time where the pain is greater than the resistance to change. What was the earliest or the beginning of that process for you? What was the start of that journey for you when the pain was so great that you no longer could prefer denial?

As a young dad and this was many years ago. I was in my early 30s and I began to see that my lifestyle, my way of handling life was doing damage to the people I love. The thing is, I could suck it up for myself. I grew up in an alcoholic home and I was a survivor. My way of approaching life was full throttle. If you blast and try and conquer everything you can, then you’re going to be okay. Throw yourself into work. Throw yourself in the school. Throw yourself into your sports. Attack life and hopefully you’ll win. The problem was that lifestyle was doing enormous harm to myself but I didn’t care because I was in that fight or flight mentality. When I began to see it damage the people I love, I had little boys at the time and I could see it, I’m like, “I need to take a look under the hood. I need to go see a counselor.”

I knew that I had some father issues. I knew I had anger issues. There was a lot of fear driving me. I never stopped to look at it because in my twenties, I could laugh. I was single and you can jam but when your life starts mattering to other people, that’s the big shift. That’s where you start going or you lose the girl you were dating or the guy you were engaged to, your friendships blow up, your health starts to hurt and you go into a depression. Something starts showing you that your way of doing life is not healthy.

UAC 185 | Guarding The Heart

The Diary of an Old Soul

To give people some context, we got to have a meeting in person this past year. I approached the meeting much more of being interested in what God had for the conversation. I left it feeling much more like I’d been through a counseling session. Part of that ties into your work and your heart. I think I share a lot of your story in that early lifestyle or approach of attacking life and going full throttle in all things. It’s not sustainable and not helpful for those around you. That was one of the big impacts of that conversation with you. What I’m leading to with that is, as you go through this and you say, “I do need some counseling for myself.” What was unlocked in those early counseling sessions? How did that lead or guide you into the realm of becoming a counselor yourself? I’m curious how those tie together.

The first epiphany was that my story matters. I’d never sat down with someone and simply told them my story of growing up in an alcoholic home or having a mother that disappeared when I was young into her career. I was a latchkey kid. I’d come home and be nobody there. To sit down and tell a caring person my story and begin to see, I have been shaped by my story. These are such simple epiphanies but when they take place in your life, it’s huge. You have a story. Your story matters. Your story has shaped you far more than you know and then the realization of the centrality of the heart. The heart is where the action is. I began to read a lot on the life of the heart. I began to seek the healing of the life of my own heart.

I went to graduate school in counseling but I didn’t at first intend on being a therapist. I wanted the knowledge that they had, the wisdom, the understanding of human beings, how we are wired, how we heal and why we do the things we do. I did become a therapist after that but then I became an author, and I realized I could touch a lot more people’s lives as an author. It’s a matter of gifting and calling it. I have many friends who are still lifelong therapists. They’re fantastic people. I did not stay in the field of private clinical practice. Instead I went into what I do now, which is I write and I speak, and we do conferences around the heart of men, how men are wired, how we blow up and how we heal. The heart of women, how women are wired, how they blow up and how they heal.

Speaking of writing, who is George MacDonald and what role has he played in your life?

George MacDonald lived in the 1800s. He was Scottish scholar, poet, writer, pastor and novelist. He came into my life right at the time that I was trying to learn more of how does the heart of God work, what is his heart, and how does the life of the heart impact a life of faith and a relationship with God? MacDonald is phenomenal on it. He knew the heart of God. There are a lot of religious writers out there that don’t know the heart of God. Frankly, they don’t even know God.

They’re writing about the Polynesia Islands but they’d never been there. They’re writing about Antarctica but they’d never been there. People are writing travel logs to places they’ve never personally visited but not MacDonald. He was a beautiful guy and he had a poet’s heart. CS Lewis called him his mentor. He did not know him personally. They lived in different centuries but when Lewis stumbled upon the readings of MacDonald, he said something to this effect, “I know of no other writer that remains as consistently close to the heart of God as McDonald does.”

[bctt tweet=”When your life starts mattering to other people, that’s the big shift.” via=”no”]

If someone wants to start and get a sense of MacDonald, where do you send them? What works of his would you recommend starting with?

He wrote a lot. You can get it online because it’s going to be in used books mostly. There’s not a ton of his works that are still published. It depends on what you like to read. He was a novelist and he also wrote fantasy. I were to start, brand new, start with George MacDonald, he has a beautiful little book called Diary of an Old Soul. It’s actually broken up into 365 readings. He literally starts with January 1 but the whole thing is the life of the heart from his own experience. Some readings he’s talking about the power of forgetfulness. He says, “I don’t even remember what I used to believe.” Other readings he’s writing about deep, intimate encounters with the heart of God. It’s a little tiny paperback. It’s still in print. I believe it’s called Diary of an Old Soul. That would be a great place to start.

If we go back to this time in your life where you’ve gotten this graduate degree in counseling or psychology, you’re on this path, you start experiencing yourself and you start practicing privately. How do you go about pivoting or shifting your vision for what you want to do from this realm of working with individuals as a counselor to trying to reach as many people as possible through written works and speaking and other events? What was that transition like and how did you make those decisions along the way?

There are two ways to live life, Thane. You can try and figure things out or you can ask God his opinion. Most of us, even people of faith, try and figure things out. I’ll tell you a wild story. I’m sitting in a marriage counseling session. I’m counseling a couple. A number of huge events have taken place in my life. I’ve written a book with my mentor and best friend, Brent Curtis and then he was killed. I lost him. I’m literally sitting in his office counseling. He had built a counseling center. I was one of the therapists there but then they were hoping that I would take over the leadership of it. I was sitting in a session doing marriage counseling and God speaks to me. He says, “John, you’re pretty good at this work but I want you to speak to a lot more people than this.” That was all he said. I finished the counseling session, the couple left, I closed my office door and I’m like, “What was that? You can’t do that to me. Say more.” I began to pray. I began to seek and ask. It took several days to get some clarity.

What I sensed was your calling is not in this office. This is so important because you can’t try and create your dream life. It will break your heart. You’ve got to be smarter than that. The world is a difficult place to navigate. Dreams are essential and important but this isn’t the Wizard of Oz here. Dreams don’t come true by clicking your heels. They don’t come true simply because you believe in God. You live in a broken world that’s full of violence and heartache and you have got to have the counsel of God to navigate this labyrinth. I began to pray and I said, “I hear you. My calling is not to take over Brent’s practice. What do you want me to do?” He said, “I want you to write more. I want you to write the things that are on your heart.”

You seek confirmation for these things. You don’t launch off and go, “I’m quitting my job and now I’m a writer.” You’re going to starve. You’re not going to pay the rent. I began to pray for confirmation of that. In the same week that this story happened, my phone rings and it’s my publisher. Brent and I had written one book together called The Sacred Romance and it had done okay. It wasn’t like a New York Times bestseller. The publisher called and they said, “John, people are enjoying your writing. Would you like to write some more because we’d like to publish you?” I thought, “There you go.” That’s the confirmation right there.

Guarding The Heart: You can try and figure things out, or you can ask God his opinion. Most of us, even people of faith, try and figure things out.


I began to trim back my counseling practice to make room for writing. I began to get a couple of books out there. The point of the story being is you can figure life out or you can ask God, not once but over and over again. Staying with it to hear what God has to say and I’ll guarantee you, it’s going to go a whole lot better if you have the counsel of God, whether it’s a relationship you’re pursuing, it’s a career change you want to make, or going back to school, anything like that.

I love how you brought out the nuance in that too, in the sense that asking God’s opinion is a continual practice and it usually requires waiting to see confirmation. It can’t be overstated enough because so often we start thinking. It’s like rubbing the genie in the bottle. That’s not how it works or not how it’s intended anyways. It’s meant to build trust, faith and openhandedness which I love that you demonstrate that in that. I know I default to figuring things out so often, so it’s a good reminder for me.

Here we are over many years since The Sacred Romance came out. After looking, I think you and your wife have both together authored twenty books. It’s been prolific in that vein. I’m curious through that time of writing and in this new calling in ministry and work of yours over those years, what has stayed the same and what has changed or shifted in the way you think about things or the way you write? What do you look back on and think that was a little crazy or maybe I don’t agree with? How has things shifted for you in this work?

I had an interesting test case of that this year in 2020 because we were creating a new film series for men around Wild at Heart, how men are wounded and heal. We were creating a new film series for women as well around captivating. Our publisher asked Stasi and I, “Go back to those books and let’s do a revised version. What would you change now? What would you update?” I was braced. I’m like, “I haven’t read Wild at Heart personally in a decade.” I thought, “This is going to be embarrassing.” As I read back through it, the astounding thing is I changed very little. It’s timeless. There were movie references and cultural references that needed to be updated.

When you get into the deep things of the human heart, the fascinating thing is read the Psalms. The Psalms in the Old Testament are a window. It’s like reading somebody’s journal. You’ll get to read David’s journal and it’s pretty honest stuff. You read the rhythms, the life, the ups and downs, and the journey of the human heart. People have always been saying that the human heart has not changed over the centuries. Technology’s changed. Government’s changed but humanity is very much the same, which is a good thing for an arrogant age like ours. In this moment in time, we think we are so enlightened, so much more educated and farther down the road of moral development than our forebears.

You go back and read the Psalms and you go, “That’s thousands of years ago and here is a glimpse into some human hearts.” There’s a collection of authors that wrote the Psalms. You go, “That’s my inner life. That exact thing.” Everything from dreams, disappointments, jealousy, envy, rage and hope, it’s all right there. If you were working in the realm of geopolitics, you’d have to update your books quite a bit in a world that shifts as much as ours does but in the realm of the soul and of the eternal truths like beauty, love and hope, there are things that do not change.

[bctt tweet=”Technologies change, governments change, but humanity is very much the same.” via=”no”]

It’s so core and fundamental. That’s beautiful and the focus of the heart, as you’ve been talking about this whole time and you’ve been focused on for years. I’ve listened a little bit to your podcasts that you produce and I know that you guys have been refocusing on the heart where you started and where the work initially began. As you’ve refocused or re-emphasized that through some of your thought process in your ministry, in your work, is there a deeper layer that you find yourself reaching to this time around or what has surfaced with that refocus?

I think because of 2020, we all lost heart with the successive ongoing series of disappointments. This was an interesting thing. Personally, I found it difficult to move into 2021. It was right at the end of the holidays. Everybody’s talking about, “New year, fresh start. Here we go. What are your dreams for the new year?” I work with a creative group of people. They set goals and they use different gratitude journals and different things to help them map their life out. I couldn’t go there, Thane. My heart was not coming into 2021.

What I realized I had to do was I hadn’t grieved some significant losses in 2020. 2020 for every human being was a series of disappointments, some of them small but continual. You can’t go to the gym, we didn’t have school, I didn’t have a graduation, on and on like that. We couldn’t go to church. I couldn’t see my friends in certain settings, to very significant things. People lost their folks. They lost their jobs or they lost 30% of their savings. It was a series of grief and disappointment.

I am a therapist and I do look at the world like that. I’m listening to people talk shows and Starbucks conversations. At the end of 2020, everyone was saying, “I can’t wait for this year to be over.” I thought to myself, “You are in for a real big shock. You think things are going to change simply with the flip of a calendar? We’re still in these, folks.” Many of my friends around the world are in serious lockdown situation. My heart wouldn’t come with me into dreaming about the New Year until I grieved 2020 in very personal ways. When you say come back to the heart, we did that because I think people are living with one quarter of their heart. If you ask people, “What are you dreaming about these days?” You’re not going to get beautiful answers. If you ask people, “What are you stoked about this year?” You’re going to get blank stares.

Our hearts are pretty beat up and that’s why we circled back around to some of the core things of the heart of men, the heart of women, what we’re wired for and how central the life of the heart is. This is an old Hebrew proverb that says, “Above all else, guard your heart because it is the wellspring of life within you.” The heart is central to everything you want in life, to joy, adventure, friendship, love, your career, creativity and happiness. Your heart is absolutely central. You’ve got to start living with that.

I think that brings up an interesting tension of guarding your heart versus also having an open hand to all that God has or whatever he has for you with that, and also being vulnerable or authentic with your relationships with the people you live with. What does it mean to guard the heart? How do we do that in a healthy or helpful way?

Guarding The Heart: Dreams just don’t come true simply because you believe in God.


Pay attention to what comes out in your unedited moments. I would wake up certain mornings in 2020 and the first thing out of my mouth was not something I could repeat on this podcast. I’m like, ” Johnny, time out there, pal. What is going on?” How do you guard your heart? Here’s one of the key things. Your heart is where you hold your deepest beliefs, not your brain. The brain is a beautiful instrument. The mind is extraordinary but the mind is given to us to guard our heart. Your heart is where the deepest beliefs are held. When you guard your heart, part of it is you’re careful what you let in, for example, by way of the news. You’ve got to be careful how much global sadness you let into your heart every day. You’ve got to be careful with that. You’ve got to be careful to pay attention to what your heart is believing these days.

Ask your heart a couple of questions, “Are you hopeful?” If your heart says, “Not really,” then you ask, “Why not?” A loss of hope is going on at the level of the heart. That’s how you guard your heart. It’s not like a defensive thing. We’re talking about a protective thing. You mentioned vulnerability with people. Most people are clueless as to how their own heart is doing. You want to be careful how vulnerable you are with yours and you know right away. When you’re with somebody, you’re catching up, you’re having coffee, you’re like, “How are you doing?” “I’m great.” This person is 2 inches deep in the rain puddle. I’m not sharing the deepest things of my life with them. You know. You know who the safe people are and you know who aren’t. Don’t be dumb.

I love the distinction you made. They are not defensive but protective. There’s a nuance or a shift in that’s small but big at the same time. I think that’s a helpful distinction to bring up and some great questions again for sitting with. Paying attention to what comes out in those unedited moments is something I want to carry forward with me because that is so instructive but it takes a presence to do that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of your immense strengths, which is this idea the heart of men, how we’re created, how we’re wounded, how we heal and even the heart of women. If you could summarize that succinctly from your work and all the time you spend in this, how would you summarize the heart of man, how we’ve been created, how we’ve been wounded, how we heal and maybe even similarly with women?

They’re different. I have my son, daughter, and their toddlers living with us. They have a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. This stuff is deep in human nature. You watch little boys and little girls and you will learn so much. I would say this to try and summarize it. Men need to feel powerful. They need to feel like they can handle their world. They need to feel like they are making a difference. The fear of failure is a man’s greatest fear. Women don’t like failing either. Nobody does, but for women it’s different. Women are relationally brilliant, relationally dialed in that the fear of relational betrayal is a woman’s worst fear. That’s why women will survive career setbacks that completely destroy men and men can survive the loss of a friendship that might send a woman reeling into a depression. We’re very different.

We can tie this to the pandemic because I think this will be helpful. On a woman’s heart, her relational world needs to be well for her to thrive in the other areas, in her career, her adventures and the other thing she’s doing. COVID, the pandemic, politics, masks and all the tensions around that, made relationships difficult. Does this person want to hug or they’re not hugging? Can I take my mask off when I’m with them or do I need to keep it off and all that? It’s bizarre. It’s freaky. We’ve never had to navigate any of this. Zoom is no replacement for face-to-face.

2020 was difficult on a woman’s heart relationally among other things. She’s a mom. She’s got her kids home. She wasn’t trained to be an educator and now she’s trying to educate her kids and all that. 2020 was different for men. For men, we couldn’t fix it. For a man to not be able to fix it, it’s devastating because it means you’re weak, you’re incompetent and you don’t have what it takes. Men are still struggling because we were slammed with a whole bunch of bizarre new realities, very little of it we could fix. Men have these deep desires. To add a few more things for health, men need adventure. It’s like a spiritual longing in men. You’ve got to get out. You’ve got to adventure. For some guys it’s sports, other guys, it’s travel and some guys, it’s starting their own company or a podcast. You’ve got to have adventure in your life and the quarantines made that pretty rough for most guys to find adventure. Men need a mission to their life.

[bctt tweet=”The mind is extraordinary, and it is given to us to guard our hearts.” via=”no”]

This is a fascinating piece of data. We have two programs online that are absolutely free. We have our entire Wild at Heart Retreat for men online for free and we have our entire Captivating Retreat for women. This is a four-day retreat online for free. It’s for people to do like groups together or take a few folks through it. Some people are putting on events in states where they can do that. We have had 40 times the number of men’s events go on than women’s when we gave it away free to the world. The thing is that men need a mission. He needs a battle. He needs something that he’s fighting for and they thrive on that. Men need adventure. They need a mission. They need people to love, particularly a woman in their life where they feel deeply appreciated. To have the woman in your life say, “You are amazing.” That’s cocaine for a man.

A woman loves adventure too but rarely alone. Women need adventure but it tends to be with others, despite Reese Witherspoon going off and hiking by herself. Women want to bring beauty to the world. Women make the world a more beautiful place. When they can’t do that, it’s frustrating. That’s also why 2020 was hard. They want their world and relationships to flourish. They want to bring a beauty. You see it in their desire to be beautiful themselves. When they’re going out, they want to look nice. They take care of their hair. “I forgot to shave. I forget that stuff. I literally won’t even look in the mirror. I’ll put on stuff and go out the door.”

I’m like, “You didn’t even shave,” but not a woman for the most part because they want the world to be beautiful. They want to bring beauty to the world. They want to play an irreplaceable role. They don’t want to feel optional. That’s a little bit on how men and women are wired. If folks wanted more, they should maybe read Wild at Heart for men or read Captivating for women. There are some beautiful new film series we’re about to put on our website that will take folks deeper into some of the things we’re talking about.

Thank you so much for that synopsis there. Even that is so helpful. For me, early on in marriage, I think it’s been sweet to experience the reality of these beautiful differences like you’re saying. By having better language or understanding around them, we can better operate within each other’s contexts. That’s important and helpful. I can’t thank you enough for that work. Another selfish question before we end is with your sons all being married, I’m curious to hear what early marriage advice you’ve given to your sons in their own journey into partnership.

You are not her therapist, you are not her best friend, and you are not her father. What happens is men like to fix things. They get into a relationship and we discover one another’s brokenness. What will you do? Men feel this desire, which is beautiful, and this pressure to somehow fix it all. You can’t be her best friend. She needs girlfriends. Please make sure she has room in her life for her friends. You can’t be her counselor. If she needs some soul work, make sure she can get it. Bless it, provide for it, cheer it on, but don’t try and be her universe, which is typically what happens in brand-new marriages. We try and be everything for each other.

Two more questions and we’ll be done. If you could study one other person for an entire year, who would it be and why?

Guarding The Heart: The fear of failure is a man’s greatest fear, while a woman’s worst fear is the fear of relational betrayal.


I wish I could study Eve because I need more understanding of the heart of my wife.

That is an incredible level of humility coming from you, especially in studying this for so long. I love that answer. The final question that we ask every guest that comes on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every Up and Comer out there, what would you say and why? This is a short message they would get daily from you.

I would send them Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart because it is the wellspring of life within you.”

John, thank you so much for your time and for the life you live. It’s an inspiration and not only that, but a helpful resource. I can’t thank you enough.

It’s great to be with you, Thane.

This has been a lot of fun. For people, where’s the best place to go to check out those resources or connect further?

Our website is

Definitely check out those offerings. I know you’ll be blessed by them for those reading. Until next time, John. Thank you so much again for coming on. For all of you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

Following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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About John Eldredge

John Eldredge is a bestselling author, a counselor, and a teacher.

He is also president of Wild at Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recover their own hearts in God’s love, and learn to live in God’s kingdom. John and his wife, Stasi, live near Colorado Springs, Colorado.


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Believe it or not, it’s easier to beat ourselves up all the time for not being good enough than to change our inner dialogue and give ourselves some grace. Self-kindness is the antidote to self-sabotage, whether the latter shows up in the form of unrealistic expectations, self-shaming or the comparison trap. The kinder we are with ourselves, the kinder we could show up to other people around us. Can you imagine a world where people are showing up with kindness to themselves and to each other? It’s a wonderful world that Thane Marcus Ringler begs us to envision in this episode.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”184: Self-Kindness: How To Overcome Self-Sabotage”]

Self-Kindness: How To Overcome Self-Sabotage

This is a show all about the process of becoming. We believe that takes living with intention in the tension. The best way to face the tensions in life is by infusing intentionality into all that we do. In the process of becoming, we’re learning each step of the way. The best way to do that is hear from the experiences and stories from others. We all have something to share and we can learn from everyone. This show is a great place to learn that firsthand or secondhand as you tune in. Thanks for being a part of this community and being a fellow up and comer on the journey. We are not alone and you are not alone. We need each other. We appreciate you being here. To show us some appreciation, we would love if you could help us in a few simple ways.

The first is leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or iTunes. It’s super simple. It takes about a minute. If you do so, you could even get some airtime as I’m going to read one of the reviews that I read on Apple Podcasts. This is a five-star review from Lanogie, Motivational and Inspiring as the title. This person said, “Thanks, Thane, for putting in all the hard work to create these shows, your hard work ethic and discipline comes off in your message. You communicate in a calm, competent and well-spoken manner, which makes your show easy to read. I look forward to more episodes. The world needs more people like you to spread the good word.” That is very kind and thank you so much for sharing that feedback and comment.

UAC 184 | Self Kindness

I need affirmation like all of us. I appreciate that. Go and leave a rating and review if you can. The second easy way sharing this episode or another that you found encouraging or inspiring or helpful, simply copy the link, text it to a few friends that you think would benefit from it. You can post a screenshot on the socials, @UpAndComersShow so you can tag us, and we’d love to have you a shout us out there. The final way is financially. If you want to become a donor, a supporter to the Up And Comers community and keeping the show going, we would love that. It’s an expense for us. It’s not an income. If you could donate or fund this show, that’d be big blessing by going to, where you can subscribe for monthly donations at different tiers there. If you have a company and want to partner together to support the show, definitely reach out and look forward to hearing if it’s something that strikes a chord with you.

Nowadays, we are often told about the importance and benefits of self-aware, but rarely are we ever told what that means? How do we become self-aware? What are the tools we can use to help us? What does the process look like? Is it even attainable? If you are like me, you’ve heard self-awareness thrown around a lot, without the idea ever being clarified or explained. Over the past many years, I’d been on a journey of discovering answers to these very questions. I’d spent much of 2020 putting these tools and processes in place for others to learn alongside me. Through the eight-week course on Thane Marcus Academy, you will learn and practice what it means to grow in self-awareness truly. To help you take the first step, I am offering you a special discount of 20% off by using the code Upandcomer at check out. Head over the to begin your journey of growing self-awareness.

I’m excited to be sharing with you simply just me. No one else. It’s going to be me, myself and I sharing few thoughts that I’ve been stewing on, pondering in life, and I hope this is encouraging for you. You get the message and the theme. The theme for this show is Self-kindness. I had the privilege and the blessing of getting to drive up into the mountains and ride down on some white, fluffy stuff on top of a board that my feet are strapped into, snowboarding. I am thrilled to be living in Denver, Colorado, where I get to do that is such a gift.


There’s simply nothing like it. If you haven’t been, it’s hard to describe the ecstasy it brings. It’s a powerful combination of immense beauty, towering landscapes, the glistening bright white, the dampen quiet arena that only snow in nature can bring, and the feeling of flow both literally and figuratively that comes from riding down a mountain in the midst of all of that. It truly leaves me breathless speechless. You get the picture. I’ll move on to the actual point of this story.

I went up to the mountains for a solo trip. It’s always a unique experience when you’re by yourself, especially in settings like that because you get to learn a lot about the way you are wired and how you interact and relate to yourself when it’s just me. During the day on the mountain, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. I found that I naturally began to be harsher on myself than I normally would, whether it be looking a little more sloppy than I wanted to or maybe missing a turn in the trees I had planned on or not hitting the jump as big as I’d hoped, or maybe it was having a dumb fall that left me feeling stupid.


All of these situations led to a self-berating that was worthy of Bob Knight fame. As I began to realize this negative self-talk and unhelpful dialogue, I began to become more curious about its nature. “Why does it show up, especially when I’m by myself? Where does it come from? What’s beneath all of it?” After sitting with myself in these questions, I came to the following conclusion, it feels good to beat ourselves up, and secretly, it makes us feel better.

This sounds bizarre and nonsensical but it is, I believe one of the human defaults that we all struggle within our ways. If we dive down a layer deeper than enjoying the feeling of self-deprecation, we find its unhealthy counterpart beneath it, unrealistic expectations. Often, especially by ourselves, we set unrealistic expectations and goals for ourselves. We think we should be able to do X, Y, or Z. We think that by having such high expectations, we will force ourselves to reach the level we think we should. The keyword in all of this is should.


Should is a shame, riddled word. It’s heaping shame upon ourselves for not living up to all our goals, hopes, or dreams. It’s beating ourselves up for not meeting the expectations we’ve described for ourselves while feeling to realize they were unrealistic in the first place. “I should have been able to do that. I should have known better than that. This shouldn’t be this hard for me. You should be ashamed of yourself for that effort. Anyone in their right mind should be able to…” These are examples that we experience daily. Self-deprecation, unrealistic expectations, and self-shaming are all apart of self-sabotage we often partake in.

It’s been interesting in a marriage having a partner expose this on a much more consistent basis. In marriage, my wife helps me see so often how I fall or slip into this way of thinking, especially when I start communicating it outwardly. This self-talk that’s unhelpful and unhealthy gets mirrored back to me by my wife to where I am that much more aware of how present it is within my daily life. What is the answer? How do we counteract this common human tendency we possess and often participate in? It’s a simple but challenging proposition known by the name, self-kindness.

[bctt tweet=”The more we can show kindness to ourselves, the more we can show kindness towards others.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Believe it or not, self-kindness is one of the more difficult things for us to do as humans. Think about the last time you showed yourself kindness out of the goodness of your heart. It’s probably pretty hard to come up with recent memory and know that doesn’t mean salving your wounds by coping through outlets that bring momentary pleasure but aren’t good for you, which is a common misperception of what self-kindness looks like. It looks much more like changing the way you talk to, think about, and interact with yourself. One of the biggest components of self-kindness revolves around our inner dialogue.

If other people could hear the way we talked about into ourself, I would venture to say that each one of us would be deeply embarrassed by what they would hear. Showing our self-kindness often looks like changing our inner dialogue so that it is encouraging, uplifting, positive, gracious, and empowering. When was the last time you ever experienced one of those with yourself? Let alone, all of them. Practicing self-kindness can look like a lot of things and it comes down to how you feel loved as an individual. Let me share a few of the ways I can improve in practicing and living out of self-kindness to give you a better idea of what that may look like.


The first is being gracious to myself. If I didn’t accomplish everything on my to-do list, and maybe that means simply putting less tasks on that list. It’s something that I often struggle with. Another is knowing that some days, I will be off my A game and that’s a part of the rhythm, ebb, and flow of life. It’s a part of normal human existence. We are humans, not robots. I can show myself kindness in those times. Another is practicing pure observation of myself. Not judging whether my reaction or emotion that I’m experiencing in a particular moment is either good or bad, seeing it simply as it is, and trying to better understand it instead of categorizing and dismiss it. Something that I can use a lot of work in.

Another is, at times, allowing myself to do something I enjoy. Even if it isn’t, “The best use of my time that day.” This is something that’s hard for a three to do as an achiever and I struggle with that even if it’s something I truly enjoy and is life-giving. A final one is recognizing when I’ve set unrealistic expectations of myself and taking some time to adjust those internally. Point given in the example at the start of this episode of snowboarding. A lot of times, when I’m snowboarding, I put unrealistic expectations of what I should be able to do it. Again, keyword there is should on the slopes.

It’s because of those, then I start digressing into self-sabotage versus showing myself self-kindness. For me, it’s recognizing when I’ve set those and then taking time to adjust those. As you can see from this list, a lot of the ways we practice self-kindness revolve around awareness. Being able to recognize the areas where we are self-deprecating or practicing self-sabotage in other ways. Raising our level of awareness always precedes our ability to self-correct the ways we are hindering our health and wellness in life. It always preceded.

The last thing to mention on self-kindness is the relevance of it in our current moment in time. Trauma is a real thing we have all experienced in varying degrees throughout 2020. The pandemic and all that we have gone through has affected every individual in some capacity. Trauma is a fitting descriptor of what we have faced and we would do well to acknowledge that and call it what it is, also known as, awareness by understanding and recognizing that we have been in a prolonged season of trauma. We can then apply extra focus and attention on extending greater amounts of kindness to ourselves.

If there was ever a time for us to practice self-kindness that time is now. Since we aren’t naturally the best givers of kindness, especially to ourselves, what a great training time to grow our kindness muscles. The harder we are on ourselves, often the harder we will be on those around us, which is why the inverse is so powerful. The more we can show kindness to ourselves, the more we can be filled to show kindness towards others. Imagine a world full of kind people extending that kindness to themselves and to others. That’s a world I want to live in and I’m guessing you do too. Let’s start by showing a simple act of kindness to ourselves. Thanks for tuning in. I hope you have an up and coming week.

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In running a business, values still trump mere money-making strategies. That’s why in any setting, entrepreneurs who give enormous regard to servant leadership will always find success in their chosen field. Athlete-turned-businessman John Pierson sits down with Thane Marcus Ringler to share how he concentrates on the mindset of serving others in running his business, Servant Coffee. He goes deep about how putting others in front of you is key in gaining meaningful relationships and even more fulfilling results. He also shares his own recipe of achieving the right balance in life as he jumps roles between a loving father and a hard-working business owner.

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[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”183: John Pierson: Who Are You Serving Today?: Why We Should Pursue Things We Enjoy, Striking A Balance In Our Lives, Valuing People Above Tasks, Learning Patience In The Process, And Embracing The Idea Of Change”]

John Pierson: Who Are You Serving Today?: Why We Should Pursue Things We Enjoy, Striking A Balance In Our Lives, Valuing People Above Tasks, Learning Patience In The Process, And Embracing The Idea Of Change

We are often told about the importance and benefits of being self-aware but rarely are we ever told what that means. How do we become self-aware? What are the tools we can use to help us? What does the process look like? Is it even attainable? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard self-awareness thrown around a lot without the idea ever being clarified or explained. Over the past years, I’ve been on a journey of discovering answers to these questions and I spent much of 2020 putting these tools and processes in place for others to learn alongside me. Through the eight-week course on Thane Marcus Academy, you will learn in practice what it means to truly grow and self-awareness. To help you take the first step, I am offering you a special discount of 20% off by using the code Upandcomer at checkout. Head over to to begin your journey of growing self-awareness.

This is a show all about the process of becoming. We believe it takes living with intention in the tension. Infusing a reason why into all that we do as we all try to learn how to live a good life. Thank you for being a fellow up and comer and being a part of this community. We couldn’t do it without you truly. If you wanted to help our community and further our vision for this show, there are three easy ways. The first is leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. That is a great way. It takes about one minute and it helps us be seen by more people.

All read a review as a testimonial. This was left by Mshaddix. They said, “Refreshing,” as a title. “These guys are great storytellers. They dig into these people’s stories and lives, not their vision, and weave a great narrative together that’s inspiring. I’m obsessed with this podcast.” Thank you for that review and if you want yours read, please go ahead and leave one for us. You may get a little airtime. The second way that’s a great way to support is by sharing it and tagging us on the socials @UpAndComersShow or sending an episode to a couple of friends. That word of mouth is always the best recommendation.

If this episode had an impact, I would appreciate it so much if you passed it along. Finally, we would love your support financially. This show isn’t expensive but it does take money to produce. In order to cover our expenses, we would love your help. You can go to and search for The Up & Comers Show and you’ll find us there where you can make monthly donations to help us keep this show going and cover the expenses of it. That would mean a lot to me and to all of us to keep the Up & Comers Movement alive and well.

I’m excited as usual for this interview to share with you. This is an interview featuring John Pierson. Who is John? John is the Owner and Founder of Servant Coffee based here in Denver, Colorado. He has a beautiful wife and two young kids. Prior to moving to Denver and starting Servant, John worked in the oil and gas industry for fifteen years. He spent the first ten years in Houston and upon getting married, he and his wife Sarah moved to London where they would spend the next five years.

John and Sarah have a fond love of traveling and use their time in London to explore all different parts of Europe. John grew up in Houston and attended Texas A&M for his undergrad. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and later got his MBA from Duke University. John and his family love the outdoors and the lifestyle that Colorado affords. When he’s not busy at Servant Coffee, he can be found on the slopes teaching his young kids to ski. John and Sarah prioritize their faith as their core foundation and hope to live life according to God’s will.

This interview was a blast. John is a great dude. We talk about a lot of things including his background as an athlete, his focus during education, pursuing things that you enjoy, striking a balance in life, servant leadership, being a specialist versus a generalist. Also, experiencing different cultures lessons learned from entrepreneurship, embracing change, and much more. It’s a pretty wide-ranging and fascinating story of someone who spent fifteen years in a position and pivoted into a whole new arena.

There are great insights there. If you are a coffee fan, definitely check out Servant Coffee. They are making delicious coffees here in Denver. They do a great job and I’ve enjoyed every coffee I’ve had from them. As a coffee lover and fan, you know that I vet my recommendations quite a bit so definitely go to and get yourself some fresh beans when you have a second. Thanks again for reading. Please sit back, relax, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy this interview with John Pierson.

John Pierson, welcome to The Up & Comers Show.

Thanks, Thane. Thanks a lot for having me. I’m definitely excited to dive in with you.

It’s going to be fun. We’re sitting in your basement here. It’s nice and damp for the sound. I appreciate that. I wanted to start with this, ‘80s music. What is it that is so great about ‘80s music?

Ironically, I had somebody ask me this not too long ago. My wife of course always asked me this because I love to listen to it. I said that one of the things I love about ‘80s music is the majority of it is super upbeat. I’m not sure that there’s a lot of bad vibes that you get off from a lot of ‘80s music so it tends to be my go-to although, I’m pretty eclectic in my music. I listen to pretty much anything.

When did the ‘80s music first strike a chord with you? What do the critics or the haters say about it?

[bctt tweet=”If we can be mindful of others around us in everything that we do, that yields greater fruit across the board for everyone.” via=”no”]

A lot of it stems from my childhood. I grew up in the ‘80s. I was born in 1980 so my parents had on different vinyls throughout that era so it stuck in my head as a kid. There you go. That stuck with me throughout my whole life. I assume the haters of ‘80s music tend to be a little bit of that. It’s a little bit more on the cheesy side. They like something maybe with a little bit more depth. We’ve all got different preferences when it comes to music.

Everyone has something cheesy that they’re into so we all have our guilty pleasures. They’re not guilty. We like it. What can we say?


The other thing I was curious to hear a little bit more about is a transition that you made. This is the transition from being what I’ve heard a great athlete as a soccer player to deciding to become a kicker for a football team. This is something I’ve thought about or other people have thought about when they see kickers out there or soccer players and seeing what would that transition would be like. I’m fascinated to hear what led to making that decision in those high school years to transition from soccer to football?

Honestly, it came out of a couple of different things. I was big into soccer growing up and all through high school, and I even considered going to a different university to potentially play soccer but I was always balancing that with what education that I was going to get. I was pretty heavily involved in engineering and I knew that’s what I wanted to major in. At the end of the day, that was going to be priority number one. It was getting the right degree and if I could play soccer at the same time and do that, then fantastic, but that’s not how it worked out. I ended up going to Texas A&M primarily for mechanical engineering and after 1 or 2 years of playing in some intramurals and playing a couple of sports, I decided, “I want to get back on the competitive landscape somehow.”

At A&M and probably most universities, they have walk-on tryouts for every sport. I lined up both football and baseball. Baseball was happening a little bit later in the year so this is my sophomore year. I was flipping through the paper in class with a couple of guys and I saw the walk-on tryouts for football and I thought, “I could probably kick a football. I kicked a soccer ball for a long time.” I went out there with about 50 or 60 other guys who were trying to walk on as a placekicker plus, you had all the other guys who were going to be walk-ons as well, which is a strong culture at A&M. I thought I could probably do this.

I kicked for about 1 or 2 hours and they slowly whittled down the group of players from 60 people, they would cut half and they would bring another half over and they would cut another half. I was still standing there at the end and it got down to about three of us. The coach brought us over, asked one of the guys to leave and he asked the other two of us, he said, “Can you guys basically change up all your schedules to be available all afternoon every day of the week for practice?” Honestly, my heart sank because I had never played football. There were a couple of times in high school where I knew the head coach and I played other sports. They wanted some of the soccer players to come in and I always said no. I like playing other sports and football didn’t have a huge appeal to me. There I was in A&M trying to get suited out and I didn’t even know how to put my pads on.

Did you play all three years? What was that experience like?

No, that was the end of my sophomore year that I made the team. I got called back so I played my junior, my senior year, I graduated, and I was gone. I walked on. I played for two years. It was a fun experience but football was not my passion at all. In soccer, you’re playing for 90 minutes. You’re involved in the game. It’s a whole different experience. Being a kicker on a football team, I almost tell people I don’t recommend it if you like action, because you sit on the sidelines for 95% of the game. When the game is on the line, they tell you to run out there and go kick something to make it. If you make it, they’re like, “That’s your job,” and if you miss it, you’re screwed. You’re in trouble.

Did you have any memorable kicks when you were playing?

I didn’t play any my first year. In the second year, I got into a number of games. Most of everything I kicked was mostly extra points. I only played in a few games so it’s nothing super memorable but I was on the field when we beat Oklahoma, which was the number one team at the time at Kyle Field, which was interesting. Unfortunately, I also had one of the great lessons. I missed an extra point in one game. That was tough. I had to go in front of the media afterward. We ended up losing but that taught me a lot of lessons in humility.

What was it going in front of the media after missing the kick? What was that experience like?

Not fun. They were overall pretty easy on you. They know that it’s a mistake you make and you’re a kid. At the end of the day, they’re not too hard on college athletes usually because everybody’s pretty young. I was in shock but at the time I knew that there were greater things in life. I had 1 or 2 of the guys come up to me on the team and normally you don’t naturally assimilate with all the guys on the team. The kicker is an outlier sometimes. They were like, “There are a lot bigger things in life.” He’s like, “You’re going to get over this quick.” You do, but it’s still tough.

UAC 183 | Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership: Seeking out wise advice from people who’ve gone before you and look up to is always a good starting point for entering into parenthood.

It’s sweet to see people reach out like that, even in those situations. That shows a lot of intention and care. I’m curious to hear more. You mentioned that even early on as you’re going into college, your education was important to you. You were focused on engineering. When did you first get drawn to engineering? What made education important to you?

It was a big part of my upbringing. Education was always super important to my parents. They always wanted us to do well, but they never held our grades over our heads or anything like that. They rarely asked for my report card. They wanted to know that I was doing well and enjoying what I did. I had a natural affinity for mathematics and science so naturally led me to engineering more because that’s the area that I excelled at.

I was not a great student in English and some of the literary arts so I always naturally tended towards a major, which I thought at the time too. A&M was well known for engineering. I also thought it would be a great avenue for a job later on down the line. I loved mechanical engineering because it’s a broad engineering base. Lots of different industries hire from that and I wasn’t sure at the time what industry I wanted to work in.

As you went down that path, what would you say was most beneficial or most impactful for you during your educational experience? I’m so interested to hear from people’s experiences, partly because education is a mixed bag. There’s a lot good and a lot of bad and a lot of everything in between, partly because of the largeness of the system. We’ve talked about this a little bit before, but it’s a different experience for everyone. I’m curious, out of your years, and it could be any level that stands out to you, but what was most helpful for you during those years for your own development or most impactful? It could be high school, college, or even beyond.

I don’t know that I thought about education too much growing up because school was something that you are required to do. Everybody went to school and usually, everyone has their particular areas of interest and sometimes those don’t align with things that you’re good at. I was interested in math and science. I always found it fascinating and so for me, it was an easy natural path to follow. One of the most important things when I was picking a university was, they had to have a strong engineering program. A&M offered all of that because it was close by and I could see my family every once in a while without being too far away, which was nice.

All my life, as much as I can remember, I always had a level of importance around the idea of education. It was going to teach you the skills that you needed but you were going to have to put those into practice. I don’t think that necessarily having the right degree always gets you in the right one but it does afford you the opportunity for more open doors. What’s amazing about education is education comes in lots of different forms. There are lots of things I learned that didn’t happen in the classroom either.

That’s a big part of college and university. For me, it was being on my own for the first time, which I couldn’t wait to be on my own. I have an amazing, loving family and I had three younger sisters that I adore. For me, I always had this pull that I wanted to be independent. I couldn’t wait to get to the point of earning my own paycheck, living on my own, and making my own decisions. A lot of that is formed at university because you are on your own. At a school like A&M, I never had a class with less than 100 students. probably even into my senior year when I was into my major classes. There was not a lot of hand-holding at big universities. You had to be independent and driven to do your own work.

I share a lot of similarities with you in that. I always wanted responsibility and independence and that was super important to me even at a young age. Same with you, I was into math, not as much the science side, but I was much on logic, rationale, math, and some business. That was my forte. I love that approach that education is all about the skills but you have to put that into practice, which gains you the experience, which then can be a lot more useful in real life. I’m curious now that you have kids, as a father, what is your role in guiding them through that experience as they journey into the education years and as they strive to learn and become and figure out who they’re going to be? What’s like that for you as a father?

It’s a new challenge, for sure. It’s a completely different way of looking at it. We’re now getting into that phase of life. At the end of the day, my biggest pull is one it’s good to have sound solid advice. Seeking out wise advice from people who’ve gone before you, and particularly people you look up to, is always a good starting point for entering into parenthood. When it comes to education ultimately, my wife and I share a lot of the same philosophies.

We want them to do what they enjoy. There are going to be certain things that they don’t like, but school is not a choice. There’s going to be things they enjoy, and there’s going to be things that they don’t enjoy. Striking that balance of pushing them but allowing them to choose and their natural abilities to flourish and shine is what you’re always striving for and you always feel you’re coming up short, to be honest. That’s the constant battle of being a parent. Where do you find that right balance?

It’s fun hearing that because we always hear the suggestions or the wisdom but in reality, it doesn’t feel like it sounds. It doesn’t feel you’re striking a balance, even though you’re trying to. That’s important because so often what we hear and what we think it should be like is different from the experience of it because we don’t realize the feel of it is going to feel different. I love that you brought that up. I experienced that even in marriage now versus singleness.

You had these ideas that you hear about or think about, but the way it feels in real-time is always different. It doesn’t feel as good, easy, or whatever it may be as the words. I want to underscore that. To transition, we’re going to come back to family, for sure, and back to your late education years. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about what your first experience with a good cup of coffee was like. When was the first memorable experience with a cup of coffee? When did you first start drinking coffee as well? Those are two interesting questions.

I have to think about it. I never drank coffee until I was 25. I did not grow up drinking coffee, which is different from a lot of people I meet nowadays, because we have a lot of friends with kids in middle school and high school and they are going through coffee like it’s nothing. I never had any friends growing up in middle school or high school that drink coffee. I didn’t know anybody that did. I shunned away from it mainly because I didn’t like the taste of it.

[bctt tweet=”We need to always be thinking about how we can serve others well.” via=”no”]

I first started when I was working for my first company coming out of college in Houston. It was the introduction of drinking more cream and sugar with a side of coffee in the office, purely because you needed a little pick me up during the day. In those long days at the office and needing a little energy and lack of options. There wasn’t much else to have. That was my first introduction to coffee. That’s one of the cool things that resonates with our company. I came from that world, and we want to introduce people who drink that type of coffee. Not all office coffees are bad, but a lot of them can be. I feel like I can resonate with a lot of people in that environment because I was there.

My first good cup of coffee would probably have to be at Catalina in Houston. There’s a café there not far from where I lived. I lived in The Heights of Houston, which is the Historic District, which was fun. There’s a little cafe not too far from us and they were the first ones where I probably had my first cup of specialty coffee so it’s almost a higher-grade type of coffee that you don’t drink with any cream and sugar or they don’t let you. It was a totally different experience and I can remember thinking that it almost gets you back to the root of what you feel the agricultural side of coffee is grown for and experiencing in its true form.

Those experiences, I’m always so curious about because I don’t remember maybe my first specialty cup. I remember my first year diving into it and going all out. I do remember still this shot of espresso I had at Blue Bottle Cafe up in Oakland. It was on an old school lever machine at a gorgeous café. I went back the next day to get it again because it was that good. It was the one that you dream about. They call it The God Shot but that’s a technical espresso term. It is such an experience and I love learning from that. Mentioning your business, Servant Coffee, I read this, and this is somewhat of a mission statement or that you had referenced as well about it. You said, “We believe business can be a force for good and that we lie at the intersection of efficiency and social responsibility.” I’d love for you to touch a little bit more on what that means to you.

When we set out on this journey and I had to think about the name that we were going to land on, Servant was always in the back of my mind because it filled so many different avenues all at the same time. I love this idea of servant leadership. For myself, I need that constant daily reminder to put other people in front of myself. For me, that was the ethos that I wanted us to live by in executing our work every day. If we can be mindful of others around us at all times in everything that we do, not only serving our clients, but serving our vendors, serving our employees, and our consistent attitude, that yields greater fruit across the board for everyone. For me, it was seeing that name, walking in the shop every day gives me that daily reminder that we’re here on this earth to serve other people first.

Speaking of servant leadership, where have you seen that or learned that most in your life? Are there people in your life or figures that you’ve looked to that have merited or exemplified it? Have you studied that concept? What taught you that concept in real-time the most?

My real understanding came from my first job at FMC. I was blessed with having a couple of different leaders that I reported to. It changed for me after I was at the company for 5 to 7 years and I moved into a role where I first had people reporting to me. I had a manager in particular who taught me the value of training up others underneath you. For me, that was transformational because when you start your career, most of us that maybe 20 to 23, coming out of college, are only focused and we only look up because that’s the only direction that exists at that time.

You’re looking to build your career, and you’re looking to see where on the ladder you can climb, and how high you want to go. You think, “The world is my oyster and I’m going to move up as the CEO,” or whatever you aspire to. I’ll never forget doing a performance review one year and I started to talk about things that I was doing during the year at the accomplishments that we made in the group. He said, “John, all that sounds great but I want to know what you’re doing to promote the people beneath you because in my opinion a real true leader and the definition of success and leadership is when the people beneath you become greater than you are.”

I honestly had never thought about that. You always looked at the people who reported to you. You give them their objectives and assignments, and they come back and report to you but it transitioned. The whole way I thought, “How do I empower the people below me? How do I relate to them and give them my skillset? How do I learn from their skillset? How do I help them flourish to be the best that they can be?” That transition for me was a big change. It’s a real turning point in my life in looking at other people.

I feel that’s got to be so counterculture, especially within large organizations. I’ve been reading Robert Greenleaf’s book, Servant Leadership, and it’s blown me away. It’s from the ‘70s or ‘80s and one of those classics. I’m like, “Where have I been? I’ve been living under what rock?” It’s amazing how simply he puts it, but also how powerful that impact is, especially within a company. There are inevitable obstacles and challenges to that.

When you first had the shift and this mindset reframe around from this performance review, what did that process of striving to become that in the years ahead look like for you, even within your career and role? That’s not an overnight light switch flip and everything is different. There’s still a process of putting it into place in our lives. Especially within a pre-existing career and company, there’s a lot of ambitions that we have but how do you marry those? I’m curious to hear what the year is after that impact was like for you.

It was a real shift in focus for me. I spent way more hours during the week focusing on my career, building my network, seeing where I wanted to go. I was thinking about my next step in my career to thinking more about the people who are reporting to me and how I would help in building their career path a lot more than my own. I wouldn’t say that I probably did a good job. I hope I did. At the end of the day, I was shifting more hours during the week and thinking about how to help other people within the organization move their careers in the right direction or find what they were good at if they weren’t good at what they were doing for me.

That idea matriculated over the years in each of the roles that I overtook. It was a couple of years after that I ended up getting married and we moved overseas. I had more of an independent sales type role in Europe but I interacted with many people throughout the organization. It was unique. The type of role that I had, had us talking to the project managers, engineers, schedulers, and upper management. You’re balancing a lot of relationships at the end of the day. People always want to know that they’re being heard and that they’re valued within the organization and I saw a lot of behaviors in the organization that were not modeling that. I had to take a step back and say, “What’s more important here?” This was during a time in the oil industry, during the downturn. We had a lot of guys being moved to early retirement and they were moving out. There’s a big time gap in the oil industry because you see that during lags. You see no hiring.

We had a lot of guys at the time who were moving out. I was close to a couple of them. They said, “John, one thing you need to keep in mind is at the end of the day, when you walk out of here, nobody’s going to remember you for what you accomplished but they’re darn sure going to remember how you treated them.” That was one unbelievable piece of advice that I remember. I remember thinking, “I need to shift my mindset and think of not what I’m accomplishing every single day but we’re treating people the right way every day, sometimes at the sacrifice of getting something done.” I learned that, particularly, in Europe where the business culture is different than it is in the US.

UAC 183 | Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership: People have loyalty to people, but companies don’t have loyalty to people because the world moves on as it naturally does.

What a great reminder, people are more important than getting things done. America sucks at that. That’s the reality.

We had a CEO leave and he told one of our colleagues who got together with him about maybe 1 or 2 months after he left and he said, “I used to place a lot of importance on what I was getting done in the organization. I’ll tell you what, the day you walked out of the door, within about five days, no one is calling you.” It’s a stark reminder that people have loyalty to people, but companies don’t have loyalty to people because the world moves on and it naturally does. A company is not a person, it’s an entity and an organization. When one person leaves, another person fills in and it moves right up. Don’t get caught up too much in what you’re accomplishing in your day-to-day life.

If we circle back to Servant Coffee, with the title, that’s one thing. As you thought about making decisions to create this business, making decisions and hiring for the business, making decisions and strategy for the business, how is this idea of servant leadership played out with Serving Coffee?

We live that out through our ethos and attitude is a big contributor to the way that you conduct business. At the end of the day, we approach that from every single aspect that we can. Coffee is such a good model of an industry for serving people because that’s what it is. Everybody is usually in a cafe or loving their everyday coffee. You’re naturally serving people coffee. For me, it was that reminder that we need to always be thinking about how we can serve others well. I’ve tried to institute that from a couple of different aspects. With our clients, we try to serve them first and foremost. If there’s something that they’re unhappy with, we gladly replace whatever they need.

For me, it’s living that out through example but also in the partnerships that we’ve developed within the city. We want to extend this servant leadership mindhood across the entire supply chain, all the way from our origin and how we source and where we source from and who we source from and all the way to our end-user and making that connection. The charities that we are involved with, I set out from day one that we would do more than contribute financially to a couple of organizations. I picked and met with a couple of the founders or general managers of a couple of local nonprofits and hit it off with them and thought, “We’re going to support you guys more than financially but also in the mission with what you’re trying to accomplish within the city.”

It’s relationship-based too, which is even more meaningful because it’s people at the end of the day and not necessarily a cause or an impact. In forming a coffee company, it’s often way more complex than people think it would be and, at the same time, it’s simpler. It’s both. As you came into this space, when did this idea of coffee as a business first pop up in your mind? As you’ve gone the journey, what would have been the misperceptions or maybe the differences and expectations that you had from that idea to the reality?

It’s a multi-step process. That idea started in my mind when I had left my company while we were based in London. We’ve been there for over five years. I had been with the same company for almost fifteen years coming out of college. I was probably one of the more rare cases when it comes to energy because a lot of people don’t stick around and they tend to job hop a little bit more, particularly when times are good. For me, leaving was a tough thing. It was not the easiest decision. The company had made a lot of changes. We had gone through a massive merger. We were a different company than the company I had started working for out of college.

What was your thought process like? How did you come to that decision to say, “Now is the time to depart. Now is the time to end this chapter.” That’s a huge decision.

It was. There were many different things going on at the time. The company was changing its culture. It was looking for a new identity. There were always new reorganizations being announced. There were a lot of complexities going on at the company and a lot of things that I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of. We were getting pulled in different directions. We were starting to look for opportunities outside. We were coming up to be done with our time in London anyway as an ex-pat there. The other thing was there wasn’t a lot of opportunities left. I was at a fifteen-year point in my career and looking at into move into some management-type position and those were pretty hard to come by because of the downturn as well. It was a mixture of a lot of elements all at once.

My wife has got a travel company and she said that if I ever left my company, we ought to travel and take some time away like a mini-sabbatical and travel with the kids because we never know when we might have that opportunity again. I thought that idea was far-fetched. Two months later, we were booking plane tickets and figuring out what we were going to do. We shipped all of our stuff back to the US from the UK and we flew east and we traveled with the kids for about four months, exploring a lot of Southeast Asia. It was during that time that I was giving a lot of thought to what I wanted to do next.

I always loved the energy space, and oil and gas. I found the industry to be dynamic. It was going through a hard time but I wasn’t convinced I was ready to move on. It wasn’t until we started thinking about what we wanted to do next and praying a lot about it. Certain opportunities were not coming to fruition. I thought we were always potentially open to moving to Asia if there was an opportunity. After doing a lot of networking through the people that I knew in Singapore and KL, there were not many opportunities available. It wasn’t the right time to move over there and we decided we were going to come back to the States.

At that time, I started to get this idea that maybe there’s a direction we could go in finding our own company. I always loved coffee as a consumer. We learned a lot about it in Asia. Honestly, the coffee culture within Thailand and Vietnam is a lot bigger than what people think. Vietnam is the second-biggest producer of coffee in the world. Most people don’t know that but that’s primarily because they mostly grow robusta there instead of arabica. You don’t see it as single origins that often from Vietnam. The coffee culture is strong there. I learned a lot about it. When we got back to the US, my wife was like, “I’ve always wanted to go to Colombia because it’s becoming a lot more popular from a tourism perspective.” It would be a great opportunity for me to learn more about the coffee industry because I knew nothing about the agricultural side and what it was like at the origin.

We flew down to Colombia and spent two weeks there. We stayed on one of the coffee plantations outside of Bogota. We also spend a little time in the coffee triangle in the middle of the country. I learned an immense amount about what was going on. I was only breaking the surface but I knew I wanted to be a part of it and be a part of this next wave of coffee, especially when it comes to specialty coffee and sourcing more from particular origins and knowing the producers in which you’re sourcing from.

[bctt tweet=”Nobody will remember you for what you accomplished, but they will for how you treated them.” via=”no”]

How much more meaningful is it to you, especially in drinking those coffees, when you’ve had a face-to-face interaction or a personal connection or relationship built with someone that grew it from the start? How does that change the experience for you?

It’s completely different. It’s a connection that a lot of people don’t get to have. For me, I found it special. That’s what I wanted to share with our clients and customer base. At the end of the day, it’s relationships. I use that word so much but that’s the core nature of who I am too. I’m an extrovert. I love talking and meeting with people and learning about their story. I was the same way at origin with the different producers. I found it incredibly valuable knowing not everything but more about what they go through. How they experiment with the different varieties, how they deal with transitions in weather, what drives their output, and how price is determined. All of that fascinated me. My second love outside of engineering was economics. I love learning about the economics that drives the markets and, more importantly, how we make a real difference in what we do and how we source, and who we buy from. All of those pieces came together to form what we’re doing.

When you ventured on this journey of entrepreneurship, starting your own business, did you feel adequately prepared from your background working within a company and seeing a lot of aspects of it during your fifteen years? Did you feel you were jumping in an ocean and trying to find a way to swim? What was that experience like?

For me, I don’t think you’ll ever feel fully prepared. There are always these uncertainties and there were a lot of things that I had no clue what we were doing. My goal was to put my skillset into play and then learn from the people around me. I employ the people in the areas with which I’m not as accustomed to and try to build the right team, based on my experiences of working in a larger organization. I had a different skillset to bring to the table and the coffee industry. I’ll be the first to admit, prior to leaving my company, I told my wife that I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I always thought, “I would love to work for a small company. I would love to head the business strategy and development side for a smaller company that needs help getting into a market or getting the right product from the right client.” Those are the things and connections that I enjoyed. I’ll be honest, I never saw myself running a company. There’s been a lot of learnings along the way.

Are there any that stand out, maybe mismatched expectations or biggest lessons or obstacles that you had to overcome even in this early stage?

The first lesson I learned more than anything was patience. When you come from a Corporate America setting where you have people in every single role necessary to execute business, things happen generally a lot quicker. If you need a contract review, you go to the legal department. If you need a business plan, you go over to the sales and business development team. If you need a schedule for a project, you go to the project manager. All of those things are laid out for you or you have assets available at your disposal most of the time.

When you’re starting your own company, you always think things are going to move a lot faster than they do or you want them to. I had this idea that we were going to move quickly and we were going to have coffee ready for sale and the website up. The digital technology landscape, to me, was learning from day one. I had never done anything in website development. I knew little so that’s why I employed teams to do this for us. They were pretty good about outlaying the expectations early and saying, “Building a website takes a lot of time, particularly when you’re building an eCommerce store.”

An info website only takes a certain amount of time, depending on what you want to do. When you’re Often, going to transact your entire business online, there are less expensive ways to do it and quick ways to do it. If you want to do it, if you have a vision for something else, you have to have the patience for that. That was the biggest learning for me. Working with a lot of the technology development side, I learned a great deal about how you host a website and how you run that side of the business because that was all brand new to me.

It is such a world. Hearing your breakdown there, it seems like traditional employment opportunities favor specialists. You’re in your role and you specialize in that role and everyone else is specialized so they can contribute to your needs when they pop up. As an entrepreneur, you’re almost specialized as a generalist. You’re wearing multiple hats as needed and do that for as long as needed until you have the size and resources to start transitioning into more leadership of other specialized units. Entrepreneurs are never specialized. That’s generally true but it’s interesting hearing that difference. It’s interesting seeing that you spent fifteen years as a specialist and have transitioned to a generalist. Something that I hear a lot or is talked about quite a bit is those two different avenues, either career tracks or paths for personal development. Do you have any thoughts on the differences between those two paths, one being more of a specialist, one being more generalist, and what have you seen as a trade-off?

Two different environments. I loved what I did for fifteen years. Even though I started in engineering, it was five years into that career that I went back and got my MBA and transitioned out of engineering and design. Although I always had that as a foundation, my interests lie more in the business development side and working in sales. I always liked learning more about the bigger picture. That’s where the economics part of me came into play. I loved learning about our overall product portfolio and how we strategically put that in front of certain clients and found the right solutions. A core element that was similar between my career in oil and gas and my career in coffee is that relationships drive business and it’s always going to be an element of importance.

One of the sales guys that I respect always told me, “John, people buy from people at the end of the day. All business out there has got a similar thread. Everybody has a product and/or service that they’re trying to find a market for. A lot of people are going to want to buy from you because they like who you are and what you stand for and what your mission is and not always necessarily what your product is.” All of those little learnings along the way have helped me along this journey.

There’s a big difference between being a specialist. I would agree with your point that a lot of entrepreneurs tend to be more generalists or have to be. I’ve listened to a lot of startups. One of the journeys that I embarked on was learning from and listening to lots of different interviews of different founders and the challenges they went through. The ideas that you can glean from that are priceless. One of the core things I set out from the beginning was that the areas that I know that I’m not good in, employ the right people and the specialists to help you.

Don’t try to take on everything yourself. I’ve never done the accounting side of my business from day one. I always had an outside accounting firm to handle everything. Although I have a general understanding of accounting, it’s not my specialty. One of the great pieces of advice that I got early on was to make sure you have a limited number of hours in a day and make sure you’re spending them on the time where you feel you’re adding the most value. Where you’re not adding the most value, when you can, employ the right people around you. It’s a different mindset. The biggest shift for me was not moving from more of a specialized role into a generalist role but was more in the guaranteed paycheck every single month into, “We’re going to have to take a little bit of risk here for the long term that we can achieve.” Vision is a big part of it and you have to believe in it.

UAC 183 | Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership: School is not a choice. Children will always find things they enjoy and do not.


Speaking of that, taking on risk, what was that decision-making process for you like with your family? I’ve heard how important family life is to you. I’ve seen it and it’s a priority. Often, I’ve heard that you guys function as a team and you say, “We,” a lot. That’s important. I’d love to hear you touch on that as well. Specifically, to making this decision of taking on that risk as inevitably entrepreneurship is, how did you and your family go about making that decision?

I tried to use the word we at all times because my wife is an integral part of what we do. At the end of the day, it’s our company that we founded together. She is a huge part of what we do. That decision, I never wanted to make by myself. We learned a lot about each other through that process. The hardest thing that I put on her was I surprised her with the idea that I could potentially want to go off and do my own thing and that was a bit counter to what I had always been telling her. She was more prepared probably for me going to work for a smaller company and helping them grow a smaller organization, but not starting my own thing from the ground up. We had our challenges during that time. I never do the best job of communicating. My mind runs and then I head in that direction.

One thing you learn quickly about marriage is the communication aspect is important. She was amazing. There’s no doubt we learned a lot about each other during that. It took some patience on her part to buy into an idea that was not originally hers, it was much more mine. Financially, we look at everything as ours. She was skeptical at first as she should have. At the end of the day, she’s the light behind me. Providing that support and grace was amazing. We had to venture into it together and we learned a great deal about each other. It was not the easiest time when we were launching everything. You couldn’t see anything at first. It’s a slow process to build a company. When you’re working in the background and there’s no coffee bag yet on the shelf, those times are hard for both of us. At the end of the day, to be where we are at has been an incredible journey. At the end of the day, we took it together. She is the better half of me through and through.

Speaking of where you are, what’s the snapshot of Servant Coffee? As you look ahead, what do you see in the next few years in front of you?

We learned a great lesson with COVID and the pandemic. First of all, we feel lucky and blessed to be a business that’s mainly food production. Food production was an industry in general. Other than instituting the right health parameters at the facility which we did early on, we were never facing the threat of maybe shut down to where we weren’t allowed to operate. We’ve been lucky in that regard. When we talk about the vision for the future, you have to embrace the idea of change. As a small business and growing, you have to be willing to say, “Here’s what the vision was for the business but we need to be always willing to change.” That’s what it brought out in us.

I had this idea that we would build more of the direct consumer model based on subscriptions and fostering those relationships. Delivering coffee direct to people’s doors across the US, that was going well for us. We were doing well. It does take a lot of time and effort. A lot of people look at companies like Blue Bottle and they say, “Look how easy this is. I built this direct consumer brand and now it’s sold for $700 million.” The problem with a lot of that is you only ever hear the upside and you don’t ever hear the downside. For every one business that succeeds like that, there are probably 100 that don’t. We started with that model with the idea of maybe going into a grocery or diversifying our revenue stream. What happened during COVID is that we had to quickly transition into a different mindset.

As everyone was staying home, a direct to consumer model was great but we were early. We were only in month 4 or 5 of our launch. Unless you have a massive budget to spend on marketing to reach all those people, which we were not going to do, you have to think of different ways to attract revenue. When we launched, we said, “Everybody is going to grocery stores. We need to select who we think would be a good partner and let’s kick that off.”

We transitioned into two different grocery chains and we developed those relationships through the middle part of 2020, and then we also thought about other ways that we could get into the different other avenues. One of the things we did at the start was a lot of the schools and public schools were hurting, so we worked together to do school drives, like coffee drives with them, where I would say, “If you guys want to help out our local business, we can do a coffee drive with the school. You send it out to all of the parents, where everyone needs coffee right now because everybody’s staying at home and we’ll give you a portion of the proceeds back through the PTA. You gain a little bit of revenue and you help get our name out there,” and that was fantastic.

We partnered with a few of the local schools and they couldn’t have been more supportive. You have to think a little bit differently and be open to different concepts. That’s what the pandemic teaches you. The vision for that going forward is that we definitely want to have a diversified revenue stream. I love the direct-to-consumer model in building that relationship aspect. The wholesale model started to grow for us. We got into Whole Foods and Leevers Locavore, which is a local grocery chain here in Denver. We’re also looking at more co-working spaces as everybody’s coming back to work. We’d go into churches, and then more into some of the coffee shops. The idea is that you need to be prepared for the unexpected. That’s what you learn quickly as a small business owner. Having all of your eggs in one basket usually involves a little bit more risk because if that avenue gets shut down, you’re in trouble.

Embracing the idea of change is such a practice. The benefit of 2020 is that we were forced to practice that. Most everyone was. How do you carry that open-handedness moving forward to change and iterate as opportunities present themselves? That’s sweet to know some of your experiences and decisions in that because it shows an openness to that and also a level of creativity to figure a way to get it done. That’s what being an entrepreneur I feel like is all about ultimately.

One of the things that have come up a couple of times in this conversation and were mentioned by people in some background references is how you’re balanced in everything that you do. You’ve mentioned striking a balance even as a father for your children. Balance is something that seems to pervade most of your life. I’m curious, what habits or rhythms in your life helped you maintain a balance in the midst of life pulling you in each and every direction?

Personally, I don’t know that I find a good balance. It’s great to hear that other people have that vision of you. My part is that I always feel like I’m maybe not doing enough in each area and there’s always these times that you want to put more into the business, and then there are times that you want to put more into being a better father and a better husband. Balance is different for all of us. Everybody has a different level of commitment in their life in different areas. Everyone is trying to find a healthy balance, but it’s making sure to check in with the people in your life, too.

[bctt tweet=”Make sure your limited number of hours in a day is spent on things where you feel you’re adding the most value. ” via=”no”]

We can all naturally feel like we have a good balance, but if we don’t solicit feedback and input on that, then we don’t know. It wasn’t until I was 7 or 8 years into my career at FMC where I did a 360 review of not only the people reporting to me but some of my colleagues within the industry. You learn a lot about yourself when you do that. One of the hardest things and I have the toughest time doing it is soliciting feedback on your performance and who you are, and working on the areas that we’re not so great at. The hardest thing is asking others, “Am I giving you what you need?”

Particularly with your wife or your co-workers, “Am I being there enough for you?” Asking those tough questions helps that process a lot because a lot of us can have this idea that we are giving everybody in our life what they need but until you ask the question, you don’t know. In our minds, we want to think that. That’s one of the key lessons that I learned and I feel like I’m continually working at. I feel like I never do it well enough. Asking the people around me who I daily interact with, whether or not I am achieving the right balance in their eyes.

A lot of times, there are some people that struggle with internal balance but externally are fine and vice versa. I’m curious for you on the internal side within yourself, do you feel like balance is somewhat easier for you internally or externally? Are they about the same? How do you experience that for you personally?

I’m not sure. Internally, I’ve always felt that balance is one of those things that is comfortable in your daily walk. For me, one of the main reasons why I’ve generally felt a good balance in my life is because of my faith foundation, what I place importance on. I’ve struggled at different times with placing too much importance on my career or placing too much importance on things or even relationships. It could be unhealthy ones, too. One of the things that always kept me grounded is where I rest my faith at the end of the day in our Lord and Savior.

I try to keep an eternal focus in everything I do, which I always feel that I continually lack, but I want to strive for daily. I’ve always had this part of me that I’ve been able to rest back on and the daily struggles of life minimized because of that. I’ve been super blessed with that mindset and not placing too much importance on maybe what I’m achieving at work or even with our kids. The foundation of who I am has played a huge role. That was in large part to my upbringing and the way I was raised.

What is it that is helpful or fuels your faith? When do you feel most near to God in that?

I was raised in church and I got to see an example set out by my father every morning. When I would walk down to have breakfast, he’d be reading his Bible and I always found that incredibly inspirational. It just stuck with you. At the time as a kid, I don’t think I thought that much about it, but then when you’re an adult and you’re looking at your child, you realize how important those types of routines are. The times that I feel closest to God is when I’m either reading His word or I’m in a community with others. Sharing those types of life’s issues or challenges and having close friends with who you share that foundation is important.

Sarah and I spend nearly every day together, so we constantly rely on each other for that support. We both feel fed when we spend time with others and close friends who share that foundation. That’s probably the time that we feel may be closest to God. It’s also important to surround yourself with all different types of people. What grows your faith and who you are and grows your own ideals is being challenged as well. Not necessarily just surrounding yourself only with like-minded people that agree with everything you say.

I was talking to my wife one time about this because I started listening to a podcast and the person that was being interviewed, I didn’t agree with some things in their life and that made me want to turn it off. I caught myself like, “Yesterday, it was Martin Luther King Day and we were reminded of this thing that our country is experiencing racism. Yet, we think, ‘I don’t struggle with that.’” Maybe that’s true on that issue but on a myriad of other issues, how much do we pick and choose, “I don’t agree with this. I don’t like this, so I’m not going to listen and I’m not going to engage.”

Versus, “If this is an opposition to what I believe, I should listen because it challenges me and grows me.” I caught myself in that moment and I was like, “Thane, you have a long way to go.” I echo that for sure. We need to be with people of all different views and beliefs in the community because that’s how we grow. It’s a good word. One of the things I also learned was a motto that you and your wife have that says, “Experience. Not things.” I’m curious if there are other mottos or things that you guys live by as a family unit, and maybe even to know a little bit more on that one in particular.

It’s the nature of who we are, even prior to the two of us meeting. You go through different people’s love languages that they have and neither of us has gift-giving. That probably is a little bit of the starting point for it. One of the characteristics that we’ve shared and why we were drawn to each other is that we love to travel and we’d love experiences, so neither of us at our birthdays or Christmases, we have this thing almost from the start of when we were dating that we didn’t give each other gifts. We gave each other experiences.

We both found more joy. The idea of maybe surprising her to take her to a concert or we go out to dinner or we go to a park or we go for a hike, or those types of things bring us more joy. That’s when we spend more quality time together and commit to not looking at phones and conversing with each other. We’ve both valued that from the beginning of our dating life. Even before that, we’re both big experience-people. We were probably more spontaneous back in the day before we had kids. We would jump on a plane and go anywhere. That’s what we value and what we enjoy. It’s where we find each other.

Are there any other mottos or foundational principles that your family operates out of?

UAC 183 | Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership: Many people will buy from you because they like who you are and what you stand for, and not always necessarily what your product is.

I don’t know that we have any real mottos that we necessarily live by. We put our faith first and foremost, and then each other second. Sharing those core principles of who you are and what you value in life is incredibly important. For anybody that you are going to spend the rest of your life with, you hopefully have those foundational principles in common because you’re always going to have differences in your personality or what you’d like to do from a day-to-day perspective. I don’t know that we have any other core models. It’s a level of importance that we place on what’s important in life is key.

I want to end with a few one-offs. These can be short or as long as you’d like. As we wrap this interview up, the first question for you is less, more, and none. What do you want to do less often, more often, and not at all?

I want for more, given what we’ve gone through in 2020, I would always say travel. That’s our common theme. Our time in London was special from that perspective. We were able to see and travel quite a bit. We do miss experiencing other cultures. What I want to do less of is I would say maybe watch TV. It might be a common thread where we found ourselves. You’re in your home so much more. For people who value experiences, we do miss going out to restaurants.

That’s slowly coming back in Colorado, which is nice because we love supporting small businesses. We love the experiences that they have for it. Now that we’re finally getting it back, that’s nice. You did always catch yourself defaulting to watch TV and there’s a reason why Netflix’s share price is so high. It’s a sign of the times, and then not at all, I’m not sure. There’s nothing in life that I would say that I don’t want to do anymore. We’ve been super lucky and blessed to be able to make the choices that we have. There are not too many things I would say not at all for.

I have to ask on traveling what the top destination that you’ve been to has been and what the top that’s on your bucket list to hit still is.

Top on my bucket list is New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to go there. We had thought about traveling there. My wife’s been there a couple of times. It’s probably been one of her absolute favorite places for a number of reasons. I’ve always wanted to go there, have a car, and drive between the North and South Island. Eventually, I know we’ll make it there but it might be a little bit of time until all this happens. Our favorite destination is always something that we’re asked quite a bit. It depends on what you’re looking for. There are so many places in Europe that we enjoyed. One of the most underrated cities that we enjoyed was Lisbon.

We love the people there and the reception. The food was amazing. The wine is great. Everything feels a lot more reasonable as well. You feel like your bang for the buck there goes a lot longer than it does in places like Spain or Italy. You can always find off the beaten path spots. We always had a soft spot for Lisbon. We spent one of our anniversaries there and we had a wonderful time. That’s one of our favorite places that we’ve been. We have a long list. We got to experience some amazing beaches and I love to dive, so Southeast Asia was fantastic for that like Indonesia. We got to go to a couple of different islands that were a little bit further off the beaten track that was wonderful. I love the diversity of the world and learning about different cultures and how people live. I could go on to travel destinations for a long time.

One more tangent here. If we talk about culture, what different culture than America do you appreciate most? Specifically, is there may be a characteristic or attribute of that culture that has impacted you or stands out to you that you appreciated?

For the amount of time, we’re living in the UK for over five years and we were lucky enough to travel quite a bit of Europe during that time. There’s not one culture that has it right or if you can even say that. Ultimately, every culture is unique and values different things. What I appreciated about Europe was a little bit more of the balance between work and life. It wasn’t because of a faith perspective. It was just the idea of spending time with family and not committing our livelihood and happiness to our job. I saw much less of that in Europe than I did in the US.

There were a lot of examples. Even growing up in Houston, which is not work super intense city like it would be in New York or maybe Silicon Valley or something like that. There were still a lot of people that were working long hours and did not have great family lives. The same can be said for a lot of the European cultures as well. I’ll never forget a great example of this. I was working with some of our clients. Our clients were the major oil companies at the time that I was living in London. We’d set our out-of-office and be gone for a week.

In the US back in Houston, if your manager or colleague sent you an email, there was still this idea that you would respond even though you were on vacation or you were away. It was more looked down upon if you never responded until you got back to the office. While I was working with one of the oil companies as a client and he had sent me an email, and I was gone and I wasn’t going to be returning for another week, I sent him a response. He emailed me back and I can still remember reading the notes saying, “John, please do not respond to emails while you’re away with your family. That’s an important time and we’ll find someone else in your organization to talk to while you’re away.”

I could not believe it. This was probably in the first six months that I was working there. That is almost never something that I thought I would hear in the US. You do get an understanding. Each culture in Europe’s a little bit different. Each country’s got its own unique aspect that there is definitely a more when you’re away from work, you need to be away spending time with your family and not worrying about work because there are other people there that can do it. The world’s not going to fall apart if you leave the office.

We definitely could use more of that here. If you could study one other person for an entire year, who would it be and why?

[bctt tweet=”Growth will only happen by embracing the idea of change.” via=”no”]

At the end of the day, there are characters in the Bible that are intriguing to me. Somebody asked me a question like that in college and I remember thinking that Paul must have been such a fascinating character to study in and out. Not so much that he was responsible for a lot of the New Testament, but because of the journey that he was on and the idea that God used someone that was 100% against him to be a messenger of His word in such a transformational way. What a perspective that he must have. That would probably be the first thing that comes to mind.

What are you most proud of in your work or life thus far?

The relationships that I’ve built over the years, that’s what I treasured the most. I don’t know that I’d say I’m proud of that, but that’s definitely one main part of my life that I probably miss the most about being in a corporate setting. That volume of people, ideas, cultures, backgrounds, and the overall diversity of opinions that you would run across in the day was for me as a primary extrovert, I thrived on that and enjoyed it. You don’t get to have quite that level of interaction when you start your own company.

You get in different formats, but the relationships and the friendships that I built at the company and within the industry itself. It wasn’t just at our company. It was a larger group that we attended numerous conferences and I always took part in the conferences as a presenter. You got to meet so many dynamic people from around the world. I still stay in contact with a number of them. That’s a cool aspect of having worked at one place for so long.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?

I would always say the Bible has a huge impact on me. Vanishing Grace was also a good book that had an impact on me. I feel like my days of reading now are so far behind me. I got into this routine of reading books that I always wanted to read. On the days when you have young children, sleep becomes a priority and you don’t get enough of it. I’m like, “I need to get back to reading good books that people recommend.” Hopefully, we’ll get back to that point.

I’ve read a number of books over the years. They’re too numerous to even mention. I always loved a lot of the spy novels that are loosely based on unreal life. The Company by Robert Littell, I’ll never forget, too. It’s a great novel. It makes you think of the world in a different way. Aside from faith, it allows you to question and dive into people a little bit deeper and learn about who they are and where they’re from, which are all great lessons.

I’ve been getting into a little bit more fiction and it is so helpful. We all learn better through story and we relate to those stories as humans. The final question, the one that we asked every guest on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? A short message they receive every morning from you.

UAC 183 | Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

I would say in simple terms, “Who are you serving today?” It’s one of those phrases that stuck in my mind when I started the company and how we came up with the idea of serving coffee. It’s primarily because it’s something that I don’t even feel like I do well and I need that daily reminder. That’s the thing that I want to try to challenge myself, to do the things that I don’t naturally do. All of us always think of our own needs first and I’m a prime example of that. I feel like I need that reminder to say, “Who am I serving today? Who am I putting first in front of myself?”

John, this has been awesome. Thanks for taking the time to share your story and experiences. The reminders that I need and we all need so much to serve. What a great theme. Where’s a good place for people to learn more about Servant Coffee, connect with you, or maybe buy some fresh coffee. Where would you send them?

Another advantage that we had when we founded the company was searching for URLs and websites. Our website is easy. It’s right at We were fortunate to get that and that was completely available. That’s the easiest place to find us. You can buy everything you need there. If you ever have questions, you can always reach us at We always give advice on equipment or brew methods or whatnot. We want it to be an education as well and we have resources for that. We’re always great about recommending coffees, but they can always find also more not only about the coffees, but our company, who we are, and our mission statement is all found there. As well as the nonprofit’s that we’re partnering with under our Community Impact section of the website.

John, this has been great. Thanks for coming on.

Thane, thanks a lot for having me. It’s been a real pleasure.

For all you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

This is Thane here following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering, or even some sermons I’m enjoying. In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is just a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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About John Pierson

UAC 183 | Servant LeadershipJohn is the owner and founder of Servant Coffee based in Denver. He has a beautiful wife and 2 young kids.

Prior to moving Denver and starting Servant, John worked in the oil and gas industry for 15 years. He spent the first 10 years in Houston, and then upon getting married he and his wife Sarah moved to London where they would spend the next 5 years. John and Sarah have a fond love of traveling and used their time in London to explore all different parts of Europe.

John grew up in Houston and attended Texas A&M for undergrad. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and then later got his MBA from Duke University. John and his family love the outdoors and the lifestyle that Colorado affords. When he’s not busy at Servant Coffee, he can be found on the slopes teaching his young kids to ski. John and Sarah prioritize their faith as their core foundation and hope to live life according to God’s will.


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UAC 182 | Serve Where You Are


You are called upon to serve where you are. No matter what your circumstances are, God has given you the gifts that you have the responsibility to use in the service of the people around you. Eric Wood lives by this principle everyday as someone who does helping people as his profession. Eric is the first African-American VP of Louisiana Tech, as well as the first Athletic Director to take in that same role. For 22 years, Eric has devoted his heart to serving other people, especially his students and the people he works with. In this interview with Thane Marcus Ringler, we will learn how Eric’s experience as a poor multiracial kid from the Bronx raised by a single mother shaped the way he looks at the world, his relationship with faith and his fight against inequality. Listen in for some of Eric’s powerful stories that teach us a lot on what a life of passion and compassion looks like.

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182: Eric Wood: Serve Where You Are: A VP’s Story Of Living Intentionally, Removing Barriers, Valuing And Including Others, Pursuing Faith As Relationship, And Overcoming Inequality

This is a podcast all about learning how to live a good life and the process of becoming. We believe the best way to do that is by infusing intentionality into all that we do, a reason why behind what we’re doing. That’s why our mantra is having intention in the tension that life inevitably is filled with. Thanks for being a fellow Up and Comer on this journey and for joining us each and every week as new episodes drop every Wednesday morning. If you want to help support our show and be a contributing part of the Up and Comers community, there are three easy ways. The first is leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. That’s a great way for us to be found by more people. Head over to Apple podcasts, take a minute, write a review, leave a rating. That would be so helpful for us.

I’m excited to introduce to you this next interview featuring Eric Wood. Who is Dr. Eric Wood? He is a former student-athlete at Sacred Heart University who is also a 22-year veteran of Collegiate Athletic Administration, and accepted the role of Director of Athletics and Vice-President at Louisiana Tech following a five-year stint at UCF where he spent the past four years as the Deputy AD for Competitive Excellence. He became the first Director of Athletics in Louisiana Tech history to also serve as a Vice-President.

The Bronx, New York native, has served in a variety of roles within the Athletics Administration for many years. In addition to his time at UCF, he held full-time positions at the University of Arkansas, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest University, and the University of New Haven. He also served as a graduate assistant at both the NCAA National Office and Clemson University early in his career. He has a lot of accolades on every level of his professional career. His qualifications and accomplishments include Board of Trustee Member at Sacred Heart University, 2019 Next Up Honoree presented by Adidas and College AD for senior-level administrators, Athletics representative on the UCF President Advisory Staff Council, 2016 Top 40 Under 40 in the Arkansas Business Journal, 2009 graduate from NCAA’s Leadership Institute, 11 years of executive staff level leadership, $55 million in successful management experience for sports programs, operations and support areas, $5 million in fundraising visits, proposals and presentations for programming, operations and facilities, and so on. There are quite a few. He is a 1998 graduate of Sacred Heart University when earning his degree in Psychology.

He was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Pioneer football team with one outdoor season as a member of the track and field team. Wood earned a Medal of Merit, the athletic department’s highest honor, as the Student-Athlete of the Year of his senior year at Sacred Heart. He completed his Master’s Degree in Counseling and Guidance Services at Clemson University in May 2000, and his Doctorate of Education in Sports Management at the University of Arkansas in 2016. He is the first African-American Vice President in Louisiana Tech history as well as the first minority Director of Athletics in the University’s history.

Dr. Wood and his wife, Celia, have four children, Eliana, Nia, Alyssa and Elijah. He has a long bio for a good reason. He’s done a lot and exceptional work for 22 years in collegiate athletic administration. He’s quite the legacy. I got connected with him through my wife, Evan, as she got to know him at the University of Arkansas and was impacted by his work there. You will get to see a great picture of Eric and his heart for other people, especially for the students and the people he works with.

We talk a lot of things in this interview, including living intentionally, removing the barrier, including people, being great but also being part of the team, giving others the benefit of the doubt, how everyone can win, seeing faith as a relationship, defining friendships, his experience as a man of color, the difference between modeling and mimicking, and some powerful stories from his own life that will bring you to tears at some points. He’s an amazing guy. I was so grateful to have this conversation. As a disclaimer, we did this interview back in October 2020. At that time, he had not accepted the role. The new hire for him is at Louisiana Tech and that was a few weeks after this interview. That’s some context that would help in the flow of the conversation. Without further ado, please enjoy this interview with Eric Wood.

In nowadays world, we are often told about the importance and benefits of being self-aware but rarely are we ever told what that really means. How do we become self-aware? What are the tools we can use to help us? What does the process look like? Is it even attainable? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard self-awareness thrown around a lot without the idea ever being clarified or explained. Over the past years, I’ve been on a journey of discovering answers to these very questions. I spent much of 2020 putting these tools and processes in place for others to learn alongside me. Through the eight-week course on Thane Marcus Academy, you will learn and practice what it means to truly grow in self-awareness. To help you take the first step, I am offering a special discount of 20% off by using the code upandcomer at check out. Head over to to begin your journey of growing self-awareness.

Eric Wood, welcome to the Up and Comers Show.

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

I want to start at a fun place here and some background calls. One of the questions I ask is about superpowers. You have one of the most unique superpowers I’ve ever heard of. That was the superpower of not being able to read your own writing. How in our world have you accomplished this?

I knew I should have been more careful with these references. My thoughts are moving too fast for my hands, so it is brutal. In fact, I do a lot of exit interviews and either the staff, the students, the HR office, and the folks that review the student interviews had asked me to type them up. It’s shorthand and scribbled. I don’t do it well.

Was that always a part of your process or has it been on decline?

It’s always been that way. I have no idea from a childhood standpoint. It’s always been the case. It got worse.

[bctt tweet=”Choose sacrifice over selfishness.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

The other question I have to ask per one of the references is, what was your schedule like particularly on the work upfront?

They’re getting to me. I am so inconsistent. There are a few pants in my closet for the times when I’m emotionally eating and stressed out. There are pants from when I’m rocking and rolling. I feel like I could play a couple of downs in college again. It’s been good. I’ve been back on it. I’m all-in and on a roll.

Talk to me a little bit about that. As a father of four and someone who’s in a leadership role, there’s a lot on your plate and moving pieces. Why does something like fitness matter to you?

I want to be my best version. It’s such a waste of the way God designed me if I’m not giving people my best. That doesn’t mean we can’t be human, come to the office, and not be my normal self but that’s not everybody else’s deal that I’m busy. Everybody that I encounter deserves my full attention. The other thing that drives me crazy is if the space I’m in is not clean and organized. The things around me have to be organized and clean, and I have to be working out. I don’t know if it’s releasing those endorphins. I feel better about myself and I get energized.

It’s getting up in the morning after a crazy day of all the roles that I share. I need that. I may get home from a game or work at midnight after we’ve stayed late. My wife will say, “Lay down and go to sleep,” and I can’t. I need time to myself but I want to do that so that I can pour out to everybody that crosses my path. In order for me to get filled back up, I need that time and the workout. I’m not an ogre when I don’t, but I’m not my best self when I don’t get it in and I’m consistently getting at it. I asked for accountability partners. When I verbalize it, I’ve given people permission to poke at me but hold me accountable too. When I share that with them and to hold me accountable, particularly Kirby, he’ll send me a text in the morning.

What is your workout or fitness routine look like nowadays?

Nowadays, at my age and over, workout means to look good in your polo and make sure your pants fit. I never understand all of these people that are doing performance stuff. I’m like, “What are you competing in?” Once a football player is always a football player. I want a bench in, buys and tries and I try to set up but because of the way I eat too, I’m not as disciplined there. When I want to, I can be disciplined but I’m always getting at least 30 to 45 minutes of cardio. Right now, it’s the elliptical that I fell in love with. I’ll get to that and I’ll do the treadmill. Other than that, I try to lift in-between but a lot of cardio.

That’s a good way to put it too. What are you training for performance for?

“This will help you be more explosive,” and I’m like, “For what?” I can chase my four kids around. When I was competing, I got all of those. Right now, I want to feel good, I want my clothes to fit well for my own sanity. I want that energy and optimism that God has given for me to be able to perform for people.

One of the things that someone had mentioned about you that I’d love to dive into a little bit more is something that a lot of us struggle. It’s being able to balance personal drive and ambition for what we want to accomplish with caring for people. As this other person put it, “It’s being both passionate and compassionate.” Doing that, they’re almost diametrically opposed. It’s a hard thing to do simultaneously and bounces between the two. Others have said you are exceptionally well at it. I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are on that dance and balance because you are incredibly driven. You do pursue your goals, yet everyone talks about how much you care for others, students and the people you work with. Talk to me about that balance.

It brings me to tears. It’s my biggest struggle because I feel like God has given me this talent to lead. Growing up with a single mom, nothing could get in the way of being a dad and a husband. I’ve watched athletic directors around the country. The balance of trying to be the CEO of what could be a $50 million, $60 million, $100 million operation, and still being the husband that my wife needs and the dad that my children need. Sometimes I wonder, does God want me to pursue that position or does He want me to be a solid number two and do that?

I know if He brings me to it, He will bring me through it. It’s my biggest struggle of not wanting to pursue some things because I refuse to let those things lack. The higher I move up in the organization, the more I get away from being in people’s lives and stopping by their offices, seeing how they’re doing, calling them, wishing them happy birthday, congratulating them on a wedding, a birth of a child or promotion they received, and buying them lunch. I have to make a concerted effort to do those things because of the increased responsibilities. I have told myself, “If the athletic director position that I’m pursuing takes me away from that.” As it is now, I miss a few soccer games for travel. I get that. I hope my children learn to see that I’m doing it, chasing my dream, and providing for my family. I’m okay here and there. I think they get that. If it takes me away from not putting them to bed a few nights a week, I’m not going to be able to do it and I’m going to sacrifice that.

Thank you for sharing. It shows the depth of the care and the passion with compassion in that. I’m curious to hear a little bit more as you’ve been struggling with this and thinking through this, because this is something that most people in any career path don’t think about how your role changes as you move up or in different spaces and positions within whatever you’re doing. A lot of times, we want the prize of that next or upward position without our role changing, and that’s impossible. How do you process or work through when you struggle with that? Have you found anything helpful in the way you approach or think through that?

To me, it’s a sacrifice over selfishness. I was blessed with these children. I was blessed with this wife who I’m going to spend the rest of my life. That means if I know I’m staying late after work, I absolutely need to have breakfast with them. If I know I can’t have breakfast and I can’t stay at work, then I screwed out because I’m going to work a twelve-hour day to pick them up, be at the drama show or the thing that they’re doing at school. Those are the things that I have to be very intentional about, in my opinion, as I continue to rise up. I have to make time. I realized now at my age that I make time for the things that are important to me.

Sometimes that means I want to watch SportsCenter uninterrupted. I’m not even trying to make it dramatic. Sometimes, I need to not think and be entertained. I’m not serving anyone, not working with anyone, not helping, not thinking, not assessing or solving a problem. I am vegging out. I need that and I might have to sacrifice something. On the family side, they’re there when I have a tough day and some self-doubt. They encourage me. I have to make time for those things, but I have to make time for the workout because it makes me my best self. Not because I want my pecs to pop out. It does help for confidence. It will allow me to serve the people that I have been put on this earth to serve as my family first and then in all of these roles.

Serve Where You Are: It is such a waste of the way God designed us if we’re not giving people our best.


I realized that sacrifices have to be made. Sometimes, I don’t get to watch three college football games in a row. That means I’m going to watch the one I want to watch on Saturday. If we’re not playing, I’ll watch the noon game, and then we’re going to go out and play some soccer in the backyard for a little while. I have to catch the 8:00 and watch that. Do you see what I’m saying? There are some things where I could sit there and say, “Do you know I love college football?” I want to sit there from 12:00 until the West Coast game is over in the pack twelve. I want to watch all of them but that’s not fair. I brought those kids into the world. I gave my commitment to my wife. That’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to the people I serve at work if they need me. It’s a long-winded answer there, but that’s what I’m thinking.

In the context of your job and role, I’m curious how this even applies on another level with your role as the Deputy AD. You can speak a little bit more to that specific position because I love the way it’s titled. You’ve talked about in other interviews, you’re AD being progressive and how it goes about, which is pretty cool. On a daily level in your job and your work, there are things to be done and people to be served. There’s that tension even within your job of moving the ball forward in your jobs, to do a great job, and also caring for the people who have problems, need you, need an ear or some support in the moment. Do you face tension in that environment as well?

From the minute I wake up in the morning until I lay my head down, I have this thing in me that says, “Remove the barrier that is preventing them from being successful.” For a coach, that may be a facility issue, recruiting, budget, response time from the certain units. From the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed, I’m trying to remove barriers for our coaches to succeed. If there are folks within our organization that don’t feel valued, that we’re thinking of them or that they’re being acknowledged, that’s a barrier that I want to remove. I want to get the best out of them in our organization.

If they come to work and they feel valued, acknowledged, and heard even if we don’t go with their idea then we’re going to get the best out of them. All day long, it’s how do I solve your issue? At night, I get to do my work. Early on in my marriage, my wife would say, “Are you working because you like them?” I’m like, “I love what I do but my day is committed to others.” When I come home, we’re going to eat dinner and we’ll spend some time with the kids. At 8:00, when they go down, I’m either going to watch one show with my wife, but then I’ve got to catch up on email to do my own work that I needed to do.

My day is built like that, solve problems all day, come home, take care of the family, spend time with them and then do the work that I couldn’t do during the day. That tends to happen as you move up. That’s how I view my position here. Even the whole competitive excellence title that was born out of, you’re the general manager. What a general manager would be from a pro organization is what I am to a college organization. When Danny created this title for me, it was what do we need to recruit, retain and win championships? Those are things coaches think about all day. That’s my thought process.

That’s what the job looks like and that takes a lot of energy because you’re giving all day. I don’t have what I had in my earlier career. I’m not hands-on with the students. I have to find time to get out to practice. I’ve got to pick a few games and travel with them so they see me, they know who I am, I can hear it and I can be there. They know that the administration cares about them. I’ve got to make time for that. The higher you rise up in the organization, the less direct impact you have on your constituent group, which for us are our student-athletes. There are days I missed that. I miss the 9:00 program that we have to do because they have to wait until class is over. For all the students, occasionally, you’re like, “I remember those days.” I do miss the everyday connection of them being in our building, stopping by the office, letting me know how they’re doing in their lives, what they’re struggling with, playing a role and influencing that.

That’s a good breakdown. Speaking of the students, you’ve been in this space for many years. Over those years, things are constantly evolving and changing. I’m curious from your experience, what have you seen within your student-athletes and the collegians? How has the state of education changed and their experience change? What’s it like now compared to what it has been?

I’ve been on Division 2 campuses. My first job out of my NCAA internship, I’ve been in the SEC and ACC. I’m in the American. I’ve been at a conference office and national office. The student-athletes are the same. It might be a 4-3 instead of a 4-7 in a 40-yard dash. It might be that there’s 5’11 or 6’3 in some conference. It’s the old adage, the kids don’t care what you know until you know that you care. I don’t care if it’s a first-round traffic or if kids are playing for the love of the game, or had no intentions of going on. They want discipline. They want to be loved. They want you to care about them outside of their sport.

The more you dive into it, you start diving into what was home like. High school teachers and educators say, “I wish somebody would have intervened earlier.” We get them. We say, “We wish we would have.” The pros get them and say, “Did you guys do anything? Did you intervene at all and help?” All you can do for the time you have them is to encourage, support, and hold them accountable. I’ve learned that has been consistent regardless of what campus I’m on, what division I’m in, or what conference I’m in. They want to know that you care about them outside of sport.

In nowadays world, they know that they have a voice, particularly at this level. It was a stark reminder that we have jobs because they are here. That doesn’t mean that you get this entitlement piece to you. We have jobs because we’re here. In particular, as it relates to social justice and Coronavirus, they own their voices this 2020. Some people put those in the form of demands and some in the form of requests. It’s our job to help them find that voice and work through that as they enter what I call the working world because it’s real for them. I call it the working world for the next phase. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s the consistency that I know across many years in different divisions in schools. They’re all the same from that perspective. Love me, hold me accountable, and care about myself outside of my sport. On the other side, what’s changed now is understanding their power and their platform. That’s been different this 2020.

I want to circle back to both of those things you brought up in social justice and COVID. Before we get there, for you and your experience in life, when was the first time you had a teacher, coach or someone in faculty show you that they cared?

This is not a faculty member or teacher but with my mom. I was coming from a single-parent home. My mom made $35,000 the last time I remembered in New York City in the Bronx. I didn’t realize what that meant because nobody in my circle was doing exceptionally well. None of us had our dads in our home. None of our moms were wealthy. We all lived in apartments which a lot of people do in New York anyway because it’s astronomical to purchase something. It didn’t seem different until I got to college. To be honest with you, it was our coaches. My peewee league coach didn’t look like me but he held me accountable.

He was tough but he encouraged me and he told me, “You can go to college.” That statement in itself to a kid from the Bronx was powerful. He believed in me. He saw something that my two older brothers didn’t choose that path for whatever reason. I thought about it but also there were people who went straight to work and they had happy lives. He said, “You can play in college.” I thought he would say that to all of the people that were aging out of that Little League Program. Mike Bub is his name. I get to college.

To be honest with you, it was that father figure saying, “You can do it. You’re worthy and capable. Don’t let this environment be your circumstance,” because I wasn’t getting that from a dad who was absent. It started off with a coach and then with professors that I was disengaged in their class. It went to one of the administrators at Sacred Heart that said, “You can get a master’s degree and do this as a profession.” When I walked across the stage after my master’s, it was the Dean of the College of Education who shook my hand and said, “You’re a doctorate material.” I was like, “Get out of here.” I was a 770 SAT guy. I took it three times. I took the previous SAT, and then I took the SAT twice.

You’re telling a kid who had a 770 and to beg to get into high school that was on probation. I was recruited to places like UPenn and Georgetown. Maybe not football powers but they’re Ivy League type schools. All he asked me to do was get 1,000 and I couldn’t get it. I was thankful that Sacred Heart University saw the whole picture in me. I was at 3.2, I did test well, I did community service and some leadership stuff. They saw that whole package. That will have a generational impact on my family. I had a little chip on my shoulder because I couldn’t get into those schools. When I walked across after my master’s and Dean Harold Cheatham said, “You’re a doctorate material.” He believed in me so I believe in myself. That’s what continues to happen.

[bctt tweet=”Don’t tell people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps when you were gifted a pair of boots.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

That’s why I find myself doing it to people because I know the power of encouraging and making somebody be their best selves. This is why I do this work. I believe in the transformative power of education. I don’t know if my uncle will ever know this but he drove a bus in New York City. I remember him saying like, “Why are you going to get a master’s? I make more than you do as a bus driver. You did a doctorate. This is ridiculous. How much education do you need?” He was doing very well as a bus driver in Queens, New York. He’s like, “You don’t need all that stuff.” What I remember learning from that was I want options.

What are you going to do if you don’t want to drive that bus anymore? The education felt like it freed me up. It allowed me to not be eliminated from opportunities. It didn’t mean I was going to get the job I wanted or even the career I wanted but it gave me options. As a man, that’s all I want in life. I teach my children that. Do it for yourself to have options. That’s what education meant to me. I believe in the transformative power of education, and I love from eight years old, what sport has done for me. I get to work at a place where that thing intersects.

This is not a job for me. I work seven days a week. It may be that is only two phone calls that day but there’s not a day where the phone doesn’t ring or I’m not doing something related to this work. Half the time, I can’t believe I get paid for it. That’s all I want for people is that they do something like that that fires them up. They don’t dread doing it. We all want a break. Trust me, come summertime, I’m ready to take my family and go away for a conference but I’m never dreading going back. I’m getting pumped up about what I have missed and what’s going on. All those people in education that encouraged me and said I could do it despite that school or you got it on probation, they fired me up. How do I pay that forward? It’s this field that I’m in.

What a powerful story. Getting the energy and the passion in that is exciting and inspiring. It gets me pumped up. I want to go back to your mom for a bit. What about your mom? What gave her the tenacity and the drive to survive, raise you and provide for the family? What lessons do you still take from what she’s given you or how she raised you?

Mom is a fighter. She has a high school education. She never not worked. She’s retired now. I guess she never explained to me that education would give me options. The thing that I keep with me all the time is being great. Maximize the God-given talent that you have and then work to be great. Give it your best effort. Mom always told me every time, number one, “Read everything you sign.” I’ll never forget that. It drives my wife crazy. If we’re selling a house, signing up for credit or we’re buying furniture, I read everything. That drives people crazy because most people just sign away.

She always taught me to know what you’re signing. She also taught me that anything you put your name on will reflect you. She never got on me if she saw me struggling in math. If she saw me grinding at the table after dinner doing the work and she heard me in college saying, “I’ve got to go to this tutor. I’ve got to get this extra.” She was good with that. That encouraged me that if I put my best foot forward, I would please her. That’s all I wanted to do. It was to make sure that she was happy. We were in a one-bedroom apartment. She slept on the couch until eighth grade. She gave me the one-bedroom. We heated up that apartment with the oven. She’d pull that over down so it was warm in the morning when we woke up.

She didn’t have to say much to me. We always had a meal. She found a way to get me to football practice. She limited my amount of time that I hung out on the streets. She let me out there to ride my bike and play with my friends so I had that. If it wasn’t football, it was basketball. If it wasn’t basketball, it was baseball. She let me try karate. She let me try anything that would keep me off the streets. You don’t realize it when you’re in the midst of it. You think your mom was the fun killer if you’re in the middle of that.

She is the representation of the phrase “preached the gospel and when necessary, use words,” because she lived it. She woke up early to turn on the oven to make sure the apartment was warm by the time I woke up. She slept on a sofa bed that was so warped. We had to get pieces of wood to put under the mattress so she could be comfortable, and then have to put that back up every day because it was also our couch. All I wanted to do was make her happy. My goal was to make $40,000 because she made $35,000. If I made $40,000, she’ll be proud that she did well, that her effort and her investment was not in vain.

That’s all I wanted to do. She said, “Be great.” How can you not do that? She sent me a check in college because I wasn’t on an athletic scholarship. I had some money from GE as a minority student and we had some financial delays. I qualified for some academic money at Sacred Heart. For the leftover balance, she would mail me the check to bring to the bursar’s office. Do you know what kind of message that sends to me? My mom makes $35,000. She sends me the balance of the check because we had a payment plan for the balance. When I walked that check to drop it off at the bursar’s office, I could skip class.

I couldn’t give my best effort on the football field. I never anticipated playing on the next level. I had to do my best because she was doing her best and finding a way. When I walked that check over to the bursar’s office, she was going to get the best out of me. That was a reminder. To this day, I don’t know if she did that on purpose or she did trust the campus mail system, she was like, “Get that check over there.” Back then, there was no direct deposit from ‘94 to ‘98 but the intended or unintended message is it fired me up to give her my best. That’s what it is. Anything I put my name on or if I take a position, you’re going to get the best out of me because it’s the DNA. It’s what she instilled in me.

That’s incredible, just be great.

We can’t talk about mom. That’s going to bring tears to me every time.

She sounds like an incredible woman. Speaking of football, what did the sport of football do for you? How did it grow you as a man? What was it about football that ended up being the sport for you?

It’s funny I loved baseball practice more. When baseball practice got canceled, I was disappointed. If football got canceled, I was like, “Okay.” You tend to lean to the one that you’re better at. After a while, I couldn’t hit anymore so I was getting discouraged at baseball. I played at least through my junior year of high school. Early on, I realized I had a talent. My big brother loved college football, which is still weird in New York City. It’s a pro town, pro city. I was encouraged by that and would watch that with him. Football is accountability.

You have to do your part for the rest of the thing to work. What I love about it is it being a microcosm of life too. People have heard this in some form or fashion before but I didn’t care who was in the huddle with me. If you’re white, black, Hispanic, Latino, gay or straight, it didn’t matter to me. What were you going to do to help us win? Off the field, everybody got the benefit of the doubt from me. It was a microcosm of what we ended up living in every day. If you do your part, you give the team a chance to win.

Serve Where You Are: There is a transformative power in education. It frees you up and allows you to have options in life.


If I don’t sleep well at night, I’m going to have bad practices. What it did was it helped me operate when other’s success is on the line as well. I’ll never know what it feels like to be an individual sport athlete. My wife ran track in college. She would run her event and then go somewhere and stretch. We maybe go watch a friend or two, but it ends up being a team sport too. I don’t want any of your audiences to think that you can’t learn anything from an individual sport but it’s being a team sport. I want my kids to at least play one team sport. It’s discipline, accountability, and doing your part so that everybody has a chance to win.

At the end of the day, that’s what happens in our office. Are you here on time? Did you do your part of that project? Did you give your best effort? That allows everybody to win. I love that and I love the accountability. When you’re losing, are you going to bury in the sand? Are you going to try to get better? When you’re winning, identifying the things that helped you be successful. Those were all transferable skills in my life. If I know we have a week of meetings and projects, I’m always thinking about going back to camp. Knowing camp was going to be about two weeks every year.

You took it one day at a time. There were three days in a row, you had a great day at camp. You were in the starting position. There were two days in a row where you were awful and you’ve bumped down to the number 2 or 3. I can’t look two weeks down the road for camp to be over. It was one day at a time. When I have those tough weeks at work or at some projects and upcoming meetings, it’s one day at a time and all I think about is camp. If you can get through a camp, you can get through a lot of things in life.

It’s amazing how sports are such great parallel realms for life. We take those experiences and remind ourselves of those continually because it reframes like, “This is back in training.” Even though it’s life, it’s the same thing. You said, “Accountability and doing your part so that everybody wins.” What a great lesson for all of us to learn in any realm, especially team sports are the primary role for that. You mentioned in the huddle, it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you’re from and who you are. Our country especially 2020, is in the midst of another uprising of social justice around racism and fighting to change that. Accountability and doing your part so that we can all win applies directly to that. What has your experience with racism been like in America? After you share that, I’d love to hear how you see where we’re at now, and what you’re encouraged or discouraged by.

It’s funny that consistency in all of these forums that we’re now creating within our organization and department and listening to the students, racism exists. I’m biracial. Let me make sure that I identify myself that way. My mother is Puerto Rican and my biological father was African-American. My stepdad, who is also African-American, raised me from five years old on. He’s dad as well. It’s amazing to understand how we are raised in America. You’ve heard the story 1,000 times now about police and neighborhoods but it is absolutely true.

The things that our parents had to say, “You can’t do that. You can’t dress that way. You can’t have facial hair like that. You can’t be out.” Every parent is telling their child what anything after 12:00 AM is. There’s nothing good happening after 12:00 AM or 2:00 AM, whatever the phrase is. Every parent is doing that, but the most powerful thing I experienced during the social justice movement. For the first time, I was articulating this outside of the comfort of being around black and brown people. It brought me to tears and that takes much as you’ve seen or heard already if I’m talking about my mother and these things I’m passionate about.

This was the first time in my life that I was talking to my white friends and counterparts about the things we do every day. The intentionality of how we name our children, that we want to have culturally ambiguous names. People can do Google searches and social media searches now and all of that. We wanted to name our children where somebody couldn’t automatically say, “They are a minority candidate?” I wanted you to do that phone interview and let them blow you away.

I’m talking to my friends about how we dress when we look for a home because we don’t want the neighbors to think, “There goes the neighborhood,” or “Can they even afford to be here?” There are things that for me getting the doctorate. Not only that Dean Cheatham says your doctorate material so I was empowered. I’m thinking to myself, “How do I separate myself from the other candidates that are going for this job?” In the collegiate athletic space, I believe it’s 89% white males that are in the CEO positions.

What am I going to do to separate myself? You don’t have to have been a minority to be thinking that way. You could also think, “How can I diversify my portfolio?” I’m telling you my personal experience. That doctorate was to make sure that number one, the president who was going to hire that athletic director position would go, “He’s an academic. In a college setting, it’s important to him.” Number two, “He has a terminal degree.” Less than 2% of the country has a terminal degree. That’s awesome in a higher-ed setting. Number three, if he or she were hesitant about hiring a minority candidate, in my mind, with this help, he or she feels better about presenting me as their pick to the community. We’ve been taught along the way of all the extra things that we have to do to be successful in this country.

Don’t blame me for that. Don’t blame my mama. She was just trying to help her baby do well. These are the things that have been infused in our lives of how you have to be better than the white person in this world to succeed. For the first time in my life, when I am 1 of 2 in leadership roles, you find yourself and your white counterparts going like, “Tell me what this is like. Is that happening? It doesn’t happen to you, does it? You’ve got a doctorate and you’d make this money.” I don’t want to go to the extent of naming an adverse situation but we feel it in our heads as well.

Let me acknowledge that for your audience, a little bit of what we know, but it’s also what we’ve been taught to do. It’s to survive in advance. It was powerful for colleagues and friends to reach out and say, “Is this true? Does this happen to you? Is this how you feel?” For the first time to articulate it outside of my safe bubble of other people that have been taught the same way, it’s understood. We don’t even talk about it. We go to a conference and there’s 3 or 4 African-American standing together and go, “We ought to break this up a little bit. We can’t all go to the same deal. We can’t all be at this place.”

People are dressing down and it’s like, “We’re going to wear a sport coat.” There are things that are understood within us. This was the first time that I’ve had to articulate it. I’m failing on the kid front because I’ve not addressed it with them at the very surface as they watched the news in our home wondering what the bickering is. They’re like, “Daddy, who were those group of people that are holding up signs on the corner as we head to Chick-fil-A?” “That’s called a protest, baby.” “What’s a protest, daddy? Why do they feel that need to protest?”

What do you say to a young girl? What do you say to a child? My young kid has no clue what’s going on but how do you start diving into that? When we moved here thinking that I was moving to one of the most diverse melting pots in the country. I’m living in Florida. In her kindergarten class, one of her classmates came up to her and said, “You ought to be in the class with brown people.” She’s in first grade. She’s bawling her eyes out. I may be being a little bit naive to this, but I don’t think at that point she realized she looked different, that she has brown skin. That in itself is a privilege. The fact that I’m a light-skinned biracial man, there are privileges there that I benefit from.

I’m in the minority category but I’m light-skinned, and there’s a privilege that comes with that as well. I find this balance of educating my children on this. I also want to make sure I keep them grounded because they live in a nice home. They have two nice cars. We have a pool outback. Both parents have at least a master’s. I have a doctorate. I want to make sure they realize that they are not immune to racism because of what mommy and daddy do, our income level, or our education level. I want them to be aware. I don’t want to paint a dark picture of our world but I need their intents up.

My daughter experienced that in 1st-grade and I had no idea how to explain it. That’s been the struggle here. How deep do you dive in? How do I address this with them? I want her to have a picture of this world that is loving and good, and the people she interacts with at her school, her soccer team and basketball team don’t care what she looks like. They care if she’s a good teammate. She brought an extra Gatorade for them. They come to her party, she goes to their parties. I don’t want to ruin that. I want her to experience that. Anyway, I’m rambling now but that’s what this movement has brought to the surface. It’s the stuff that we’ve been taught since we were little. My wife is the same way.

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It makes me think of the importance of someone feeling valued, seen or heard. Similarly, I had zero idea of a lot of the experience of someone in a very different position or background than my own. Now, being able to start seeing better that and having more empathy, then I can start seeing and valuing those people more than I didn’t before and I was naive too before. I think there’s such power.

The hardest part is you want people to realize that they are privileged. I have a colleague that calls it the P-word. It drives him nuts. I’m acknowledging to him that there’s a privilege I have of how I look, my skin tone. The fact that people compliment me on how well I speak. I’ve brought these things to his attention and I’m thinking of one in particular but that word drives him crazy. I have to remind him, “I’m acknowledging my privilege as well, but we cannot move forward until people realize they’re privileged. Yours is as a male in this society.” We’re talking about race and social, but we can’t move forward until we realize that. My wife says, “I can’t run outside in our neighborhood.” Let’s not even talk about it because she’s a black female. It’s not safe from male predators potentially at that time because she’s wearing spandex.

There are different privileges. I don’t think we can move forward until we identify our own and empathize with others. We start to understand and listen to where that perspective is coming from. That’s all I want out of this. If we did that, we would all be a little more considerate. That’s even tougher in a college athletic setting, for our students where are football and basketball teams are 85% African-American. They want to know that their administration cares about more than winning. They want to know that we see them as students. This is a business. We’re shy of $7 million business, but they wanted to know that this is different than the pros.

They’re all figuring out how to articulate that to us, but between this and Coronavirus, they wanted to know, “Do you care about us? Is this about making money for the department? Do you care about us that we’re hurting or scared? Do you want us to shut up and play?” That’s what they care about. We walk a balance because we have so many constituents, but we cannot walk the balance and letting them know that we see them, we hear them, we care and, “Tell us about your experience. How can we help while you are in our care?”

It’s been an interesting time. As a senior-level administrator, what are we putting on our social media? We’re worried about that. I want to be an athletic director. If I’m too overt, does that prevent somebody from wanting to hire me to lead their operation? What message does that send to my student-athletes? That I’m a coward. There are these struggles all the time of the constituent groups you serve, the leadership role you’re in, wanting your students to know you care and then also going, “This hurt me and my chances to be an athletics director.”

That’s my real raw thoughts on that stuff. I chose to have intentional conversations and to reach out to people. You won’t see a whole lot of activity but I don’t want anybody to mistake that. The people that I serve or he’s not bold enough. Because of that fear, I’m choosing to have intentional conversations over the phone, via Skype, one-on-one, hallways or let’s go grab a coffee. I’m doing that to keep the conversation going and to make this a better place by the time my kids are in a position to be in college and high school and live in the neighborhoods we live in.

Thank you for sharing. Acknowledging what we can’t take credit for is such an important part of being honest with ourselves and others. Whenever I’m talking to other people and sharing my story, the quote I always try to say is Barry Switzer’s. He said, “I was born on third base and thought I hit a triple.” I want to lead with that because I understand that I had 0% involvement in where I was born, who I was born into, what time in the world I was born into, and then the opportunities that were provided to me. I have a role in how I handle or what I do with my responsibility to manage that but that’s it.

Nobody wants you to feel guilty about that. If we go back to what I shared, I want us to acknowledge that. Don’t tell the persons to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps when you were gifted a pair of boots. That’s the thing. You feel like you’re digging out of a hole. Let me acknowledge that there are decisions. To your point, if you start on third base and you’d do nothing with it, that’s on you. You can’t be a victim either and say, “I’m never going to amount to anything. It’s hard to be what you can’t see but maybe I’ll be the person that a young student-athlete says, “I can be that.”

I don’t have to play my sport to do what I love. I can be around my sport and do what he does. He’s got a healthy living and he’s still involved. He seems like he’s enjoying it. That’s a career. Those are the things. I don’t want any of my white friends or counterparts and colleagues, nobody is intending for them to have guilt. It’s acknowledge that and then go, “What role can I play here? How do I maximize that I’m on third base? Let me do something with it.” That’s where my heart has been. That’s the thing that hurts the most. Don’t assume somebody is playing the victim or wants to move off the government. What have the two generations before them been able to do?

I told you my goal was to make $40,000 so mama felt great, but I didn’t have anybody in my family that owned a home. That was not even in my mindset. I started to meet other people that were going, “Have you ever thought about ownership?” “Absolutely not. Why would I do that? I don’t have the money for that. That’s not for people like us,” until people brought that in your horizons. Let’s not make those assumptions. There are no assumptions that every white person is naive to it and they have some privilege. Don’t assume that everybody else is playing the victim and wants things handed to them. That’s what’s been driving me nuts in all of this ugly discourse. It’s the assumption that is made without learning and listening on both sides.

That’s real. In all realms, that applies especially in things like race, backgrounds, personal experiences and equally in politics and this realm of this side versus that side. The show’s tagline is intention in the tension, as you know. The whole conversation that we’ve been having, you’ve been sharing the tensions that you face every single day in life. That is a wide range and it involves our whole lives, our whole beings. The point isn’t to go to one side and camp out on that side. The point is to be in the messy middle in the gray. Assumptions keep us camping out on one side as you’re talking about. It’s those personal relationships. It goes back to your work in these human interactions and caring about people.

We can only get past assumptions through personal relationships and real conversations in real life. Not by reading more articles, watching more clips, posting more on social media, and having more debates that don’t do anything. That’s doesn’t create progress. How do we get in real time with real people like your friends and colleagues asking them, “Have you experienced this? What is this like? Is this real because I don’t know?” That is where growth comes. That’s where we start changing.

The fear from white friends and colleagues that they were going to overstep or misstep. Some fear that I would go, “That doesn’t happen to me.” They’re like, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to assume that it did.” I acknowledge those who reached out, I get why that was nerve-wracking. We don’t go back years. The ones that we know and love each other, it’s been double-digit years that we’re in each other’s lives, or we went at each other’s weddings, they could call and go, “Is this real because you speak well? You’ve never shared that with me.”

It’s like, “Yeah, I did. It’s understood that this is what we do.” I acknowledge that there was a lot of tension and fear of reaching out, and not known to your black colleague or friend, not knowing what the response was going to be, and not knowing that you could ask something and offend them even more. I was optimistic. At one point, I stopped counting now but it was 27 or 30 individual conversations of folks that reached out. I thought, “Good for me but good for them,” because you could sit in the back seat of that car and go, “I acknowledge it. My heart is there. I’ll help any way I can.”

The folks that reached out and said, “Is this real? Do you experience this? How can I help?” That was common. I acknowledge that that was a bold step. This movement felt different, maybe because there were three in a row and people said, “I’ve had it.” This is the one where we said we need allies or don’t assign the diversity work to the lone black person in your organization. This one was different where we said like, “What do I do? What does my circle look like?” We need our white friends and colleagues to own this thing with us. The fact that you know the story and you have people that you know and love that are walking through it. I’m not talking about anything else that people have been bickering about. Do you have people that you can love like that and be in their world? You may not even have to ask if you’re with them because you’ll experience it around.

Serve Where You Are: We cannot move forward until people realize the privileges they enjoy and empathize with others.

For white people reading and white males specifically, my pastor said, “Understanding that it’s not your individual fault but it’s our collective problem.” That releases us from the shame and guilt. This isn’t your individual fault but it’s our collective problem that we still have in this country.

There is people or group that is hurting. You may not have done anything. You may love people. You have some in your circle on soccer teams, at church or in a small group, you may have that. We’re not saying that but it is still the larger population. This one felt different. Allies will help this thing. We need allies. I wouldn’t want anybody to feel that guilt especially if you’ve said to yourself, “I love and serve all people in my circle.” Even if it’s not you, acknowledging that there’s a sheep. There are 99 sheeps and 1 out there that is suffering. Did he not leave and bring that one back home?

That brings me to something that many people have said. The way you demonstrate your faith on a daily level is powerful to experience, witness, and to come alongside. I’d love to know from you what role faith plays in your life and how that integrates into all that you do.

I grew up Catholic. I went to a Catholic high school. I went to a Catholic university but the truth is I knew there was a God. There’s no doubt about that. Mom, we prayed, we blessed our food. There’s no way I could tell you I had a real relationship. I went on a few retreats in college with our campus ministry folks. That was good. I acknowledged the walk but I don’t know that He was Lord and Savior, counselor or healer. I don’t know that we had that relationship. My relationship with Christ as a Christian was I need to believe in Him so that bad things don’t happen to me.

I was the guy who wore a cross because if I didn’t wear my cross, something could happen to me out there as opposed to that being a symbol and a reminder. That’s where I was with God. It was, you better believe or something bad can happen. It wasn’t until I graduate from school. I went to Clemson in South Carolina. Quite honestly, being in the South, your faith and walk are a little more freely discussed. I always tell people the jobs that I ended up working. I worked at Wake, I went to Clemson, I’ve been at Arkansas which is South. At those schools, one of the first things people ask you when you go to work there is like, “Where are you from? Do you have children? Have you found a church yet?” It blows me away. Being a New Yorker at first, I was like, “That’s invasive.”

For people living there, it was a way of life. What church do you go to? There are a few options over here. Do you go to a black church? Do you go to nondenominational? St. Leo is over here if you’re Catholic. That’s a part of everyday talk. That was a little different moving from New York City, working in Connecticut, going to school in Connecticut, moving to Clemson and then working at Wake, I was like, “That was pretty bold for people to ask.” My supervisor, while I was at Wake, invited me to her church. My wife and I grew up Catholic and she invited me to Calvary Baptist Church in North Carolina. We went because it was my boss and I didn’t want to offend her.

She asked me again the next week, “What do you think?” Of course, I said, “It’s great. Thank you for the invite. I appreciate it.” Thinking it was a one and done deal. She said, “I’ll see you next week.” I was like, “This is unbelievable.” I went back a second time and a third time. That’s when people started walking along and saying, “Do you play softball? We’ve got a little church softball league.” It was some people that casually were in our space and they were married. I’m thinking about my wife and I. They were married, they loved the Lord, and they were trying to be good husbands. I was like, “This is awesome.” They were trying to be good. They were meeting once a week to go, “How can I be more Christ-like in my job and my family?”

It fed my soul. I started to understand the relationship versus if I don’t worship this God, I don’t follow the rules, I’m going to go to hell, get murdered or get seriously ill. As opposed to learning about Him, what He wants for me and my family, listening and understanding who the Holy Spirit was. My faith keeps me grounded. My faith reminds me that I’m not in control, but my faith reminds me to do well with what He’s given me. I’m reminded that we’re in the grand scheme of things, at least according to our belief as Christians, that this time on Earth is not the end.

In fact, it’s a belief when you talk about eternity. Why not maximize the things that God has given us and serve? That’s hard because I’m ambitious and competitive. I want to make great money. I want my kids to have things I didn’t have and my wife to enjoy that. My faith is that bubble on the balance. I’m not a big construction guy but when you have a balance thing and that balance is filling, you know you’re in a good spot. That’s what my faith does for me. When I get too high, it gives me perspective. When I’m too low, I’m reminded of who loves me and this is a short time in this place.

I’m here to serve people and advance the kingdom. I’m very transparent, particularly with my close friends of where I fall short. I personally feel like when I articulate those things, it helps me realize that I’m not as good as I think I am in my head. It also lets those people in my circle know that I want accountability. I want you to call me out when I’m not walking the walk. It also shows them that I’m not claiming and I’m acknowledging that I’m not perfect. I’m not far from it but every day I’m still trying to chip away at being more Christ-like. I hope that the people that you talk to said, “I acknowledged my slippage and my fault but I’m not giving up. I want you to hold me accountable as a person in my circle.”

Some of the things you highlighted. Jesus is helping you be grounded, helping you realize you’re not in control, being a good steward of the gifts that He’s given in life, and being transparent about falling short. I love how you use that as a tool for accountability and for humility. What a great tool that we can use and practice on a daily basis. If you want to be more humble, be more transparent about your failures.

It’s not a self-deprecating thing. I don’t want any of the audience to feel like you self-deprecate yourself so you don’t get too high. What I’m saying is that I wanted that job not because I thought that was a place I could serve and be myself. I wanted that because of the money. I wanted that car because of how it helps my status. Those are the things that if I lay them out, it helps people to remind me. It’s not self-deprecating that our faith would suggest that you can’t be confident, proud and right. How about giving that back to God and say, “How blessed you are to have it?”

Without the talent He gave you, you don’t earn that job or that increase. There are no self-made men. You put your effort forward that you built your own business and started a podcast but that’s the Holy Spirit inspired like you explored. How long have you stayed on this podcast world? You’re exploring something the Holy Spirit put on your heart to go, “Is this something you wanted me to do to advance the kingdom?” This whole idea of a self-made man is crap. That’s what I did. Not to be self-deprecating, but the more transparent you are then you allow people to hold you accountable. To be honest, I shared this with my small group. We were talking about the importance of accountability.

When I was early on in my faith, it was a matter of I wanted to please them at that time more than even the Lord. I knew I had to come to see them face to face and go, “You said you wanted to get seven devotionals in between now and next Wednesday, how do you do?” They’re going to ask me. Even when my relationship wasn’t where it is with the Lord, I know I’m accountable to Christian men who fall short as well. I’ve asked them to hold me accountable so that next time, I want to be able to say to them, “We got 6 out of 7 and then 7 out of 7 in.” Early in my faith, it was important because I wasn’t there with the Lord yet. I was at the very minimum, these guys that I meet with on a weekly basis, that’s where it starts. There’s that snowball effect of doing it because you want to please the Lord.

There’s a quote but I can’t remember who said it and I’m going to paraphrase it, “Pride is the belief in the idea that God had when He made you.” That’s beautiful. That’s the pride we need to have. The potential that God has placed in each of us to be His image, and bring good and the kingdom here in this world. I want to echo that self-deprecation is not what God wants and it can easily slide into especially in the Christian spheres. You made a good point on that. It’s so life giving. It brings life to our lives. This is the sweetest gift in that. The other thing that you have brought life into the world. You have four kids now. I love to hear what those four kids have given you. How have they grown or changed you as a man?

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I’m not going to cry during this segment. There was nothing else more than being an athletic director. There was nothing else I wanted to be more than being a husband and a dad. I couldn’t wait. I felt like some of my female friends who always thought that I wanted to be married and have kids. I never had a bunch of dudes that were like, “I can’t wait to be married and have a family.” I didn’t have many. That’s my experience. I was that guy. I wanted that because I yearned for it. I didn’t get that. As I played on different sports teams from high school to college, I saw families like that. I was like, “I want that.”

Growing up as an only child, I have two older half-brothers but they didn’t live with me. Being an only child, I was like, “We’ve got to have a big family.” I want Christmas and Thanksgiving to be fun. I want them to come back from college because they want to come back and see their brother and sister, eat mom and dad’s home cooking, and go back to their old bedroom. I envisioned all of that. Our goal was to build a family that was loving, loved the Lord and loved each other. I tell them all the time, “These are your best friends. You’re going to have a best friend from school or your team but nobody is more important than the people in this house to you. That means you include them when you’re going to do something with your best friend.”

They said they’re not as good as you in that sport, that you encourage them and go kick balls and put up shots in the backyard to help them. That’s what family does. I’ve had this thing in my mind, heart and soul of what I wanted it to be. I wanted my mother-in-law and my mother to be a part of that, for them to be a part of our kids’ lives. I prayed for that and God has delivered. You go into it thinking, “Two would be good, boy and a girl.” If you could request at the Godspeed, but the first two were girls. We said we wanted even numbers so somebody wasn’t left out.

When the first two were girls, we knew it was a matter of four, even if three was a boy, we were going. People are joking at me all the time like, “You wanted to get your boy.” He came on the last try but I’m reminding Him that we wanted 2 or 4. I do believe if God gave us a boy and a girl, we would have stopped. I don’t believe that’s what he intended for us. He heard my heart. He knew when I said two because I thought two is what we could handle and afford. He said, “That’s not what he prayed for.” I’m in agreement with Him. God wanted me to have these four. He knew I would have stopped if He had given me that boy early. They’re all two years apart and I can’t believe they call me daddy.

It is the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced. Don’t get me wrong, they wear me out. We get angry sometimes but it’s a picture of God’s love too. Sometimes, I have to think about that. “I told you five times not to do that and you did this. You think I’m trying not to be fun but you’re not ready for the news about social justice yet. You’re not ready to understand divorce. I’ll explain that in due time. I’ll reveal that to you in due time.” What a picture of Christ’s love for us. When we get frustrated that He doesn’t answer it the way we want. Sometimes He says no. Sometimes He says yes. Sometimes He says not yet. When I’m in that phase of being worn-out of being daddy or I want to veg out and watch sports or do something, that’s like, “What a blessing it is and what a reminder of God’s love.” It’s the coolest thing. Even having four and the oldest being ten, when they call me daddy, it does something. It’s the coolest gig ever.

It’s so cool to hear you talk about it too. Eric, this has been a lot of fun. We’re going to wrap it up with a handful of one-offs here. The first one was from a reference and defining you as someone who does friendship well. The question is, how would you define friendship?

Friendship to me is somebody that I can be vulnerable with. I thought it was corny growing up when guys would say their wives are their best friends. I’m like, “Can your wife be really your best friend?” That’s a good thing to say but the reality is whoever it is that I can be completely vulnerable with, the person that we can have fun with, there’s no judgment but they also hold you accountable for who you are and when we said who you’re going to be. For me, it’s somebody that’s always thinking about them like, “What can I do for you? How do I help you accomplish what you want to accomplish?”

That’s through honesty, love, accountability and all that. I want that as corny as it was. That’s why many wives become their best friends. There’s nothing like having your bro. There’s one person that knows everything about me. What I’m overconfident about, what I’m fearful and insecure about, what makes me laugh and what makes me cry. That is my wife, which also gives her the ability to hurt you too because they know that. When you talk about friendship, it’s who can we be vulnerable with? Who has the other person’s best interests in mind, but also who’s not going to judge and be honest in their feedback? That’s what I think about friendship.

What new habit or belief has most positively impacted you in your life?

I have to say God works all things for our good. When I hang on to that, I don’t go to either extreme because I’m so driven professionally. I’m evading your question there because I’m trying to think of something new but it’s been more prominent now. The closer I get to becoming an athletics director, it’s more of what I’m having to hang on to these days is work and serve people, and the rest will take care of itself. There’s a plan already out there for me. The closer I get to experiencing the goal of being the CEO of an athletics department, being the AD is so close, I can taste it but it’s like, “Don’t press. Serve people right in the space you occupy and the rest will take care of itself.” I’m hanging on more to it these days, particularly with all this unrest. That’s what I’m hanging on to most.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you or what comes to mind that you would recommend?

I liked Tony Dungy’s Uncommon. That’s a cool book. Everything by Jon Gordon. You can pick a book in that Jon Gordon series whether it’s The Carpenter. There are many there. I’ll say the first one that rocked me because he’s everything, he’s uncommon. He’s not the yeller and cusser and what is traditionally at a football locker room. He’s confident in who he is. He accomplished great things, winning a Super Bowl as an African-American coach. Not to put him on a pedestal but reading the book reminds me of being uncommon. That’s the difference-maker.

I’m going to check that one out for sure. What are you most proud of in your working life thus far?

I’m most proud of my family. There’s no doubt about that. You have conflict in the workspace but I truly believe that every university or conference office, every organization that I’ve worked, when I left, there will always be people that say, “Thank goodness, he’s gone.” The majority of the people said, “We’ll miss him. He was genuine. He cared about us. He was intentional. He was a good dude.” I’m proud of that. I’m still in this space of being a people pleaser and let me acknowledge that. It’s more so because I’m like, “I’d never meant to hurt you.” It has never been my intent if we had a conflict.

That’s the part where I struggled the most. If we had a conflict, I want to be the one that said, “What was that? Where did I hurt you?” Wherever I’ve gone, I’ve brightened that place up and I served people there. I’m proud of that. That’s always been my intent. Not to be liked but because we’re blessed. Let’s make everywhere work. Let’s have fun. Let’s be a good team. I say that now to the staff and particularly our senior staff like, “Let’s be good teammates.” That may not benefit you that time, that shift you took but what’s good for the group. I like doing that. I like to share that message of being a good teammate wherever you go.

UAC 182 | Serve Where You Are

Serve Where You Are: Don’t assign diversity work to the lone black person in your organization. We need allies to put their weight to it.


That’s how we got connected. My wife, Evan, was impacted in some awesome ways by your influence. That is a beautiful thing to be proud of. The final question that we ask every guest is that if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short message from you that they’d receive as a text every morning.

Every morning, I would remind them that you are worthy and your time is coming. By virtue of you were made in His image, you are worthy. No matter what’s around you, how unloved you feel, if you feel obese, anorexic, wealthy, poor, you feel smart or you feel dumb. Wake up in the morning and I want them to feel worthy. You are all worthy right in your own skin. Somebody may not want you if it’s a relationship but that’s their issue. That may not have been the person for you. You are worthy and your time is coming to serve where you are. In full transparency, that’s what we want. That’s what I would want to receive. We learned from The 5 Love Languages book that you’re supposed to love people the way they want to be loved, serve people the way you wanted to be served. My knee jerk reaction to that is that’s what I would want to hear. I would want to remind people they are worthy just as God made them and then your time is coming, just serve where you are.

That’s beautiful. What a great way to end, Eric. This has been such a fun conversation. Thank you so much for coming on, sharing your story and your heart and encouraging us in many ways. Where is a good place if people want to reach out or connect? Where would people find you or follow along with your work?

I’m on Twitter @EWood_UCF. There are weeks where I’m active and there are weeks where I’m silent. It’s mostly work but I like to splash in some family pics, videos and experiences so that our students and my colleagues know that it’s not all business. They see me as a human and not an administrator. It’s a combination. You’re going to see a lot of UCF but you’ll see some Yankees, Knicks and Giants. You’ll see a lot of my kids and my family because that’s about all I have time for.

Eric, until next time, this has been such a joy. I’m grateful.

I had a blast. I shared things here I’ve never shared before. I thank you for giving me the forum. I hope that your readers enjoy and I hope that they’re encouraged. Anything you put your name on, go get it. That’s what I want them to believe.

For the readers, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

I’m following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from whether that’d be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

Important Links:

About Eric Wood

UAC 182 | Serve Where You Are

Eric Wood, a former student-athlete at Sacred Heart University who is also 22-year veteran of collegiate athletic administration, just accepted the role of Director of Athletics and Vice President at LA Tech, following a five-year stint at UCF, where he spent the past four years as the Deputy AD for Competitive Excellence. He becomes the first Director of Athletics in LA Tech history to also serve as a Vice President.

The Bronx, New York, native has served in a variety of roles within athletics administration for more than two decades. In addition to his time at UCF, Wood has held full-time positions at the University of Arkansas, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest University and the University of New Haven. He also served as a graduate assistant at both the NCAA national office and Clemson University early in his career.

At every level of his professional career, Wood has made an impact. His qualifications and accomplishments include:
– Board of Trustee Member – Sacred Heart University
– 2019 “Next Up” honoree presented by Adidas and College AD for senior level administrators
– Athletics Representative on the UCF Presidents Advisory Staff Council
– 2016 Top 40 Under 40 in the Arkansas Business Journal
– 2009 graduate of the NCAA’s Leadership Institute
– 11 years of executive staff level leadership
– $55 million in successful management experience for sport programs, operations and support areas
– $5 million in fundraising visits, proposals, and presentations for programing, operations and facilities
– Head coach hires in football, men’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, and track and field
– Sport administrator experience (football, men’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s golf)
– NCAA, NLI, Division I-A Athletics Director’s Association (Now Lead1), USTA committee service
– 1997-98 NCAA football student-athlete Medal of Merit recipient as SA of the Year

He is a 1998 graduate of Sacred Heart University, earning his degree in Psychology. He was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Pioneer football team with one outdoor season as a member of the track and field team.

Wood earned a Medal of Merit, the athletic department’s highest honor, as the Student-Athlete of the Year his senior year at Sacred Heart. He completed his master’s degree in counseling and guidance services at Clemson University in May 2000 and his Doctorate of Education in Sports Management at the University of Arkansas in 2016.

He is the first African-American Vice President in Louisiana Tech history as well as the first minority Director of Athletics in the University’s history.

Dr. Wood and his wife Celia have four children – Eliana (10), Nia (8), Alyssa (6) and Elijah (4).

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UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness


When your back is finally pushed against the wall, you will start to have a new life perspective centered on gratitude, optimism, and putting trust in God. This is what actor Riji Raja went through by experiencing homelessness with her husband, marking one of the most challenging phases of their lives. She sits down with Thane Marcus Ringler to share how they transitioned from being a homeless couple living in their car to making it big in their own careers, all while battling loneliness, family disputes, and racism. Riji also explains how her constant search for positivity and affirmation eventually brought her from the Hollywood stage to founding the stationery and wellness brand Affirmation Darling.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”181: Riji Raja: Pairing Affirmations With Action: An Actor Who’s On A Mission To Let You Know You Are Enough, No One Is Born Ready, And There Is A Purpose To Living”]

181: Riji Raja: Pairing Affirmations With Action: An Actor Who’s On A Mission To Let You Know You Are Enough, No One Is Born Ready, And There Is A Purpose To Living

This is a show all about the process of becoming, learning, how to live a good life, which happens daily in taking a step forward. We believe the best way to do that is by living with intention in the tension. That means infusing intentionality, a reason why behind what we do and to all that we do. Thanks for being a fellow Up and Comer on this journey, tuning in and joining this community. We are grateful you’re here. This is why we do it, so we can share stories of inspiration and encouragement with each other. If you want to help us out, we’d appreciate it. There are three easy ways. The first is leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. We’ve got over 100. We’d love to get some more. That’s a great way for us to be found by more people. Please take a minute to do that.

If you want to support us, by simply sharing this episode is a great way. You can send a favorite episode of yours to a couple of friends in your community that you think would be encouraged by it. You can also tag us on the socials, @UpAndComersShow. We’d love to have you shout us out there. Finally, the third and probably the most important way to support us is financially. This show is an expense. It’s not a revenue source. If you could donate or support us through Patreon, we have a Patreon page available. That is a great way to help us keep running the show and bringing this content to you. We’d appreciate any of those ways immensely. Thank you in advance for taking the time on that.

[bctt tweet=”If we can discuss life or death options, we can put the same energy and time to talk about living and doing something.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I’m excited about this interview. This interview features Riji Raja. She is a third culture kid, Indian born and raised in Kuwait. She and her husband moved to LA for acting in 2016. With the high cost of living in Southern California, their living situation quickly fell apart, forcing them to live in their car for two years. After transitioning out of homelessness, Riji had always wanted to use her story to make an impact. She and her husband realized that they could use their backgrounds in retail and finance to make a difference for the underserved and disadvantaged young adults facing homelessness and mental health issues.

In 2020, after they were laid off due to COVID, Riji founded Affirmation Darling, a social impact, mental wellness brand built on powerful affirmations. They advocate for young adults from underserved and disadvantaged communities facing homelessness and mental health issues. Riji and her husband, Melween, along with their Yorkie, live in Los Angeles, California. Everything we talked about includes a wide-ranging conversation such as facing transitions in life, Riji’s background in Kuwait, cultural differences and facing those hardships, navigating family dynamics, the power of gratitude and trust, the importance of living by faith, navigating life with a partner and so much more. It was a fascinating conversation. I learned a lot from her experiences and the differences in culture. It was interesting and inspiring. I know you’re going to come away with a lot of inspiration and encouragement from Riji. I will stop talking and let you enjoy this interview with Riji Raja.

Riji Raja, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much, Thane.

It’s fun to be here with you. I want to start with the number eleven. What does the number eleven mean or what is its significance to you?

I did not know what eleven meant until it kept popping up everywhere. This was right before my biggest transition in life. I knew eleven meant transition. It came to a point where it kept showing up in my face everywhere. I’m like, “God, I get it. Can you please stop showing this eleven? I know we’re getting ready for transition now. Can you tell me the steps that I need to prepare for to get into that transition?” That’s what eleven means always to me.

UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness

Experiencing Homelessness: If you support an advocacy, keep doing that throughout and not just because it’s trending right now.


Let’s go back to this moment in time. What was the biggest transition in your life? Maybe paint the picture of where you were and what was happening in your life at that point.

My husband and I moved from Dallas to LA for acting. We had it all planned out probably for six months and hoping that we’ll find a job and maybe a gig, but back then diversity was not yet popping. We were on the back seat always. The planning did not work out and we ended up losing everything. We got an eviction notice. We had to move out of the apartment. We ended up moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a shared room. The landlady at that housing accommodation said, “We are going to make it all girls so we need your husband and you to leave.” I was like, “You’ve given me only four weeks to get a home, how am I going to find any place?”

We couldn’t find anything of that budget. We weren’t working then. We couldn’t find a job. Everything became an obstacle and we ended up moving into our car. This was the period when even before the landlady sent us that email, which was in August to October, I knew something crazy was going to happen. I also had a dream that there was an attack that was going to happen. I wish that was something that I kept pestering God to tell me what was the meaning of that dream. Now I knew exactly what that meant. I was like, “You did tell me what was going to happen.” He spoke to me. He told me what it is, but I didn’t listen. We ended up living in our car for two years. I’m sure if God told us that it was going to be for two years, we would be like, “Nope, sorry, bye.” We would not move here at all. I love that it was always a surprise. Every day was like, “What’s going to happen?” We made it. A few years later, here we are. It’s been only a year since we’ve got an apartment.

There’s so much that I’m excited to dive into there. I want to start here with transitions and how we make a lot of transitions in life. Sometimes they’re big and sometimes they’re small, but what have you found to be most helpful? Maybe it’s a mindset or it could be habits or things that help you in those time periods of transition. What do you focus on or what do you find helpful for the transition?

When you were stepping into transition, it’s like culture shock for you. It’s like a transition shock for you. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how to do it. Once you accept and acknowledge that this is inevitable, you have to embrace it now. It’s like, “God, I accept it.” I’m talking to my significant other, which is my husband. We even contemplated. We almost made decisions to consider whether we should keep living on or should we end this life. It’s like telling each other in that moment like, “If we can take the time to discuss our life or death options, we can put the same energy and time to talk about how we can still live and do something about this and make this work in our favor.”

Acknowledging and accepting the inevitable is the first step. I wrote pros and cons of the situation. The pros were like we’re saving on a rent bill. When we’re living in a car, we can still travel on the road and still sleep in the car, and get to see places. I’m new to the US. I’m only a few years new so I feel like I’m still exploring the country, the state. We’ve traveled in our car many times. The cons, we had lacked in everything. We were struggling with our finances. We could barely eat our food, barely find means to eat food. There were many days when we would buy one 6-foot-long Subway and we would divide it into three parts. We would have it for lunch and dinner. We’d skip breakfast and just drink water.

We’re like, “We’re drinking so much water. This is not good.” Once we start accepting and we felt like we were beating the system slowly, we started seeing the loopholes in there. We started taking advantage of the situation and be like, “How can we make this work for us?” There are many things in our life that we went through, many areas and aspects that we felt like we improved on in doing this journey. I don’t think we would have even touched the surface if we were living in our car.

It seems like we don’t understand how to transition well until we’re shocked into a big enough transition. There have been a lot of transitions in your life and there were a lot of transitions before that point, but it took a groundbreaking transition to learn some of these lessons that can help us in future transition. Would you agree with that?


Let’s talk about the experience of being homeless. This is something that is near and dear to most people’s hearts that live in a city. You’re face-to-face with this reality a lot more consistently than people that live in smaller places or in the middle of the country. It’s been a growing issue that we face, with more and more people experiencing this type of reality. I remember hearing in some of the research I did that you had mentioned wanting to have a handbook written on homelessness to help you guys in those early periods. If you had to make up this handbook or write this handbook, what would be the handbook to homelessness in your experience?

That you’re not alone. We’ve encountered loneliness a lot. That was another point of gratitude for us that we have each other. When we thought about the people who don’t have someone else to accompany this journey with, that can be very devastating. The other thing that we did not know back then, which we come to know after we come out of our car, is that there are many resources out there and many nonprofit organizations that we did not know about. I don’t think it even crossed our minds. It’s also because where we come from, we are conditioned to not tell our struggles to anybody, and that we have to handle it on our own. We did not even tell our parents about this journey. When we are thinking this way, we are also thinking that there’s nothing out there that can help us get out of the situation. There’s nobody out there who can help us mentally and all that stuff.

[bctt tweet=”Having a heart for empathy, generosity, and a real connection can take you places.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

When people used to say that they have therapists, I always thought therapists are for people who have the luxury to afford a therapist or someone who has minor struggles. I never associated any of that for people of color like us. It was like something that’s not for us. There are many things that I learned later that I’m like anybody else. I might be a person of a different color, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t get access to all these things. At the same time, when I know that these things exist, there were points in our life and we realized that we were not allowed to get access to those things because we were a person of color.

We would apply for a job, a seasonal hire, and we didn’t get it anywhere. I’m like, “I want to go back and see who they finally hired,” and they’re all white people. I went and asked them, “Did you not hire us because we were not of the color that you desired us to be?” When we are doing our best to get out of it, then there are these walls that are like, “No, you don’t have entry. You’re not allowed to pass this.” When we were going through that and we saw these doors getting shut, we took a step back and we were like, “What can we do with what we know and what we have?” The big thing that we did was showing up everywhere, showing up to whatever we wanted in life.

We both got a job at the same place and that was a turning point in our lives. I accidentally hit this Instagram story. I saw that the founder of that company was in that store. I went and said, “Hi,” but I didn’t think of getting a job. Having the heart for empathy, generosity and a real connection that can take you places, and not with that hidden agenda that I need this so this is why I’m doing that. I went there to say hi and to connect. Within the same day, I ended up getting an interview and we both got the jobs. It’s having the open heart, that empathetic heart, a real heart is key and not being selfish.

I imagine that being challenging. I know for someone like me who isn’t on the brink of survival, I still struggle immensely with being selfish, but for someone who is on the brink of surviving or not surviving, how do you maintain an open heart and an unselfish posture? What I imagine that experience would be like when you are in a place without a home and you’re working on surviving and that’s a big part of your focus. Surviving is inherently selfish because you need to take care of your needs. How do you maintain an open heart and selflessness in that type of position?

Gratitude, that’s one word. I love the verse in the Bible that says, “A king’s crown doesn’t last forever.” Any second, everything that you have can be taken away, especially with what’s going on in 2020 and 2021 with COVID. Now you’re alive, tomorrow, you could be in the ICU. Anything can happen. Here we are now being in that place and we were like, “What if this happened during this COVID? What would happen if we were living in our car? We wouldn’t be able to find places to shower. We wouldn’t be having access to the microwave, the food lunch, and all that stuff. Taking that moment of being present in that moment and being thankful for what you have is the key.

When we were living in our car, even though we lacked a lot of things, we still have our car to sleep in. We are not sleeping on the streets. We should put all our gratitude into that, that we have this car. When we acknowledge that, the enemy comes attacking and we got a repossession letter. We couldn’t pay off our car, but we had random friends calling us and saying, “God put this in our heart saying that you needed this money.” I’m like, “This is exactly the amount short that we need it to pay off our car. How did you know?” They were like, “That’s exactly who God is.” Gratitude was a thing even now. We are still unemployed. We’re living on our savings. How do we stay sane through all this? God is like, “I did something for you. Do not forget that. You’re still living in your car. I took care of you. I protected you. I kept you safe. Do you think I can’t do that right now?” Trust is a huge thing also, trusting God, leaning on Him and not on ourselves. For me, the secret sauce was faith. I don’t think I could have done this without God.

When we talk about gratitude and trust, what is a practice of gratitude and trust look like? What does that look like in daily practice for you even now?

I love making lists. First thing in the morning, I write down the things that I’m grateful for, that I have now. Prayer is a privilege. I take advantage of that as long as I have breath in me. I pray a lot. I surrender my day to God like, “Whatever comes my way, all the problems, it is your headache, not mine. I want you to tell me what I need to do.” Putting all that on Him like He’s my journal. I throw everything on him. I’m like, “I’m going to be a la-di-da now so it’s your problem, fix it if there’s anything.” That blind trust and that full surrender is how I start my day.

There’s something to that. A lot of people say, “Blind trust, I can’t do that,” because it seems ignorant or naive. There’s something beautiful to the blind trust of saying, “No, I recognize where we’re at. I see where I’m at. I know exactly all the hardships or obstacles or things that are presenting themselves. Yet even despite that, I know that God is bigger than them and I’m going to have a trust fall with God.” I’m going to say, “God, you’ve got this. I’m going to be faithful and responsible to what you call me to do. I also know that you’re going to provide in that.” That’s a much deeper place of what others may consider blind trust, but in reality, is more of faith trust in that sense.

I have come across that situation as well where I’m like, “Lord, I’m trusting you. I don’t know how to trust you though.” God is like, “Just trust me and test me.” I always say that back at him, “Lord, I’m testing you. For the next 24 hours, I want you to show up in some ways so I know that you’re there.” I feel like 99% of the time He has shown up in some way. I’m like, “I believe what you’re saying. I will trust you.” I know that His ways are bigger than my ways, that if I come up with a strategy, it’s going to utterly fail me. I will rather have Him control my future.

I know that’s not harming and it’s always something to help me in the long run, but it might be painful doing that journey. That’s something else that I have shifted my mindset, to accept the journey in between. Just because we are trusting Him, that it’s going to be an incredible journey. No. I know that and I accept that. It’s like, “God, help me see the perspective in what you’re seeing. I might want to know everything right now, but tell me to shut up if I need to. Teach me how to rely on you and completely drain the strength out of you the whole time.”

UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness

Experiencing Homelessness: If it is God’s will, He will assure ways for you to keep going.


There’s something about it that’s beautiful. It’s profound too in a lot of ways. I’d love to hear since you and your husband have gone through this experience, how has experiencing it personally change your view of the issue we’re facing with more and more people experiencing homelessness? How has that experience of having some of that experience shifted the way you looked at it or approached it, or even viewed it as a society or those around you? Meaning before and after, how you viewed it before you experienced it yourself, and how you view it now, the difference between that.

I don’t think I have viewed homelessness like how I’m viewing it now, both of us. We always take things for granted. When we were homeless, when everything was taken away, and then when we got back, most of the things like a pillow for example, which we all take for granted. Having a pillow to rest our head on, I would cry. Every day when I moved into an apartment, I have a pillow for myself. We would share one pillow because we didn’t have space. It’s having a mattress, having a pillow, being able to walk barefoot, and just in PJs.

The thing that we got was, “You don’t look homeless.” We got that a lot from a lot of people. I don’t understand. You can’t expect me to look homeless just because I’m homeless. I’m not going to present like that to you. I’m not homeless. I don’t want to accept it externally, but internally I know that this is a journey that I need to go through. I’m 100% sure that my empathy has gone five levels up towards people going through similar struggles. When they say that I am going through something, I’m like, “I can’t relate to exactly what you’re going through, but I know what it feels like for things to be taken away from you or for life to fully stop. For being like you can’t rely on anybody, you can’t trust anyone, losing community, losing friends, loneliness, and decisions on whether to live this life or end this life. I know that feeling.

Now, that has completely changed after we became homeless, expressing gratitude, practicing gratitude for things that we have, and also looking at people who don’t have and be like, “I feel like I developed this discernment.” When we hear someone say between the lines of they’re struggling, we are like, “We know what you’re going through, this is what you want. This is how we can help you.” They’re like, “How did you know?” I’m like, “We’ve been through this. We know how to hide some feelings and emotions because we don’t want to tell someone.” That is my hope and dream to be able to create that open space to have people be open about their struggles when it comes to especially being a person of color, and coming from a culture that does not want to talk about these struggles. My hope is to bring them together.

It’s such a massive thing that we face now that we need as many people thinking and looking to see ways to care and take care of one another, especially those that are experiencing hardships like that. It’s sweet to hear your perspective.

You have a point too. After that, I have noticed a lot of celebrities and a lot of people because it’s a trend, they hop on that trend. Once that trend is over, you don’t see them practicing that same empathy towards that cause or situation. That’s another thing that we realized that our cause, our empathy has remained the same if not consistent throughout. That’s something that I plead with people. Generally, I’m not able to tell them in the face. I’m like, “If you like something, if you support this, please keep doing that throughout and not because it’s trending right now.” That’s a little rant I had.

This isn’t an overnight cause. It’s not something that is changed, fixed, resolved or helped in a short-term passion. It is a long journey. One of the things that people are going to catch on to quickly and that was given in some of the background research I did is your resilience. You have incredible resilience is one of the references that had mentioned. That was also one of the words that they were describing or one of the superpowers that you have. This obviously doesn’t happen by chance and it doesn’t happen overnight. I’d love to hear going back to the younger years, what were those early years like as a child? I know that where you grew up, there were some wars going on that you experienced even at a young age. I’m curious where this deep well of resilience was initially formed.

The way at least my parents brought me up is they tell you what to do so you do that. From a young age, I felt like it was something in me to always be rebellious. I was born rebellious and my parents would account for instances of where I would be the bad girl in the house. Even my relatives say like, “What is your daughter? Is she even human?” That was always in me. They always thought that I was going to be forever that black sheep. I am but I used it to bring good into our lives. When they tell you what to do, and if you don’t do it, it upsets them. It upsets the culture and the society. Here I am doing everything that they asked me not to do or doing things that they did not expect me to do. That was interesting to see their reaction. Me telling them my story right now of my homelessness was a shocker for them.

I’m like, “That’s exactly the way you brought me up. I wasn’t ready to tell you.” I wasn’t able to open up because I had that fear. The way we were brought up as kids, I don’t blame my parents at all. I’ve told them multiple times, it’s society. It’s the society that they were brought up in. It kept passing on from generation to generation. That’s one thing that my husband and I are like, “We are going to break this in the car. When we leave the car, we’re going to be stopping all that. We’re not going to drag this into our next generation of instilling fear or saying what they need to do. Let them pursue what they want.” I felt like I didn’t get that freedom. However, my parents would disagree.

I had many things that I wanted to do. There were always clauses like, “No, only bad kids do that.” I wanted to do, we call it to breakdance, but it’s basically freestyle dancing and they’re like, “No, don’t do that. That’s for the bad kids. You shouldn’t do that. What will people think of us?” I’m like, “It’s just dance.” I will cry like, “I just want to dance.” I still haven’t learned dancing, but whatever I want to do when I tell them, it has to be acceptable by society. That’s how they measure it.

[bctt tweet=”It’s not about you. It’s about being able to multiply, replicate everything, and be a blessing to others.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

There are no creative career pursuits happening in my family. It’s more like be a doctor or engineer. There’s no lawyer. They say, “Be a lawyer.” I was like, “You want me to be a doctor or engineer, I’m going to pursue a bachelor’s in science.” I ended up doing my Bachelor’s in Microbiology. They’re like, “Has this turned to be useful to you?” I’m like, “No.” I wanted to do something opposite of what they’re saying. It was the rebellious nature of me. I get easily bored. I’m like, “I’m bored of science. I want to do finance now.” I ended up doing Master’s in Finance.

It was like, “I’m bored in finance. I want to try accounting.” I got the job in auditing, which had to do with accounting. Here I am, I don’t have a degree in accounting. I’m struggling so much. That was my wake-up call that I need to stop playing with life and I need to listen to what my heart wants. I was working as an auditor in Dallas and I was not feeling fulfilled at all so I quit that. That’s why I pursued acting. If you asked me if acting was on my heart, no, it wasn’t. It just felt very interesting. Also seeing on TV that there were not many colored people, especially Indian, Middle Eastern people. I was like, “Let’s be a part of the story that will be unfolding.”

What a journey that’s been and I believe you were born in Kuwait, is that correct?


How old were you when you moved to a new city or the next step beyond that? Did you spend most of your childhood in Kuwait?

I was born and raised for 26 years in Kuwait. Even though I’m of Indian ethnicity, we call ourselves expatriates or Non-Residents of India, NRI. We NRIs or the Gulf kids, we only get to travel to India during our summer vacation. It’s always alternate years. It’s never every year because it’s expensive. It was something that we always look forward to. Kuwait is a dot on the map. It’s even hard to find it on the map. There’s no moving within Kuwait. If you move, it’s like next door. We grew up in the same city for a long time. You were asking about the Gulf Wars. I was 4 or 5 years old and then my mom was pregnant with my brother. I’m sure there are a lot more stories that probably they’re not telling me, but I know in brief that they struggled so much financially. We’re still Christians, but my dad was from another state. My mom is from another state. My husband and I are both from different states too. It’s not very normal for interstate marriage. It’s getting acceptable now. Back then, it always created a rift within families. There were a lot of issues because I got married so they didn’t have support. This war happens and they didn’t know who to turn to.

They didn’t have the finances to get out of the country. It was difficult to get out because everything was shut down. It wasn’t a lockdown. It was like lockdown plus oil burning. The air is like so bad to breathe. Your dad comes from work and I would rub his shirt. You will get the oil suit on your fingers. That’s how bad it is. If you want to get out, you have to pay money to charter this bus. It’s always hard to get. You have to be on a wait list. I believe they were stuck for 4 or 5 months when that was going on. There are a lot of interesting stories. The Iraqis came and raided the apartment, the whole building. They set something that they left my mom alone, but they found out there were a lot of women in that building that were raped.

They said, “Give us all the appliance.” They’re still newly married. They bought all these new appliances and they sold it for a dime probably. They took everything. They took advantage of that during that time. My dad was still working. The office was still open. He was in textile. I still wonder how, why or who was purchasing that? I never asked that question though. They’re like, “I don’t know how we were alive, but we were still alive and you’re here.” That’s another thing that I’m grateful for that we went through. They would say about instances of people who they knew were killed during the war because the bombs were falling in wrong places, and them saying that when they’re sleeping, they could hear the bomb going off like, “It’s right next to us.” I don’t remember any of this though. This is them saying. We would hold hands and pray like that was the last night. They went through so much fear. I’m grateful for that as well.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What were the dreams you had at those young years?

I don’t think I had any dream to be what I wanted. It was always like, “I wonder what they want me to be. It’s always been like that, what my parents wanted me to be. I’ve been visiting my memory lane for the past six months. I would have a scrapbook of things that I loved. I love movies for some reason. I love women celebrities because I’m like, “They’re so beautiful. I want to be like them.” I never thought that was acting. I still remember Nicole Kidman’s poster and then Avril Lavigne, the singer. I had all these posters and I knew I was drawn to something and that was not in Kuwait or India. That’s something that I had and my mom was like, “What is this?”

She would tear up everything. She would tear every book or journal that I had. She was afraid and I don’t blame her. It’s more like, “What if this turns out to something that she shouldn’t be doing? Maybe this is not good for her.” She never sat down to ask why I’m doing what I’m doing. She took action. That traumatized me and damaged me. That’s something that I’ve been reverse engineering to know. I’ve been asking myself, “Why did I do that? Why did I get upset with what she did? What did I want to be in life? Whatever I had stuck on my scrapbook, did I get that now?” I feel like I am all my way to all those things that I wanted.

The main thing that I noticed was to be seen and heard. That was the thing that I struggled with so much in my family. I was seeing for all the wrong things, painted a wrong picture but here I am, “I just wanted to be seen. I don’t feel like I belong here. I’ve been trying to tell you, guys.” I even attempted to take my life when I was a teen. I didn’t tell my parents until a few years ago. I’m telling this to my parents. They’re like, “Why didn’t you tell us? What are you stressed about? What are you anxious about? You’re not old enough to be that.” That’s something that I thought. I’m like, “Don’t tell that to kids. Never say that.” Whatever age you are, you go through stress. It doesn’t have an age. When you have them saying that, I’m like, “You’re not going to understand what I’m going through so I kept everything within me.” That’s also what contributed to my massive rebellious nature.

UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness

Experiencing Homelessness: Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.


For people that may share that same background or upbringing as you and are in it, they find themselves in a similar place, what do you encourage? Contemplating and trying to take your life because of the stress and because of the system in place, what encouragements would you have given to your younger self?

Be bold enough to step up and I know that’s not at all easy. I could be a hypocrite right now because if someone told me to do that, I don’t think I would have done it. Asking God for strength in that department. I wish I would have done this. I sat with my parents and I could have told them, “This is what I’m struggling. This is what I’m going through. How can you help me?” It starts with the family too. If the family is not going to create that safe space for their children from the beginning, I don’t think you stepping up or you being bold enough can help. That’s when God is like, “I’m here to fix this for you.”

I would put an ultimatum on God, “Lord, I have this bad thought in my head to end my life, but you gave me this life. Show me three things within this next week why I need to keep going.” I have challenged God and I’ve got those things. I’m like, “Let me give this another chance. Rooting yourself in God, giving God a chance because there’s a creator who created you for a purpose. You haven’t even discovered your purpose, and your enemy will do anything and everything to stop you from getting to that purpose. These are evil thoughts that we get. There’s a reason why you thought to take your life. That’s because the enemy doesn’t want you to get to that destination, “Let’s cut short and leave this earth.”

Now, I’m like, “That’s why.” I swallowed sixteen pills and I woke up the next day alive. I’m like, “How did that happen?” God is like, “It’s not your turn. It’s not your time yet.” Years forward, I’m like, “If I did not survive that, I wouldn’t have been doing any of these things right now and being able to help others. It’s not about me. It’s about being able to multiply and replicate everything to be able to be a blessing to others.” God is like, “It’s never about you. It’s about how many people you can impact or you can touch.” I was being selfish when I decided to take my life. When God is like, “You are the catalyst to be able to help others. You’re destroying every other life there.” I was like, “Okay, Lord, no pressure.” I believe if it’s God’s will, He will. It is God’s will for you to live that He will assure ways for you to keep going and why you need to keep going.

You mentioned being seen and heard as we are, as being one of the core missing pieces, at least culturally, where you grew up. Now that you’ve lived in America for a little while and have had some space from the culture you grew up in, what other things do you see as obstacles or challenges that are presented in that culture?

Are you asking if I’m still facing something a little bit of that with my parents even now?

Even how you think about culture in general, meaning the culture in Kuwait or as an Indian, what the culture is that you experienced and the challenges that are from culture. As you mentioned a couple of times now, a lot of things are the way they are. That’s true here in America too. I’m curious what other things you see as challenges for people that grow up in Indian culture, or in India or Kuwait and face similar challenges that you did.

One thing that I still don’t understand and I don’t have an answer is why do Indians in America don’t like each other. I don’t know why. I’m not talking about people who are in big positions, but I’m talking about people at my level. I am still afraid to open up to a fellow Indian because there’s that thing like, “How could that happen? What about your parents? Are they not wealthy? Are they not from a good background?” These are the questions that you would get. You anticipate that you’ll get these questions and you’re like, “I am not telling them at all.” I thought I was the only one, who had that experience.

I come across a lot of the men in 2020, they were like, “I felt the same thing too.” An American like a white person would say, “I have an Indian friend who said the same thing.” I was like, “This is going on.” I first heard and understood that from my husband who grew up here in the US. He encountered similar things that he would tell me like, “If there’s one advice I could give you when it comes to living in America, keep your distance because it could not work in our favor.” I’ve noticed that and I’ve experienced that. That’s one thing that I’ve wished that we would stop. We would all join forces and be a strong community. There are communities, I see that but I also see the fakeness through it. I feel like it’s there because everyone has a community now. There are only a few handful of people that I can see who are genuine about helping. Other than that, I feel like everyone has a hidden agenda. This is my serious rant. I get annoyed by this.

If you look at the American culture and living here for the last few years, what would your critique of culture here be? What would be some of the unique challenges that are faced in the culture that America provides?

I have heard and I believe that America doesn’t have a culture. Even though I have many complaints about my culture, I also cherish and I respect my culture and traditions a lot. I feel like that makes me who I am. There are many things that I could have copied from what I’m seeing in this land. Especially in Los Angeles, it’s the capital of trends, traditions and customs. There are many things that when I watch the same thing, when it repeats seven times, it becomes you. It’s consumer behavior as well. I feel I’m almost buying into and I accept it.

It’s a wakeup call like, “What are you doing? This is not what I called you to do. This is not what you’re here for.” I was like, “I see that trend.” When it comes to those things, it is scary. Shifting my accent to be accepted and to be seen. I’m like, “I’ll change my accent for you guys. Can you please accept me for who I am?” Besides that, I’m very cautious, intentional and careful when it comes to seeing anything out there and be like, “Should I adopt that lifestyle? No, I shouldn’t.” I adopted the macho lifestyle for sure and the healthy eating. That’s something that we were not well taught when it comes to that. Other than that, I am careful.

[bctt tweet=”No one was born ready to do anything they are doing in life right now.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

You make a great point in that there is a strong heritage and tradition that is present with the Indian culture and your background. Whereas in America, there isn’t necessarily one unifying strong heritage or cultural foundation. On the other end though, there are a million things to pursue on that. In the American culture, there are a million ideals to pursue that you can get so lost by pursuing those that you don’t have any identity in yourself. It’s this tension between the two extremes, and the middle is where we want to be almost.

Because my mom and dad were from two different states of India, that means two different cultures, food style, lifestyle choices, clothing and language especially. Everything is different. When it comes to that traditional culture, there are two sides now. My husband comes into the picture. We’re from two different places now because he’s from where my mom is and I have likened to where my dad is. He comes into my family. He’s like, “You guys are talking two different languages at the same time. I’m like, “Yeah, this is normal.” When he eats up, he’s like, “It tastes different. This doesn’t taste like how my mom makes.” I’m like, “We have this ingredient that we love adding.”

Where I’m from, I’m Tamil. That’s where Kamala Harris is. She’s Tamilian. I don’t think I know anybody here famous who is from my mom’s side, that is a Malayali. My husband is that. I’m proud of having two cultures. In India, people have that impression that, “You’re an Indian so that means you speak Hindi.” Yes, I do. I can’t have a proper conversation, but I know three other languages from the South of India, which is not talked about. That’s another thing I’m like, “No, we are not all the same. We are different.”

There are so much to culture. Having cultural diversity, even in your own family, has a real benefit in making us more flexible and adaptable to a wider range of experiences. We’re understanding empathetically that other people have different experiences and view things differently as much as we do because of our experiences that are never different, which is a beautiful thing. How did you and your husband first meet?

My God gave me a dream, which I don’t tell this to many people, but He gave me a dream and I saw my husband’s face four months before I met him online. I was going through a bad breakup. I was healing. He comes through and he says, “Hi.” I was like, “Hold on. I need to pray about this first. I don’t care what you think of me, but I’m a God believer and I need to pray about this.” We had one mutual friend and he pitched him and he said, “He’s a cuckoo Christian. You might love him.”

I was like, “That’s what I want.” I said, “I want to pray.” I prayed and I got the verse where Prophet Samuel says to Samson regarding Delilah, “Marry her.” That’s the verse that I got. I was like, “He’s the one.” Seven years later, he’s still the one. It was so cool that when you invite God into everything in your life, He tells you and gives you the blueprint, but He doesn’t tell you in advance. It was four months in advance that He showed me the dream. He showed me his skin color and his face. Everything was to the point. I didn’t tell him. That would scare him away. I told him only after months later. We met on Facebook. It was my 4:00 AM and his decent hour of timing. It was an ungodly hour for me. We met each other in person after nine days. That was only one time. The second time of our meeting was for our wedding.

How many months transpired between the first meeting and marriage?

It’s eleven months. We spoke on January 4th. We got married on November 30th. Eleven is God’s number for us.

One of the things I’ve heard you mention before is that there was a lot of difficulty in bringing the two of you together. It’s because maybe God makes it clear, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy and it won’t come without pain or emotional turmoil. Even with families coming from different places or cultures or systems within India, what was that experience like for you guys?

Truth be told, his family still doesn’t talk to me. They haven’t accepted me even now. This caste system within our country. There’s a lot of discrimination. I’m grateful for my parents that they saw past that and they did not take those things into consideration. It’s also because they went through it so they know what it feels like. His family, because they haven’t gone through it, they have this list of things that they wanted in his wife. Here I show up with nothing that they wanted in me. The biggest thing was my color. It’s the same thing that’s happening in our political situation. I’m like, “This happens in India too. Did you know?”

I never got accepted because of my color. He is Pentecost and I am not. They’re like, “We are tight within the Pentecostal community and you’re not now.” I have a finance background and they wanted a doctor or an engineer. I was a disappointment. I still am a disappointment to them. On our wedding day, my husband was the only one who showed up from his side. Amongst all our guests, he was the only one. The rest were all of us. Weddings are easy and affordable back where we come from, not super but it’s not expensive as in America. We had 400 guests. Melween was the only one from his side. It was so sad. He still relives that memory.

When I woke up on my wedding day, my parents or my siblings were not there to get me ready, all this fancy things that we see on TV or amongst your family. My brother got married and he was like, “This is like PTSD for me right now.” It’s sad. We still feel like, “Why is there no change of heart even now? We are living in 2021.” I feel like the reason is because they left in the ‘80s to America from Dubai. They feel like they chose to live still in the mindset and not come out of that. Even though the people around them have changed a lot, they feel like they’re obligated to living to the rules of the society.

UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness

Experiencing Homelessness: Being extremely open creates a sweet space for someone to matter and blossom.


How has that made you and your husband stronger? How has that grown you in your marriage and your family together now?

One thing my husband’s dad challenged was that we were not going to last forever. It’s been a challenge for us then like, “No, we’re going to prove it too that this is God’s will, and that we are going to stay together.” We will only become stronger. His dad has a lot of qualities that I came to know and I learned about through my husband. I was like, “You don’t have any of those things. How come?” He was like, “I saw that. I decided intentionally not to take that on me. I didn’t want to bring that into my next generation.” I’m like, “Thank you for doing that homework because I don’t know how we would have lasted this much.” Here I am learning so much about him.

We take the time to appreciate and teach each other. We go back to our past. We always love doing that. In your past, when you wanted to do this particular thing back then, were you accepted? Were you allowed to do this? The answers would be like, “No, I want to but my parents were never supportive.” Now here we are supporting each other. When we see that, it gives us a reason to love each other more. For example, I found out that he could code. I didn’t know he could code until a few months ago. I’m like, “How come you didn’t do this?” He’s like, “My parents never allowed me to practice singing or hang out with friends or watch TV. I was bored. I didn’t know what else to do so I was coding.” Now, it came in handy. I take that time to praise him. He sits up the whole night and working on more. I was like, “That’s interesting. When you praise them, they want to do more.” That’s one thing that we realized. We appreciate each other a lot.

That is a fascinating journey. I know that in those moments, it feels so hard, but in the end, it does produce a stronger bond and a stronger foundation for the future family, which is beautiful. What you pointed out is something that I’ve been wanting to focus on. I’ve only been married several months now, so I’m still much newer to it. It’s the mindset of, “I want to keep learning and discovering my partner, my wife, as much as possible,” because every day there’s an opportunity to learn something new. A human is infinitely complex. We can spend our whole life learning our partner and discovering new things about them. I want to have that mindset. Even hearing you reminds me of that. I want to keep that front of mind because there’s so much that we don’t know. We get into the rhythms, habits and routines.

It’s fascinating when you take a second to ask them like, “Why do you like that thing that you do?” I love creating lists and habits, time blocking and everything, but I struggled with keeping up with it. Here’s my husband paying attention to that. He’s like, “Have you noticed that you never stick through that? Monday and Tuesday are great for you but after that, you falter.” I’m like, “I know that, but I didn’t realize that you saw that.” He’s like, “Let’s work on that. Let me see how I can help you.” We have a power session where we talk to each other. He’s like, “How was it back then with your family? Were you doing this then?” It’s like a therapy session at home. My mind is more open right now. He’s giving me that space to open up and tell him everything, and not hide anything away from him. That’s the biggest advice I would give when it comes to new marriages. Be extremely open and also for the other person to be receptive and not be judgmental. That creates a very sweet and safe space for marriages to blossom.

[bctt tweet=”Money should not be an obstacle in business. It should be a challenge and motivation.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

One of the things that also was used to describe you is optimism and being an optimist. One of the questions that was posed that they’d love to hear on is, how does someone or how do you stay focused and positive even when you find yourself at rock bottom? How do you find positivity or optimism when you’re at the valley low or at a place that doesn’t feel positive in any way?

My husband and I were feeling that before the start of 2021. We were like, “We are almost ready to run out of our savings. We don’t have jobs yet. The job situation doesn’t look so great.” Even though we started a new business, we’re still new. We still need finances to make it run. What do we do? I started panicking and getting anxious. I couldn’t sleep. It was like a slap on my face. God is like, “Remember the two years, you had absolutely nothing. I’ve taught you how to trust me, how to rely on me, and I’m the provider. You are doubting that I can provide the next meal for you, the next dollar for you?”

I always think of the recent thing that God did for me, that I thought was impossible. He comes through the door and does it. I’m like, “I couldn’t have done that thing. I’m never qualified. He came and told me that, “No, you qualify now because I qualified you.” Reminders like that where they say, “Past is past.” I feel like past is a lesson that we learned from. You should go back to your past that taught you something. For me, that is how God came through during those two years when we had nobody to get support from and to rely on.

I’m telling myself now, “Why should I be afraid right now when I’ve overcome such a great obstacle?” Staying positive, the second you think negative and say, “I’m not good enough. I’m not qualified to do this very thing.” Once you say that, I feel like my whole day revolves around that I am not. It’s always the I am not. It’s never I am. I did this 30-day challenge where I’m like, “I am good enough. If I don’t know this or I’m not good at this, it’s okay. I’m going to learn to be good at this. What can I do now? What are the small steps that I can take right now?”

Once I changed that and then telling myself like, “No one was born ready to do anything that they’re doing the life right now. Everyone started at the lowest of low points. We are seeing everybody at the end of it. How about we see from the beginning of it? What if you get to the end of your journey and then someone else sees you and they also think the same thing, “She got it all figured out.” I’m like, “No, if you came with me 15 or 20 years ago, you would have seen that I started exactly where you are, but I keep showing up and keep going,” and always knowing that. I have a notebook of maybe 50, 60 things to do. Let’s say I’m like, “I haven’t been able to get to that success.” I look at this list and I’m like, “I have 60 things that I still haven’t done. What am I complaining about? Why am I whining that I haven’t made it yet when I still have these 60 things to finish?” Until you finish everything, which will take a lifetime because that list keeps growing of things to do. Until then, just never give up.

You said no one was born ready. That’s a good point. No one is born ready for what is in front of us. The only way we are ready is by doing it. That comparison of I am not versus I am is such a powerful tool and resource to use. Another powerful tool and resource to use is something that you are working on now as well, which is Affirmation Darling. I love to hear the origin of where Affirmation Darling comes from. Maybe even where the name itself comes from.

The name was anointed. I wanted to be creative and I wanted to make sure that it was stationery related. I noticed that there were a lot of products coming out with stationery, but something that I wanted to cater to was the mental wellness side of it. I love stationery. I love books, notebooks, notepads and everything. When we were homeless, my favorite go-to hideout place was Barnes & Noble. I would sit there and read books after books for free. They have this little couch and you can sit there and read. I would buy stationery to write in it. I realized later that it helped me when I write or when I take notes in general. It’s my thing that I love stationery. Everyone has something that they like collecting. My collectible was stationery. That’s a privilege for a lot of people.

You’re blessed if you’re educated and you can write. There are people who are not. Where I come from, there are people who still can’t read and write. I want to be able to create that resource for that when it comes to bringing the stationery into the big picture. I wanted to create a brand of stationery and then I realized that it’s not just stationery, but I still want to create that flagship product that could help people. I saw these cards like version of affirmation cards elsewhere. I was like, “I wish they had this for acting. I wish they had this stuff that could help me when I was homeless. Why don’t they have that?”

God was like, “Why don’t you make one?” I went back to my journal. I had 300 notes of entries. I went through each and everyone. I was like, “There are a lot of positive talking and thinking here. That’s how we got out of homelessness. That’s how we stayed mentally strong.” I had these little actions where I would write, “Now I’m going to do this so that I can feel that.” I noticed that there was a pattern in my writing. I pulled out all the actions that I made it into these 21 cards. People do it in book format. I was like, “No, I want to have cards.” When you’re in your car, you want to have it in your pocket. “I don’t want a digital version. I couldn’t pay my phone bill. What if I can access it? I want it in my hand.” I created this pocket-sized card. I created it durable because when you’re in a car, you can go through phases of destruction. It’s made of PVC, recyclable plastic. It’s durable. It will go with you everywhere. You can take it to the shower too. I created that. Mine is affirmactions. It’s affirmations on one side and actions on the other.

That was another thing that I asked myself and I created the product. There are many people doing affirmations. I see a lot of affirmations, but they’re not helping me because they don’t have the actions to help you get to that mental headspace. I recall seeing this affirmation, “I’m happy right here, right now.” I was like, “I’m not happy living in my car right now, but how can I be happier living in my car right now?” I would write these actions like, “How to think that way, how to get there, how to make the car life work for us.” That’s when I realized that it was my perspective, the way I looked at things, how I changed the way I looked at it, and writing those actions. It is not your typical affirmation card. It’s more like a pocket-sized life guide, life coach or mentor that will help you stick to your goals, help you in pursuing your creative passions and pursue it. It’s for artists and creatives. It’s not just positive thinking. It’s also steps to keep thinking positive and get to your goal.

That’s such an important point too that it’s not the affirmations that produce the mental headspace, at least over time. It’s the actions that create it and back up that affirmation. It’s putting in the work to back that up. One of my favorite quotes on that is, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.” I thought that was a good way to put it. You mentioned that a lot of the origin of this came for the two target markets of acting and people experiencing homelessness. That also from what I know is what you formed your business model around as well. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your heart in that or what you hope for in that. With that, what are some of the unique challenges you face now as you’ve gone on this entrepreneurial endeavor?

When I did this business, I knew that it was not just to create a product to serve a customer’s needs. It’s for creating that give back aspect of it, to be able to give back to the people in need. First I was like, “I need to give it to people of my age,” but then I thought to myself, “People of our age are stronger than we think. All we need to do is have a shift in our mindset, and then we can overcome anything.” When it comes to young adults or who are stepping from their teens to young adult face, especially homeless and orphans, they don’t have the resources. They don’t have the people.

When I say resources, there are nonprofit organizations. They house them and they shelter them. Internally, that’s not enough. You need that other support where you say, “This is not the end of it all,” because you don’t have anything right now. When we were in the car, the first thing was like, “Our dreams are shattered. There’s no point in going forward. Nothing is going to happen.” This is where my cards are.” I want it to serve as a reminder that you don’t have permission to not dream. You have to dream. You have to continue dreaming. Here’s how you can continue dreaming, put these actions and deploy them. That’s one thing that I want to tap into this age group of kids because that’s the age group that they feel they’re lost.

I know that when I was a teenager stepping into my adulthood, as a young adult, I was lost. I feel like my parents were not understanding what I wanted. Let alone now these kids who don’t have parents, who they don’t even know who to talk to. It’s the next generation. I feel like when God gives us or restores everything back, and that means we have to give it back. How can we bless the next generation? How can we be a catalyst for something new that God is about to do in their life? I feel like I’m still not doing enough, “Give me the strength, give me the wisdom or what else can I keep doing?” God is like, “One thing at a time. Let’s master this one thing and then we’ll move onto the next one.” That’s why I wanted to reach and tap the young adults, the youth and the sex traffic victims. They’re all people who are at the moment alone. They’re scared to open up. Whatever I’ve gone through is nothing compared to what these kids have gone through. At this age as a strong person, how can I help them to be strong?

UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness

Experiencing Homelessness: Life is always blowing up with things to do, so never ever give up.


In speaking to mastering the craft and what you’re pursuing in entrepreneurship now, and being a small business owner, what have you found to be different than you expected in that reality? What has surprised you about entrepreneurship or owning or running a small business? With that, what do you think most people’s misperceptions are of that process?

Misperception is that you need money to start the business, which is true to some point, but I also feel like if you have a dream, you will do anything and everything to make that come into fruition. We started with $3,000. That’s it. We were like, “We need money. We have this dream. What do we do?” I was walking through the aisle of Barnes & Noble and I saw this book on crowdfunding. I was like, “What is crowdfunding?” I didn’t have anyone telling me or suggesting, “Have you done crowdfunding?” I discovered on my own, but there was this thought that I put it out there to God. I was like, “Lord, we need money. Can you come up with some plan?”

God shows me that and I was like, “Interesting.” We did a crowdfunding and we raised close to $6,000 or $5,000. We were like, “That’s now extra money. Now we can add on to that.” That’s how we were able to start the business. If you’re starting at nothing and if you can tell your why to people, you don’t need to have a mega, fancy story or anything, telling your why, showing up as yourself and expressing why you want to do what you want to do. If you can have people be on your side for that, you can raise every dollar that you need to start that business. If you can’t put your money into that, have people build your dream for you and do a crowdfunding.

That’s one thing that I suggested a couple of other people and they did it too. They are people who have been in the business already, but they were like, “I don’t have the money. I’ve been in the business for a while.” I’m like, “Just do it, raise the funds,” and they raised it. That shouldn’t be an obstacle. I don’t think money should be an obstacle. It should be a challenge. It should be a motivation. The other thing that I learned that I did not expect I would receive it in my business is people accepting the story. I was afraid that I would be shunned or that I would be looked down upon because I brought my story out into the world, but here’s everyone saying that, “I have something similar that I’m going through and your story is not similar, but it helped me.”

That’s all I want to hear. If that simple me expressing my story can help someone, that’s all that mattered. I feel like that is my driving force. Everybody has a story that I firmly believe. You are a story yourself and you create it. You have more stories unfolding in your life. You are a book. You have to accept that you have stories to tell and finding what that story is, and then putting it out there. All the people can be blessed with that. You will get accepted. We need to stop being afraid of, “What will they think? What will they say if I say this?” No time for that.

If you look at your business right now, what is the problem you’re trying to solve or the obstacle you’re working on overcoming within the business as it stands now?

It’s brand exposure, brand awareness. I’m still working on it and looking into it like, “How can I market this?” I get these ideas in the shower, which is my quiet time with God. God is like, “Have you done this?” I’d say, “I didn’t do that.” He’s like, “What are you complaining about?” God was like, “Look into ads.” I was like, “I don’t have the money for that.” It was a limited mindset, a poverty mindset. I told him, I said, “I’m going to stop saying that I don’t have money. God will provide.” There were instances where we said like, “Lord, I don’t have the money. I’m letting you know that I had the money.” I would do that and God shows up the next day with that amount and something more. God was like, “Do it. I brought the dream, I put this in you. Do it and trust me.” Brand awareness, I am working on that right now. I’m working on getting ads and putting out ads out there.

Social media, they say post regularly. I’ve heard that more than seven times and now it’s stuck with me. I’ve made a plan now every day what I need to post. Sundays, we’d go out and shoot content. We post every day. We started this. I’m hoping that I will stick to my guns and I will post every day. I did that for a couple of days and I saw a very different drastic traction to my profile. I was like, “I have to keep doing this.” I’m hoping that’ll bring some brand awareness as well.

It’s a constant process of learning, growing and integrating too. That’s the fascinating thing. The fun journey of an entrepreneur is finding a way to figure it out one step at a time. It’s a beautiful process. One of the things that you and your husband’s background is in acting, and that’s something that you’re still pursuing as well. Do you see yourself more as an actor or as an entrepreneur, and how do they complement each other? How do they help you in the other field? How does being an entrepreneur help you as an actor and vice versa?

Acting is always going to be my primary passion. That’s the reason why I moved out to LA and that’s what God spoke to us. In simple terms, He said, “Hollywood is your ministry.” Nothing is going to ever take me away from that passion. The entrepreneurship, when we were homeless, we got a job at a company that employs people transitioning out of homelessness. When he and I were working there, there’s this thing in my head like, “I want to replicate this.” There’s the president of the company saying when kids come for tours to the store, they tell the story of who we are. They’re like, “We want everybody to copy our business model.” I’m like, “That’s what I wanted to do.” When I started in 2020, I wrote it in my vision board for 2020 that I wanted to start a give back jewelry line in 2020. It’s fascinating that several months later, I started a buy one, give one brand but in stationery. That is something that I love the most.

Once I knew that nothing else is going to take my focus from acting, then God puts this journey in the middle and be like, “Go through this car life.” I was like, “Okay.” Through that, I feel like God was preparing us, even for the person that we are becoming. Let’s say that when I become an actor, there are many actors that we were seeing on TV. We’ll see their backstory. They’re not the people who they are on TV. I’m like, “I don’t want to be that.” I want to be able to have people say like, “She’s different. There’s something different about her.” That is me creating an opportunity to be like, “That’s not me. That’s God.” I don’t think I would have learned how to do that if I hadn’t gone through the car.

Always think others before yourself and it started with me thinking all for my husband before myself. I used to be selfish a lot. I would think and it was always me. It’s my problems, my issues. I was like, “What about my husband?” That taught us to be like, “What about that person, this person?” It was like a hierarchy. I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I started the business in 2020, but we’re still getting a lot of auditions. I feel like because I started this business and we were able to tell our story, I wanted to be seen. I felt like that has been coming to life a lot. A lot of people now know us and it’s a blessing. I will never take that for granted because here we were thinking, “Nobody even knows we exist. What is the point of this existence?” Now, they know us. They heard about us. They want to talk to us. I’m like, “God, this is all you. This is completely you. This is not us. We are not qualified for any of this.”

That’s when God is like, “I told you, trust me. I know you don’t get it when you’re going through it, but trust me. At the end, you’ll know why.” Because of that, when it comes to meeting or casting directors or doing auditions, there are many opportunities that have come through where we are able to tell our story and that gives a means for us to connect with them. I don’t know how parallel it is going, but every time an opportunity comes up, this is common in our business, it is being useful for acting. Acting is useful for our business. Only when it happens, that’s when we realized, “Now we see why we are doing both the things at the same time.”

It does create a broader skillset that can be better applied to. There’s a lot of value in it. Even though, it may not seem valuable up front or when you’re first starting out in it. There’s so much more we could talk about, Riji, but we do need to be winding it down. Faith plays a huge role in your life and I’d love to hear what you’re learning about God most right now in this season of life. What is He teaching you about Himself?

About being present with him because every time I sit down for my quiet time with God, my mind is traveling 100 miles per hour, if not more. I had experienced that conversation with God, and I was like, “Lord, I cannot stop my mind going into this. I’m always thinking what to do, what not to do and all that stuff. Let me know. Tell me.” I have this little stress ball that I have and I’ve been holding. I was like, “God, I don’t know what to do. How can I partner with you? Here’s me showing up that I have this problem that I want to work with you and I want more of your presence in my life.”

I opened the Bible and the verse says, “Partner with me.” The verse that had partnership with Jesus. I was like, “You did hear my prayer.” That builds up your faith too, and it’s so cool to test God in that manner, asking him for what you want. You open the Bible and you get words that answers your question. That’s something God is like, “I show up every morning and I will tell you what to do next.” That’s the biggest thing I haven’t written on my wall is I feel like in 2021, God said, “Get uncomfortable with me. With everything you do, don’t think that this is going to be easy for you. Regardless, know that the victory is already mine and yours, wear the battle armor, and get ready for battle.” That is one thing, get uncomfortable with me. The other thing is asking every day, “What are your priorities for me, Lord?” It’s putting God first.

When you think about the future and what is in front of you, what do you see the ten-year vision of what may transpire for you and your husband in the work ahead, or what are the hopes and aspirations of with that?

When it comes to acting, you can’t say. We have dreams of being on TV shows or movies, but then God is like, “I brought you into that field because I wanted you to do something else.” Even though I have these man-made visions and dreams for the next ten years, and I have noticed that it never goes my way because God comes and disrupts it. He’s the official disruptor of our plans. What I see and what I’m praying for is more opportunities to showcase God. It’s all for His glory and it’s Him that I want to make famous and it’s not me. Whatever it is, I know that God will prepare my heart for it. My ten-year vision is to have my faith the same and more. Whatever that I come across or whoever I meet that say that, “It’s her faith that got her where she is.” That’s all I want in life. If you ask what’s my strict goal, it’s to be a successful entrepreneur and be able to partner with more nonprofit organizations, have foundations of my own, be able to say, “I have been a blessing to more than thousands, if not more, giving scholarships.” Those are the dreams that I have, having scholarship programs and cohort programs and all that. Let’s see where that goes.

UAC 181 | Experiencing Homelessness

Experiencing Homelessness: People are usually stronger than they think. All they need is a simple change in mindset to overcome anything.


I like how you phrase that God is a disruptor of our plans. It’s to remind us. The Psalm says that man sets his plans, but God directs his path, and that’s so true. We need those reminders and that’s probably most of the reason why that’s the case. He wants to remind us of that reality. Just a few one-offs here that can be as short or as long as you like, but a handful of these and we’ll wrap up. What can you not imagine living without?

Without my glasses, I can’t.

Are they for look or are they to see?

They’re minus six. I had this conversation that if there’s one thing that I’m afraid of if there’s an apocalypse is that me losing my glasses.

I wear contacts, but they’re about the same. I’m completely blind without that. If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach on and why?

How to start a small business with limited resources.

What question do you ask yourself the most?

What are my priorities that can bring attention to God?

If you could study one person for an entire year, who would that be and why?

Jesus, I don’t have to say that. It’s Jesus. It’s the Bible. That’s my favorite book. All characters in the Bible. You can tell me no one’s name that I need to learn from, because all the interesting characters are on the Bible and they’re all my favorites. They all have dark past and broken history, and I’m like, “Me too.”

The final question that we ask every guest that comes on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every Up and Comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short message they receive from you every morning on their phones?

You can. My two words that you can add to anything. You can do hard things. You can overcome. You can beat this problem that you’re in. You can. It’s not, you can’t. It’s you can, so add on whatever you want to that.

Riji, thank you so much for this time and sharing your story. It’s inspirational. I know it’s beneficial to all of us. Where is a good place if people want to reach out, find out more about your work or even check out affirmaction and Affirmation Darling? Where’s a good place to find you or say hello?

I am active on Instagram. It’s @AffirmationDarling. It’s the same everywhere, on my website. If you want to connect with me personally, which I would love to, that’s @RijiRaja and that’s my personal Instagram.

Riji Raja, thank you so much for coming on and sharing. This has been awesome.

Thank you so much.

For all you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

Following up with one last thing to note, if you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that’d be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Just go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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About Riji Raja

UAC 181 | Experiencing HomelessnessRiji is a third culture kid, Indian, born and raised in Kuwait. She and her husband moved to LA for acting in 2016 but with the high cost of living in Southern California, their living situation quickly fell apart, forcing them to live in their car for two years.

After transitioning out of homelessness, Riji had always wanted to use her story to make an impact. She and her husband realized that they could use their backgrounds in retail and finance to make a difference for the underserved and disadvantaged young adults facing homelessness and mental health issues. In 2020, after they were laid off due to Covid, Riji founded Affirmation Darling, a social impact mental wellness brand built on powerful affirmations. They advocate for young adults from underserved & disadvantaged communities facing homelessness & mental health issues.

Riji and her husband, Melween along with their Yorkie currently live in Los Angeles, CA.

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UAC 180 | 2020 Reflections


What has 2020 taught you? We’ve all had such a challenging year that it bears upon us to reflect on what we have witnessed and experienced so that we may come up in the new year in better form. In this fellowship episode, Thane Marcus Ringler shares the seat with his good friend and partner, Adam Setser. Together, they discuss a host of topics that stood out in their conscious minds in 2020, including: why we need obstacles in our life, the importance of eating humble pie, being motivated by love, pursuing excellence, middle leadership, servant leadership, and being motivated by love. Hopefully you will find gems of thought that will inspire you for the rest of this new year.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”180: Fellowship Ft. Adam Setser: On The Importance Of Obstacles, Eating Humble Pie, The Art Of Leading From The Middle, Servant Leadership, And Being Motivated By Love”]

180: Fellowship Ft. Adam Setser: On The Importance Of Obstacles, Eating Humble Pie, The Art Of Leading From The Middle, Servant Leadership, And Being Motivated By Love

This is a show all about the process of becoming. Hopefully, we’re all in that process throughout our entire lives as we are learning, growing, living, and becoming more and more each day. That is what this show hopes to engender in you, in me, and in us as we travel forward. Thank you for being a fellow Up and Comer on the journey. Our mantra is living with intention in the tension because life has many tensions that we face daily. We believe the best way to face those is by infusing intention into all that we do. Intentionality is the reason why behind what we do. Thanks for being here and tuning in. A snapshot of our show, we interview other Up and Comers through long-form interviews or nonchronological fun wide-ranging interviews. We also do fellowship episodes, which this episode is one of those, a peer-to-peer conversation, talking about relevant subjects to our lives. Finally, there are shorter episodes that I share some of the things that I’m stewing on. Thanks for being a part of this movement and community. If you want to help us out, that would be a great gift and blessing to us in this new year.

Some easy ways, first financially, you can support us through Patreon. That’s a great place to put a monthly donation to help us cover the expenses of putting the show on. It doesn’t happen for free. It doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of effort and it takes money. We’d appreciate you contributing on Patreon and donating there. If you want to support us by spreading the word, take a screenshot of this episode or one that you enjoyed, share it on the socials, tag us @UpAndComersShow on any social platform pretty much or text it to a few friends. Word of mouth is a great way to spread what our show and our community is all about. Finally, a great way to help us out and get seen by more people is by leaving us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. You can also do that through Podchaser. Wherever you listen to this, try to leave a rating and review. Apple Podcasts is a great place so that we can be discovered and seen by more people that are curious about what being an Up and Comer is all about. That is it for housekeeping.

I’m excited for this episode. It is a fellowship episode with a good friend, a brother of mine and a partner in many ways, Adam Setser. He was the Cofounder for this show and my cohost for at least a year or two before phasing out. It’s always a gem to talk to Adam. Who is Adam? Adam was raised in Georgia in Lowndes County and won the state championship in piano performance his senior year of high school. He plays third in the State of Florida for junior cyclists in the individual time trial. He did his undergraduate studies on the West Coast, receiving his BA in Biblical Studies in 2013 for The Master’s University in Los Angeles, and is working on his MA in Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He began his career with The Kerrigan Group as a marketing intern in the spring of 2016. A few months later, he joined the team full-time and by January of 2017, he became fully licensed as a Financial Advisor. He’s an active member of The Rotary Club of Valdosta, the Chamber of Commerce, and is on staff at First Baptist Church Valdosta as a Collegiate Minister. He is an alumnus of Leadership Lowndes and a weekly columnist for the Valdosta Daily Times Business section, which is cross-published on The Kerrigan Group’s blog. His passion in his work is to partner with clients to promote the financial flourishing of the families and communities the Kerrigan Group serves.

Adam married his wife, Faith, in June of 2018. In his downtime, he enjoys traveling with Faith, riding their motorcycles, working on their 1940s home, reading, writing, golfing, hunting, and playing the piano in which he still performs classical piano concerts occasionally. One of the biggest passions of his right now is RV-ing and camping, which you will read about in this episode. If you’ve heard him before, he is full of passion and insight and lives life well. I love getting to sit down with him anytime I get the chance to do that. I know that you’re going to enjoy this conversation. We cover a lot of relevant topics including reflections on what 2020 taught us, becoming a parent as they are imparting on that process, why we need obstacles in our life, the importance of eating humble pie, being motivated by love, pursuing excellence, middle leadership and what that entails, RV-ing and so much more. I know you’re going to enjoy it. Please sit back and enjoy this fellowship conversation with Adam Setser.

Adam Setser, welcome back to the show.

Thane, thanks for having me.

I want to start maybe with the future, talking about what’s ahead. I know that’s on a lot of people’s minds. I love this idea of closing the year well, starting the year well, giving that space to think back on what happened and look ahead. As you’ve gone through this process, what has your process been for ending the year well and starting the next year well? Take us through a little bit of what that process has been like for you.

[bctt tweet=”We create our own obstacles.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

There’s so much that’s happened. I’ve been married for a few years now. I’ve learned to give myself space and time to recover from things. Here’s the thing. All of humans have a ton of ambition, passion and potential. We tell ourselves we don’t because we’re afraid of it. We don’t know how to explain it. We curb that potential with overeating or with a hobby that’s too much of a hobby. We use all these things to rein ourselves in. If we can open ourselves up, it would be incredible. One thing I’m learning is to stop putting things in my way and that we create our own obstacles.

You have talked about that in the past a lot. 2020 was the year of analyzing obstacles and being like, “Is that an obstacle or not?” Instead of going to bed frustrated, tense, worried or weird, dig into it, figure it out, clean it out, and then go to bed, even if it doesn’t fit your box of timing or whatever. I’ve learned that time doesn’t stop. It will keep compounding. There are things that happen that we’ll talk about. There are things that have happened in my life that have amplified that.

For the first time in my life, the question for 2021 is, “How can I bear everyone’s burdens and not miss a beat?” Whereas in the past it’s been, “How can I be happiest? How can I make the most income to get stable?” There are other things on your mind, but I’m going to jump in and say it, “We’re pregnant.” I’ve talked about it a little bit, but that’s one of my reflections that goes along with my New Year is the chapters of life change. This annual cycle is so healthy, but this one is different because of the baby and that significant change. It could be anything but that’s what for us has been significant. It’s that realization that I’m about to be responsible for human life.

I want to come back to a bunch of what you said there, but let’s start with that. Take me back to the moment when you first learned that you guys were pregnant.

The first moment I was in bed, because Faith gets up about 30 minutes before I do. She’s got a longer process in the morning. She was showering, doing her thing. The next thing you know, she’s waking me up extremely sweet. I’m like, “What’s gotten into her?” She’s rubbing my arm and then I’m like, “What’s going on?” She’s smiling, beaming and says, “Guess what?” I almost was about to say, “You’re pregnant,” because it was so random.

She held up her pregnancy test and said, “You’re going to be a dad.” We shed tears and we were hugging. It’s 6:45 in the morning. It was a positive pregnancy test. I’m thinking this is good, but we don’t have an ultrasound yet. Let’s not get carried away. My immediate thought and the next words that come out of my mouth were, “Let’s pray and give the baby back to God.” When you go through things in your life that are very difficult and you’re a believer, you associate difficulty with God. You say, “I know that you love me, but I also know that you will hurt me for good.”

This time may be different because, what if it hurts someone else too? I’ve been hurt. What if I’m causing something now that will hurt my wife and my baby? Part of our religion is sacrifice. We offer our bodies as sacrifices every day of worship. We sacrifice our desires for Christ, putting on Him, putting off ourselves. We die to ourselves, sacrificing ourselves. It’s part of our lingo. This is my first thought. I said, “Let’s give the baby to God.” We prayed, cried and gave the baby to God. After we got done, I said, “Nothing is going to happen to us now that’s going to surprise us. We’re ready for anything.”

That was a deep moment, but it was very special. Faith has recounted that story. I didn’t think anything of it. It was natural. I was broken, “God, please, this is what we need you to know. Our heart is yours, the baby is yours. Don’t let us forget that.” Whereas Faith saw it like, “I need to think about that.” She was impacted. When I heard her tell that story to one of our good friends, I was impacted and I missed the whole impact of it. I was doing the work. Looking back, I started to cry because I’m like, “This is profound.” That was the first reaction. The second reaction was, “We need to get a bigger camper.”

I’m not surprised at all with the second reaction. That’s par for the course.

UAC 180 | 2020 Reflections


You should also not be surprised if you were to walk out of my driveway now.

What is it? I don’t even know.

It’s a 33-foot travel trailer. It’s about 4 feet longer than the last one. It’s about 3,000 pounds heavier.

This is a side trail, but I have to go down it. You started with the long trailer. You downsize to the deluxe, renovated two-seater, that was mini. Now you’re back to big, bad and not wanting to be messed with. What’s this move been like?

You told the narrative perfectly. We started this journey as we want the freedom to get away, enjoy nature, travel and be family-oriented. We’re not like jumping into clubs downtown and stuff. We’re out in nature and a great time, wholesome family. A little bit in, but the big camper was 29-feet long and only for two people. Only two people could sleep in it and it seemed excessive. We were like, “If it’s a two-seater, let’s get a tiny one,” because we spent all our time outside. The progression was we camp to be outside to be renewed. Why should we have this huge rig, terrible gas mileage and all this that goes with it? We sold it and felt great.

We got the tiny one, worked on it. Through COVID, I was able to work on it and we used it a lot bugging out. It’s a great little bug out box, put your stuff in there and go. I even built bunks in it and had my sister-in-law sleep with us one night. The three of us in this tiny box, 6X8 foot. It’s like a teardrop camper but off-road, for those of you who haven’t seen it. It was great, but there’s no potty, which is a problem. There’s nowhere to stand up. You can even get on your knees hardly. We took it down to the keys and it rained on us almost the whole time.

It was great. We found a way to sit inside of it like hunker down a little bit. I had this realization that was like, “Limitation is great. Outdoors is great, but you still need a potty.” I always knew it was coming back. I was waiting on the day that I could have both. That’s what happened. The day came where we were pregnant and I said, “Now is the time to start looking.” Within a month I’d found a great deal and got it. My takeaway is the tiny camper is great for camping when you want to be in the woods, feel connected and have a great time. It’s like in a tent, but you can lock the door. You can temperature control it. It’s a little extra nice.

The big camper is great when you’re trying to have a longer trip. You want to go to Utah. You want to go to the beach for a week. You want to have a vacation, but you don’t want to be in a hotel or you don’t want to go through a town. You want to go around the town. That’s great. That’s the RV lifestyle, but we didn’t know we were our RVers. We thought we were campers only. After time goes by, you realize we would do both. What’s interesting is I have less money in both campers than I did the one I started with. My advice there is do your research, talk to me, because there’s a lot of money to be saved in RVs.

The RV advisor, that might be a new job title for you. I could see it.

[bctt tweet=”Progress is through honesty and humility.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I have a lot of clients who are interested and I’m able to help them. I’m passionate about it. It’s funny because I’m like, “I’ve been down that road.”

One thing that I can always count on for you is doing the research, geeking out and going down the deep dive into whatever it is. You have always done that well and I love that about you. If we go back to how you described 2020, one of the big things was analyzing obstacles. In looking back, how did you grow in your ability to analyze obstacles and maybe even change your perspective on those obstacles?

The most profound thing I learned in 2020 was how much I need obstacles in my life. We all assume that we are good to go. Obstacles are a problem for us because we’re good to go. We need everybody to get out of our way and we’ll have a great time. The reality is we are broken, fallen, and also very confused. We are self-deluded. The only way to get out of a self-deluded environment where you lie to yourself is to have someone else rub against you constantly.

You’re like, “Maybe I’m wrong.” If I’m not wrong, I’m probably missing something and you are. What I’ve learned is at work, I have learned the art of middle management, middle leadership. You’re not the top dog, but you’re not the tiny dog either. How do you accept ownership of the organization from the middle? That goes along with the same idea that the obstacles in your way, as a leader, are the very means of the goal you want to achieve.

If communication is a problem and an obstacle, because no one seems to communicate, you put her by in a room and shut the door and force it. You do it wisely, but you commit to it and you lead in that. You say, “I’m going to over-communicate because that’s the right thing to do. That’s what we all need to do.” It will slowly start to evolve. After about two months of that, you’ll realize, “Before this trial, this obstacle, I didn’t know how to communicate as well as I do now.” I was incomplete. I’m looking at everybody else saying, “We’re broken. You all are messed up,” and it’s easy to judge them. Looking back after all this, I realized that I needed it.

I feel like it’s so universal too in that until we go through the conflict, the obstacle, or that process with other humans especially, we struggle seeing ourselves subjectively. That’s a human condition. The thing we get most annoyed with and others is present in ourselves. We’re subconsciously annoyed with ourselves about that, but we haven’t maybe even consciously recognized it.

One of the obstacles that we face a lot is about self-limitations. We are eager to give ourself a pacifier or a way out. We cut the legs out from ourself when it doesn’t make sense. If we’re honest with ourself, we would say, “I’m inadequate or I need work in these areas.” That honesty would lead to discomfort and that discomfort may lead to change or it may not. That’s what we’re afraid of. What if we get it all out on the table and I don’t change? I’m still the undercommunicating, lackadaisical, lazy guy or whatever. I’ve admitted it. Everyone knows it. Now I’ve got to change.

Progress is through honesty and humility, but it is painful because you are going to be seen as a hypocrite for six months. I’ve said it. I need to get better at this. You keep not doing bad and people are going to call you out. Your best self is at the end of the road of humility and humble pie. If you’re not eating humble pie on the regular, you’re either not working in a group, you’re a solo guy, and you need to find a way to get some humble pie, or you are in a group and you’ve disconnected yourself and plateauing. My growth is directly related to how much humble pie I eat. It astonishes me because I’m not the one that’s the problem. They’re the problem.

On that, how do you get good at eating humble pie? I’m curious to hear what you think on that. How do you grow to become good at being a humble pie eater?

UAC 180 | 2020 Reflections


Do you mean good in the sense of personal, I don’t have a problem with it anymore like I’m good with it or what do you mean?

How do you grow in your ability to eat humble pie? It’s always going to be uncomfortable, but we can get better at it and more consistent at it.

One solution maybe just discipline yourself to do it. The answer lies in what you love. This always happens. We will not change if we’re not motivated by love, self-love or otherwise. Self-love is the cheapest form. Others love is most powerful and it makes us bigger. It grows our soul. If I love someone else, I will eat humble pie every day because the fruit of that is they’re flourishing. If your friend next to you has a beef with you, the best way to break down the wall and get them to grow and move on is to eat humble pie.

If you see all these flaws in them, the only way they’re ever going to open up is if you tell them your flaws and do it, be very open with it, time and time again. You give them ammo against you. It takes faith to know this is going to work out. Over time, you see the reward cycle and it starts to build to the point of it’s the natural necessary step toward that goal of progress, that goal of becoming a better team or whatever. The person on the team who is hesitant to open up is the one that’s not the team player. I don’t care how much they do for you or anybody else. They’re the ones I’m looking at to work on to say, “We need to have a come to Jesus meeting.” It’s not confrontational. It’s by example. I’m trying to focus on them to show them that.

I’ve been reading Robert Greenleaf’s book, Servant Leadership. It’s a classic. Have you read that?

No, I hadn’t.

I don’t remember who recommended it, but it was ‘70s or ‘80s when it was written. It’s phenomenal so far. I’m only about a third of the way through. The idea of Servant Leadership isn’t that hard to understand, but it’s compelling to follow because it’s that hard to practice. It’s that rare of being practiced. Our default is leadership is this form of pride in a sense that you don’t have weaknesses that are easily seen. People want to follow that, but that’s the complete opposite. You’re willing to lay yourself down for the other and serve the other out of your weakness and your strength. You’re honest and humble about that. It’s generative than in others. That’s the goal. I can generate more of that leadership within other people that receive that out of love like you said.

The term servant leadership is super good, but it’s been overused by prideful people. At the end of the day, servant leadership doesn’t happen when someone’s heart is prideful. You can try and you can make it look that way. I have been led by someone in the past who smells like a duck but was not because his heart wasn’t there. People can tell. People have incredibly sensitive BS detectors. I can tell you, there are more people out there who claim to be servant leaders than there are those who are and never say it about themselves. That’s what leadership is.

Leadership is sneaky. It is subversive. Everyone wants to be seen as a leader. The other way around would be that the leaders among us are the ones that we think are probably not. The ones who are talking about it all the time, they may help lead directionally where we’re going, but they don’t lead values. The guy at the company who leads the values is the guy who loves things more than anybody else and shares that love. The leader is up there telling us where to turn.

[bctt tweet=” We will not change unless we’re motivated by love.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I want to know a little bit more on what you brought up of this experience of leading from the middle and the art of middle leadership. I love this idea and concept. I’m curious to know how your views or thoughts on it have changed from going through the experience of it. I first latched onto the idea or heard it from Jocko Willink’s book, Extreme Ownership, talking about leading up the chain of command, which is a great initial idea plant. I’d love to hear what your experience has taught you about that role.

I read the same thing and was super excited about that. I was like, “I want to figure out how to work this into my life.” It’s an idea. It’s not a reality necessarily from his book. It’s theoretical. Where’s the practical example? I was looking around. What happened to me between reading that book and watching a video of Simon Sinek, between those two things is where I learned it. I watched this video from Simon where he talks about middle leadership, leading from the middle on YouTube. It is good and clear. It is a little more helpful than Jocko but if you hadn’t experienced that, it’s still all theoretical.

What happened to me is two years or so passed between reading that book and watching that video, and in those two years, I have learned hard knocks of what I’m doing. That’s exactly what I was doing. I know I was learning. The learning of it was everything, but my senses were piqued by Jocko and Simon. What I learned is that in any context, an organization is on this planet in order to flourish. It doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to make money, but they’re there to flourish. That’s number one. You’ve got to assume that organization is there to do well. If it’s not, get out. That’s the only way I can put it. The military is there to do well. They’re not trying to do bad, but there are companies out there who want to do bad. They want to do basic bad work, get paid for it and go home.

If that’s where you are, you’ve got to have somebody who’s got some gumption. That’s number one. If you do, let’s say you have an environment that is full of gumption, at least in some level, then you’ve got to find out what they value. You need to be able to list a couple of their top values. What do they value in the world for their life? Is it money, time, flexibility, love, gifts? It’s like love language stuff, but deeper about not just love, but what do they value?

Find out all that for the people that you work with in your little circle, the ones you’re leading and the ones that are leading you. Find out how that connects to work. If one lady values hard work, then at work, what does that look like? What is her explanation of that? It may be that she loves it when you take the trash out, clean the break room, keep your stuff clean. It may be that she wants you to crush it on your task list, and have a paper trail mile long because you’re getting it done. Everybody has their thing. It’s all very unique and super funny at the end of the day.

Why is it that you think that paperwork is more important than calling people or why do you think talking to you is more important than taking the trash out? I’m not saying there aren’t hierarchies, but everybody has their thing. Learn that and then for the people above you, find out what it is that they’re lacking in to make the whole organization better. It typically is going to be communication, leadership, vision, encouragement, those are the top four to me. A lack of vision is huge in almost every company, and a lack of encouragement in that vision to help everyone see where they fit in that. Their leadership is all about giving a pathway, grooming, inspiring, motivating and charging that up. They have marching orders from now to kingdom come and they’re ready to crush it. That’s successful leadership, but that only happens when you motivate them the right way. It’s not just money.

Some people don’t care about bonuses at all. It’s way more touchy-feely. If you’re in the middle, you find the people under you and figure out what it is that they love and you make them your top clients. If the service that I provide, whatever that service is, we’re all in the people business. The people business is all about making them feel loved, cared for, understood and valued. Treat them like your best billion-dollar client. If you treat the people under you that way, then the people above you will see that. When you go to the people above you with a problem or a solution, they’re going to see how you have handled that in your world.

They’re going to want to emulate that to see how successful it was. “Here are my ten people and they’re all doing great. Here’s the problem we had and this is the solution that I brought to the table. This is the response.” It gets back to him. That’s how things change, success on the ground in real-time and space. You took four of the most difficult people and made them all happy with each other on a daily basis, “I love you. Let’s do what you’re doing.” Way too often in my past, it was theoretical because it takes time. It takes years to do that successfully.

Two years let’s say with the same people, it’s not sexy, it’s slow. Once you earn the trust, once you build the trust, to me, middle leadership is all of our calling. We’re all in the middle at some level. We’re all called to crush it with our little circle of influence, and then let the people above us watch that and replicate it. If they want a successful business, they’re going to do it every time. If they don’t want a successful business, get out.

UAC 180 | 2020 Reflections


Organizations are made to flourish. They’re made to serve the people that it affects, and that starts with the people within it serving one another like you’re talking about. I love that breakdown. First, that they’re made to flourish. Second, that they find out what they value both above you and below you. Third, figure out what it looks like in action, and then fourth, ask what they’re lacking or look to see and meet the needs of those above you. It’s fun because while I’m not in a middle leadership position, I experienced this on a level within my marriage of saying, “Marriage is made to flourish, but I have to find out what they value, what they care about, and learn my wife well.”

I have to figure out what it looks like in action. I have to figure out what they’re lacking and what they need, and do that on a daily basis. That was an epiphany for me five months into marriage. I’m an achiever on the Enneagram. I love accomplishing things. Yet I wasn’t taking that mindset to my marriage. I wasn’t saying, “I want to get good at learning my wife well. I want to be able to accomplish, understanding her to the best of my ability.” That shift was a big turning point in the early year stages of marriage of like, “Yeah, that’s my goal. That’s a primary focus for me. How can I do that well?” I like the parallels. I think that can be applied. We’re all middle managers or middle leaders in many avenues of life.

It’s this simple. It’s that we are all selfish people, but what it comes down to is I am going to put you ahead of me. If you do that to people, it will change the world. In marriage, instead of looking at the other person and saying, “What are you going give me?” You look at them and genuinely apply all of your passion, which you bottle up, keep protected, and you exercise it on your little idle, which is what we all do because we’re afraid to let it go.

You get all that passion out and you say, “What if I sent it?” I’m not going to rub your back every now and then, but this is the calling. I’m going to fulfill you in every way that I can just for fun, to see how it goes. I’m going to take my desires what I want for the day and I’ll make you coffee instead. Instead of looking at your coworker, your wife or whatever and saying, “Bring me some coffee.” You say, “Let me bring you some coffee.” That’s what I want. That’s what they want. When you do that stuff, it changes the world because it is random acts of kindness the world would say, but it’s not random. That’s the gel that holds it all together is when you put others before yourself. How often do we do that on a consistent basis? If you did that every day for two years, you’ll fail sometimes but you’re open about it. It will change the world.

That’s helpful what you shared there too because if we can have the expectations that are reasonable for ourselves. Part of that process is we have to expect something that we can attain. We can’t expect ourselves to be these selfless, super loving humans that are always serving others. We have to be realistic and say, “There are going to be times where I’m selfish. There are going to be times when I fall short and I’m not expected to be this superhuman.” Without that, we start getting depressed or despair because we’re never going to reach the aspirations that we have for ourselves in that or that we wish we could. We start using shame and guilt to go down a negative spiral that leads us away from that anyway. There’s such tension in that of saying, “I want to grow in this capacity, but I want to also have reasonable expectations of myself so that when I do fall short, because I will at points, I can love myself in that, pick myself up and not beat myself down.” That’s a tough thing. It’s understated how hard that can be for people, myself included.

It is a weird balancing act tension between forgiving yourself when you fail and yet expecting the moon of yourself. What happens is we don’t like to let ourselves down. We don’t like to feel bad. This is my whole point to start the conversation was we dial back all our ambition and all our dreams to make room for our failure. We say, “Here’s what we could be doing. Here’s all the crazy, energy, fun and life that could be spinning out into the world through us, but we’re going to limit it back here because I failed in the past. I’ll fail again. I don’t want to be caught with my pants down.” You’re putting a bigger concern on yourself and what people perceive of you than your impact in the real world.

For example, I have this theory that we all are like little kids in grown adult bodies that the kid is trapped by all of the things we learn as adults through middle school and high school about people making fun of us and stuff. If we would have gotten rid of all that, the kid inside of us would go crazy. He would ask for way more. He’d do way more. CS Lewis talks about our desires being too little, not too much. I love the movie, Christopher Robin. That’s a great one to watch in this topic. The commerce of life beats him down. He has to remember what it’s like to wonder at the world and not drudge through it.

For example, during COVID, I love to camp. Camping is fun and cool. It’s a good way to get away, recharge and all this. What if camping became the way that I get to challenge myself into uncomfortable places and see what happens? I started to get addicted to this. I camped in a little backpacking tent for one time. I got to a bigger tent and tried that and got a little more comfortable sleep set up. I was like, “It was too comfortable.” I got my wife out there too. We were on family lands, that’s private. We camped with nothing but a tarp over us and then a mosquito net so the bugs wouldn’t get to us. It was like you’re sleeping out in the woods with no protections.

At that point, I worked my way up to it. I was not worried, but it’s way outside of your comfort zone. It’s a challenge. I don’t get paid to do that. Why do I do this? It’s one of the things that If I didn’t do it, a piece of me would die. That piece of me that dies is the piece of me that holds me back from achieving this great ambitious potential that I have. Everybody needs to tarp camp in whatever their thing is. Everybody has this thing and it’s not necessarily tied to money or achievements or materialism. We all have this passionate fire inside that we’ve all quelched. In quelching it, we have died and only about a third of us is left. That third of us we’re asking to leverage for the benefit of others, “Are you serious? I hardly make myself happy. I’ve got this pet sin right here that’s tearing me apart because I’m not fulfilled.” The reason you’re not fulfilled is because you’ve said no to yourself many times in things that don’t matter because you’re afraid of what people would think of you if you did it.

[bctt tweet=”Acts of kindness are what hold the world together.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I’m passionate about this because everybody has about 30% of their potential at work at any one point in time. What if you unleashed the 70% and you didn’t change the job? You didn’t say, “Now you can go and be a millionaire.” You say, “Do the same thing you’re doing now,” like my mailman wave at me every time. My UPS guy is awesome. He has always that personality. You don’t have to do that. You give him a box and go home. He’s always making conversation. He’s living his best life. He’s flourishing. I go back in my house thinking I’m going to flourish too. It’s a big deal if we all did that.

I love that you brought up the inner child within all of us because that is one of the obvious limitations. As children, we are vulnerable and with that comes hurt, trauma and pain. All of us experienced that to greater and lesser extents. The work of adult hardships is to go back, understand, discover, work through, process and move through that journey into what our fullness of potential could be. For myself, I’ve been incredibly blessed with very little baggage or trauma or anything from my childhood that would be extremely lasting and debilitating now.

There are a ton of people that that’s not true, that’s not the case. That work is going back to understand and move through the difficulties or the ways we’ve been hurt, the ways that we’ve hurt ourselves, the ways that we limit ourselves or create these fears. It is a protection mechanism. We protect ourselves from the ways that we failed or we’ve hurt or been hurt by others. Thus, we continue to further that pattern until we reconcile, process and move through. That can be done in a lot of ways, but doing hard things is a part of that.

The professional golf journey was such a journey of self-discovery for me because it was brutal. It entailed so much failure. Your health struggle was a process for you that was immense, deep and furthered a ton of this too. Once you get to that place, to follow back into where we started in the sense that that distinction between what is impossible and what is improbable is important. We need to lean into things that are improbable, but the second we start trying to do something that truly is impossible, that’s when we will be self-defeating because we’ve set too high of a goal or a standard expectation. Improbable will always bring out more good within us because it may be beyond our grasp, but we’re stretching. We’re trying to grab it still.

In what you said, there are a couple of things that stood out to me that I want to hit on. One is that we have the wrong idea about baggage too. I get what you’re saying, but I also think that we have baggage that’s good. For example, my wife grew up in a context of such a loving family that’s supportive, that the opinions that our family had, she was given. She didn’t know why she has them. This is dumb. I don’t want to get too in the weeds on it, but a simple example would be that one of her opinions going into marriage was that the best way to travel is to fly and rent a car or road trip.

When we got married, she said, “I won’t go camping with you. It’s not going to happen.” I was like, “That’s fine. I don’t like camping anyway.” A year later, we bought a camper. She had this bias in her mind because of what her parents had told her that was not bad. It wasn’t baggage, but it was limited. She told herself, “Faith doesn’t like camping,” because of her parents. Imagine that concept times a thousand where your parents or your faith community or whoever your community tells you something and you believe it. You probably believe it at this day. Faith would never have gone camping if it wasn’t for me, an outside force coming in, very persuasively over and over, “Let’s go look at campers.” As we did, she opened herself up to it.

That is life. Life is defined by relationships with people who love you enough and care for you enough to push you, and maybe don’t have an agenda for you, but they’re there pushing you. You’re real with each other. As you do that, you change. A marriage is a great example. You grow into a better version of yourself. I have found that growth process is not one of constricting and becoming more and more detailed. It is one of opening. I thought this was off limits. I thought that was wrong or I thought this was the bad way to do it. As we go through life, we discover these things, especially in your 20s and 30s. What happens is people stagnate. They stop and they assume everything they’ve ever heard is true and that’s it.

That’s more comfortable to do that. We’re creatures of comfort in many ways.

If it’s negative baggage or positive baggage, both are very uncomfortable to deal with because you have to assess it and go what is best.

UAC 180 | 2020 Reflections


That seems like the archetype of the hero’s journey in the sense that you have to go out to gain clarity on yourself, your background, your family, clan or tribe to see it more clearly. That is such a gift now. The ability to go out in many ways is accessible for a large portion of America. We’d be foolish not to take advantage of that. I know I’ve benefited so much from that. I love how you mentioned the process of opening. That’s a great way to describe it because the natural hesitancy or even inner obstacle to that is saying, “I don’t want to open myself up to anything.” I love the quote, “An open mind is not an empty one.” It doesn’t mean you empty your mind of what we know, believe or think. We need to be open to being wrong. That’s the intellectual humility to say, “I may be wrong, but this is how I see it now.” That would free us up in many ways.

It would for sure. That openness is the key to unlocking empathy because if you are closed, you think you’re right, they’re wrong, and then you dehumanize and demonize them. The smartest and best impacts on my life are my close-minded friends and family would judge as weak. It’s amazing to me that the value of close-minded people is strength and holding on, standing strong, a bastion of strength or whatever. Does God ever call us to be strong, hold on, and be pillars of stuff? No. He calls Jesus to do that. We glom onto Him. In doing so, He walks through doors and then He eats fish but doesn’t digest it because He’s not like a real human, but He is. He floats up into the sky. He does things that blow our paradigm way out of the water. If that means you have to be weak to accept it, then sign me up. That’s not true.

To finish that concept about personal growth and your journey, we all have a journey for sure. My favorite biblical story about this that helped me a lot and continues to help me is the story of Jacob in Genesis. If you read Genesis, it slows way down with Abraham. It focuses on Abraham. Abraham’s life is one big journey of faith. He leaves home by faith. He enters the promised land by faith. God gives him a covenant 1, 2, 3 times over the course of 25 years, promising him a son. That’s what it all boils down to. He gives it three times. He reaffirms it, but 25 years passed and still no son. He’s 100 years old. Finally, he has a son and guess what happens next?

God tested him. He says, “Go kill him, go slaughter him on the altar.” Abraham got up, got his tools together, got his son and headed out. He’s quiet. He does it. At the end, the angel stops him and says, “Your heart was in the right place. Now I know that you have achieved a life of faith.” God put him to the test on that. After Abraham, Isaac is super boring. He’s like the most boring guy. Jacob, you have another example. Abraham’s story is the life of faith, the struggle of faith with God, is He going to keep his word or not?

I have not just faith now, but choice. Which one God is going to choose, Jacob or Esau? You have two now, not just one son. God chooses the younger and it starts to get complicated. Who is this God? He’s subversive. Jacob is a mischievous liar from the beginning. His mom helps him. He manipulates things for his benefit. The narrative is super funny and all the ways this happens to him. He ends up getting manipulated himself quite a few times, but he ends up blessed by God. Even though he’s a manipulator and crazy, he’s blessed by God because he’s part of God’s covenant line of Abraham.

Toward the end there, Jacob has wrestled with his dad for the blessing. He’s wrestled with his brother to not die. He’s wrestled with his Uncle Laban for now two wives, one of which he doesn’t love. He’s wrestled with his wives because one of them is barren and the other one is not. One of them is using kids to fight the other one, giving him concubines. He was just wrestling. Right before his story ends, he wrestles with an angel or a man in the river, Jabbok, all night. His family was set there and he didn’t go to sleep. He wrestled all night with this person. The next morning, the wrestling is still going on. Finally, it ends and God touches his hip, puts it out of socket and says, “You will not be called Jacob anymore. You will be called Israel because you’ve struggled with God and prevailed.” God changes his name.

His whole life he’s been named mischievous and that struggle, he was honest with it, and then the audacity of wrestling with God all night and not letting Him go, God touches his hip, puts it out of socket, he still won’t let Him go. The audacity of this man and yet God’s response to him is, “Blessed are you who struggled with God?” He also walks away with a limp. There’s that. That is the journey we all are on. Jacob is profound to me because that wrestling is honest and real when it’s done in the open. It climaxed for him in the river with God. The next day he goes to meet Esau. He assumes that the only way to earn Esau’s favor is to smother him with gifts. Esau doesn’t want that because Esau is here to forgive. That’s what God is.

We think we need to wrestle with God, to overpower Him, to get what we want from Him. God is more like Esau, who’s willing to forgive. He said, “I don’t want your stuff.” That’s the worldview in which serving other people, it makes sense. If you live in a worldview like Jacob did his whole life, serving other people is either a backward means to an end selfishly or is fake. The only way it could be genuine and come from a bottomless pit of motivation is when you realize your very life is yours because you’ve been given as a gift and you’ve been forgiven. When that happens, you have the horsepower.

That’s what I think I want to end on from my perspective on 2021 is that for those people who find themselves up attracted to this lifestyle of selflessness, it’s not from discipline and duty. You can discipline yourself to act selflessly, but don’t discipline yourself to be selfless. It won’t work. You will lie to yourself and get yourself in the worst position. The only way you can be selfless is to see yourself as a product of 100% clean slate given to you with no strings attached, forgiveness. Everything you’ve ever done and will do is forgiven. The bank note is closed. There’s no more money needs to be paid. Take all your little gifts home. When that happens, you look to other people and you say, “I’ve been forgiven millions. I’m going to forgive you your penny.” You have this incredible depth of absorbing evil. When people do stuff to you, it’s like, “Whatever, I get it. Life is tough.” You’re going through a tough time. You empathize. You have you absorb it.

[bctt tweet=”Life is defined by relationships with people who love you enough to push you.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

When I see people in my life who absorbed that stuff, I’m immediately like, “Yes,” because they are connected. The only way that’s possible is either they’re a great faker or they’re connected to God divine. That’s a Christian perspective, but that is the perspective we all should have being that we’re all made in the image of God. Here I am expressing my Christian bias. I do think that is the truth about life and that is the way to flourish. That’s the New Year call for me is if I want to flourish, lead from the middle, lead by leadership, by being that guy myself. The only way to do that is to constantly go back to divine, focus myself on God, wrestle with Him, and find the forgiveness.

There’s no better place to wrap up than there. I was going to talk about your new year of bearing other’s burdens, but you summed it up well there. That put a nice bow on it and what a great call to start 2021. This has been a joy. Adam, my brother and my cofounder of the show, this has been awesome. For people that want to connect or pick your brain a little bit more, where do you send them?

You can email me. Instagram is dead, but it’s there, @AdamSetser or something like that. Facebook is there. My website is I post there weekly because I write in the column in the paper. I’ll throw that on there. My email is on my website as well.

Thanks again. This has been a great thought-provoking conversation. I couldn’t have asked for more. I appreciate you and your life. I’m excited for the new addition to the family coming soon and excited for a 2021 camping RV trip to Denver or Colorado. Be blessed. For all of you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

Following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Just go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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About Adam Setser

UAC 180 | 2020 ReflectionsMy name is Adam Setser and as of 6/2/18 I am married to Faith Setser. She is everything to me.

Vocationally I am a Financial Advisor at The Kerrigan Group, but my background is in divinity. I graduated from The Masters University in Los Angeles with my BA in Biblical Languages, and am on temporary leave from my MA in Theology at SBTS. I am the collegiate minister (and organist) at First Baptist Church Valdosta, member of Valdosta Rotary, Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, and am an Alum of Leadership Lowndes (class of 2019, best class ever!). I am also a weekly columnist at The Valdosta Daily Times, which I cross-post here on my blog for all my out-of-town friends/family.

In 2015 I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, after 4 years of increasingly bad health. I spent 2 of those years largely confined to my bed, and I took it very seriously, spending almost every waking hour reading and studying, trying to make sense of it all. I am a Christian (read my manifesto here), and while my faith did waver in that darkness, God was faithful to bring me back to the light.

There have been periods where I have RUN from writing and the life of the mind, but I’m always brought back. Recently, I determined my “why” again, specifically about the column.

I love music that is honest and relatable, and beautiful, which tends to be either (good) Country or the Classics or Classical. My wife loves Rom-Coms, so now I do too, but I prefer either war movies or dramas, especially historical stuff. I am also a huge Tom Cruise fan—and Robin Williams and Russell Crowe. I play the piano and Faith sings, and sometimes we dance.

We bought a fixer upper in the heart of the city, built in 1940, with all its charm and quirks. We’ve done a lot of renovations ourselves, which is something I have always wanted to write about. We have two motorcycles, and some bicycles. I used to race bicycles but now I am blessed just to be able to ride.

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