Your office is taped off with police tape. A detective walks into the room wearing sunglasses "What happened here," he mutters to no one in particular. "In all my years on the force, I've never seen anything this brutal." There on the floor in front of him is the sickening scene.
It's your joy, and it has been absolutely butchered.
"What a needless tragedy," a rookie cop exclaims, barely able to contain his gag-reflex as he stares at the horror before him.
The clues of what happened are all around. And the rookie cop is right.
It is a needless tragedy.
If you create content (and let's be honest, there are very few in leadership who aren't creating something) you recognize the joys of doing so. You made something. It is yours. You worked hard to fulfill your job as an image-bearer of God by creating something that previously did not exist. How cool is that?
But being a content creator is really hard as well. There are days of frustration when you can't gather your thoughts enough to put together something coherent. Since it is so frustrating, the temptation is to quit. But listen: much of the pain we actually inflict upon ourselves.
How do we do that?
Here are three ways that we murder our joy as content creators.
1) Letting the Perfect being the Enemy of the Good
Ever not create something or abandon a project because you knew it wasn't going to perfect? Ever grow increasingly disgusted by the work you make because you can see its flaws, even though those around you talk about how great it is? You tell yourself, "I have high standards and this work just isn't good enough."
Maybe you do. Or maybe your just finding a good reason to shoot your joy straight in the forehead.
In his great biography of Leonardo Da Vinci, Walter Isaacson points out that Da Vinci held on to many of his best paintings, like the Mona Lisa, till near the end of his career because he knew he could always add another brush stroke. If a painting didn't satisfy Da Vinci, he would abandon it rather than creating a painting that was merely "good enough." Isaacson believes that sometimes this is good for us to do.
What Isaacson neglects to mention is that Da Vinci jotted down many of his ideas, many which were ground breaking, but because he never shared his work his ideas died with him. Many of his medical procedures would have saved lives--but they weren't perfect so Da Vinci abandoned them.
You aren't Da Vinci. You are you. And you have something the world needs.
Your imperfect content could save a life. Art has that power. Words have that power. Someone needs what you are making today. They don't need it perfect. They just need it.
2) Follow your Social Media Responses like a Creepy-Ex
For the love of God, turn off your notifications when you post something. I say this as someone who waits for the "likes" to role in after posting some pithy statement on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
But I feel so dirty when I do that. Who am I creating this content for, ultimately?
Others? Or my ego?
Because when you create something and then want immediate feedback, what you are really saying is "Validate what I made so I feel good."
But that is such a sad way to live. Worse, it such a sad way to create.
Which is why you feel empty after a short amount of time and feel the need to post again.
It's addictive. But it's also a joy killer.
And kinda creepy.
If you are the person who as you are talking with someone checks your notifications to see what people are saying about your work and totally forget what you are saying to the person in front of you...YOU ARE STRAIGHT MURDERING YOUR JOY.
Consider doing the following: make your post, turn off the notifications, and then take the rest of the day to work on something else. Don't check how your post is doing. Just enjoy the fact that you made it, it is out there and then rest.
3) Hit the "Easy Way Out" Button Repeatedly like a Rat Trippin' on Drugs
I read a study one time where some scientists hooked rats up to an I.V. The Rat could either hit a button for food or hit a button and be injected with cocaine or heroin.
They frantically hit the button for drugs.
Here is the deal: I do that same thing when it comes to taking the "easy way out" and if I had to guess, you are too.
This is a broad statement because the "easy way out" looks different for each person, right? For some of you, the easy way out is binge watching Netflix instead of making something. For others, it is making art without meaning, or writing without passion. For others, it is day-dreaming of completing that big project without ever doing it.
We all have our "easy way out" buttons.
By the way: the rats died.
In the same way, if you keep hitting that easy button, you will become addicted to easy. And it will kill the joy you have in creating.
Creating will feel like a chore. It will feel like a death sentence. It will feel like dream that will never come true.
So you hit the easy button again.
Look, some days you just have to do something. Sometimes it is hard. It hurts. But content creating does hurt, because you are sharing part of your soul.
I started writing this post a month and a half ago. I stopped because I felt like it wasn't good enough. I said I would revisit it later.
I waited. I waited.
And I finally realized that I was going to wait for eternity unless I just hit the "post" button. Maybe people like it. Maybe people will hate it. Maybe some person is on the verge of quitting and they will stumble upon this post. Maybe it will save someone's joy eventually.
But I know this: the easiest thing for me to do is nothing.
So I'll hit the "post" button, turn off my notifications and enjoy the rest of my evening.
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"“This is the thing we do to women in a world of biased idolatry. Women’s stories get treated as one of Wallace’s trademark footnotes might be: decorative, dexterous, whimsical, trivial. Pretty afterthoughts. Optional.”
Reading these words hit me hard. Megan Garber, in her article The World Still Spins Around Male Genius, demonstrates that women are often viewed as mere anecdotes in the lives of males who are considered of exceptional talent. An example of this, according to Garber, is now deceased author David Foster Wallace’s troubled relationship with Mary Karr. Karr reported that Wallace often subjected her to horrendous abuse. Nevertheless, when people talk about Wallace, they often times view his relationship as something that caused problems for him. Karr’s abuse (and her own talent as a writer) is overshadowed by him at every point. Garber writes,
“This is the bias at work. Here, once again, is the male genius centered while the female genius is relegated to the margins. Karr is there, as a slight character, in Max’s biography of Wallace; she’s there, too, as a kind of human predicate, in interviews about him, in assessments of his literary contributions, in effusions about his genius. And often, too—the world can be so myopic that it can fail to see the genius sitting right in front of it—she is directly asked about him: what he was like. What it was like. How it was to have had, for a brief time, the privilege to spin around such an axis.”
It is no secret that many of the most famous leadership books and works of theology are male dominant. When I am asked to list my favorite theologians and who we can learn the most from, I quickly come up with lists such as Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Aquinas and more. These men produced works of staggering genius. In fact, I recently did a podcast with Dr. Ed Smither from Columbia International University, on what leaders can learn from Augustine (you can listen to that podcast here).
What is much more difficult is drawing to mind female theologians who I have allowed to impact me. I say this to my shame—my leadership is impoverished because I have not drank deeply enough from the well of female leaders and theologians. I often relegate the women in the Bible and in history to mere "footnotes" to the male genius. This is nothing short of a tragedy.
Living in Monica’s World
Take for example the story of Augustine. Whenever I read a biography of him it is clear how brilliant he was. Augustine’s legacy on western civilization cannot and should not be ignored. When you read the Confessions, you realize that Augustine’s memory of his life revolves around three main planets—God, his friends and his mother, Monica. Augustine mentions how his pious, though flawed, mother prayed for him and doggedly followed him, exhorting him to become a Christian. In his recollection, he gives tremendous credit to the role Monica played in his life.
Nevertheless, when reading any biography of Augustine, one gets the impression that Monica must revolve around Augustine and not the other way around. She functions as a sort of footnote next to Augustine’s genius—she pushed him toward conversion and now look at what he did! Isn’t Monica so lucky to have a son like Augustine? For example, in what is otherwise a fair treatment of Augustine’s life, Justo L. Gonzalez writes in The Mestizo Augustine,
“While Augustine was still a young child, Monica was aware of the extraordinary gifts of her son, and she devoted the rest of her life to turning him into a devout Christian with a successful career. This is why one may see in Monica signs of a social mestizaje that was taking place--a mestizaje in which some among the “Africans” sought to climb within the social Roman ladder, very much as immigrants today, who while insisting in the value of their ancestral cultures, insist also in having their children learn the language of their adopted country and leave aside their own culture, so that they may have a greater chance at social and economic success. Augustine always refers to his mother with great respect and devotion, but in his writings we also see the profile of a domineering mother--perhaps of a woman who, being deprived of any authority in her own home as well as any possibility of determining and shaping her own life, lived vicariously in this son whom she practically persecuted until, shortly before her death, she was able to see converted and baptized.” (pg. 31-32)
I find it fascinating that Augustine himself doesn’t buy into that notion. At times within the Confession, he seems to be well aware that he would be nowhere if it were not for the persistence of God and his mother. I don’t deny he had a tumultuous relationship with his mother. However, Augustine understood it in terms of his spoiled attitude rebelling against his mother’s instruction. I understand that we have far more sources and writings about Augustine than Monica and so there is more that we can study and write about. However, how we tell the story indicates a lot about how we view women in leadership.
For instance, at one point Monica finds herself on a ship at sea. The voyage turned rough and many of the sailors thought they would perish. However, Monica was convinced that God had told her that she would live to see her son converted. Armed with this confidence, she in turn took the leadership role of a captain and comforted the crew (Conf. 6.1.1).
Augustine was quite proud of his mother for this bold act that subverted Roman tradition. This story also points us to another truth: Monica cannot be relegated to a footnote in Augustine’s story. She was a woman that lived her own story, full of courage and boldness and faith.
Monica is portrayed in the Confessions as a woman who is devout, though flawed mother. Augustine indicates that she was verbally abused by her husband Patrick, who had a hot temper. She longs for success for Augustine while at the same time desiring for him to follow God. Though not formally educated, she could hold her own in a philosophy debate and could see through the sophistry that often accompanies academic conversation (On Order 2.1.1). She had the ability to make the complicated very simple. She was an intellectual force in her own right.
Augustine, who was prone to live in the ivory tower of academia (what was called Christian leisure) was challenged by Monica to live in a deeper community. Gonzalez writes, “Augustine knew, because Monica had always taught this to him, that participation in the community of faith is essential for Christian life, and that an individual believer joins that community by means of baptism. It was not enough to inquire about God and the soul. In order to accept Monica’s faith, it was also necessary to accept her church, and to do this through a public confession of faith…” (pg. 54)
Further, Augustine gives Monica the last word in his book De beata vita (On the Happy Life) where, after an extended dialogue of what constitutes living a happy life, Monica states, “This is without any doubt the happy life, for it is the perfect life,…to which we may be guided in the wings of a firm faith, a joyful hope, and a burning love.” (4.35) I believe God rewarded this pursuit of the happy life by granting her a final moment with her son before death where they were given a vision. He writes,
“Forgetting what lay in the past, and stretching out to what was ahead, we inquired between ourselves in the light of present truth, the Truth which is yourself, what the eternal life of the saints would be like. Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor human heart conceived it, yet with the mouth of our hearts wide open we panted thirstily for the celestial streams of your fountain, the fount of life, which is with you, that bedewed from it according to our present capacity we might in our little measure think upon a thing so great." (Conf. 9.10)
In other words, Monica is not a mere one dimension character who plays background to Augustine. She is an ever present force within his life—a mentor, intercessor, mother, wife, encourager, learner and pilgrim growing in her faith. She was a leader—flawed, passionate, and wise. She was the kind of leader we need to hear more of today.
In light of Beth Moore’s recent letter, male leaders need to do a better job of narrating the story of Christianity. We often times tell the story as a series of vignettes of strong males leading the church fearlessly. However, by doing this we can give the impression that women have largely played a secondary role in shaping and forming Christianity. What if we told the story of Monica and others as a standalone story? What if we saw the reason for Augustine’s legacy in light of Monica’s faithfulness?
Thankfully, while there is still much work to be done in this area, there are some reasons to be hopeful. More and more authors are drawing attention to the role women have played shaping Christianity. I am thinking of the recently released Christian Women in the Patristic World, Eric Mataxes’ 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness, and 8 Women of Faith by Michael Haykin. Works like these remind us that Monica isn't a footnote in Augustine's life. Women aren't afterthoughts in the history of redemption. These works provide a good foundation for helping leaders think about the way women have impacted the faith we hold so dear.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.