How to be productive if you’re a young(-ish) Kingdom entrepreneur
I want to spend my life meaningfully. When I die, I hope that the Kingdom of God has advanced just a little farther than where it is now. And since many people in this generation of Anabaptist young(-ish) people highly value Kingdom service, you might be at the same place.
You are one small person (give or take; I’m not betting on your relative size), and so am I. Neither of us can change the world through the immediate consequences of our actions. Yet, just as each defense worker plays a small but important role in a successful invasion, each of us can help make God’s Kingdom more real in the world. Furthermore, small people can increase the impact of their deeds by leading and influencing other small people. I think, for example, of those who have started blogs, managed ministries, planted churches, raised funds, and practiced hospitality. There is probably no location, role, or set of talents which cannot be leveraged to make a greater effect for the Kingdom. This article is about how to land a few blows for the Kingdom and land them where they count.
How did I learn these things? I’m an unfortunate person who is not content with the foreseeable future. Nothing looks like it will turn out to be quite as good as I wish it would (except, of course, the return of Jesus Christ, which is liable to exceed my expectations). So I am constantly trying to shape the future. I’ve helped start a publication, a choir, and a number of other ministries that are in a more fledgling state.
Then, a year or so ago, I burned out. I had too many ideas and was trying to get them all done myself. What had made me effective before wasn’t working anymore, and I was spread far too thin. I dropped quite a few of my projects; somehow I just couldn’t get them done. After struggling with anxiety, disillusionment, and poor physical health, I’m finally back on track, and this is how I did it.
Choose to act. If you have a vision and you haven’t yet met burnout, don’t hesitate too long before acting on your vision. I know so many people who want to accomplish something, but it’s never the right time to start it. I suspect that most successful entrepreneurs learn to act when it still seems too soon. My first big project was a literature publication, which the team started before we had little assurance of adequate readership or writership. I’ve never regretted it.
Know what your central vision is. Once you have chosen to act on what you believe in, you need to start considering which of your ideas are most central to your life’s goal. What talents do you have? Where are the needs that nobody else is adequately addressing? What are the things the Spirit consistently points you toward? The key to getting a lot done is knowing what to get done.
Learn your limits. If you ever want something to quote me for, it’s this: Just because you are capable of doing something doesn’t mean that you can do it. It certainly doesn’t mean that you should. Everything you do takes up a certain amount of emotional energy. Rest, recreation, family time, and time spent with God are absolutely necessary for a healthy human life. If you neglect them, you will not just be neglecting yourself or your family—you will be far less effective at the projects you are doing, and you will be setting yourself up for burnout.
Ask any successful businessman, parent, church leader, or community-minded individual what they are now doing right that they used to do wrong. Most likely, they will say that they learned to say no. Taking on too many projects is not the way to be more effective.
Ideally, you would keep saying yes to everything until you were operating at optimal capacity, and then either say no to everything else, or complete or delegate a current project for each new project you take on. In practice, most people reach a crisis point where they learn their limitations and then restructure their lives. But the sooner you recognize that you have reached your crisis, the better for your mental health.
Don’t just live in the future. Live in the present and fully enjoy the life God has given you. God’s world and God’s people are beautiful. Love them now; don’t just love the nebulous people in the future who will benefit from all you do. When I come home from working on a project, I’m all zoned out and emotionally distant. It takes me a while to unwind and enjoy my family. That downtime feels like a waste, but it’s necessary. If you don’t take the time to love your brother whom you have seen, how can you love God (or your brother) whom you have not seen?
Enjoy all your work. Love the vision, but also love each day. Feel the keys clicking under your fingers. Listen to the sounds of the building. Note the quirks of the people you work with. If you enjoy yourself, you will be able to work much longer and more effectively. Of all the things I’ve listed, this is probably the one I’m worst at—but I’m improving!
(In between writing this and the next one, I wandered outside to refocus. The sky is a deep blue with gorgeous clouds. Leaves on the trees are translucent in the light. As I walked through the grass, grasshoppers scattered out of my way. The world is so real, so present—even the concrete stairs and the light on an I-beam. Wherever I am, I need to keep coming back to it.)
Set apart times and spaces for doing your work. I’m currently working in an empty conference room above a business where I used to work. I don’t have WiFi at home yet, so I have tried several workspaces, but this one is the most productive. It’s not too comfortable (or I’ll relax too much), there aren’t a lot of distractions, but I can stop by people’s offices to make small talk if I want. What’s best is that I have a window where I can look out and see trees waving in the wind and occasionally watch something interesting happen in the parking lot. I need a certain amount of focus and a certain amount of distractions if I am to get my best work done.
Gather other people and inspire them. Don’t try to do everything yourself, especially those things that drag you down and keep you from working sustainably. This is not about selfishness—do this, not for yourself, but for the work. There’s a place for proving oneself, but if you refuse to seek help, either because you don’t want to look needy or because you feel it would take away from your accomplishments, you are being selfish. If your current work is worth doing now, God will help you find sustainable ways of accomplishing it.
Have friends with expectations. Spend time with people who can inspire you and brainstorm with you; especially with those who will bug you until you do what you always talk about. I went a step further and married her. That’s not necessary, but it sure is effective.
Finally, be patient. Newly planted seeds don’t sprout right away. Once you have done your best to plant and water, it is up to God to provide the increase. Don’t be afraid to work toward long-term ends without quantifiable short-term results. God’s intentions sometimes take thousands of years to be fulfilled, but when they come to pass, they are earthshaking.