In 2019 I consumed 25 audiobooks, over 900 podcasts, and somewhere around 110 sermons. Not unlike other 18- to 32-year-old males, I spend a lot of time listening. All of that content I listened to covered topics such as finances, leadership development, spiritual growth, physical fitness, mental toughness, emotional intelligence, professional development, and so much more. Very little of it was what I would call “light” reading. Almost none of it was fiction.
Now if you’re thinking, “How on earth does anyone have time for that? Does this guy have a job?” The answer is yes, I have a job, but I listen to everything sped up during my commute, dog walks, days off, household chores, gym visits, and outdoor runs.
Very efficient—for consumption, that is.
It is not efficient for processing, though. It is certainly not efficient for implementation.
I’m all for personal growth and development, but unprocessed ideas without any implementation have begun to cause a problem for me. For example, I listened to the audiobook Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, by Ruth Haley Barton. I rushed through this book about deep rest and reflection at 1.5x speed. Does anyone see the problem?
Deeper than my ironic rushing through a book on rest is a powerfully problematic word that has emerged in my subconscious and regularly makes its way out of my mouth and into my mental framework: should.
I should be more disciplined. I should be more active. I should be a better leader. I should be leading a bigger organization. I should be a better husband. I should be a better father. I should be able to handle that. I should be … I should be … I should be … .
Who is this person that I’ve concocted, to whom I constantly compare myself? He’s the man of my inputs, the cacophony of all the ideas I’ve been consuming over the past 12 months at a breakneck pace. You see, when you don’t take the time to process ideas and decide how, if, or when you will implement them, but instead just keep flooding your head with the new, or old, or current way you should lead, parent, exercise, schedule, or grow spiritually, it becomes a problem.
Someone wise once said, “Experience is life’s best teacher.” Someone wiser said, “It is not experience alone that is the best teacher, but reflection on your experience that is the best teacher.” Without reflection there is little retained learning. This has left me with a hodgepodge of uninterpreted and unimplemented ideas forming a nebulous shadow of who I think I should be.
Drowning the Fear
As a pastor I have the privilege of walking alongside all sorts of people, but I’ve noticed the stalling out of a particular demographic: mine. Young men aged 18 to 35. We’ve got ideas on how life could go and what we could or should be, but we end up paralyzed by our fear of failure. None of us likes to feel or dwell on those fears, so what do we do? We drown out that fearful voice with other voices—more books, more podcasts, more sermons. More ideas without implementation to cover the fear that I’ll never be who I think I should be. And listen, I’m all for personal growth and development. I’m all for the restlessness of who I am that drives me to become who I’d like to be. But the answer to that restlessness is not found in continuing to consume ideas without implementation. Without reflection there will be no retained learning.
In fact, continuous consumption might be exacerbating the problem.
There will always be new ideas to consume. There will always be “life-changing hacks” for time management, leadership, money, parenting, or exercise, just as there will always be more work to be done. But working only for gain, only for progress, only for growth is a meaningless, discontented life. The wise teacher in Ecclesiastes repeatedly calls it “chasing after the wind” (Eccles. 1:14). Not only is it meaningless, but it is at the same time foolish, even stupid. Who in their right mind would try to chase and grasp the wind?
So what’s the fix for the fear and discontent that comes from our chasing ideals? According to the wise teacher, the answer is to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in one’s work (Eccles. 2:24)—in other words, enjoy your work, enjoy your gain, enjoy your progress. Enjoy your food. Enjoy your drinks.
But here’s the thing about enjoyment: it's a slower process. You don’t enjoy food by continually cramming more in your mouth. To be satisfied requires digestion. It takes time. Satisfaction is slow. You significantly hamper your ability to enjoy life when, rather than living it, you listen to or read about what it should be like—and do so at 1.5x speed.
I think Jesus understood this. Maybe that’s why he walked everywhere, was often seen eating and drinking, and frequently encouraged his disciples to “come … to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Jesus was the one who said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:29-30). A yoke here refers to a rabbi’s expectation of how life ought to be lived. Jesus was saying that his way of life was easy and light. Would you describe your life that way? Don’t you wish you could?
Perhaps you're like me, thinking, “If I don’t keep up on all the latest ideas, I’ll fall behind. I’ll miss out!” Here’s the truth: You will. But that's OK. It was also the writer of Ecclesiastes who said “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).
Because of that, here’s what I’ve decided:
I will not let the fear of falling behind drive me to create a version of myself that I think I should be but constantly fear I never will be.
No, I want a life of satisfaction. I want to do a little more enjoying. A little more reflecting. A little more implementation.
I think that means I’m going to take in a little less, listen a little more slowly, and try a yoke that’s a little lighter.
Slow down; learn to enjoy. Don’t consume so much that you undermine your own contentment. Perhaps you will find yourself living the lighter and easier life Jesus is inviting you to (Matt. 11:28).
- How might people fall into the problem of “unprocessed ideas without any implementation”? Have you ever had that problem?
- Have you ever been tyrannized by the word “should”? How and why did that happen?
- How can we avoid being paralyzed by our fear of failure?
- In what areas in your life can you slow down more, enjoy more, and reflect more?