What’s your ministry?

Jim Carrey’s commencement address at Maharishi University is quintessential Carrey: mostly hilarious, sometimes awkward, and very deep. Among the many parts that stayed with me, this was one of my favorites:

I realized one night in LA that the purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern, like my dad. When I realized this, I dubbed my new devotion, “The Church of Freedom From Concern” — “The Church of FFC”— and I dedicated myself to that ministry. What’s yours?

To a young Carrey, his purpose wasn’t just to tell jokes onstage and get paid. It was greater: He wanted to free people from their everyday concerns, from the worries of their workaday lives. The Church of FFC. And over his almost 4-decade Hollywood career, he has preached his message to countless acolytes.

His use of the word “ministry” is particularly interesting. He doesn’t use the words mission or passion, not once in the speech. He specifically calls his life purpose a ministry, and he uses the Church metaphor to hammer his point.

Wikipedia defines Christian ministry in the following way:

Ministry is an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith, the prototype being the Great Commission. [It is] “carrying forth Christ’s mission in the world”, indicating that it is “conferred on each Christian in baptism.”

Religious wisdom is a big interest of mine. I try to spend some time each day learning from and practicing different religious traditions. Even if it is a few minutes reading from my Personal Bible, or ten minutes of quiet morning meditation. I don’t consider myself a dyed in the wool member of any labelled tradition (here is more about my approach to faith, inspired by Sri Ramakrishna). I find uplift and community in going to Church on Sundays (and like to sing the songs). I receive calm and clarity from long meditation sessions. Feel a sense of discipline and rigor in learning about zakat and salat in Islam, wisdom in reading excerpts of the Talmud and Midrashim. So Carrey’s anecdote got me thinking: What is my ministry? What is yours?

Within the realm of self help and productivity, we are often taught the value of having a life mission, a personal mission statement. To me, the concept of a personal ministry differs from a mission in at least two important ways:

  • A ministry is evangelical. The root of “evangelism” is good news. As an evangelist, your job is to spread the good word, the good book, the good news. If you have a ministry, a core part of your job – if not the entire job – is to spread your message, because it is the right thing to do. A mission, on the other hand, could be something you keep to yourself
  • A ministry is about changing others first. A minister’s job isn’t to transform herself but to serve and lead others. Your mission could be to visit every country in the world. But you wouldn’t call that a ministry unless the main reason you were doing all this travel was to inspire others to follow you. To help others, it helps to be clear about your potential community, your hoped for target audience. Pastors call this their flock. A mission, meanwhile, could start and end with yourself, and doesn’t require an audience

Put differently, you can think of a personal ministry as an outward focused, people first mission. Seen this way, it becomes clear that many of today’s most successful people are essentially such ministers:

  • NYT columnist David Brooks’s ministry is to teach his educated audience how to think deeply about the moral and spiritual dimensions of life. To live more conscientiously and purposefully amidst all the new technology, the fomo, the hyper speed distraction. Brooks uses the term “moral geniuses” to describe behavioral exemplars like Atul Gawande and Dorothy Day. They are saints in his ministerial canon
  • Startup investor Paul Graham preaches the value of starting a company, and the power of writing software. His flock is some combination of everyone who can write code and everyone who wants to start a company to control their career destiny. His good news is captured in 100s of essays. His church is the Y Combinator school and his many thousands of dedicated essay readers.
  • Tim Ferriss has a very dedicated flock who will follow him anywhere: These people want to achieve the dream of a 4 hour workweek, want to optimize every aspect of their lives from their bodies to their relationships to their morning routines. He ministers through his podcast, his blog, and his books

What’s your ministry? I’m slowly discovering mine. Some themes on this blog include the power of habits to give your life structure and meaning, the value of studying all religious traditions for their life advice, and the need to free yourself from outdated and perhaps even harmful social structures — whether the corporate ladder, the addiction to prestige, or the college admissions mouse trap (I prefer “mouse trap” over “rat race”).

Who are the flock you want to attract, inspire, and support? What is the insight bigger than yourself that motivates you to get up every morning and spread across the world?

I leave you with a favorite Indian proverb:

Every morning you wake up and ask yourself, what good things am I going to do today, remember that when the sun goes down at sunset, it will take a part of your life with it

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

My Personal Bible: 2017 additions including The War of Art and The 4 Agreements

Personal Bible is a collection of your favorite wisdom, notes, and passages that you can – like the Bible – read and re-read and absorb and memorize and integrate wholly into your life. Over the years my own collection has grown to include poems, book notes, article excerpts, and even a Bible passage. I formalized the document last year and try to update it monthly and read from it nightly. It’s one of my daily habits but not one that I actively track.

Below are additions I’ve made in 2017. You can download my latest version here. Feel free to read or edit or fork your own!

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War of Art by Steven Pressfield [Kindle]

  • Resistance will unfailingly point to true North — meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
  • The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
  • The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.
  • The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.
  • The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.
  • The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.
  • When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back.

The 4 Agreements by Miguel Ruiz [Kindle]

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

Tim Ferriss [source]

  • What’s the least crowded channel?
  • What if I could only subtract to solve problems?
  • Am I hunting antelope or field mice?
  • What would this look like if it were easy?
  • One former Navy SEAL friend recently texted me a principle used in their training: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

If you take 5 minutes to pick a restaurant, then you should spend 2 years to plan your career!

tim-ferriss-showI enjoyed Tim Ferriss’s podcast with Will MacAskill who, at 28-years old, is possibly the youngest tenured philosophy professor on the planet, and at Oxford no less.

Will believes people spend FAR too little time planning their careers. To wit:

1. We take five minutes to choose a restaurant for a 2-hour dinner (some of us much more!)

2. That means we spend 5% of our time planning the meal, and 95% eating

3. A normal person will work 80,000 hours in their life (roughly 40 working years, at 40 hours per week; both assumptions are conservative)

4. The same 5%, therefore, would equal 4,000 hours or 2 whole years!

I assume Will would recommend those 4,000 hours be spent throughout your career, and not entirely in a two-year binge (which would drive even the most fanatic planner insane…)

Even with the caveat, we should all spend more time doing things like:

  • researching career paths
  • finding better jobs
  • deciding what skills to develop and why
  • building good systems and habits

By the way, this also means you have PLENTY of time to switch careers…more than once!

Plans are nothing, but planning is indispensable – Eisenhower

Thanks for reading! Here are my ten favorite podcasts.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.