Don’t Believe the Cultural Lie, by Jordan Raynor
FEBRUARY 29, 2020
Lounging in the living room of our townhouse in Tallahassee, I declared to my college roommates that I wanted to move to Nashville to be a songwriter.
“Of course you do,” my roommate Ryan said, rolling his eyes as he hopped off the couch and exited the room. When he returned, Ryan was carrying a pen and a pad of paper. “Okay, let’s make a list of everything you’ve ever said you wanted to do.” It took almost no time for my roommates and me to fill the page with a long and diverse list of my ambitions, which included (but were certainly not limited to) president of the United States, Oscar-winning composer, cast member of a Broadway musical, best-selling author, flight attendant, cruise ship piano player, speechwriter, Josh Lyman from The West Wing, and television producer.
“You’re going to need nine lives to accomplish half of this,” Ryan said. The comment made in jest illustrates a more serious point: when we adopt the lie that we can be anything we want to be, we can easily fall for the tangential lie that we can do everything we want to do, ignoring the laws of time and trade-offs. In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown put it this way: “The idea that we can have it all and do it all is not new. This myth has been peddled for so long, I believe virtually everyone alive today is infected with it. It is sold in advertising. It is championed in corporations. It is embedded in job descriptions that provide huge lists of required skills and experience as standard. It is embedded in university applications that require dozens of extracurricular activities. What is new is how especially damaging this myth is today, in a time when choice and expectations have increased exponentially.”
The truth is, you can’t “do it all” so long as you accept that God has called you to excellence in all things. I’m reminded of this every time I look at a restaurant menu that offers a smorgasbord of different cuisines. Sorry, but there is simply no way a restaurant serving Mexican food and barbecue and pizza and sushi is going to produce any dish with excellence. It’s just not possible. (Unless you’re The Cheesecake Factory: the exception that proves the rule.) The same is true in our vocations. We can’t be anything we want to be and we can’t do everything we want to do so long as we are committed to offering the Lord and the world our very best.
There are two primary limits on our ability to do everything we want to do well: time and attention. Throughout Scripture, God is constantly reminding his people of the brevity of life. We only have so much time on this earth to accomplish the mission God sets before us. For this reason, the biblical authors call for us to carefully consider our lives and to think intentionally about how we are utilizing the time that God has gifted us. Consider James, Jesus’s own half brother. In the letter bearing his name, James addressed his readers saying, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). Jesus put it this way: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4 NIV) In light of eternity, we all have but a moment to “do the works of him who sent [us]”—loving God and loving others through excellent work.
But time isn’t the only thing limiting our ability to do everything we want to do with excellence. We also have limited attention. Perhaps one of today’s most widely accepted ideas of productivity is that of multitasking, a myth that the scientific community continues to refute in study after study. It turns out that what we refer to as “multitasking” can be more accurately described as “task shifting,” with our brains being forced to shift from one task to the other and back again. These shifts in attention don’t make us more productive. In fact, they are terribly detrimental to our pursuit of excellence. One study in particular reports that multitasking decreases overall productivity by up to 40 percent! In order to do our most excellent work, we must focus our full attention in one direction at a time. So then, how should we respond to the brutal reality of our limited time and attention? As Christians committed to pursuing excellence in all things and all things for the glory of God, we respond by accepting the fact that we can’t do everything we want to do professionally, at least not at the same time. Scattering our time and attention across many disparate endeavors will almost assuredly lead to mediocrity, not mastery.
In Ephesians 5:15–16, the apostle Paul implores us to “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” In light of the reality of trade-offs and our limited time and attention, it would be unwise for us to scatter ourselves across many professional pursuits at the same time. The wiser path is the one we will be exploring throughout Master of One, making every effort to discern the one vocational thing God has called us to in this season of life and working at it with all our hearts (see Colossians 3:23). It is there—in the pursuit of becoming a master of one— that we Christians have our best shot of bringing glory to God and serving our neighbors well through our work. When we say yes to everything, we say yes to nothing, including the unique work the Father has put us on this earth to do.
Adapted from Master of One: Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do. Copyright © 2020 by Jordan Raynor. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Listen to Steve and the gang interview Jordan on SBE here.