180: Fellowship Ft. Adam Setser: On The Importance Of Obstacles, Eating Humble Pie, The Art Of Leading From The Middle, Servant Leadership, And Being Motivated By Love
What has 2020 taught you? We’ve all had such a challenging year that it bears upon us to reflect on what we have witnessed and experienced so that we may come up in the new year in better form. In this fellowship episode, Thane Marcus Ringler shares the seat with his good friend and partner, Adam Setser. Together, they discuss a host of topics that stood out in their conscious minds in 2020, including: why we need obstacles in our life, the importance of eating humble pie, being motivated by love, pursuing excellence, middle leadership, servant leadership, and being motivated by love. Hopefully you will find gems of thought that will inspire you for the rest of this new year.
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180: Fellowship Ft. Adam Setser: On The Importance Of Obstacles, Eating Humble Pie, The Art Of Leading From The Middle, Servant Leadership, And Being Motivated By Love
This is a show all about the process of becoming. Hopefully, we’re all in that process throughout our entire lives as we are learning, growing, living, and becoming more and more each day. That is what this show hopes to engender in you, in me, and in us as we travel forward. Thank you for being a fellow Up and Comer on the journey. Our mantra is living with intention in the tension because life has many tensions that we face daily. We believe the best way to face those is by infusing intention into all that we do. Intentionality is the reason why behind what we do. Thanks for being here and tuning in. A snapshot of our show, we interview other Up and Comers through long-form interviews or nonchronological fun wide-ranging interviews. We also do fellowship episodes, which this episode is one of those, a peer-to-peer conversation, talking about relevant subjects to our lives. Finally, there are shorter episodes that I share some of the things that I’m stewing on. Thanks for being a part of this movement and community. If you want to help us out, that would be a great gift and blessing to us in this new year.
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I’m excited for this episode. It is a fellowship episode with a good friend, a brother of mine and a partner in many ways, Adam Setser. He was the Cofounder for this show and my cohost for at least a year or two before phasing out. It’s always a gem to talk to Adam. Who is Adam? Adam was raised in Georgia in Lowndes County and won the state championship in piano performance his senior year of high school. He plays third in the State of Florida for junior cyclists in the individual time trial. He did his undergraduate studies on the West Coast, receiving his BA in Biblical Studies in 2013 for The Master’s University in Los Angeles, and is working on his MA in Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He began his career with The Kerrigan Group as a marketing intern in the spring of 2016. A few months later, he joined the team full-time and by January of 2017, he became fully licensed as a Financial Advisor. He’s an active member of The Rotary Club of Valdosta, the Chamber of Commerce, and is on staff at First Baptist Church Valdosta as a Collegiate Minister. He is an alumnus of Leadership Lowndes and a weekly columnist for the Valdosta Daily Times Business section, which is cross-published on The Kerrigan Group’s blog. His passion in his work is to partner with clients to promote the financial flourishing of the families and communities the Kerrigan Group serves.
Adam married his wife, Faith, in June of 2018. In his downtime, he enjoys traveling with Faith, riding their motorcycles, working on their 1940s home, reading, writing, golfing, hunting, and playing the piano in which he still performs classical piano concerts occasionally. One of the biggest passions of his right now is RV-ing and camping, which you will read about in this episode. If you’ve heard him before, he is full of passion and insight and lives life well. I love getting to sit down with him anytime I get the chance to do that. I know that you’re going to enjoy this conversation. We cover a lot of relevant topics including reflections on what 2020 taught us, becoming a parent as they are imparting on that process, why we need obstacles in our life, the importance of eating humble pie, being motivated by love, pursuing excellence, middle leadership and what that entails, RV-ing and so much more. I know you’re going to enjoy it. Please sit back and enjoy this fellowship conversation with Adam Setser.
Adam Setser, welcome back to the show.
Thane, thanks for having me.
I want to start maybe with the future, talking about what’s ahead. I know that’s on a lot of people’s minds. I love this idea of closing the year well, starting the year well, giving that space to think back on what happened and look ahead. As you’ve gone through this process, what has your process been for ending the year well and starting the next year well? Take us through a little bit of what that process has been like for you.We create our own obstacles. Click To Tweet
There’s so much that’s happened. I’ve been married for a few years now. I’ve learned to give myself space and time to recover from things. Here’s the thing. All of humans have a ton of ambition, passion and potential. We tell ourselves we don’t because we’re afraid of it. We don’t know how to explain it. We curb that potential with overeating or with a hobby that’s too much of a hobby. We use all these things to rein ourselves in. If we can open ourselves up, it would be incredible. One thing I’m learning is to stop putting things in my way and that we create our own obstacles.
You have talked about that in the past a lot. 2020 was the year of analyzing obstacles and being like, “Is that an obstacle or not?” Instead of going to bed frustrated, tense, worried or weird, dig into it, figure it out, clean it out, and then go to bed, even if it doesn’t fit your box of timing or whatever. I’ve learned that time doesn’t stop. It will keep compounding. There are things that happen that we’ll talk about. There are things that have happened in my life that have amplified that.
For the first time in my life, the question for 2021 is, “How can I bear everyone’s burdens and not miss a beat?” Whereas in the past it’s been, “How can I be happiest? How can I make the most income to get stable?” There are other things on your mind, but I’m going to jump in and say it, “We’re pregnant.” I’ve talked about it a little bit, but that’s one of my reflections that goes along with my New Year is the chapters of life change. This annual cycle is so healthy, but this one is different because of the baby and that significant change. It could be anything but that’s what for us has been significant. It’s that realization that I’m about to be responsible for human life.
I want to come back to a bunch of what you said there, but let’s start with that. Take me back to the moment when you first learned that you guys were pregnant.
The first moment I was in bed, because Faith gets up about 30 minutes before I do. She’s got a longer process in the morning. She was showering, doing her thing. The next thing you know, she’s waking me up extremely sweet. I’m like, “What’s gotten into her?” She’s rubbing my arm and then I’m like, “What’s going on?” She’s smiling, beaming and says, “Guess what?” I almost was about to say, “You’re pregnant,” because it was so random.
She held up her pregnancy test and said, “You’re going to be a dad.” We shed tears and we were hugging. It’s 6:45 in the morning. It was a positive pregnancy test. I’m thinking this is good, but we don’t have an ultrasound yet. Let’s not get carried away. My immediate thought and the next words that come out of my mouth were, “Let’s pray and give the baby back to God.” When you go through things in your life that are very difficult and you’re a believer, you associate difficulty with God. You say, “I know that you love me, but I also know that you will hurt me for good.”
This time may be different because, what if it hurts someone else too? I’ve been hurt. What if I’m causing something now that will hurt my wife and my baby? Part of our religion is sacrifice. We offer our bodies as sacrifices every day of worship. We sacrifice our desires for Christ, putting on Him, putting off ourselves. We die to ourselves, sacrificing ourselves. It’s part of our lingo. This is my first thought. I said, “Let’s give the baby to God.” We prayed, cried and gave the baby to God. After we got done, I said, “Nothing is going to happen to us now that’s going to surprise us. We’re ready for anything.”
That was a deep moment, but it was very special. Faith has recounted that story. I didn’t think anything of it. It was natural. I was broken, “God, please, this is what we need you to know. Our heart is yours, the baby is yours. Don’t let us forget that.” Whereas Faith saw it like, “I need to think about that.” She was impacted. When I heard her tell that story to one of our good friends, I was impacted and I missed the whole impact of it. I was doing the work. Looking back, I started to cry because I’m like, “This is profound.” That was the first reaction. The second reaction was, “We need to get a bigger camper.”
I’m not surprised at all with the second reaction. That’s par for the course.
You should also not be surprised if you were to walk out of my driveway now.
What is it? I don’t even know.
It’s a 33-foot travel trailer. It’s about 4 feet longer than the last one. It’s about 3,000 pounds heavier.
This is a side trail, but I have to go down it. You started with the long trailer. You downsize to the deluxe, renovated two-seater, that was mini. Now you’re back to big, bad and not wanting to be messed with. What’s this move been like?
You told the narrative perfectly. We started this journey as we want the freedom to get away, enjoy nature, travel and be family-oriented. We’re not like jumping into clubs downtown and stuff. We’re out in nature and a great time, wholesome family. A little bit in, but the big camper was 29-feet long and only for two people. Only two people could sleep in it and it seemed excessive. We were like, “If it’s a two-seater, let’s get a tiny one,” because we spent all our time outside. The progression was we camp to be outside to be renewed. Why should we have this huge rig, terrible gas mileage and all this that goes with it? We sold it and felt great.
We got the tiny one, worked on it. Through COVID, I was able to work on it and we used it a lot bugging out. It’s a great little bug out box, put your stuff in there and go. I even built bunks in it and had my sister-in-law sleep with us one night. The three of us in this tiny box, 6X8 foot. It’s like a teardrop camper but off-road, for those of you who haven’t seen it. It was great, but there’s no potty, which is a problem. There’s nowhere to stand up. You can even get on your knees hardly. We took it down to the keys and it rained on us almost the whole time.
It was great. We found a way to sit inside of it like hunker down a little bit. I had this realization that was like, “Limitation is great. Outdoors is great, but you still need a potty.” I always knew it was coming back. I was waiting on the day that I could have both. That’s what happened. The day came where we were pregnant and I said, “Now is the time to start looking.” Within a month I’d found a great deal and got it. My takeaway is the tiny camper is great for camping when you want to be in the woods, feel connected and have a great time. It’s like in a tent, but you can lock the door. You can temperature control it. It’s a little extra nice.
The big camper is great when you’re trying to have a longer trip. You want to go to Utah. You want to go to the beach for a week. You want to have a vacation, but you don’t want to be in a hotel or you don’t want to go through a town. You want to go around the town. That’s great. That’s the RV lifestyle, but we didn’t know we were our RVers. We thought we were campers only. After time goes by, you realize we would do both. What’s interesting is I have less money in both campers than I did the one I started with. My advice there is do your research, talk to me, because there’s a lot of money to be saved in RVs.
The RV advisor, that might be a new job title for you. I could see it.Progress is through honesty and humility. Click To Tweet
I have a lot of clients who are interested and I’m able to help them. I’m passionate about it. It’s funny because I’m like, “I’ve been down that road.”
One thing that I can always count on for you is doing the research, geeking out and going down the deep dive into whatever it is. You have always done that well and I love that about you. If we go back to how you described 2020, one of the big things was analyzing obstacles. In looking back, how did you grow in your ability to analyze obstacles and maybe even change your perspective on those obstacles?
The most profound thing I learned in 2020 was how much I need obstacles in my life. We all assume that we are good to go. Obstacles are a problem for us because we’re good to go. We need everybody to get out of our way and we’ll have a great time. The reality is we are broken, fallen, and also very confused. We are self-deluded. The only way to get out of a self-deluded environment where you lie to yourself is to have someone else rub against you constantly.
You’re like, “Maybe I’m wrong.” If I’m not wrong, I’m probably missing something and you are. What I’ve learned is at work, I have learned the art of middle management, middle leadership. You’re not the top dog, but you’re not the tiny dog either. How do you accept ownership of the organization from the middle? That goes along with the same idea that the obstacles in your way, as a leader, are the very means of the goal you want to achieve.
If communication is a problem and an obstacle, because no one seems to communicate, you put her by in a room and shut the door and force it. You do it wisely, but you commit to it and you lead in that. You say, “I’m going to over-communicate because that’s the right thing to do. That’s what we all need to do.” It will slowly start to evolve. After about two months of that, you’ll realize, “Before this trial, this obstacle, I didn’t know how to communicate as well as I do now.” I was incomplete. I’m looking at everybody else saying, “We’re broken. You all are messed up,” and it’s easy to judge them. Looking back after all this, I realized that I needed it.
I feel like it’s so universal too in that until we go through the conflict, the obstacle, or that process with other humans especially, we struggle seeing ourselves subjectively. That’s a human condition. The thing we get most annoyed with and others is present in ourselves. We’re subconsciously annoyed with ourselves about that, but we haven’t maybe even consciously recognized it.
One of the obstacles that we face a lot is about self-limitations. We are eager to give ourself a pacifier or a way out. We cut the legs out from ourself when it doesn’t make sense. If we’re honest with ourself, we would say, “I’m inadequate or I need work in these areas.” That honesty would lead to discomfort and that discomfort may lead to change or it may not. That’s what we’re afraid of. What if we get it all out on the table and I don’t change? I’m still the undercommunicating, lackadaisical, lazy guy or whatever. I’ve admitted it. Everyone knows it. Now I’ve got to change.
Progress is through honesty and humility, but it is painful because you are going to be seen as a hypocrite for six months. I’ve said it. I need to get better at this. You keep not doing bad and people are going to call you out. Your best self is at the end of the road of humility and humble pie. If you’re not eating humble pie on the regular, you’re either not working in a group, you’re a solo guy, and you need to find a way to get some humble pie, or you are in a group and you’ve disconnected yourself and plateauing. My growth is directly related to how much humble pie I eat. It astonishes me because I’m not the one that’s the problem. They’re the problem.
On that, how do you get good at eating humble pie? I’m curious to hear what you think on that. How do you grow to become good at being a humble pie eater?
Do you mean good in the sense of personal, I don’t have a problem with it anymore like I’m good with it or what do you mean?
How do you grow in your ability to eat humble pie? It’s always going to be uncomfortable, but we can get better at it and more consistent at it.
One solution maybe just discipline yourself to do it. The answer lies in what you love. This always happens. We will not change if we’re not motivated by love, self-love or otherwise. Self-love is the cheapest form. Others love is most powerful and it makes us bigger. It grows our soul. If I love someone else, I will eat humble pie every day because the fruit of that is they’re flourishing. If your friend next to you has a beef with you, the best way to break down the wall and get them to grow and move on is to eat humble pie.
If you see all these flaws in them, the only way they’re ever going to open up is if you tell them your flaws and do it, be very open with it, time and time again. You give them ammo against you. It takes faith to know this is going to work out. Over time, you see the reward cycle and it starts to build to the point of it’s the natural necessary step toward that goal of progress, that goal of becoming a better team or whatever. The person on the team who is hesitant to open up is the one that’s not the team player. I don’t care how much they do for you or anybody else. They’re the ones I’m looking at to work on to say, “We need to have a come to Jesus meeting.” It’s not confrontational. It’s by example. I’m trying to focus on them to show them that.
I’ve been reading Robert Greenleaf’s book, Servant Leadership. It’s a classic. Have you read that?
No, I hadn’t.
I don’t remember who recommended it, but it was ‘70s or ‘80s when it was written. It’s phenomenal so far. I’m only about a third of the way through. The idea of Servant Leadership isn’t that hard to understand, but it’s compelling to follow because it’s that hard to practice. It’s that rare of being practiced. Our default is leadership is this form of pride in a sense that you don’t have weaknesses that are easily seen. People want to follow that, but that’s the complete opposite. You’re willing to lay yourself down for the other and serve the other out of your weakness and your strength. You’re honest and humble about that. It’s generative than in others. That’s the goal. I can generate more of that leadership within other people that receive that out of love like you said.
The term servant leadership is super good, but it’s been overused by prideful people. At the end of the day, servant leadership doesn’t happen when someone’s heart is prideful. You can try and you can make it look that way. I have been led by someone in the past who smells like a duck but was not because his heart wasn’t there. People can tell. People have incredibly sensitive BS detectors. I can tell you, there are more people out there who claim to be servant leaders than there are those who are and never say it about themselves. That’s what leadership is.
Leadership is sneaky. It is subversive. Everyone wants to be seen as a leader. The other way around would be that the leaders among us are the ones that we think are probably not. The ones who are talking about it all the time, they may help lead directionally where we’re going, but they don’t lead values. The guy at the company who leads the values is the guy who loves things more than anybody else and shares that love. The leader is up there telling us where to turn.We will not change unless we're motivated by love. Click To Tweet
I want to know a little bit more on what you brought up of this experience of leading from the middle and the art of middle leadership. I love this idea and concept. I’m curious to know how your views or thoughts on it have changed from going through the experience of it. I first latched onto the idea or heard it from Jocko Willink’s book, Extreme Ownership, talking about leading up the chain of command, which is a great initial idea plant. I’d love to hear what your experience has taught you about that role.
I read the same thing and was super excited about that. I was like, “I want to figure out how to work this into my life.” It’s an idea. It’s not a reality necessarily from his book. It’s theoretical. Where’s the practical example? I was looking around. What happened to me between reading that book and watching a video of Simon Sinek, between those two things is where I learned it. I watched this video from Simon where he talks about middle leadership, leading from the middle on YouTube. It is good and clear. It is a little more helpful than Jocko but if you hadn’t experienced that, it’s still all theoretical.
What happened to me is two years or so passed between reading that book and watching that video, and in those two years, I have learned hard knocks of what I’m doing. That’s exactly what I was doing. I know I was learning. The learning of it was everything, but my senses were piqued by Jocko and Simon. What I learned is that in any context, an organization is on this planet in order to flourish. It doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to make money, but they’re there to flourish. That’s number one. You’ve got to assume that organization is there to do well. If it’s not, get out. That’s the only way I can put it. The military is there to do well. They’re not trying to do bad, but there are companies out there who want to do bad. They want to do basic bad work, get paid for it and go home.
If that’s where you are, you’ve got to have somebody who’s got some gumption. That’s number one. If you do, let’s say you have an environment that is full of gumption, at least in some level, then you’ve got to find out what they value. You need to be able to list a couple of their top values. What do they value in the world for their life? Is it money, time, flexibility, love, gifts? It’s like love language stuff, but deeper about not just love, but what do they value?
Find out all that for the people that you work with in your little circle, the ones you’re leading and the ones that are leading you. Find out how that connects to work. If one lady values hard work, then at work, what does that look like? What is her explanation of that? It may be that she loves it when you take the trash out, clean the break room, keep your stuff clean. It may be that she wants you to crush it on your task list, and have a paper trail mile long because you’re getting it done. Everybody has their thing. It’s all very unique and super funny at the end of the day.
Why is it that you think that paperwork is more important than calling people or why do you think talking to you is more important than taking the trash out? I’m not saying there aren’t hierarchies, but everybody has their thing. Learn that and then for the people above you, find out what it is that they’re lacking in to make the whole organization better. It typically is going to be communication, leadership, vision, encouragement, those are the top four to me. A lack of vision is huge in almost every company, and a lack of encouragement in that vision to help everyone see where they fit in that. Their leadership is all about giving a pathway, grooming, inspiring, motivating and charging that up. They have marching orders from now to kingdom come and they’re ready to crush it. That’s successful leadership, but that only happens when you motivate them the right way. It’s not just money.
Some people don’t care about bonuses at all. It’s way more touchy-feely. If you’re in the middle, you find the people under you and figure out what it is that they love and you make them your top clients. If the service that I provide, whatever that service is, we’re all in the people business. The people business is all about making them feel loved, cared for, understood and valued. Treat them like your best billion-dollar client. If you treat the people under you that way, then the people above you will see that. When you go to the people above you with a problem or a solution, they’re going to see how you have handled that in your world.
They’re going to want to emulate that to see how successful it was. “Here are my ten people and they’re all doing great. Here’s the problem we had and this is the solution that I brought to the table. This is the response.” It gets back to him. That’s how things change, success on the ground in real-time and space. You took four of the most difficult people and made them all happy with each other on a daily basis, “I love you. Let’s do what you’re doing.” Way too often in my past, it was theoretical because it takes time. It takes years to do that successfully.
Two years let’s say with the same people, it’s not sexy, it’s slow. Once you earn the trust, once you build the trust, to me, middle leadership is all of our calling. We’re all in the middle at some level. We’re all called to crush it with our little circle of influence, and then let the people above us watch that and replicate it. If they want a successful business, they’re going to do it every time. If they don’t want a successful business, get out.
Organizations are made to flourish. They’re made to serve the people that it affects, and that starts with the people within it serving one another like you’re talking about. I love that breakdown. First, that they’re made to flourish. Second, that they find out what they value both above you and below you. Third, figure out what it looks like in action, and then fourth, ask what they’re lacking or look to see and meet the needs of those above you. It’s fun because while I’m not in a middle leadership position, I experienced this on a level within my marriage of saying, “Marriage is made to flourish, but I have to find out what they value, what they care about, and learn my wife well.”
I have to figure out what it looks like in action. I have to figure out what they’re lacking and what they need, and do that on a daily basis. That was an epiphany for me five months into marriage. I’m an achiever on the Enneagram. I love accomplishing things. Yet I wasn’t taking that mindset to my marriage. I wasn’t saying, “I want to get good at learning my wife well. I want to be able to accomplish, understanding her to the best of my ability.” That shift was a big turning point in the early year stages of marriage of like, “Yeah, that’s my goal. That’s a primary focus for me. How can I do that well?” I like the parallels. I think that can be applied. We’re all middle managers or middle leaders in many avenues of life.
It’s this simple. It’s that we are all selfish people, but what it comes down to is I am going to put you ahead of me. If you do that to people, it will change the world. In marriage, instead of looking at the other person and saying, “What are you going give me?” You look at them and genuinely apply all of your passion, which you bottle up, keep protected, and you exercise it on your little idle, which is what we all do because we’re afraid to let it go.
You get all that passion out and you say, “What if I sent it?” I’m not going to rub your back every now and then, but this is the calling. I’m going to fulfill you in every way that I can just for fun, to see how it goes. I’m going to take my desires what I want for the day and I’ll make you coffee instead. Instead of looking at your coworker, your wife or whatever and saying, “Bring me some coffee.” You say, “Let me bring you some coffee.” That’s what I want. That’s what they want. When you do that stuff, it changes the world because it is random acts of kindness the world would say, but it’s not random. That’s the gel that holds it all together is when you put others before yourself. How often do we do that on a consistent basis? If you did that every day for two years, you’ll fail sometimes but you’re open about it. It will change the world.
That’s helpful what you shared there too because if we can have the expectations that are reasonable for ourselves. Part of that process is we have to expect something that we can attain. We can’t expect ourselves to be these selfless, super loving humans that are always serving others. We have to be realistic and say, “There are going to be times where I’m selfish. There are going to be times when I fall short and I’m not expected to be this superhuman.” Without that, we start getting depressed or despair because we’re never going to reach the aspirations that we have for ourselves in that or that we wish we could. We start using shame and guilt to go down a negative spiral that leads us away from that anyway. There’s such tension in that of saying, “I want to grow in this capacity, but I want to also have reasonable expectations of myself so that when I do fall short, because I will at points, I can love myself in that, pick myself up and not beat myself down.” That’s a tough thing. It’s understated how hard that can be for people, myself included.
It is a weird balancing act tension between forgiving yourself when you fail and yet expecting the moon of yourself. What happens is we don’t like to let ourselves down. We don’t like to feel bad. This is my whole point to start the conversation was we dial back all our ambition and all our dreams to make room for our failure. We say, “Here’s what we could be doing. Here’s all the crazy, energy, fun and life that could be spinning out into the world through us, but we’re going to limit it back here because I failed in the past. I’ll fail again. I don’t want to be caught with my pants down.” You’re putting a bigger concern on yourself and what people perceive of you than your impact in the real world.
For example, I have this theory that we all are like little kids in grown adult bodies that the kid is trapped by all of the things we learn as adults through middle school and high school about people making fun of us and stuff. If we would have gotten rid of all that, the kid inside of us would go crazy. He would ask for way more. He’d do way more. CS Lewis talks about our desires being too little, not too much. I love the movie, Christopher Robin. That’s a great one to watch in this topic. The commerce of life beats him down. He has to remember what it’s like to wonder at the world and not drudge through it.
For example, during COVID, I love to camp. Camping is fun and cool. It’s a good way to get away, recharge and all this. What if camping became the way that I get to challenge myself into uncomfortable places and see what happens? I started to get addicted to this. I camped in a little backpacking tent for one time. I got to a bigger tent and tried that and got a little more comfortable sleep set up. I was like, “It was too comfortable.” I got my wife out there too. We were on family lands, that’s private. We camped with nothing but a tarp over us and then a mosquito net so the bugs wouldn’t get to us. It was like you’re sleeping out in the woods with no protections.
At that point, I worked my way up to it. I was not worried, but it’s way outside of your comfort zone. It’s a challenge. I don’t get paid to do that. Why do I do this? It’s one of the things that If I didn’t do it, a piece of me would die. That piece of me that dies is the piece of me that holds me back from achieving this great ambitious potential that I have. Everybody needs to tarp camp in whatever their thing is. Everybody has this thing and it’s not necessarily tied to money or achievements or materialism. We all have this passionate fire inside that we’ve all quelched. In quelching it, we have died and only about a third of us is left. That third of us we’re asking to leverage for the benefit of others, “Are you serious? I hardly make myself happy. I’ve got this pet sin right here that’s tearing me apart because I’m not fulfilled.” The reason you’re not fulfilled is because you’ve said no to yourself many times in things that don’t matter because you’re afraid of what people would think of you if you did it.Acts of kindness are what hold the world together. Click To Tweet
I’m passionate about this because everybody has about 30% of their potential at work at any one point in time. What if you unleashed the 70% and you didn’t change the job? You didn’t say, “Now you can go and be a millionaire.” You say, “Do the same thing you’re doing now,” like my mailman wave at me every time. My UPS guy is awesome. He has always that personality. You don’t have to do that. You give him a box and go home. He’s always making conversation. He’s living his best life. He’s flourishing. I go back in my house thinking I’m going to flourish too. It’s a big deal if we all did that.
I love that you brought up the inner child within all of us because that is one of the obvious limitations. As children, we are vulnerable and with that comes hurt, trauma and pain. All of us experienced that to greater and lesser extents. The work of adult hardships is to go back, understand, discover, work through, process and move through that journey into what our fullness of potential could be. For myself, I’ve been incredibly blessed with very little baggage or trauma or anything from my childhood that would be extremely lasting and debilitating now.
There are a ton of people that that’s not true, that’s not the case. That work is going back to understand and move through the difficulties or the ways we’ve been hurt, the ways that we’ve hurt ourselves, the ways that we limit ourselves or create these fears. It is a protection mechanism. We protect ourselves from the ways that we failed or we’ve hurt or been hurt by others. Thus, we continue to further that pattern until we reconcile, process and move through. That can be done in a lot of ways, but doing hard things is a part of that.
The professional golf journey was such a journey of self-discovery for me because it was brutal. It entailed so much failure. Your health struggle was a process for you that was immense, deep and furthered a ton of this too. Once you get to that place, to follow back into where we started in the sense that that distinction between what is impossible and what is improbable is important. We need to lean into things that are improbable, but the second we start trying to do something that truly is impossible, that’s when we will be self-defeating because we’ve set too high of a goal or a standard expectation. Improbable will always bring out more good within us because it may be beyond our grasp, but we’re stretching. We’re trying to grab it still.
In what you said, there are a couple of things that stood out to me that I want to hit on. One is that we have the wrong idea about baggage too. I get what you’re saying, but I also think that we have baggage that’s good. For example, my wife grew up in a context of such a loving family that’s supportive, that the opinions that our family had, she was given. She didn’t know why she has them. This is dumb. I don’t want to get too in the weeds on it, but a simple example would be that one of her opinions going into marriage was that the best way to travel is to fly and rent a car or road trip.
When we got married, she said, “I won’t go camping with you. It’s not going to happen.” I was like, “That’s fine. I don’t like camping anyway.” A year later, we bought a camper. She had this bias in her mind because of what her parents had told her that was not bad. It wasn’t baggage, but it was limited. She told herself, “Faith doesn’t like camping,” because of her parents. Imagine that concept times a thousand where your parents or your faith community or whoever your community tells you something and you believe it. You probably believe it at this day. Faith would never have gone camping if it wasn’t for me, an outside force coming in, very persuasively over and over, “Let’s go look at campers.” As we did, she opened herself up to it.
That is life. Life is defined by relationships with people who love you enough and care for you enough to push you, and maybe don’t have an agenda for you, but they’re there pushing you. You’re real with each other. As you do that, you change. A marriage is a great example. You grow into a better version of yourself. I have found that growth process is not one of constricting and becoming more and more detailed. It is one of opening. I thought this was off limits. I thought that was wrong or I thought this was the bad way to do it. As we go through life, we discover these things, especially in your 20s and 30s. What happens is people stagnate. They stop and they assume everything they’ve ever heard is true and that’s it.
That’s more comfortable to do that. We’re creatures of comfort in many ways.
If it’s negative baggage or positive baggage, both are very uncomfortable to deal with because you have to assess it and go what is best.
That seems like the archetype of the hero’s journey in the sense that you have to go out to gain clarity on yourself, your background, your family, clan or tribe to see it more clearly. That is such a gift now. The ability to go out in many ways is accessible for a large portion of America. We’d be foolish not to take advantage of that. I know I’ve benefited so much from that. I love how you mentioned the process of opening. That’s a great way to describe it because the natural hesitancy or even inner obstacle to that is saying, “I don’t want to open myself up to anything.” I love the quote, “An open mind is not an empty one.” It doesn’t mean you empty your mind of what we know, believe or think. We need to be open to being wrong. That’s the intellectual humility to say, “I may be wrong, but this is how I see it now.” That would free us up in many ways.
It would for sure. That openness is the key to unlocking empathy because if you are closed, you think you’re right, they’re wrong, and then you dehumanize and demonize them. The smartest and best impacts on my life are my close-minded friends and family would judge as weak. It’s amazing to me that the value of close-minded people is strength and holding on, standing strong, a bastion of strength or whatever. Does God ever call us to be strong, hold on, and be pillars of stuff? No. He calls Jesus to do that. We glom onto Him. In doing so, He walks through doors and then He eats fish but doesn’t digest it because He’s not like a real human, but He is. He floats up into the sky. He does things that blow our paradigm way out of the water. If that means you have to be weak to accept it, then sign me up. That’s not true.
To finish that concept about personal growth and your journey, we all have a journey for sure. My favorite biblical story about this that helped me a lot and continues to help me is the story of Jacob in Genesis. If you read Genesis, it slows way down with Abraham. It focuses on Abraham. Abraham’s life is one big journey of faith. He leaves home by faith. He enters the promised land by faith. God gives him a covenant 1, 2, 3 times over the course of 25 years, promising him a son. That’s what it all boils down to. He gives it three times. He reaffirms it, but 25 years passed and still no son. He’s 100 years old. Finally, he has a son and guess what happens next?
God tested him. He says, “Go kill him, go slaughter him on the altar.” Abraham got up, got his tools together, got his son and headed out. He’s quiet. He does it. At the end, the angel stops him and says, “Your heart was in the right place. Now I know that you have achieved a life of faith.” God put him to the test on that. After Abraham, Isaac is super boring. He’s like the most boring guy. Jacob, you have another example. Abraham’s story is the life of faith, the struggle of faith with God, is He going to keep his word or not?
I have not just faith now, but choice. Which one God is going to choose, Jacob or Esau? You have two now, not just one son. God chooses the younger and it starts to get complicated. Who is this God? He’s subversive. Jacob is a mischievous liar from the beginning. His mom helps him. He manipulates things for his benefit. The narrative is super funny and all the ways this happens to him. He ends up getting manipulated himself quite a few times, but he ends up blessed by God. Even though he’s a manipulator and crazy, he’s blessed by God because he’s part of God’s covenant line of Abraham.
Toward the end there, Jacob has wrestled with his dad for the blessing. He’s wrestled with his brother to not die. He’s wrestled with his Uncle Laban for now two wives, one of which he doesn’t love. He’s wrestled with his wives because one of them is barren and the other one is not. One of them is using kids to fight the other one, giving him concubines. He was just wrestling. Right before his story ends, he wrestles with an angel or a man in the river, Jabbok, all night. His family was set there and he didn’t go to sleep. He wrestled all night with this person. The next morning, the wrestling is still going on. Finally, it ends and God touches his hip, puts it out of socket and says, “You will not be called Jacob anymore. You will be called Israel because you’ve struggled with God and prevailed.” God changes his name.
His whole life he’s been named mischievous and that struggle, he was honest with it, and then the audacity of wrestling with God all night and not letting Him go, God touches his hip, puts it out of socket, he still won’t let Him go. The audacity of this man and yet God’s response to him is, “Blessed are you who struggled with God?” He also walks away with a limp. There’s that. That is the journey we all are on. Jacob is profound to me because that wrestling is honest and real when it’s done in the open. It climaxed for him in the river with God. The next day he goes to meet Esau. He assumes that the only way to earn Esau’s favor is to smother him with gifts. Esau doesn’t want that because Esau is here to forgive. That’s what God is.
We think we need to wrestle with God, to overpower Him, to get what we want from Him. God is more like Esau, who’s willing to forgive. He said, “I don’t want your stuff.” That’s the worldview in which serving other people, it makes sense. If you live in a worldview like Jacob did his whole life, serving other people is either a backward means to an end selfishly or is fake. The only way it could be genuine and come from a bottomless pit of motivation is when you realize your very life is yours because you’ve been given as a gift and you’ve been forgiven. When that happens, you have the horsepower.
That’s what I think I want to end on from my perspective on 2021 is that for those people who find themselves up attracted to this lifestyle of selflessness, it’s not from discipline and duty. You can discipline yourself to act selflessly, but don’t discipline yourself to be selfless. It won’t work. You will lie to yourself and get yourself in the worst position. The only way you can be selfless is to see yourself as a product of 100% clean slate given to you with no strings attached, forgiveness. Everything you’ve ever done and will do is forgiven. The bank note is closed. There’s no more money needs to be paid. Take all your little gifts home. When that happens, you look to other people and you say, “I’ve been forgiven millions. I’m going to forgive you your penny.” You have this incredible depth of absorbing evil. When people do stuff to you, it’s like, “Whatever, I get it. Life is tough.” You’re going through a tough time. You empathize. You have you absorb it.Life is defined by relationships with people who love you enough to push you. Click To Tweet
When I see people in my life who absorbed that stuff, I’m immediately like, “Yes,” because they are connected. The only way that’s possible is either they’re a great faker or they’re connected to God divine. That’s a Christian perspective, but that is the perspective we all should have being that we’re all made in the image of God. Here I am expressing my Christian bias. I do think that is the truth about life and that is the way to flourish. That’s the New Year call for me is if I want to flourish, lead from the middle, lead by leadership, by being that guy myself. The only way to do that is to constantly go back to divine, focus myself on God, wrestle with Him, and find the forgiveness.
There’s no better place to wrap up than there. I was going to talk about your new year of bearing other’s burdens, but you summed it up well there. That put a nice bow on it and what a great call to start 2021. This has been a joy. Adam, my brother and my cofounder of the show, this has been awesome. For people that want to connect or pick your brain a little bit more, where do you send them?
You can email me. Instagram is dead, but it’s there, @AdamSetser or something like that. Facebook is there. My website is AdamSetser.com. I post there weekly because I write in the column in the paper. I’ll throw that on there. My email is on my website as well.
Thanks again. This has been a great thought-provoking conversation. I couldn’t have asked for more. I appreciate you and your life. I’m excited for the new addition to the family coming soon and excited for a 2021 camping RV trip to Denver or Colorado. Be blessed. For all of you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.
Following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Just go to ThaneMarcus.com/inthane to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.
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About Adam Setser
My name is Adam Setser and as of 6/2/18 I am married to Faith Setser. She is everything to me.
Vocationally I am a Financial Advisor at The Kerrigan Group, but my background is in divinity. I graduated from The Masters University in Los Angeles with my BA in Biblical Languages, and am on temporary leave from my MA in Theology at SBTS. I am the collegiate minister (and organist) at First Baptist Church Valdosta, member of Valdosta Rotary, Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, and am an Alum of Leadership Lowndes (class of 2019, best class ever!). I am also a weekly columnist at The Valdosta Daily Times, which I cross-post here on my blog for all my out-of-town friends/family.
In 2015 I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, after 4 years of increasingly bad health. I spent 2 of those years largely confined to my bed, and I took it very seriously, spending almost every waking hour reading and studying, trying to make sense of it all. I am a Christian (read my manifesto here), and while my faith did waver in that darkness, God was faithful to bring me back to the light.
There have been periods where I have RUN from writing and the life of the mind, but I’m always brought back. Recently, I determined my “why” again, specifically about the column.
I love music that is honest and relatable, and beautiful, which tends to be either (good) Country or the Classics or Classical. My wife loves Rom-Coms, so now I do too, but I prefer either war movies or dramas, especially historical stuff. I am also a huge Tom Cruise fan—and Robin Williams and Russell Crowe. I play the piano and Faith sings, and sometimes we dance.
We bought a fixer upper in the heart of the city, built in 1940, with all its charm and quirks. We’ve done a lot of renovations ourselves, which is something I have always wanted to write about. We have two motorcycles, and some bicycles. I used to race bicycles but now I am blessed just to be able to ride.
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