On Accomplishing MORE than You’ve Ever Imagined
One Big Lesson from my January Reading
You can do more than you imagine, if you’d simply commit to less than you’re capable of.
That’s my big takeaway from January 2023.
This year, I’m setting habit goals instead of outcomes, because I’m in a little bit of fragile place right now. I’ve lost my footing. I’ve spent close to two decades building a vocational foundation, that I’ve (in some ways) left behind. I can tell I’m off balance because I keep hearing things people aren’t saying. For example:
They say, “what you up to these days?”
But I can’t help hearing “WHO ARE YOU NOW THAT YOU’RE NO LONGER A PASTOR?
See what I mean. I know it’s innocent, non-threatening, surface-level conversation about my daily activities and they’re just grazing on the top layer, satisfying their curiosity. But it feels like they’re drilling deep into my identity insecurities. My current preoccupation with reestablishing an identity apart from my vocation has me hyper focused on my identity. So rather than ignore this tension, I figured I’d lean into it with my reading.
As I thought about my reading for this year, I decided against setting outcome goals. That’s too stressful for me. 2023 is a year of recovery and I’m going to work extra hard to ensure that I prioritize rest. That means, any habit goals I set need to be able to be accomplished with minimal (and I mean the very least amount of) effort. For me, that was 30 minutes a day. WAAAYYY below my threshold. Way beneath my capability. This is something I can do effortlessly. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I set the benchmark and intended to do the absolute least. And I never could have imagined what happened next.
I ended up accomplishing more than I could have imagined. Reading began to replace some of the time wasting habits I’d been (unsuccessfully) trying to stop for years. And I saw it, as clear as day. These words materialized in my head.
Bad habits aren’t erased; they’re replaced.
Habits don’t just vanish, they have to be replaced (or displaced) by bigger ones. Better ones. And setting goals BELOW my capability was the key to making sure I stuck with those habits. Once you stick with a habit, you learn that commitment is the sunlight that pulls a new identity out of the sprouted seed of a habit. Because when you set goals BELOW your capability, it removes the intimidation and negative self-talk that often keeps us from doing more than we’d ever imagine.
The hardest part is getting started and once you throw out the excuse that you don’t have time to do everything you want to do, you find there are multiple starting points in the day. That’s been the case for me. Over the past 46 days, I can probably count on 2 hands the days I’ve ONLY spent 30 minutes reading. What usually happens is that I spend much more than 30 minutes because reading has become a way of life. Something I look forward to, the way I looked forward to scrolling IG during down times. The only difference is, after losing an hour in a book, I look back on it with fondness. I’d only ever really look back with regret after those little games on my iPhone robbed me of some of my best hours.
Essentially, my new habits have done what habits do. They’ve changed me. For the better. I’m living my life as a lover of books and that love has introduced me to a few books that have changed my life (more on those in February’s review).
Now on to my January reads. I hope you find something in these recommendations that inspire you. Just a quick note before I move on (and I’ll say a variation of this every time you hear me talk about books—it’s the teacher in me, I can’t help it!).
The most important factor in a book review isn’t the book or the author, it’s the reader. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’ll type it and accentuate the most important words for the sake of clarity. One of (if not) the most important factor in a book review is the reader.
I want to situate all of the following words in a particular context. The life and times of Chimdindu John Onwuchekwa (me!). Before taking any of my recommendations, I want y’all to be able to understand where I’m at so you can know a little bit about the lenses through which I’ve read each of these books. My life situations affect how I’ve processed all of these books, and it’ll most definitely affect how I talk about them. They may not do for you what they did for me and that’s okay!
Where I am (physically) right now: It’s February 13th, 2023. It’s 9:28pm and I’m hunched over my iPad on my round kitchen table. The table’s full of items that don’t belong on a kitchen table and they’ve all gotten there because of me. I’ve promised my wife I’d put them all away. We both know it’s unlikely anything other than my iPad will be in a different place come tomorrow morning, but after 15 years of marriage, we’ve both learned to love this game of pretend we play every day. My dog is bothering me, she keeps licking my sweaty legs trying to get my attention. My back is hunched over and I have terrible pain in my lower back. I just came back home from playing basketball and I didn’t stretch (nor did I take my ibuprofen). That’s where I am physically in time and space. All that means is, I’m behind on this newsletter. If I had more time, you likely would have gotten a shorter note.
Mentally and emotionally, however, I’m floating. Unanchored. I’m drowning in possibility. People don’t tend to use those words together. Drowning and Possibility. One word is terrifying while the other, the latter, is other exciting, life-giving. And when you’re anchored, possibility feels fantastic. When you don’t have an anchor, possibility is terrifying. It’s an ocean and I’m a non-swimmer. I’ve grown accustomed to having fun in the shallow end where my feet can touch the bottom. When my wife sees the beach, she sees leisure—I see danger and liability.
I’m in an ocean of possibility for the first time in my adult life. There are so many different ways my life can go. So as you read these next words about the books that impacted me, I just want to make sure that you’ve properly read me. Some of the books I’ve loved you may hate them if and when you pick up and hate and vice versa. And that’s okay. Life’s too good to read bad books, if it don’t grip you, then put it down and start again until you find something that moves you!
Without further ado, here are my January 2023 reads with a few words about how they impacted me and why they stood out.
ANCHORED IN THE CURRENT: Discovering Howard Thurman as Educator, Activist, Guide, and Prophet by Dr. Gregory Ellison II - I was initially drawn to this book because of the commas. As someone who’s always loved describing what I do with forward slashes and the word “and”, this book gave me permission to be (not just anything I wanted, but ) everything I wanted to be. Seeing the way Thurman so effortlessly moved in and out of different vocations in various seasons of his life made me feel not crazy. I found so much encouragement in the autobiographical sections of his life—especially the points where it talked about his patterns of rest and sabbaticals. This book definitely gave me a new paradigm for thinking about the future in seasons as opposed to something more fixed and final.
DISCIPLINES OF THE SPIRIT, Howard Thurman - A refreshing take on the spiritual disciplines. I loved how he included ones that so many traditions are familiar with (silence and prayer), and I loved how he included an entire section on reconciliation as a necessary component to spiritual life and health. It’s made me rethink how I operate in so many relationships. (Especially with some of these clowns that have rubbed me the wrong way over the years. I need to have a conversation or two). The last line in the book was one of the most potent; and probably one of the most well known from Thurman. It captures how he seeks to live in the world by painting such a vivid picture of love. “TO LOVE IS TO MAKE OF ONE’S HEART A SWINGING DOOR”. This has been my daily prayer and I hope I can live this out in my humanity in ways I never imagined when pastoring.
REST: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Work and rest aren’t opposites. They’re two sides of the same productivity coin. This was a helpful addition to the 10,000 hr rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS and Cal Newport’s, DEEP WORK. Both of those books focused on how genius’s in their field worked while taking for granted the importance of their structured rest. For instance, you’d be shocked by the napping habits of people you admire. Take for instance, Winston Churchill. He had such conviction about the importance of rest that when bombs were dropping on Germany in WWII, he kept his midday nap. I’m talking, after lunch, he’d take a shower, get in his pj’s, tuck the top of the cover under his chin and turn on the white noise and make sure no one woke him up. EVERY DAY. He attributed that structured rest as one of the keys to his ability to think clearly. If he’s got time for a daily nap…you can make something happen.
QUIT: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, Annie Duke. We live in a world that treats grit and perseverance as an absolute virtue and quitting as an absolute vice. That’s a terrible way to live. They both vehicles. Sometimes quitting what you’re currently on is your best next step forward. (Remember, when it comes to mountain climbing, the goal isn’t to make it to the top, it’s to get to the bottom alive. In order to do that, you’re likely going to have to quit before reaching your goal. And that’s okay!)
JAY-Z: Made in America, Michael Eric Dyson. Jay-Z as a person is presented as a Public Intellectual and his life as fine art. The exhibit: the truest embodiment of the American Dream. Michael Eric Dyson is an amazing curator and guide for this exhibit. Such a unique and interesting take on one of the most unique American stories we’ve ever experienced.
THE RUTHLESS ELIMINATION OF HURRY, John Mark Comer - Magnetic.
STORYWORTHY, Matthew Dicks - The cheat code when it comes to storytelling. This book is worth its weight in gold. I can’t even really start talking about this one because I don’t have enough room to get you into all of the goodness. Reading this book is like going to the eye doctor and discovering for the first time you need glasses. This book is both the diagnosis and the glasses. You’ll see life differently after reading this one. (Side note: This book is much better the 2nd time through)
HEAVY: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon. WOW! (I don’t even really talk like that. I NEVER say WOW…but I did when I read this book. It changed me by showing me the power of unbridled vulnerability. The things you want to forget are the very things that actually make your story unforgettable. I’ll never look at words the same way again after reading this one. With this book, Kiese Laymon elicited a feeling similar to when I read Toni Morrison & Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He’s a special, special writer.
What’s one goal that’s WAY below your capability that you’re going to start focusing on this week? I’d love to hear from you now, and maybe a month from now to see how you’re starting and how you’re getting along.
Also, what books should I be making a note to read in the community months? Would love hear what books are changing how you see the world.
Keep me posted.
One goal that I currently have is to do yoga several times each week. This goal is beneath my capacity because a few years ago I ran a marathon, but since 2020 I’ve struggled with my health. I decided that I’d rather build a base for long-term health over big goals that feel good to meet, but aren’t sustainable.
A few books I’ve enjoyed lately are: Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle by Danté Stewart and Young, Gifted, and Black by Shelia Wise Rowe.
A good, fun, fascinating read is The Theory of Everything Else by a guy called Dan Schreiber. Well worth reading or listening to if you do Audiobooks. Funny, interesting - I loved it! Not a Christian book by any means (sorry for the swears!) but really refreshing and entertaining.