Rob Bell is a brother from another mother. I love this man. I’ve listened to Rob’s voice in my earbuds since early 2000’s. When he was a pastor in Grand Rapids Michigan at Mars Hills Church, I would download his weekly sermons and listen to them on my Sunday long runs. Last January, Leith and I went to Rob’s Business edition two-day event in Laguna Beach. Last month we spent the day with him and 99 others in Denver at his How to Be Here Experience. In this podcast interview, Rob Bell and I talk about his new book, How to Be Here.
Click to Listen to Rob Bell interview
Here are some of the highlights from the interview with Rob Bell
- What are you doing here? Do you know?
- What kind of life do you want?
- The World is unfinished
- The story of my Joy Bucket and how making a cup of coffee in a parking lot shifted liberated me.
- The spiritual condition of despair is actually what we want liberation from
- What if our life has more freedom in it that we believe?
- ikigai: the Japanese have a word for what were supposed to do with our life
- Your life is a blinking cursor on the screen of your life waiting for you to create something
- How imagination and assumptions are the two starting places for your life
- Architecting your life is something you do, not something that happens to you
- We live out of a dominant story narrative that we tell ourselves each day.
- Surfing Lake Michigan during a Red Flag warning
About Rob (from Robbell.com)
Rob Bell is a bestselling author, international teacher, and highly sought after public speaker. His books include The New York Times bestseller Love Wins, along with What We Talk About When We Talk About God, The Zimzum of Love, Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Drops Like Stars. At age 28 he founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, and under his leadership it was one of the fastest-growing churches in America. In 2011 he was profiled in Time Magazine as one of their 100 most influential people. Rob was featured on Oprah’s 2014 Life You Want Tour and has spoken at events all over the world. He and his wife Kristen have three children and live in Los Angeles.
Welcome to the work Life Play Podcast.
We've got Rob bell as my guests. I've been following Rob's work since early two thousands, mid two thousands. Today he's actually just come out with the most recent book, how to be here. And we talk about that.
We're highly recommend hanging with him for the day. It's really fun. He's a super high energy, super crazy smart guy. One of the things that is fascinating to me is that he’s all, all off the top of his head or all memorized or all practiced or all, whatever that is. But it's a pretty fascinating day to spend with him. And he talks through the concepts in the book, but it's more of an experience where it's dialogue, where as he talks through this concept of what gets you out of bed in the morning? What gets you out of bed gets you stoked, fired up to do, do your work.
So I think you'll really the conversation today. He's a super solid dude and up to some really cool things in the world. And I think that you'll find in this invitation for doing work that you love and living your life more intentionally and on purpose and playing and adventuring and doing more he's, he's a brother from another the mother.
And a lot of what I've been wanting to share with you guys continuously is about, you know, choosing the work that you love to do. And life's too short to be miserable at work. Or life's too short to do work. That's not meaningful to you and whether that's your vocational work or whether that's just the stuff that you do like this for me today, this is not my vocational earned income for my family, or at least not very much of it. So this is doing work that I love. And then the living on purpose, like we've talked about, and then recently being able to play a whole lot more.
Rob Bell, welcome to the worklife play podcast, brother.
Rob Bell :
So How to be Here is the brand new book title it's out and my wife Leith, and I got a chance to spend a few half a day with you, I guess here couple weeks ago in Denver. And you've already banged out a couple of cities since then. Huh? So tell us about that.
Rob Bell :
I have, Oh, well, you know what, you all, you all were at the first one, which is, it's like that beautiful thing that happens when you have an idea. Yeah. And especially with this book, the thing about writing books, as you sit all alone for years on end writing a book, then it comes out, you do a couple of bookstore signings and then you're onto the next one. You know what I mean? And, and I kept thinking, I would love to set these ideas loose in a room and see what happens and see how people interact with them. So what you were a part of was a grand experiment, which is what if we rented art galleries, dance halls spaces around the country and brought in chairs in like a giant sort of living room circle, square of chairs with me in the middle.
And then I could turn the ideas loose and then people could react to them and we could see what happens. And it's like what you saw in Denver, the alchemy, the sort of explosive thing that happens. People have, you know, people will raise their hands and say, my, my son was violently murdered recently and trying to figure out life after that and everything from the one woman just said, my mom died nine days ago. And I mean, every two, I just quit my job and I'm going to travel for a year to one guy, took his hamster in and the vet, it was an $800 vet bill.
And the vet said to him, you know, these things cost $5. I mean, like just the, the profound of the ridiculous to everything in between, it's been really, really meaningful for me. So that's what we've been doing.
Does it charge you up and you're already writing the next book or inhale and take it all in?
Rob Bell :
Well, in terms of the books, there's usually four or five somewhere in my computer, in my head. Okay. So the next one's pretty well written. The following one is outlined the following one. So there's always, we're always in some stage of just the loose idea. Sometimes there's just the re the first idea and some of the, some of the most basic ideas and that book is probably six years away or something, you know what I mean? Generally you have to live with it.
But then the events, like when I go out and tour, there's a certain, you're breaking yourself open and pouring yourself out, which I think a lot of, I'm sure a lot of your listeners, you know that feeling when you're exhausted, but you're exhilarated, but you're also exhausted. You gave everything you got. And so if you don't take really good care of yourself, the whole thing starts to go sideways.
So part of it, like on a Saturday, like you were at where you were, I talk all day from 10 to 6 is just knowing the next few days, stick to a rhythm of life. For me, it's like, go surfing, whatever you gotta do to allow the tank to be filled back up in the modern world, didn't teach us. The modern world taught us all. Like, I'm sure you how to work hard. There's always somebody putting a ladder up against a building and saying, this is how you climb. Whether it's accumulating possessions, whether it's climbing the ladder at work, whether it's getting a bigger house, whether it's school and getting bigger grades, whether it's socially, you know, being on the scene, knowing people being a climber. But we were taught how to do that, but, but caring for yourself so that you can go the distance with joy and vitality, that's a different set of skills.
The new book is to help people understand the idea of a rhythm of life, the idea of on, but off the idea of a you're on email, but now you're not on email, you've got your phone on you. Now, your phone is not on you. And that part of the insanity of the modern world is if your phone is always on you and you can always be interrupted or get a text, then you're never off. And everything in nature is some form of sine wave up, down, inhale, exhale, summer, fall, winter, spring. Do you know what I mean? The whole thing is a cycle. It's a movement it's an in and out and engage disengage. And if you don't live with that kind of rhythm, you're in trouble.
And how, how long did you Rob live without that kind of rhythm early on in your career?
Rob Bell :
I was taught basically just work as hard as you can. And then once in a while, I'll take a vacation, which generally you spent most of the vacation, just trying to get, trying to detox from the previous season. You know what I mean? Then you just go back to that again
So I had a really, really bad, I had two serious burnouts, like where the doctor was basically like your, your adrenaline glands are empty. And so the first one was in 04. And so I saw, I was sort of, it was great pain and hitting the wall that was like, Oh, if you want to do this work, which you love, you're going to have to begin to think about it in an entirely different way. And that has just been, I've been doing that now for a number of years. Just keep learning. I just keep learning, but it's been, it's been the difference. It's totally been the difference.
So I have this theory, I just did a podcast on, on emotional calories. And the idea of just like we, we eat nutritional calories, we have 2000 a day, you know, whatever, 1800 a day, whatever our diet is, but in our emotional calories, there is there's intake of nutrient and then there's depletion and figuring out. So burnout is very close to my heart, unfortunately, from about a year ago. And what I'm learning is that this in this rhythm that I haven't been taught before, and the ladder climbing that I did and all this, a reward based system in the world actually had a set of depletion or depletion rate of my emotional calories.
The nutrients that fill me back up, I was living like a malnutrition person. And so I was surprised that after all these years and decades of depletion at a higher rate than nutrition, that I'm sideways and in the ditch and upside down. And yet what I'm finding now is, Oh, you mean I've been living contrary to my design. Like you said, everything in nature, right. Has a rhythm. Everything in nature has a winter and a summer and a spring and a fall. Everything has a life and rebirth and death and like, well, how come I thought I could cheat the system. And I could get away with it. Well, it turns out I couldn't, I just, just took a long time to get to the bottom of the bottom to figure out that that was not sustainable. And especially like you said, for vitality and for joy, which to me, I was partitioned for weekends, occasional evenings and a holiday.
You could actually experience joy and that like, as you call it, your, your life is a blinking cursor, like waiting for you to create something like, to me, I thought life was just, you just had to get some shit done and get it done on time. Not, not live well. And that living well was actually what the invitation is. I thought that was all deferred until later. So I've had a bunch of it wrong. So tell us more
Rob Bell :
You know, it's also interesting when you think about the modern world, there are some interesting evidence that people got less sleep with the invention of electricity, because previous to that, when the sun goes down, it's dark. So I guess we go to bed. And then, well, the sun rises. So I guess it's time to get up, like all of creation, like a rhythm, turning the lights on and off. But the moment you have electricity, you have artificial light. And so you can turn the lights on. Like you can live out of sync with what all of creation is doing around you. So then you start to begin to think about human evolution and grouping into cities, villages, towns, cities, neighborhoods, and you think about more and more and more concrete. So how many people today will not put bare feet on soil? You know what I mean? Like you're on concrete, so you're not even touching the earth. And then you're in a building with fluorescent lights and tile floor. So whether it's light or dark is irrelevant to what you are doing, right?
So what happens is you can live your life completely independent of the larger rhythms that are all around you and previous ancestors, you are out, you slept under the stars or you are much more attuned to this. And I think this is why so many people will say, you know, we went for a hike in the Hills, or we went to the woods and I felt reconnected to everything. And so I think part of it then in the modern world is building in an appreciation and an awareness. And for these rhythms that are all around you, but the modern world can insulate you from them.
Normally Friday afternoons, I turn off my computer and I don't do any creating. Cause my work is fundamentally creating on Saturdays. And you know, the ancient mystics talk about how the Sabbath this one day a week gives the energy that gives a university energy. It needs to continue for another six days. And one of the things that sort of saved me coming out of those burnouts was a daily a week, a day, every week, Saturday, that was unlike all the other days was one of the huge turning points for us.
How long did it take to sort that out if 04 was a burnout, like is that six months, two years until you figured out what a rhythm is?
Rob Bell :
Take one step and then you take another step. And at first it was hard. You spend a day being fully present, not checking things off your list, going a hundred miles an hour, it's it puts your body in shock. Especially because you're coming out of a whole system and the way that you live forms neural pathways.
What I hear you talk a lot about is that it starts with a belief narrative that the narrative is we have something special here that this is a re this is we get one turn. And this turn is really, really, really cool. And the awe and the wonder in the invitation to, with all this latitude for what we're afforded and that then once we embrace and kind of figure out more of that personal narrative of what we're here to do and what we're here to do, it doesn't necessarily mean work.
It may mean something like, you know, you, you invite your neighbors to dinner and that's your, that's the thing you're here to do is to love other people. Well, and then out of that narrative then begins an architecture of creating a life. That allows then for the narrative to have room in place as the construct of your life versus the world, defining both the narrative, as well as the architecture of your life.
And then therefore all these rhythms. I've had ingredients of those, but most of them were just to infuse with stuff that wasn't helpful. And we've been in process like my wife and I talked to you is just been in process of dismantling all that stuff. That was no longer useful. However, we, it was also helpful to get to the kind of the end of that story of like, Hey, we've exhausted this trail. There's nothing else that's on this trail. We know where this is headed. And the greater risk is to keep heading down the path we're on than it is to go on a path with that. We've never charted before, which is what we were telling you about, you know, selling our belongings at our house and quitting jobs and just rebooting our life. But most of it was structured or most of it was wired up to this narrative and then architecture of our life. So is that a fair way for how you would describe?
Rob Bell :
Well said, and I think for your listeners, you begin with this process of figuring out what you're doing here. What are you doing here?
You can read that at like a very practical level and at sort of a metal level, but a physical level. And in some ways, and, and, and even to go a step below that, what do you want to do? Like, what kind of life do you want?
I begin with two things are always going to be in play all great movements forward, all growth, all increasing maturity, all later stages of consciousness begin with an opening to imagine patient and a challenging of assumptions and imagination
They are like dance partners, because the first thing is let's together. Imagine what a better tomorrow might look like one that might actually fill you with life and hope and joy and meaning and significance and contribution and all that. What would that kind of life look like? And it will always on the heels of it mean you're going to need to challenge some assumptions that you've been handed by, by your past, by your family tribe system, religion, business, school siblings, you know what I mean? Somewhere, you were handed a system that told you this is how it works. And generally you don't move to greater fulfillment vitality and meaning in life without, at some level challenging and confronting what you were told is simply how it is the installation.
You begin there and like use the word architect, which, which is such an excellent word. What is it that you're here to do? What kind of life are you going to create? And then what will that require?
That's what every, I mean, the wealthiest people, the smartest people, the most successful people, all the people that you think they must've gotten, it figured out, all they have figured out is that we're all in the endless process of figuring it out.
It is just this endless, ongoing how you spend your time, how you spend your resources, how you create boundaries around work and play and family, that's all part of it. And once you relax into that and there's always going to be a tension there and the goal isn't to get rid of the tension, the tension is a sign that you're alive.
So what I like about just to circle through that one more time for the listener of just kind of, as an invitation of an exercise is as you're listening, like, I think it's a good question to ask yourself, like what, what is starting with what's the narrative that I'm living out of is the narrative I'm living out of. What is the, what's the narrative dependent upon? And what I find is that it's been really helpful to get to the bottom of what is the story. I tell myself each day. So when I wake up and say, this is, this is the story, this is the framework, my core belief, because everything flows out of that.
Do you wake up with like, wonder like, Oh, like this gasping, like Christmas day type two, can you believe I get to go do whatever? And, and that's such a different narrative to say, I get to, can you believe? Or what if versus, Oh yeah, I gotta?
And I think that that really fuels then the, wow, what if, what if my narrative's wrong? What if I'm actually here? And this is a mythical mystery, that's a story yet to be told and the end isn't done, but we get to take place in the creation of the story as it unfolds, but we get to take a lead part in it too.
Rob Bell :
Life is something that happens to you. And so the whole thing is something to be endured. And if you can find one, even one small area that you can actually adjust or tweak the knobs or change, then your life, isn't something that is just happening to you. You actually have a bit of power.
The extraordinary thing that happens is when somebody realizes, Oh, wait, I could make this little change. And it could be straightforward is what you eat, how you sleep, how you structure your time. If you have even the slightest tiny little bit of power to turn the knob and adjust things well, is there a chance that you have more?
And if that's the case, are there any other areas that you have assumed, which goes back to imagination and assumptions, are there any other areas where you have assumed this is just the way it is and it's actually not the way it is that there's actually room to tweak it.
Could you spend your day off a little different, even within those strict boundaries, any room you can find where there something you can change.. Well, if that's the case, then maybe there's some other areas and what would that lead to? And all we're looking for is one tiny little thing that if you could change it, then that means tomorrow might not be a repeat of today.
And that's actually the thing you want. What we all want more than anything is we despair as when tomorrow is simply a repeat of today. Yeah. And I actually think, I believe very, actually very passionately that this disease of despair, which is like a spiritual condition, which is tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today. That's the thing everybody wants liberation from what you simply want is this.
So Rob, one of the beginning shifts for that for me is this is probably, I don't know, maybe eight years ago at the time, our circumstances are our daughter, middle daughter was severely special needs and disabled and required full time care. We have two other children who old, one older, one younger, and it was just what I just called shift. I woke up and did first shift that I went straight to work and did second shift. And then I came home and did third shift. And I just found that it was the narrative I was living out of was just, it was just work. And it was just exhausting work. And I always felt like I was always on and always whatever I was behind, always behind and always required the story required something more than I had to give.
I had this backpacking stove. And I had it in my basement and I became really frustrated about I had bought it and it sat in my base for like three years. I never used it. And I was just bitter about the, the amount of times it never got used. So I threw it in the back of my truck. And what I started doing was I at lunch at work, worked in this nine story building and whatever. And I went and bought some via packet Starbucks via packets. And I thought, you know what I'm going to do? And the job was a tough go at the time too, as I'm going to go downstairs in my shirt and tie, I'm going to flip, open the back of my truck, fire up the stove, make a Starbucks via packet. And as I called it, stick it to the man, which really what it was, was a subtle, tiny shift. Like you said, of what if my life has more freedom in it than I knew. What if there is joy to be had on the trunk of my car for 15 minutes?
I can have fun at work and use the stove. It wasn't what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be in the Backwoods, you know, of wherever Alaska. And it wasn't that. But what I found was I could begin to shape the narrative of my life and say, I can have adventure on the trunk of my car. And then I would go back to work with this like little cheesy grin on my face of like, I could have driven 15 minutes away and gone to Starbucks and bought a $3 drink. But that's what, wasn't what I wanted.
What I wanted was to be free freedom to do something different outside of the construct of this modern life that we live in. And that began what you said is kind of the domino effect
I decided to take this white home Depot bucket and slap these stickers on it and then ended up throwing stuff in it like this stove and some other basically underutilized gear and stuff I wish I could use and threw it in my trunk. And my buddy started calling it my joy bucket. And so now my joy bucket is like this infamous thing that guys asked me to pull out and show it to them because they've heard stories about what I can do on the back of my truck. You know, for 15 minutes at a time with this joy bucket, this endless impromptu, you know what I call it is like it's, it's expectancy waiting in my trunk for, for the, the, what if to happen and to unfold. But none of that was available in my life before when it was all out of a narrative of despair, like you said, or cynicism or boredom.
Tell us about surfing. I want to hear about how surfing is part of that restorative rhythm for you
Rob Bell :
The salt water content of the ocean is the same as your mother's womb. So in the ancient Hawaiian language, the word for surfing is the same as the word for origins. So there is something about rebirth for me, you get in the ocean, you get out and you've the system's been rebooted beyond that. I don't have much language for it. Where else do you ride across the face of the planet on an orbital pattern of, in circling energy?
I grew up in Michigan water skiing. Then I moved to California when I was like 21 and I served a fair bit. And then we lived in Michigan, then we moved back to California and that's when I started going like, like constantly something like long stretches where I go every day. And that's when it started to sort of become something else.
I don't even know what day it is, but a couple of days ago I was in the water for a couple of hours and it, man, I'm still sort of buzzing. There’s something about waiting for a set where you adjust yourself to what it's doing. So if the sets are five minutes apart, then you just sit there for five minutes. If they're coming fast, then you're paddling taking one in paddling, back out, sitting for a second, taking one in. And you are, you can't fight it, you cooperate with it. And that just, it somehow does something.
There are waves that I've caught that men, my body like the electricity is three or four days later. It's still like a charged up.
So let me just tell the listeners a little bit. I, as I've heard told on the podcast a few times before is I'm ultra novice surfer, but what Rob's describing out, waiting for the sets, I can tell you as a, I learned on the North shore, my first lesson at Oahu. I thought your job was to paddle every time there was a wave and you try to catch every single one. And like this whole idea of like surfing is, is about rhythm and is about just easing. Like you can't, you can try and go against the system or you can enjoy and settle in.
And no one coached me on that.=. And part of surfing is just enjoying being, which I didn't know how to be either. And so I just wore myself out in a very short amount of time and subsequently have learned that part of surfing is being together or being in a state of as Rob talks about as being off. And that's, if you've never experienced before, so you're waiting for a set. You might wait for three sets of waves to go through. Cause it's not the one you pick. And part of what you're supposed to do is just relax and enjoy and feel the, the saltwater, like Rob mentioned, it's the same consistency as a mother's womb.
So tell me about rubber chicken dinners and why they deserve a no.
Rob Bell :
The good is the enemy of the best. And what can easily happen is your life becomes filled with good things. Things that would be hard to argue against, but you're involved in 17 good things instead of the three great things that are the three things you're here to do. And so you end up at some dinner somewhere, let's say it's a fundraising dinner that your friend invited you to. And it's a fine cause. It's a good cause you believe in that. Cause it's just that you already have two causes that you give money to or time or energy or whatever. And you're like, what am I doing here? And then you realize, Oh, it's because I got invited to this. So I said, yes, partly because I didn't have the guts to say no, but this isn't the best you can be out every night of the week, doing good things which is different than knowing the few things you're here to do. And just doing those few things and then saying no to everything else. And the problem is when your life is filled with a bunch of good things, but it's almost like a laser it's diffused. But a laser is most potent when it, when the heat is centered and focused and it's very, very easy in the modern world to be all over the place. We're so busy. Everybody talks about we're so busy. I guess you guys probably busy to all man, it's crazy. What are you doing that you are so busy and there's the chance that you may wake up one day and you were involved in lots of things, but it left you unsatisfied. But if you had just given yourself to a couple of things and poured the fullness of your being into just those few things and might actually have been quite enjoyable and you might in the end have gotten way more done.
Were you just in the point, where am I doing here? What does, where does this fit? What does this, even one of the questions to ask yourself simply is what are we doing this year? Like, what are we doing? Like what, what is the thing we're saying yes.
I love the thought of here to do one of those few things, things say yes to those, and you can't say, Hey, no, until you said yes. Yeah. And as soon as you have a sense of here's, here are the things we're doing. Now you have some filter or a lens through which you can then think about all the things that come your way. Is this part of those few things? No. Is this, Oh, great. Then let's say no to it. Or is this something we should add? Okay, let's add it. But at least you have some framework. And so oftentimes many people feel distracted. They feel like they're skimming the surface, their own existence. And the first thing you have to do is just go, wait, what are the few things you're doing? And what have you said yes. To, and a lot of people, you just ask yourself what you've said yes. To, if you don't quickly have, whether there's just a couple of things that I do then no wonder you're feeling like you're just scratching the surface.
Yeah. I think that that ties back a lot with does life, do you feel like life happens to you? And often what I found was that the frequency by which I was offering yes. Was directly correlated with that cause and effect of feeling like my life was just happening without me actually architecting it for a life that I wanted to live.
And then frustrated by the byproducts. And I, it turns out that I was responsible that I was way more responsible than I knew or cared to police. And then once I found out I was responsible and then I found out that on the back of my truck, like that story, you could actually influence a life you wanted to live and architect it. Well then hold on. Then I'm the one standing in my way, because this offer, this creation, this untold story, this white canvas is waiting for me. So then time out, I got to get out of my own way.
Rob Bell :
Oftentimes what I've discovered when people start asking some of these questions is don't, you're not agree with them. You are angry with yourself. You're not angry with the system. You're not angry with work. You're not even angry with your boss. You are angry with yourself because at key moments you went along with things or you said yes when you're being your heart, your mind, your soul was actually telling, you know, yes, it is your own courage. That is the issue here.
Oftentimes we're blaming all, well, they're just want so much out of me at work. Maybe they do really want a lot of you at work. That's totally normal. Very understandable. But is there some way in which you have some power that you are not owning and the anger is that you didn't say no? Let's find the courage to do that thing. And we'll probably be a lot less upset with other people.
So one of the things I love and listened to you over the years is I love the ending benedictions so the benediction, for those of you who have not heard one before, you'll, you'll get it real quick, but basically it's just a blessing and I love Rob how you roll. So I would love if you would us with a benediction blessing.
Rob Bell :
Oh man. What could be better? Okay. So all you new friends that have gotten to talk to you on this podcast, may you do the hard work of figuring out who you are and what you're doing here. And may you say yes to a few things that you throw yourself in saying Yes. May you then be clear on what to say no to, and may you be aware that the good is often the enemy of the best. And may you come to see that you are doing a few things intentionally with great imagination, challenging, whatever assumptions need to be challenged is so powerful and the world needs it. And may you take part in the ongoing creation of the world and may it bring you all kinds of joy and may grace and peace be with you every step of the way.
I hope you'll accept my invitation to do your best work, to live the life you want to live and play a whole lot more. If you thought this was fun and you'd like some more visit worklifeplaypodcast.com.
*We’ve done our best for this transcription to accurately reflect the conversation. Errors are possible. Thank you for your patience and grace if you find errors that our team missed.
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