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NO PAIN, NO GAINESI believe in sweat equity. By that I mean actual physical labor. The kind that makes you ache with exhaustion yet fills you with pride the moment your head finally hits the pillow. I always have. It was just one of those things that was built into my DNA.
When I was just a kid struggling to engage in school, it was how I set myself apart. Maybe I wasn’t destined to be valedictorian, but I always knew I could rely on my ability to work harder than anyone else.
From an early age, I spent countless summers working out the nuances of every sport imaginable. I pounded the pavement selling books door to door till late into the evening. I trimmed trees and mowed acres of grass from dawn till dusk in the scalding Texas sun. Now I restore hundred-year-old houses back to their former glory. I build new houses from scratch. Perspiration and aching muscles make me feel alive. If I come home at the end of the day and my shirt and boots are clean, I don’t feel right. I feel unsettled, like I’ve shorted myself somehow. But when I’ve physically worked hard, when I’ve given something of myself and can actually feel what it cost me, that to me is time well spent. Those days hold real worth.
I remember one time back when I was a sophomore in high school, my granddad, J.B., took me out to his ranch to help him dig some postholes for a fence he planned to build. J.B. had another errand to run, so he dropped me off and told me to get to work until he came back around lunchtime.
I’m a very competitive person, always trying to prove myself. I got that from my dad. In our house, when the mail came, it was a race to see who could get back with it first. If you ordered a pizza, it was a competition to see who could eat it the fastest. J.B. was always messing with me about being a city boy, so when he left me there, I thought, I’ll show him. I’m gonna go dig some holes. If you’ve ever seen a posthole digger, it’s not a real comfortable tool to use. You’ve got a shovel handle on your right and you’ve got a shovel handle on your left, and at the bottom two thin shovel heads come together. When you stab it into the dirt, you pull these two handles apart and it closes the two shovels together. You pick up some earth and drop it right next to where you dug it up. Doesn’t sound like much, ’cause you’re not having to move the dirt twenty-five feet; you’re just moving it a couple of inches. You pick up dirt, you drop it. You do that until you get down about a foot and a half. Then, due to the nature of those thin shovel heads, you have a hole about six to eight inches in circumference.
I got to it, and right away I realized that the dirt seemed more like concrete. No big deal, I thought. This requires no critical thinking, no strategy. It’s just a lot of hard work. I know how to do that.
So I kept at it, and by hole number four, my arms were burning. The dirt I was digging into was rock-solid earth. By five, I could feel the blisters forming on my hands and realized this was going to be a looong several hours. The force of that posthole digger hitting that rock-hard dirt made those blisters throb until they finally burst. And once the blisters burst, it was like I was not only tunneling through solid concrete inch by inch but doing so while holding a scalding-hot tool with my hands on fire. The more I worked and clawed at those holes, the slower I felt I was going, and the less it seemed I was accomplishing.
I held my head up to look down at the long row of holes left to dig. I wasn’t more than an hour into this thing. Before I’d started, I thought I would have dug twelve or fifteen by now.
I was down on my hands and knees for like fifteen minutes trying to catch my breath, a little frustrated and a lot embarrassed. What had I gotten myself into? I still had a couple more hours until J.B. returned, so I stood up and lugged myself back over to the next post. There might’ve been a few tears in my eyes.
When J.B.’s truck appeared I got a little flushed in the cheeks. I’d managed to dig only ten holes since he’d dropped me off that morning.
What do you know—he hopped out of his truck, walked over to me, and told me what a hell of a job I’d done. I hadn’t given up, and for that he was proud of me. Through my blisters and through my aching muscles, it was evident that I had given it my all. It may not have looked like a job well done to me, but J.B. could see that. Despite the embarrassing number of holes, the evidence of my hard work was actually found in my effort. I might’ve been knocked down a peg or two, but you know what? That night I went to bed proud and woke up the next day ready to do it again.
It’s like I told you—I like to sweat. That’s been true ever since I was a little pint-sized hustler selling candy and Capri Suns down at the public tennis courts or doing yard work with my parents. Later, I sweat plenty running circles out on the baseball field and putting in long hours starting various small businesses. You’ve probably even seen me sweat when Joanna and I did Fixer Upper. I’ve got no shame about any of that. I didn’t bat an eyelash telling you about how digging posts nearly did me in. I’m proud of it. I have always known deep in my bones that hard work yields great results, even when there’s little evidence of it.
Joanna and I have built our entire lives around this notion. We’ve put decades of hard work and grit and a whole lot of sweat equity into the work we do, and now we’re launching into what might be the hardest work we’ve ever done: building a network. We were a few months out from our launch date when I realized—and I swear it was as crystal clear as I’m telling you now—that this physical network we are building wouldn’t be possible without the network of people who have poured their lives into both me and Joanna and the work we’re doing. Some when we were young, and some laboring alongside us now. I told Jo, “I think I want to write a book about how we’ve built our network.”
Jo and a few people on our publishing team kindly pointed out that there are already a lot of books out there about networking, and I would add that most of them were probably written by people much smarter than I am. Books that I’m sure have a ton of extremely useful tips in them, but most of those books focus on how to network, “network” the verb. How to go out into the world and meet powerful people who can turbocharge your career. But that’s not at all what I’m after, and not at all what you’ll find in this book. I am more interested in “network” the noun, the group of people with beating hearts and passions who live and love and try and fail, and who are there beside you as you do the same.
Hard work yields great results, even when there’s little evidence of it. #makesense
The title of this book was going to be Building a Network because I’m a sucker for wordplay (get it—building a network?). But I kept veering off track. Every time I started thinking about my own network of people, I’d think about the circumstance that bonded us. It certainly wasn’t any kind of “networking” event.
My network has been built by a bunch of small moments. Moments where someone extended me kindness instead of anger, and I chose to pay that kindness forward. Moments when someone told me, “It’s just business,” and I refused to believe them. Moments when I had their backs and they had mine, even when it looked inevitable that we were going to lose. Moments I chose to do right by someone or they chose to do right by me, even when what was right was far from easy. Moments when either one of us could have brushed the other off because it wasn’t convenient, but we didn’t. Moments when we chose to lean in instead of pulling apart. Moments when authentic human connection was more important than any other earthly thing, when we decided to bet on each other instead of the way of the world.
Those experiences required hard work. It was painful at times. But boy was it worth it! And it got me thinking about what those fleeting moments of discomfort, inconvenience, and pain have yielded over a lifetime—a network of people I trust and who trust me.
In Jo’s and my life, these are people so outstanding they have come through for us in good times and bad. People who remind us who we are and what we value and don’t let us settle for anything less. People who have our confidence because they can be counted on no matter what. People who have lifted us up and who know that we will do the same for them.
A network like this doesn’t come easy. To say it requires sweat equity would be an understatement. It requires faith in people. It requires trust. It requires hope and lots and lots of very hard work. Not necessarily the kind of work that makes your back ache or hands throb, but equally hard, fulfilling work. Because sometimes you can be surrounded by people and yet still feel utterly alone. But you work to find one person you can lean on—that’s one connection. You work to find someone else who believes in who you are, not what you can do for them—that’s another connection. Before long, you’ve got a series of connections that hold you up. And this work, when done, can yield a network that can sustain you for a lifetime. A network like the fence I was building at my granddad’s ranch. A single post may not be worth much, and building it was painful, but connect it to another post, and then another, and what you’ve gained is something strong, something reliable, something that can shape the world.
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