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Moving from a Life of Getting to One of Giving

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

For many people who have experienced a major transformation in their lives their story begins at the bottom of the barrel.  Often a series of bad decisions, wrong turns, or being complacent, have placed them in a dark place with seemingly no way out. 

This was certainly not the case for Halftime Institute CEO Dean Niewolny.  He was at the absolute pinnacle of success, leading Fortune 500 Company Wells Fargo in Chicago.  Yet he arrived at a place of persistent reflection where he kept wondering if there should be more to life than what he was experiencing.  From this misery, he made a choice to do something about it.  His decision led him on a journey of self-evaluation and eventually to a life-altering crucible:  trade in his lucrative world of high finance to help other people to find passion and purpose in their lives.

I recently spoke with Niewolny about his new book Trade Up, a work designed to take people from “just making money” to “making a difference.”

You had four homes, a boat and were overseeing a $100 million dollar market.  You seemingly had it all.  Please describe some things that happened in your life that led you to make the decision for a radical change?

It’s interesting. When I was younger, my dream was always to make as much money and accumulate as much wealth and toys as possible; because I thought, well, the person who dies with the most toys wins. I wasn’t strong in my faith, but in 1994 I went through a tough time. I went through a divorce and accepted Christ in 1995.  At that point my priorities started to change. I started to think through what can I do that has an impact for the Kingdom, and what I realized is I was doing a lot for myself in the late 1990s and early 2000s by making money and accumulating things, but there was this emptiness. I got to this time in 2006 as I was looking out of my office window, thinking to myself, I should be the happiest person on earth, and I was just unhappy. There was something missing. Even though I had all this stuff, I just felt this hole in my heart. There was this emptiness that I call “smoldering discontent.” During that season is when I really took a step back. I read Bob Buford’s book, Half Time and took a little time to kind of assess where I was at, and a buddy of mine invited me into a Bible Study and interestingly enough we were studying the book Half Time.  From that point forward, I just started taking time to really understand myself and my gifts and talents, and one thing led to another.

Your life is such a great example for people who realize something is not quite right in their life but don’t know what to do about it.  You did something about it.  What was the catalyst for writing Trade Up?

There are so many folks out there that don’t have joy, impact, and balance in their life, and they’re scurrying around doing different things, but not really finding the joy that could be found once they identify their Ephesians 2:10 calling, as I like to say. But we’re God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He has prepared for beforehand, prepared for us to walk in them. What struck me as I went through my transition was how many folks out there are chasing something, but they’re not really aligned with what God’s purpose for their life is.  When they get aligned, when they make eye contact with God and really figure out what His sweet spot is for them, that there is then joy, impact, and balance. So the reason for writing Trade Up was really to give a road map to others to kind of go through and figure out what are my gifts, and my talents, and my passions, what is God’s Ephesians 2:10 calling for me?

So many people work a job, put in their 40 hours every week, get a paycheck and go home.  These people frequently question whether this is all there is in life.  In your book you write about the concept of meaningful work.  How does that differ from what I will call “regular” work?

Meaningful work, when you ask that question, to me is really understanding what God’s calling is on your life.  It may be right where you’re at. It may be the marketplace, it may be the ministry, or it may be working for a non-profit. What I have seen and many others have seen is that folks go to work to get a paycheck, but don’t really find that it’s truly their calling. They don’t find joy in it. There was a Gallup poll conducted not too long ago that said only 20% of people believe they’re doing something that really matters.  One out of five! And to follow that up, there’s a Harvard study that said 50% of folks between the ages of 50 and 65 would change careers if they could find something that had more purpose. So there is this group of folks out there, a lot of them, that have not made eye contact with God to really figure out what is their Ephesians 2:10 calling, what is their sweet spot.

To use your terminology, are there some tell-tale signs that you are a prime candidate to “trade up”?

I think when you’re in this season of smoldering discontent, that’s the best way I can describe it, that season of smoldering discontent is when your boss comes to you and says, hey Dean, we’re going to give you a promotion, and you’re really not that interested. Hey Dean, there’s another gentleman who wants your position, and you don’t worry about it. You actually help that person fill the position you’re in. You’re in the season of smoldering discontent where you say to yourself, you know, there has to be more to life than this. It’s when the next pat on the back isn’t as important as it used to be, or the promotion or the raise.

What is the best way to determine whether it is time to make that change into something that holds more meaning?  What are some practical self-assessment tools you can you use to figure it out?

For one, you definitely need to spend time in the Word, and two, take some time for solitude, where you really sit down and do nothing for eight hours. The first time I did it, was just to listen to what God wanted to say at that time to me, and that was an impactful time. But what I like to share with folks is really three disruptive questions that helps get in this mindset. They’re more business questions but they fit everyone. The first question has to do with cost accounting, and that question is what is all your winning costing you? Is your winning costing you the relationship with your spouse? Is it costing you your health? Is it costing you your faith, your relationship with your kids? It’s costing you something, so if it’s costing you something it’s time to take a step back and reassess. The second question has to do with asset protection, and that is what do you have that is priceless and what are you doing to protect it? What’s priceless, what are you doing to protect it? Is it your spouse? Is it your kids, your faith, your health? What is it for you? And then the third question is really centered around metrics. If you’re living the perfect life two years from now, what would that look like? The question isn’t what would you be doing, but what would it look like? And for me, it would be where my wife is flourishing in her calling, and my kids have high self-esteem and they’re following Christ. So what does that look like for you?

Undoubtedly, there will be fear in a lot of people who are considering taking the bold step of making a change in their life and career.  What advice do you have for that person who has the “want to” but may not have the gumption?

The first thing I would say is you can’t do it alone. It’s critically important to have others around you that are encouraging you, others that you trust and can have open dialogue with. For instance, if you go through our Halftime program, we really encourage folks to identify a personal board of directors, just like a corporation would do, and the personal board of directors for you may be your spouse, it could be your coach, it could be good friends, but it needs to be someone who will be very authentic and real, and that’s what I did. When I got to this point in my life, I was like, am I thinking clearly here? Does this make sense, and I found somebody who is very spiritually sound and someone that I trusted and admired and I had lunch with them and said, here’s what I’m thinking. What do you think? The more folks like that, that you can have around you, the better.

As an author, after people have read the book Trade Up what do you want them to take away from that experience?

I want my readers to understand that God has a purpose and a plan for their life, and that Ephesians 2:10 is not for the rich, wealthy man, woman; it’s for everyone. God truly has this sweet spot for you and for I and for everyone listening.  Volunteerism is fantastic and very much needed, but a calling is something different that could be different than what you’re doing when you volunteer. So God has this sweet spot, and when you identify that sweet spot, I believe you will then have joy, impact, and balance in your life.

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