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Finding Freedom at the ‘Bottom of the Pool’

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Have you ever been in a situation where you want to try something new and different but you are quickly rebuffed with a, ‘Nope.  Not happening.’

When you press these opposing voices for a reason why your query is often met with a familiar phrase, “This is the way we have always done it and it works.”

No discussion or wiggle room … end of story.

New York Times bestselling author Andy Andrews believes that there is a better response that lies beyond the boundaries of best practices, industry standards, or the aforementioned ‘this is the way things have always been done.’  In his new book, The Bottom of the Pool, Andrews helps readers discover that there is a way to achieve fantastic results in our lives through non-traditional means.  All we need to do is dive deeper to the bottom of the pool.

I recently spoke to the delightfully affable Andrews about the power of illustrative storytelling, how to break free from traditional boundaries, and how a person’s faith can play a definitive role in making positive change.

Before we jump into talking about your new book, The Bottom of the Pool

Sounds kind of like a horror movie, doesn’t it? (laughs)

When did you first make the connection that creative storytelling is a very powerful way to communicate critical concepts and ideas?

I think I noticed it first in church as a child. I'm not sure I made the actual connection there, but I noticed it first. As a little kid, I would pay attention when the preacher would tell stories and then go back to whatever else I was thinking about when he wasn't. The whole sermon sounded kind of like blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But then he would give an illustration or tell a story.  I would immediately zone in. I also remember in high school, if they told me the facts, I could remember them long enough to take a test. After that they were kind of gone. But if you told me a story, I would remember a story forever. I think that people connect with stories in ways they can't connect with facts. Stories are personal.

You are obviously very talented at illustrative storytelling and seem to have a deep well of topical material.  How do you go about drawing connections to current topics from your past experiences?

Honestly Chris, seeing that connection is kind of a gift. I do a podcast called The Professional Noticer. It’s observations and we answer questions for people. But I think that a lot of that really intensified when I started praying a specific prayer. I'll tell you exactly what it was. I started praying, God, help me to understand things that you want your people to understand … that if they did understand they would live the lives that you want them to live. This means they would have a relationship with you. And God, please give me simple ways to explain complicated things that are confusing people. I really believe that prayer has been honored. My sons laugh because I see lessons in nature, I see lessons in everyday life, and at this point in my life I'm remembering a lot of things that connect with stuff that I want to explain.  The first chapter of my new book is an example of what happened to me when I was 11 years old.

Lets talk about that.  In your latest book, The Bottom of the Pool, you have gone back to a moment of time in your childhood where you are playing the game of “Dolphin”.  Based on what you describe, you are probably still one of the greatest “Dolphin” players in the world for all we know.

(Laughs) You are probably right … of course that was only place that the game was being played.  But we were still the best on the planet.

So, this begs the natural question, what was your inspiration for writing this book?  There must have something rattling around in your brain to bring the idea forth?

I have an easy inspiration every day and have for the past 19 years. My wife and I have boys. We have a 19 year old and a 17 year old. You really stretch yourself as a parent to be able to explain. I think a lot of things that happen to families that seem unexplained happen because there's been a lack of explanation. I'm not trying to be silly when I say that. It's just I cannot tell you how many people that I've had come up to me during the years and say something like, ‘You know that thing that King Solomon wrote where it says, bring up a child in the way that he should go.  And when he is grown he will not depart from it? Well, we did that. And look what's happened.’ They don't want to distrust the Bible or distrust God. In their minds they did what they were told to do. And yet there's something that they missed here because it says train up a child in the way that he should go. It doesn't say make a child do exactly what you want them to do and when they're 18, they'll continue to do it. That's not what Solomon wrote. He said, ‘Train up a child in the way they should go,’ which takes long conversations. It takes a lot of time, a lot of explanation. We tell our teachers, ‘Hey, you don't teach my child what to think. You're there to teach my child how to think.’ And that's true. But when we take our children and teach them what to think, it creates the same dangers. Because if you only teach your child what to think, then the second they get away from you, they'll begin to test the boundaries of everything they've been taught to think. But if you teach them how to think, then by the time they leave, they will have already decided a lot of the major issues and they'll be prepared to deal with questions that are knocking the legs out from under a generation. If an adult does not have the ability to discipline themselves, society does it for them. And it's never pretty when it happens. 

If we could go back to the game of “Dolphin” that I referenced earlier … that’s a game you played as a child but when you and your friends would get together at the pool. Beyond the fun you were experiencing, something interesting happened.  Boundaries were created to protect a record that someone had set even though no official rules had ever been created.  Why do false boundaries get created for people in the first place?

I think a lot of it is because we stop at what is true. This is a very curious concept that I explore in the book. Most people don't understand this. Something can be true and not be the truth. The truth connotes a foundation. That's the bottom of the pool. It’s as far as you can go. But things can be true all the way down. And I think that families, churches, and many of us stop seeking when we find what is true. Why would we do that? Because it's true. It's an answer. Hmm. Why do you keep looking if you got the answer? Most people just don't because it's the answer. It produces results. A lot of times you're looking around to find the best in the industry or to find the way everybody does it. Then, people decide that's the way it's done. There is a way that everything is done right. And if you don't believe it, just go on the Internet and say, hey, how do I do this? People come out of the woodwork to tell you. Everybody knows how something is done. Even when you're inventing it, even if you're the first kids to do it, there comes to a point where you determine that's how it's done. But it might not be the best way.

In the game of “Dolphin”, this kid Aaron who won every time was the industry standard. He created that. We looked around. We were doing the very best that we could do. We were watching him closely and how he did it. We were in a circle around him. It was obvious what he was doing. But as we soon discovered, there was a better way to achieve even better results.

A prime example of this is Walt Disney and his story. Early in his career, he was working for a newspaper in Kansas City.  They fired him because he didn’t do things the conventional way, or the way that things had always been done at the newspaper.  We all know what Walt Disney went on to do in his life.  This begs the question, why are people afraid to step outside conventional boundaries to achieve a goal?

There's something deep within us that I think that is remembered from the time that we needed to fit in. During Adam and Eve's time, if you didn't fit in with the crowd you were banished. You were put on the outside like Cain was put on the outside. His life was in danger because he he'd done something so different. I think there's this natural fear of somebody looking at us and saying, ‘You did what?  You’re doing what?’ Here's a very curious thing. There is this natural fear.  You certainly see it everywhere you go. You see it with adults. You see it with children and teenagers. Everybody wants to make a difference, but nobody wants to be different. And you really can't have one without the other. It's an amazing thing.

If you went to teenagers and said, this is where I think that making connections and telling stories and continuing to sink to the bottom of the pool. It's a foundational, thought philosophy. I think it's something that can easily be taught by teachers, parents, bosses, employers, and employees. This is what I want to do with the book. I want to teach people to think this way so that they can teach this way, teach each other, and teach themselves. Let's say you have a teenager who really does have a challenge. I see a lot of teenagers with this, this challenge of wanting to be like everybody else and feeling like that if they step outside those lines it will be the worst thing in the world. 

Somewhere along the line you have to become more comfortable with being different so that you can end up in a place that is different. And it is a person that is different who can make a difference.

After people have read The Bottom of the Pool, as an author what would you like readers to get out of your book?  What is your greatest hope for it?

My greatest hope for this book is that people learn to think ‘below the surface’ thoughts that have gained so much traction in our society. It's not just business people and parents that kind of go with what's true. It's society as a whole that stops at what is true and doesn't move to the truth. If you look at the news and you look at the political arguments, there are so many things that people just stop at what is true. Because there are so many things that are true on the way to the truth, you have to get to the truth to get the best. See, the truth and the best are a lot alike because they're one thing. It can be different categories. But they are one thing. We're not talking about among the best or some of the best of all time or among these truths. We're talking about the truth in each category.  You can get to the truth and not accomplish the best. You can never accomplish the best without getting to the truth.

To purchase The Bottom of the Pool.

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