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Making Your Holidays Matter: A Generous Life

In Doing Good Well by ChrisMarlow0 Comments


This concludes my series Making Your Holidays Matter. Be sure to catch up with parts 1 (Practicing Thanksgiving), 2 (Serving), and 3 (Buying Good). 

Christmas week is upon us, and with it comes a celebration of the greatest act of generosity that the world has ever seen. God sent his Son to be a sacrifice for us all. I try to imagine that kind of pain, that kind of love, that kind of sacrifice.

I can’t. I’m glad I’m not God.

So then–what do we do now, here on the other side of this sacrifice from God? We have this opportunity to be united with Christ, forgiven and gifted to live a life of purpose and impact. 

We must mimic God! We must follow His example and also live a life of generosity. We must refuse to give into the flesh, which says that life and all that we have, our wants, desires, and needs are about us and for us.

Instead, with joy, grace and gratitude, we give. We give our time, our talents, and our resources to help move God’s mission to see the broken made whole, the wounded find relief, and the lost guided back home.

Generosity doesn’t happen out of guilt or manipulation; we give because we care! We give because–well, what else would we rather do? What else will give us this kind of joy, peace and hope?

We also give to guard ourselves, because we know other things want to capture our hearts and turn our life inwards. We give to avoid what can be the scariest moment in life–the one when you think you don’t need to trust God, because you trust yourself more.

Generosity often hurts; it requires something of us. Yet, when we give, we move closer and closer to God and we bring joy to the Father’s heart.

So, let me encourage you to give this holiday season! Give to your local church, give to a friend or family member in need, or give to your favorite charities who are doing good work.


If you’d like to support Help One Now, we are currently running our End of Year campaign. Please consider helping us close 2015 strong and start 2016 in a position of strength. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or send me an email

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Making Your Holidays Matter: Buying Good

In Doing Good Well by ChrisMarlow0 Comments


So far, we’ve talked about Practicing Thankfulness and Serving, two really amazing ways to help Make Our Holidays Matter. The third way is by Buying Good.

The day is fast approaching; in what seems like only hours, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of the One Man who changed everything for everyone.

Tis the season to slow down and enjoy the goodness of life and to know that we have a future of hope and peace. He is the reason for the season; we know that, but we often don’t live it. Sadly for many, Christmas has become one of the most secular and consumeristic day of the year.

Kids can be found crying when they discover that their gifts were not what they wanted. Families simmer in conflict because we can’t get along for more than forty-eight hours. The secular overshadows the sacred.

But, it does not have to be that way; we have 7 days to ensure that this Christmas, we capture the opportunity to allow the sacred moments to become the most important moments.

Now, most of you will buy gifts for family and friends. This is great, for gift-giving can truly be a blessing. These days, it’s even better when we can purchase really great products that make a double impact. They bless the receiver, and they also support the people creating them with living wages and other sustainable benefits. As we navigate our way through this advent season, we literally can sprinkle Doing Good into our shopping.


The organization I’m privileged to lead is selling necklaces made by Haitian artists. When you purchase a necklace, you’re creating jobs for Haitians, but a portion of each purchase will help us educate kids in four countries around the world. How cool is that?

My friends Kristen and Sarah also have some great organizations that they recommend as well. There are so many opportunities to make a difference.

I can’t think of a better, more natural way than to use the money you’ve already planned to spend to literally bless multiple people. No doubt – Buying Good is a powerful way to make this holiday season matter.

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Making Your Holidays Matter: Serving

In Doing Good Well by ChrisMarlow1 Comment


Last week, we talked about Practicing Thankfulness as one of Four Ways to Make Your Holidays Matter this holiday season. The second way is to serve.

The holiday season reminds us that life never wants us to slow down, but in fact, the forces of culture want us to speed up! This is why it is critical that we choose not to obey culture and her demands; instead, we must decide to live a life that reflects a better way to spend our time, money, and talents.

During the holidays, we move so fast that suddenly, it’s all over. Those holiday moments will be nothing but memories. Did we make an impact? Did we rest? Did we spend quality time with people we care for? Did we serve those in need?

In a few weeks, we will celebrate the birthday of the One who served more than any other human in history. It’s almost impossible to fathom the sacrifice that Jesus made on the behalf of the world–me, you and the person you may be serving.

Years later, He again showed the world an example of what it means to serve by hanging on a tree. The world will never be the same because of His brilliant acts of sacrifice and service.

Jesus left us with these powerful words: “As the Father has sent me, so I’m sending you.” He said to “serve the least of these,” and then goes even further, commanding us to serve our enemy.

Here are three reasons why we are all called to serve:

1) Spiritual Formation

When you choose to serve others, you’re building a strong, powerful foundation. Serving requires sacrifice; you may have to give up some comforts in life.

When you serve others, you draw closer to Jesus. You enter into a deeper connection with Him, as you learn to empathize with those who are suffering. It may sound selfish, but serving others is an exercise that builds strong, powerful spiritual muscles; it helps you to be healthy.

2) A Significant Impact

Of course, we don’t serve for ourselves. Our service leads to something beautiful: impact. This holiday season, you can change someone’s life by serving them with humility, dignity, and mutual respect.

Serving others leads to a more empathetic life. When you do serve others, I would encourage you not to see it as a project, but as a relationship.

Here are 7 ways to serve:

  1. Help a single mother/father who may not be able to afford gifts; give them a gift for their child.
  2. Serve at your local homeless shelter. Pay attention to those you are serving. Being present and treating people with respect is vital.
  3. Give your boss or co-workers a simple gift card from Starbucks or your local coffee shop for $5 and just say, “thanks.”
  4. Ask your local elementary school if they need help or have kids who need help. Be a support system for them.
  5. Write a note of encouragement to a friend who may struggle in the holidays because of pain or loss.
  6. Help an elderly neighbor get stuff done for the Christmas season.
  7. Invite friends over for holiday parties or for Christmas. Many people have nowhere to go for the holidays.

There are so many ways to serve; if you have an idea, leave a comment here or on Facebook and let us know other creative ways.

3) To prove what you believe

If you follow Christ, it’s easy to forget that we are held accountable to live a life like Jesus. We need grace and we need mercy, but we also have to mimic Jesus’ life. We have to make an effort to live in such a way that others will see the love of God seeping through our lives.

When we are thankful and when we choose to serve, we are showing the world a glimpse of who Jesus really is. We break through all the noise, confusion, and chaos in which mainstream Christianity bogs down, and we’re able to prove that we do believe in Jesus by the life we live and the way we serve.

So make this holiday season beautiful! Sit down with your family or friends and create a simple plan to serve. Soon, January will be here, and this wonderful season will be in the history books. Let’s ensure that we can look back and see a beautiful reflection.

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Making Your Holidays Matter: Practicing Thankfulness

In Do Good by ChrisMarlow3 Comments


And… just like that, the holidays are here.

Every year, we are faced with the same two options. We can follow culture like a zombie, dragging ourselves through the chaos of  holiday parties, travel, shopping, cooking, decorating, and spending time with family and friends (which often brings both joy and pain).

Or, we can choose to capture the essence of the season by living an intentional life for the next six weeks. We can enjoy the holidays–with her ups and downs–but also be committed to making an impact along the way. The good news? It truly is your choice!

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will share four ways to make an impact this holiday season. These are easy, practical things that you can do to ensure that this holiday season will have a deeper purpose for you and your family. The first way? Practicing thankfulness. 

A Thankful Heart = A Good Life

Often, we’re so busy moving forward–trying to juggle all the things of life–that we simply forget how beautiful our lives are. It’s so easy to be obsessed with what is going wrong or the stuff that we don’t have. We forget about all the good things that we do have already.

Be Thankful in the Valley

Now, let’s be real. We’re all dealing with various battles in life. Often the journey gets hard; we struggle to be thankful when we’re so focused on the negative.

These negative things are very real; usually, they can’t be ignored. Often, the problems of life–the reasons you are in the valley–are out of our control… sickness, tragedy, depression, and more. Yet, even in the midst of the valley, even when we can’t think of a single thing to really be thankful for–this is the very moment that we need to practice thankfulness. This single act can change everything.

No doubt–the holidays can make our problems seem worse. Yet, I believe that when we practice being thankful, we remove the fog. Rays of hope shine down from the Heavens into the valley to fill us with joy.

Be Thankful On the Mountaintop

Maybe life is going amazing right now. You are in a season of blessing and abundance. Often, when we’re on the top of the mountain, we forget to take a step back, pause, and practice being thankful for the all good things that we have.

Remember, these seasons don’t always last forever. We shouldn’t live in fear, but we do need to be realistic. We just don’t know what battle is around the next corner.

So enjoy and be thankful for the now. Whether you’re in a valley, trudging through the mundane, or you’re on the mountaintop, living an amazing life, you can help your soul become and stay healthy by expressing thankfulness.

Practice Makes Perfect

The key is this: you have to actually practice being thankful. Write it down, say it aloud, or tell your family and friends. Being thankful is powerful in private, but it really matters in public. Like a muscle, the more you practice the art of being thankful, the easier it becomes. Being thankful will truly change the dynamics of your life. You will be filled with more joy, be content in the good and bad, and overcome life’s toughest challenges.

Here are a few ways to practice thankfulness this season:

  • Take 5 minutes to write down the reasons why you are thankful.
  • Gather your family or friends together and share with each other three reasons that you are thankful. Don’t be general; be specific.
  • When you come together around the table to break bread this holiday season, have each person share one reason why they are thankful.
  • Don’t forget–not everyone has family, food, or a home to celebrate in. Being together with family over the holidays can be good or bad, depending on family dynamics. Those emotions are real, but you can still practice thankfulness in the midst of the tensions.
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Responding to Evil: My Conversation With Charles Lee and Jonathan Merritt

In Doing Good, Interview by ChrisMarlow0 Comments

Links to some of the things we discussed on today’s show:




A Response To Paris

In Uncategorized by ChrisMarlow6 Comments


Like many of you, I was devastated to learn about the terrorist attacks in Paris, then to discover that the day before, there had been a terrible attack in Beirut.

My teenaged daughter sent me a text, asking “Hey dad, did you hear about Paris?”

I hated that text. I hate that she has to see evil.

What are we to do with all of this? How do we process it, deal with it, face it, navigate it? So many emotions, so many frustrations, so much anger.

Evil Is Real

As human beings, we all must come to grips deep down in our hearts that we live in a world that is filled with hate, anger, and confusion. It’s a sad moment, but one that has to be dealt with. In our desperation, we tend to question God’s love. We begin to pay attention to those whom we can trust. We also try to process the enemy, so we can be safe. Sadly, this can create all sorts of damage to the human soul as we attempt to define who is in and who is out.

Often, we begin to generalize:

  • All of those people must believe that same ideology, because they practice the same religion.
  • All of those people want to destroy my way of life.
  • All of those people are evil.

If fear leads the conversation, it will end in hatred, racism, and more violence. Borders will be closed, wars will be fought, and people groups will be ignored.

Please, tell me that there’s a better way.

The conversation that must be had is the WHY. Why do folks want to cause so much harm? Why do people see me/you/us as the enemy?

Should we drop more bombs, just like we did with Al Qaeda? This is an issue I wrestle with. I’m not a pacifist, but I’m also not a fan of violent conflict. If we really want to create long-term change, I think we have to go deeper than another act of war. We have to be committed to more acts of love–even though love is so hard, especially when someone has hurt you or your way of life.

“Love your enemies …” It’s easy to forget that Jesus told his people to do this. We Christians often fail. We hate those who are not like us, who believe differently than we do. Instead of serving them, we line up and picket. Instead of listening, we grab a megaphone and scream at the top of our lungs. We’re not screaming because we love; we’re screaming because we’re actually not different than the terrorists in Paris. Our hearts are filled with hatred, but we make excuses to justify it; heck, we even use the Bible to mask our own evil!

We tell ourselves that we’re standing up for truth, when in reality, we are like the Pharisees that irritated Jesus to no end.

Evil is real. It exists all over the world–including my heart (Romans 7:19) and yours as well. We need to own that truth, realizing that what we do with it determines the impact we make in this world.

For many of us in the West, Christianity has become comfortable. We have become so busy pursuing our dreams that we fail to embrace all of Scripture, like the part where we are called to be alert, because our enemy is seeking to destroy. (1st Pet 5:8)

Hope Is Real

Once we come to the conclusion that evil does in fact exist, we can build a life that is committed to pushing it away from our hearts and out of the world.

Romans 2:7 tells us that we bring hope to the world when we decide to live an “others-focused” life. It is not easy, but it’s the best decision we can ever make. An others-focused life is filled with grace, mercy, truth, and sacrifice. We put down the megaphone and lift up our neighbors who are hurting. We choose to show love, extend grace, and walk on the side of people who are broken.

Even if we disagree with them, or they disagree with us–even when they hurt us or hate us or even kill us–we choose to love instead. Love is the foundation that allows hope to flourish. Peter reminds us that love overcomes a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Love must always take a stand to the bully known as evil. It’s like a stare down. We are often given a choice–love or hate, forgiveness or bitterness, freedom or prison.

When we love, we’re not saying we’re okay with evil people that do evil acts. In fact, justice is making what is wrong, right. Love pursues justice and crushes injustice.

A friend of mine was recently in a brothel in southeast Asia, working to bring hope to that dark place. What he saw there was devastating. People that operate places like that need to go to prison. My friend is choosing to love by being part of an organization that is committed to bringing freedom to those who are trafficked.

You see–that’s the thing. We’re angry, and often that anger turns to hate. What if our anger turned to action? What if we choose to love harder and do something about the evil? For instance, we can pray, we can support organizations that are trying to solve the problems, and we can help people whose lives have been destroyed by evil.

Every time the enemy strikes, angry people pick up their megaphones and spew words of hate. We can counter that by showing love, doing good, and serving our friends, neighbors, and even our enemies.

Maybe that can change something. On Friday night, I asked myself this question: why did those bombers want to kill those innocent people?

I could only think of one answer–they hated those people enough to do something that cowardly. Is there anyway to show the bombers, the terrorists, that we don’t hate them? To show them that we actually want to love them and see them live a life that matters?

Your Life Matters. Be Committed To Doing Good.

We can all commit our lives to doing good. It’s not always easy, and it can get really messy. But so far, I have not found a better way forward. When I study the life of Jesus, it just seems that He would ask us to dig deeper, to set a new standard, to live a life that is committed to healing, restoration, and showing love.

This is how we stand up to evil. This is how we conquer hate. This is how we see change.

This morning, I stared out the window as David Crowder streamed through the speakers. I whispered a prayer and reminded myself that I’m more committed than ever to seek justice and see lives transformed. I’m committed to staring evil in the face and refusing to allow myself to become evil. I’m committed to do good, to see evil destroyed by love.

I hope you will stand with me for peace, reconciliation, love, and forgiveness. Remember what Paul says in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Essentialism: Silencing The Critic

In Do It Well by ChrisMarlow0 Comments

essentialismSilence (2)

I’m doing a five-part series for nonprofit/social good leaders (but really for anyone!), based on the book Essentialism. Catch up with Part 1Part 2, and Part 3

Hopefully, you have ordered the book by now. You’ve begun to dismantle the yes bomb, which means you have more time and energy to do better work. You’re well on your way to becoming an true essentialist and you love it. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s only a matter of time before the monsters come crawling out of the closets, ready to beat you back down.

What Is A Critic? 

Some critics can be good, because they care more about you and less about their opinions. But, those are few and far between. A critic usually hates what you are doing–and they want to let you know about it. They come to tear you down. They hate to see you succeed; they’d prefer you to fail. Critics breathe fire on your dreams and then watch you burn.

Why Do They Do What They D0? 

Usually, a critic is not happy with their own life, so they don’t want you to be happy with yours. They use all kinds of excuses, and they rarely admit the truth–they want you to fail and they will laugh in your face or (most likely) behind your back. They will use your failure for their short-term happiness. When you begin to make positive changes, they will get angry. When you say no to a meeting, they will allow bitterness to grip their hearts. When you start succeeding, they will do what they can to not give you credit or work to destroy your success.

A critic is a cruel person, cloaked as a friend (or sometimes just a pure enemy), ready to heckle your every move. The thing with a critic is this: they don’t like themselves or their own lives, or they feel as if they’re not reaching their potential–so they don’t want you to reach yours. (tweet that)

An easy example is this: I’ve had a few friends unfollow me on social media. You know that feeling you get? It’s awkward. A critic will be furious and take it personally; a friend will think differently. My friends who unfollowed me are not mad or angry; they are making a choice in their lives that will better themselves. Maybe they’re trying to remove distraction and are only following the most important people. A friend will always give the benefit of the doubt, but a critic will always be running towards the fire with a can of gasoline. (tweet that)

What To Do With A Critic 

If you follow the path of essentialism, you will chose to live a more focused life. You will realize you can’t do it all or be there for everyone all the time. You may have to unfollow people on social media, say no to folks who want to meet with you, or choose not to collaborate or partner with those who you previously did. It’s hard to uproot what you’ve always done to choose a new path with less noise but greater impact. (tweet that)

The critics will do everything they can to help you go back to your old self, to embrace your old habits. But, you can’t give in, and with tact, grace and love, you have to learn how to deal with critics.

1) Be clear on the WHY. Do your best, either in personal social media or over a digital platform, to humbly communicate WHY you are making these decisions. Let the people around you know what you’re doing so they have an opportunity to embrace it.

2) IGNORE the critics who cannot deal with your new life. You can’t please them, change them, or argue with them. If you communicate your why, and they do not accept it…just forget it. Trust me; it will only be a matter of time until they begin to ignore what has become the “new you.”

Critics make the world worse. They don’t like this, and they will do what they can to make sure you follow their negative pathways. But, your calling in life–your dream–is too important to allow the critic to hold you back from becoming the best possible leader and person that you can become. (tweet that) You owe it to yourself to ignore them, to move on with your life. It will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

Essentialism: Making Decisions That Create Momentum

In Do It Well by ChrisMarlow0 Comments

essentialismmomentum (1)

I’m doing a five-part series for nonprofit/social good leaders (but the principles apply to anyone), based on the book Essentialism. Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2

Leaders make decisions.

It is hard, weighty work. Decisions can stop momentum dead in its tracks, or they can create momentum and push the vision forward.

Decision making is a daily grind. It can wear on your soul if you are forced to make too many decisions and yet, they are powerful forces that help build a positive culture and create the impact you dream about. 

So, how do we make decisions that create momentum for our organizations? Follow these three steps and I promise you will see great results. 

1) Focus On Less 

Decisions seems to come in three forms: good, bad, and ugly. If you want to succeed, you have to make good decisions over and over. (tweet that) Occasionally you will make a few bad decisions; that’s okay. It’s the nature of the beast. If you make an ugly decision, it can literally destroy the vision and cause tragic results or longterm pain. Often, ugly decisions are made when we burn out or have too much on our plate. 

A few years ago, I realized I had made a decision that was costing my organization dearly. I needed to make a swift decision to fix the issue. It was painful. But, if I waited longer, my bad decision might have become an ugly decision. 

This is why Essentialism is so vital. You cannot be too busy, too distracted, too stretched–especially with the most important decisions. If you don’t have the proper time, energy, and capacity, you can really cause damage to your organization. This is why great leaders understand that less = more. (tweet that) You have to trust the process, believe in your vision, have a clear line of sight, and work it over and over. And when the most crucial moments come around, you will have the ability to make good decisions that create powerful momentum. 

2) Less Equals More (Efficiency) 

You might know of (or be) “that”person. You know … running around in chaos mode, always trying to put out fires, or close deals, or raise money, or manage the madness, or reply to texts and emails. Every day you feel like you’re in the Hunger Games–just trying to survive until tomorrow. I used to be that person; now, I’m not. I’ve come to realize that I’m a much better leader when I’m making more important–but fewer–decisions. Often, we don’t have a framework or a philosophy to make decisions. 

We ask:
Should I meet with this person?
Should I speak at that event?
Should I take that trip?
Should I hire that person?
Should I invest in that technology?

Now that I have clarity, it’s much easier to think through each question and make the proper decision. This also means Help One Now can be a much more efficient organization. We’re focused on executing our strategic plan, not wasting unnecessary time and resources on activities that don’t matter. (tweet that)

3) Less Decisions Create More Energy To Do Better Work

If you can do work that matters everyday, your life will be a gift to the world. Imagine if each day, every team member in your organization was only doing the most important work. The possibilities are endless. The way to do good work is to be able to focus on fewer activities so you can produce the best possible results.

Less decisions will give you more mental and physical energy, which is vital if you want to produce good work over and over. Producing good work, over and over, is what drives an essentialist to dismantle the yes bomb, to focus on fewer details that drive greater results. When you clear your mind, you gain greater clarity–you think deeper and more strategically.

This is why my heart is so broken for nonprofit leaders. We have tremendous passion, we will sacrifice, but often, we lead our organizations into the ground, because we can’t figure out what to focus on. Scarcity drives our activities, not vision and strategy. Little by little, we run out of gas and we exhaust the people around us. 

If we focus more, we can create powerful outcomes, be able to lead efficient organizations, and have more energy to do better work each day. Of course, the goal is growth and margin; imagine having more cash to run the organization to do good and more margin to do work that matters. That is every leader’s dream, and if your organization creates discipline, you can achieve those goals as well!

Essentialism: Dismantling The Yes Bomb

In Do It Well by ChrisMarlow1 Comment


I’m doing a five-part series for nonprofit/social good leaders (but the principles apply to anyone), based on the book Essentialism. Catch up with Part 1 here.

Are you tired of being tired? In last week’s newsletter, I shared a story about burnout, about how I almost went over the edge and crashed. A trip to the beach saved my soul.

As I look back to that moment, I realize why my life almost exploded. All the ingredients were in place and the timer was ticking. I had said “Yes” to too many things, saying “No” to healthy rhythms, pace, and outcomes in the process. I had yet to learn how to dismantle the yes bomb.

We are finite humans, and we have certain realities to live by. Eating well, sleeping well, exercising, playing and resting are essential to seeing our visions become real. Because of my lack of wisdom, my life had almost collapsed; the impact would have been a disaster. I allowed my passion to empower our leaders, care for our kids, and see our communities transformed to outrun all of my realities.

How To Change

I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of starting an organization; that is not fair. When I launched Help One Now, I knew I had to fight to survive; I had to hustle to create momentum and sustain the organization. My normal rhythm of work was to usually start around 6 or 7AM and go until 5:30pm. If I did not have an event or meeting, I would be present with my family until the kids went to bed, and then I would work a few more hours.

As Help One Now grew, we were able to hire more staff and do more good for the world. But guess what? Even though we were succeeding, we could not slow down. Instead, trying to keep up with the progress — we sped up! It was awesome, exhausting, and confusing.

I began to break. I could not sleep; I was on a treadmill and I could not get off. My body was telling me I needed to slow down, but that’s hard to do once you finally have momentum. Looking back, I realized that I said yes to too many average opportunities. They kept me busy, but they did not create the necessary impact to build an organization with a healthy culture. If I was going to get off the treadmill, I had to create a disciplined strategy; otherwise, I could destroy everything I was trying to build.

Guess what? You may also need to dismantle the yes bomb. If you don’t, you could pay a hefty price; there is a good chance that your dream will head to the graveyard.

So, how do we do this?

Healthy Souls

Great leaders understand that great organizations must have a foundation to survive the ups and downs of the market. Often, we think the foundation is cash-flow, or adding more team members, or creating better systems. These things are very, very good. But, they are not the foundation. Your soul–and the souls of your team members–are the foundation for success. (Tweet that) Human capital is our number one asset. When we destroy our souls, we erode the culture of the organization and begin a downward spiral.

I knew I had to focus on making sure my soul was healthy. That meant I had to take more time to:
• Connect with God.
• Sleep. I went from 4-6 hours to 7 hours a night.
• Rest and allow my mind and body to recover from the intensity of starting an organization.
• Spend time with family and friends.
• Play and enjoy all the little moments of life.

If my soul was not healthy, the organization that I was leading would not be healthy. If you want to dig deeper into this subject, I would recommend John Ortberb’s excellent book Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You.


I’m writing this post from my favorite coffee shop in Raleigh. It’s 7:30am. I’ve been here for roughly 15 minutes and I’ve heard the phrase “I’m crazy busy” at least 3 or 4 times. The rush is on; the treadmill is moving forward. We are a people who are always reaching into the future, trying to process what is NEXT on the calendar. If the calendar is empty, we feel less valuable.

Something is broken. Our identity is tied to success or failure. Why are we so scared to slow down? Have we forgotten that greatness is forged in decades of hard work? According to Jim Collins, Level 5 leaders build companies that are have “enduring greatness.” It’s okay to slow down and find a pace that will help you accomplish your longtime goals. (Tweet that) Great leaders who don’t want their organization to go to the graveyard learn how to dismantle the yes bomb, because if they don’t, they know that their pace will suffer–meaning they will be less effective in the long-run.

I no longer take pride in how busy I am; I now take pride in how effective I am. (Tweet that) No doubt, I have seasons of life that are really busy. But those seasons must have gaps where I can slow down, re-center my life, and make sure I’m focused on doing the most important work, doing that work well, and making sure my soul is healthy.

An Extremely Clear Vision

Leaders who lack a clear vision will be the most susceptible to the chronic yes bomb, because they haven’t established boundaries to guide them away from things that they should say “No” to.

For years, I did anything possible to create momentum. I wish I would have been more focused, believed in the concept that less is more, less is better. Even in the beginning days, I could have created a much greater impact if I had learned how to dismantle the yes bomb.  But, as your organization grows, you must constantly, radically prioritize what you say yes to and how you spend your time. You have to master the art of saying yes and deal with people who are upset when you say no (more on this in a future post). No bones about it–this is how you steward the call on your life well. This is what separates bad, good, and great leaders. Time can be your ally or your enemy. The good news? You get to choose.

What is your vision? What are the top three things you need to do in order to take the next big step to see your vision become real?  Spend 80% of your time on those three key activities and you will see amazing results. This is the heart of an essentialist. Learn to despise busy work, meetings that don’t matter, emails that never end, and distractions that cause us to create work that is less than the best.

Go Backwards To Go Forward

Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward. You must stop and consider how you can become a better leader by demanding from yourself something far more than you would have ever imagined. When you dismantle the yes bomb, you take the next step to becoming an effective leader. It’s hard; it takes discipline. People might be angry with you for turning down their requests, but what they don’t realize is that you’re focusing on doing work that matters in order to the impact that you desire.

Say “Yes” to the best and “No” to all distractions.

Essentialism: Keeping Your Organization Out Of The Graveyard

In Do It Well by ChrisMarlow3 Comments


Often, we have moments that cause everything to shift. For me, that moment was at a gas station in Zimbabwe. A one-minute encounter with a starving orphan literally changed my future. I wanted to help; I wanted to do good and do it well.

I spent a year researching and studying social good organizations that were making a big difference. I studied everyone, from the new, hip guys at charity:water, with their world class branding, and Warby Parker, with their world class products and marketing. Others, like Compassion and Food for the Hungry, raise massive amounts of cash with an equally massive impact, and they’ve been doing hard work for decades. Other smaller, newer groups like Love146 and Noonday, are doing amazing work but have not been around for as long.

All of these organizations are making a big a difference in the world.

The Nonprofit Graveyard

At the same time, I would meet with other organizations, led by big dreamers with a passion to change the world. But often, that passion didn’t translate to growth and impact. Eventually, these dreams would go the graveyard–a lost opportunity to do good. These stories always break my heart. I want to help leaders succeed in their mission to do good.

I often would ask myself,  “Why? Why do some organizations thrive, while others die? Why do some organizations grow, while other stay stale and struggle?”

While there are many possible reasons, I think I can honestly say the biggest reason is simple: the organizations that developed the clearest vision, a streamlined strategy, and focused outcomes succeeded at much higher levels. Leaders who are able to say “No” to good opportunities and “Yes” to only the most important opportunities are the ones who created the biggest impact and saw the biggest growth.

Growing organizations consistently had leaders who chose to focus on clear outcomes, spent their capital to create powerful momentum, and at the same time, controlled their costs and time (which creates a much more efficient organization). Momentum and efficiency almost always equaled sustained growth.

What is the ONE thing these leaders have in common? They bought into the idea of essentialism.

What is Essentialism?

The summer of 2014, I picked up this book. I didn’t so much read it as much as I devoured it. Page after page, the words kept haunting me; I felt my soul begin to shift. I saw the key mistakes that I was making as a CEO of a young nonprofit. We had growth on our side, but lacked efficiency. No doubt–we would have eventually crashed into a wall and caused all sorts of damage.

Big hearts must be connected to big minds to create big impact. (Tweet that) I knew I needed to keep our organization as simple and as focused as possible. I knew that if we wanted to grow, I would have to say “No” to a lot of amazing opportunities and only say “Yes” to the most important ones. As the author would say, I had to dismantle the yes bomb and create a more disciplined culture.

The separation of those who do good for the long haul and those who have to close up shop or burn out along the way is the difference between scattered and focused. Often, we fail because we run of out fuel (both physical energy and capital), before we reach the next gas station. (Tweet that)

The WHY Determines the WHAT

WHY are you doing what you are doing? The WHY is that conviction that creates the drive and passion to do something. The WHY is what gets your blood boiling. The WHY is core to your calling and identity. But the WHY needs a guardrail or the vision can easily become derailed. The WHY needs a WHAT.

Essentialism helps you keep focused on the WHY and not be overwhelmed by the WHAT.

We know why we do what we do. But, WHAT are we going to do is the vehicle; the WHY is the gas. So, if you are like me–you know your WHY. But those who have embraced essentialism also know and stay focused on the WHAT.


  • An essentialist knows what they are supposed to be doing and not doing–to what to say “yes” and “no.”
  • An essentialist becomes a master at saying “no” and creating a culture of deep focus. They know that time is their greatest way to make an impact and to prove their worth to their calling and vision.
  • An essentialist is addicted to clarity. (Tweet that)

For so many–they know their WHY, but they struggle with the WHAT.

  • A non-essentialist is scattered, confused, and lost.
  • A non-essentialist does not understand key data and metrics.
  • A non-essentialist is constantly chasing. The wind blows them here, there, and everywhere. They’re desperate to pay the bills and their staff, and raise capital for impact. They hustle, but the hustle is so scattered that it has no way to make a longterm impact.
  • A non-essentialist is trying to make an impact in too many areas. They end up making no impact at all. (Tweet that)

Over the course of the next month or so, I’m going to dig deep into this idea of essentialism, especially for those who are building organizations that are focused on doing good. Check back next week, or add my feed to your RSS reader. Better yet-sign up to get my blog posts sent directly to your inbox.

The next four Mondays, I will tackle the following topics:

1) Dismantling the Yes Bomb

2) Making Decisions That Create Momentum

3) Silencing The Critic

4) Settling Into the Journey

I am excited to share this journey with you. I hope that this series will be a great help to both leaders of organizations and everyday people that want to streamline their lives to make a greater impact on the world around them.

I send a newsletter, Put This In Your Pocket, every Friday. These newsletters will have key articles on essentialism, leadership, and a quick nugget about the monthly topic. Please–sign up here to receive that fresh in your inbox every weekend. Note: this email list is different than my blog list; please join both lists if you would like to receive both emails.