Archive for 'Leadership'

Letter #1 – Life outside the cage

Posted on 18. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #1 Life outside the cage
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 18, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 18, 2001

Dear Brett,

Well, I guess it’s here. Happy birthday. I hope your 20s are your greatest decade yet (but not the greatest ever…haha).

These letters have been fun. It was a great way for me to distill everything I’ve learned in my 20s and pass them along to you. I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

Have thought a lot about this last letter. These will be my final words to you as you embark on this new decade and I embark on mine.

You had a favorite Bible verse in high school, Brett. You quietly made it your personal manifesto for your high school years:

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” – Prov 29:25

I’m glad you latched on to that verse, especially during those years when others’ opinions are everything. It reminds us of the danger there. Fearing people–their thoughts, opinions, and notions of us– is a snare, a trap. Imagine a rabbit in a small wire cage–that’s what we do to ourselves when we live in fear of man. As fragile, insecure, broken creatures, we’re prone to caring way too much for the approval of those around us. It’s an addiction, and the more approval we get, the more we need.

And this is problematic…

Because if you drive an SUV, they’ll think you don’t care about the environment. And if you have a southern accent, they’ll think you’re an Alabama redneck. And if you haven’t read all the classics, they’ll think you’re uneducated. And if you talk too spiritual, the pagans will think you’re a fundamentalist. But if you don’t talk spiritual enough, the fundamentalists will think you’re a pagan. If you use use the word “sovereign”  and quote John Piper a lot, you’ll make the Calvinists happy. But don’t talk like that too much, lest the v-necked church planters and charismatics label you a geeky presbyter. Oh, and make sure you speak out against abortion, democrats, and homosexuality to keep the entire evangelical world happy as well. But don’t do that too much or the secularists will tag you as a bigot and hatemonger. And if you dress too nice, some will say you’re materialistic or that you have bad taste. If you don’t dress nice enough, you can’t be a part of their club. If you put gel in your hair and wear Converses, your Alabama friends will think you’re an Atlanta sellout. If you wear polos and Sperrys, your Atlanta friends will think you’re an Alabama bumpkin. Don’t even get me started on what they’ll think when they find out you were in a fraternity.

Feel that cage? See the wires?

There’s a way out: Stop caring.




Let it all go. Be free. Declare approval bankruptcy. Then begin living life.

I’m not fully there yet, Brett, but I’m getting closer. I can feel the freedom of care-less-ness a little more with each passing day. And rarely–very rarely–I’ll bump into someone who is living in this freedom. They’re like aliens. It’s so rare and refreshing, it’s like they’re not from this planet.

I think these people get that, on that day, we’ll all stand before our Maker…alone.

Alone, Brett.

“They” won’t be there. Just you and God. Think about that…it changes everything.

Love others hard. Do great work. Live in community. Humble yourself daily. Seek feedback and accountability, but only fear One.

Then forget everything else.

That’s life outside the cage, Brett.

Remember this.


P.S. Enjoy that 32 waist, bucko!

Brett, live your life for others, requiring only the approval of One.

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Letter #2 – The ignorance list

Posted on 17. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #2 The ignorance list
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 17, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 17, 2001

Dear Brett,

Well, this is it. Your last day in your teens, my last day in my 20s. Hopefully you’re seeing that life only sprints. It doesn’t know how to crawl.

In your late 20s you’ll start becoming a lot more aware of life and how you fit in the world. Part of this dawning self-awareness is discovering what you don’t know, what you weren’t taught. Yes, you grew up with great parents, went to great schools, and have even gotten to travel some. But still, there are things you weren’t taught. Here’s a starter list…

  • Good music
  • Art
  • Fashion
  • Church history
  • Good theology
  • Humor
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Business
  • Personal finance
  • Investing
  • Wine/cigars
  • Loyalty
  • How to shoot a gun
  • How to play a musical instrument
  • How to speak a foreign language
  • How to tie a tie (Youtube doesn’t count)
  • How to change a tire
  • How to build/fix things
  • How to handle conflict
  • How to express your emotions properly
  • How to be a brother
  • How to bowl
  • How to play golf (dad tried…this one’s on you, Brett)
  • How to drive in a big city
  • How to play poker
  • How a suit should fit

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need to know that stuff? Well, maybe you don’t.

But maybe you do.

What a shame that we go through life not knowing what we don’t know! There is a gloriousness in ignorance–specific, catalogued, documented ignorance. It frees your spirit to be curious, to not have to fake it so people think you’re well-cultured, well-heeled, well-versed. It frees you from the burden of having to know all the answers, or at least in making people think you do.

You’ll notice that a lot of this is fathering stuff as well–either things that dad couldn’t teach you or didn’t teach you because he died last year. You never stop needing to be fathered, Brett–no matter how old you get. Own up to your ignorance. Embrace your fatherlessness. Once you do, you’ll find a lot of freedom, and you’ll awaken to the truth that God has put people around you to educate, mentor, and father. Ignorance is great, but we’re not designed to stay there.

The list above is just a start and I’m excited about the next decade of discovering more things I don’t know. Everyone has an ignorance list, Brett. They all look different, but everyone has one. Now you know yours.

We’ll wake up in a new decade of life tomorrow. Sweet dreams.


P.S. Not all your presidents will be white.

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Letter #6 – Fear, growth, confidence, success

Posted on 13. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #6 – Fear, growth, confidence, success
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 13, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 13, 2001

Dear Brett,

Here’s a wild idea for personal growth. I want you to practice it a lot over the next ten years because I fear know you won’t do it enough. Ready?

Attempt things that you are not equipped to do.

Start a business.

Launch a project for a good cause.

Give a presentation to people a lot smarter than you.

Move to a city where you’re a nobody.

Try something crazy at work.

You’ll never grow if you only do things you’re trained or schooled in. We’re confident in those things. But we don’t grow when we’re confident. We grown when we’re scared.

Scared of what others will think.

Scared of not having what it takes.

Scared of failing.

Fear is the driving force of our species. It paralyzes people and prevents them from doing amazing things. They ride around life in the back of a cop car with their hands pinned behind their back, gazing out on a world full of motion and life. After a while, they get comfortable in that seat, and days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into years. Years turn into a life. And they eventually fall asleep back there and never wake up. Life has passed them by.

But when we respond to fear rightly, it becomes this explosive force for growth. Human nature is to flee scary things. But we should be running towards some scary things. Especially when those things pertain to our hopes, dreams, and goals. Save the fleeing for bears and sharks.

Brett, in your 20s, attempt some things that you are not equipped to do.

But let me issue a reminder: Read the first sentence of this letter again.

[seriously….do it now]

Notice that I didn’t say this was a wild idea for success. I said it was a wild idea for personal growth. You may very well attempt something new and fail miserably. But in failing, you’ll grow and learn. And that’s where the beauty is. You do this enough, and you’ll become wiser. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to cobble together enough wisdom to find some success. And with each success, your confidence will grow a little more.

Life is a dance with both confidence and fear. If you only dance with confidence–doing things you’re well-equipped for–you become satisfied, stagnant, stuck. If you only dance with fear–always running from things you’re not equipped for–you become timid, skittish, paralyzed. When you dance with both, you find this really lovely place where our fear fuels growth, growth fuels confidence, and confidence fuels success.

Remember this, Brett.


P.S. You can become a billionaire by making the internet more social: Think faces. Think books.

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Letter #7 – Palms up

Posted on 12. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #7 – Palms up
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 12, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 12, 2001

Dear Brett,

Ok, I’m back. Sorry for the left-overs yesterday.

In letter #9 I gave you a long list of your weaknesses. I forgot one, and it’s one of your biggest.

You’re easily offended.

When someone challenges you, you snap at them. When someone disagrees with you publicly, you quietly despise them. When someone slams you with words, you sledgehammer back. Or worse yet, you withdraw and retreat into your shell, scorned. You get defensive if someone calls out your integrity because you want to protect your image as a “good Christian guy” (I’ll talk more about that in a few days). And when these things happen, you hang on to them like a bottle of Jack in an alcoholics’ ward. You just can’t set it down, sipping on it days, even weeks, later. Simmering, stewing. As a sophomore in college, you’re aware of this. But you think it’s normal, and that it will just always be this way.

It won’t. It shouldn’t. It can’t.

There is a guy working at Thomas Nelson up in Nashville. His name is Michael Hyatt, and he’ll be a big deal in a couple of years. You’re going to hear him speak at a conference where he’ll talk about overlooking offenses. You’re going to learn that being offended is a choice–a conscious choice. And the good thing about choices is that you control them like a remote controlled car.





Sounds very kindergarten, doesn’t it? But this is going to change your life, Brett. It won’t eliminate the sensation of being offended, but it’s going to help you relabel and reframe what’s happening.

So now, when someone offends me, I pray and then coach myself through it. When the incident happens, I immediately shut my mouth. I don’t let myself lash out. I talk myself off the ledge of offense. Am I perfect at it? Of course not. I’m still human. But I’m getting better every day.

There’s real freedom here, Brett. Freedom to not have to be right. Freedom to relax and breathe the air of forgiveness. Freedom to lay down the bazooka of self-protection. Freedom to unclench those fists and go palms up.

Palms up.

That’s a fun way to live, Brett.

Remember this.


P.S. You’re paying about $1.80/gallon for gas right now. Enjoy that. [laughs]

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Letter #8 – Vampires and surgeons

Posted on 11. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #8 – Vampires and surgeons
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 11, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 11, 2001

Dear Brett,

Hey buddy. Happy Veterans Day.

Can I be honest? It’s Friday afternoon, I’m tired, and I don’t feel like writing. But you’re not getting off that easy. A while back, I had this crazy idea about haters and mentors. So I came up with this metaphor called “Vampires and Surgeons.” My friend Jeff was nice enough to let me post it on his website. I think there’s something you can learn here. Read…


Our life is a story of growth. From diapers to school naps to multiplication tables and so on. Under the cupped hands of school and family, we bloom. We grow. We grow up.

But along the way, we bump up against vampires.

Vampires—negative people intent on draining us of life, hope and optimism. Haters. They’re the bully in the gym, the gossip in the girls’ bathroom, the soured-on-life co-worker. Vampires come and they go, but they never really go away. They move with us, lurking from lifestage to lifestage. Sometimes disguised as friends and even family, they stand in the shadows of our greatest moments—arms crossed, jealous toe tapping. And when our shining moment fades and the lights dim, they track us down in the parking lot, only to remind us of our pimples, hiccups, and scars.

And these vampires do real damage. Their words stick, clinging to our souls and thrashing around in our minds months and years and decades later.

And then one day we meet a cheerleader. Ahh…the anti-vampire. Her face is warm. She’s cute and has a pony-tail. Her words soothe, encourage, affirm. She’s our 5th grade teacher, or a smiling face from church, or college buddy who loves life. The cheerleaders of life tell us everything we want to believe about ourselves. That we’re good-looking and funny and that we smell good. Not only are they present during our shining moments, they’re actually the ones helping create them, toe-touching and fist-pumping us the whole time.

But there’s a third player—the surgeon.

And he’s the difference-maker.

The surgeon is one part vampire, cutting and hacking and slinging blood. And he’s one part cheerleader, nourishing pallid souls back to health. He recognizes the ills of life and offers to help. He seats us on the hospital table with the crinkly paper, finds the hidden tumors, and goes to work. He doesn’t just dice and slice—for this would make him only a butcher. He also administers blood during the procedure. He identifies and fixes what we don’t need, and gives us more of what we do need.

And, like vampires, surgeons are scary. Dark eyes peering over a surgical mask, scalpel in hand. Oh, that scalpel–his instrument of pain! But the surgeon, in all of his blood-soaked horror, has a noble calling. Like a vampire, he wounds. But he wounds to heal. He cuts to fix. He injures to revive. While the vampire is our enemy, the surgeon is our friend…

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” – Proverbs 27:6

Most of us spend a lifetime running from vampires and running towards cheerleaders—avoiding pain and chasing after people who make us feel good. We resist the call of the surgeon, the call of the mentor. Because in the wounding there is pain (and we are biologically programmed to resist pain). But the wounding is the hallmark of a good mentor. A good mentor is not merely a cheerleader. He’s more than the rah-rah. Like a surgeon, a good mentor identifies the tumors in our lives. She sees the things that we cannot see or refuse to see—character defects, blind spots, and glaring inconsistencies in the way we live. Mentors step into our personal space and ask us the tough questions. They challenge our presuppositions on living. They aren’t afraid to get bloody. The ancients understood this; apprenticeships were a way of life. Professional athletes understand this now; personal trainers and coaches are a foregone conclusion. Yet in our personal lives, we’re content to march along alone, sovereign rulers in the Kingdom of Me. And it’s in this secret kingdom where the tumors of hubris, infidelity, and scandal take root.

Better to swing open the gates and invite a surgeon in. Surgery may be needed. And you don’t have a day to waste.

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Letter #9 – Weakness plan

Posted on 10. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #9 – Weakness plan
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 10, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 10, 2001

Dear Brett,

How did that make you feel yesterday? Talking about weaknesses and all.

You don’t want to hear this. You don’t. But it’s true: You have weaknesses. Quite a few of them. You’re going to learn all about them in your 20s but let me expedite things:

  • Insecurity around people who intimidate you
  • Average relational capacity
  • Easily distracted
  • Propensity for procrastination
  • Only moderate athletic ability
  • Propensity for belly fat
  • Propensity for double chin fat
  • Horrible with tools
  • Failure to finish projects
  • Valuing things over people
  • Valuing your work over people
  • Communicating terribly with your friends/family
  • Emotionally withdrawn from people you don’t know
  • Self-absorption
  • Classic workaholism

(This is just a starter list.)

In the next few years you will read some business books that will tell you to gather up all your weaknesses, lock them in the attic, and ignore them. Instead, they will suggest, focus only on your strengths, celebrate your strengths, live in your strengths. This, they will say, is the secret to success.

They’re partially right.

Yes, you need to identify your strengths and feed them, water them, grow them. But Brett, you can’t ignore that list up there. You can’t ignore the bumps in the attic. Some weaknesses you must fight. With violence. You need to declare war on them. Some will require a supporting infrastructure built around them. Some will require both help from Above and accountability from friends. But none will be dealt a death blow until death blows on you.

Brett, the quicker you can accept those weaknesses, the better off you’ll be.


Notice that I didn’t say embrace your weaknesses. I said accept them. And there is a difference. Weaknesses aren’t to be hugged. To embrace a weakness is to agree with it and admit defeat. To accept a weakness, on the other hand, is to recognize that it does, in fact, exist. When you make this admission, then you’re able to make a weakness plan.

Fight it?

Build infrastructure around it?

Get help?

But my gosh, don’t think you’re weakness-free. That’s a blindfold sewn by arrogance, a noose tied by pride.

Know the list. Then get to work.


P.S. Sorry. Wasn’t kidding about the belly fat part.

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Letter #11 – Traveling with friends

Posted on 08. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #11 – Traveling with friends
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 8, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 8, 2001

Dear Brett,

Speaking of investing, let me tell you about another great way to invest: traveling with friends.

This is tougher in certain seasons of life. College is packed with classes and light on cash. 30s+ are filled with career and family. The season for traveling is in your 20s.

Traveling with friends is unforgettable. Money invested in clothes, furniture, and cars rings hollow–low ROI there. However, money invested in shared experiences with friends goes deep. And it produces memories that blaze, laughs that echo, and a bond with your travelmates that never goes away. Traveling with friends shatters the aquarium that you usually swim in together and ferries you to the ocean. And oceans create all new conversations–ones that would never have happened in the aquarium. Just ask Nemo.

Travel also busts open your view of the world. It brings an awakening and makes life rich. Check out this quote from Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

Brett, you’ve grown up in a small Southern town surrounded by white faces. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that. But you’ve got to get out some. From art to poverty and all points in between, there are things you need to see. The internet won’t do it. Those things will change you. They’ll recalibrate you. They’ll help you understand the rest of life better. And God too.

Brett, you won’t be able to afford to go all the places you want to go. But carve out some space in your budget for this. You can’t afford not to.

Remember this.


P.S. Lookup a guy in Chicago named Steve Bartman. Call him and tell him to never go to a Cubs game again.

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Letter #12 – Brains, not couches: A lesson in investing

Posted on 07. Nov, 2011 by .


Letter #12 – Brains, not couches: A lesson in investing
From: Brett Trapp – Nov 7, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Nov 7, 2001

Dear Brett,

Investing is pretty irrelevant to you right now. You’re broke. But you’re in college so that’s okay. However, investing is important and there are a few things you need to know.

When most people graduate, money becomes the driver of life . It sits behind the wheel for most major life decisions–first job out of college, where to live, who to date, major purchases, and career path. But NASCAR money always wants to break the speed limit, causing Americans to spend more than they should. You’ve heard countless preachers warn against the dangers of materialism and getting to the end of life with a big pile of stuff that you can’t take with you. Lots of truth there.

But that’s not the point of this letter.

Brett, financial experts can teach you about portfolios and stocks and mutual funds. I can’t do that. I’m talking about a different kind of investing.

Investing in yourself.

From an early age, we were all taught to help others out. What we weren’t taught is to invest in ourselves. This can come across as a real self-serving idea, but hear me out. When most people graduate, they take the two great resources of time and money and waste them away. Time after work and weekend time is wasted in excessive couch time–TV-watching, video game playing, socializing, or beer drinking. Of course these things are harmless in moderation, but in excess they can rob life. Imagine what would happen if you invested half that time into developing yourself–reading, listening to audiobooks or lectures, learning from smart people over coffee, attending cultural events. It works the same with money. What if you took money that would be wasted on ROI-less couch time and invested in yourself–subscribing to a newspaper, going to conferences, technology that opens the world, or taking an educational course in your field. I know I sound like a total geek right now, but imagine what would happen if you did this for the next ten years. Imagine what would happen if you invested in your greatest asset–your brain. Heckuva ROI here. And you’d have quite the advantage over the couch-sitters.

Brett, invest in brains, not couches. It can make all the difference.

Remember this.


P.S. This letter is particularly relevant for single people. Gonna be relevant for you for a while :)

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Letter #20 – On your toes

Posted on 30. Oct, 2011 by .


Letter #20 – On your toes
From: Brett Trapp – Oct 30, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Oct 30, 2001

Dear Brett,

Bro. Hate to be the one to tell you this, but I don’t think anyone else will. Actually, I’m positive no one else will.

You’re really judgmental.

I know. I know. You think I’m a liberal now, but please don’t cut me off. Keep reading.

When you disagree with someone, you think they have a character flaw. You expect everyone around you to view the world through your eyes. You expect people to solve problems like you. You expect your friends to react in the same way as you. You’d never admit this, but you even think people should dress like you. And it just doesn’t work that way. People are wildly and categorically different. Their personalities are constructed differently. God–zany guy–decided to do different wiring jobs on people. He’s a master electrician, and he gets a real kick out of wiring the same “house” different every time. In that creativity, he protected us from a life of boring each other. He protected us from droid humanity–thinking, walking, and talking alike. He protected us from a life of shuffling about like bumper cars–different in color but identical in construction and ho-hum function.





Instead, he made bumper cars, Ferraris, Mack trucks, Dodge Stratuses, and big wheels. Each has a different form. Each has a different glorious function. And it makes for fantastic drama. It makes life fun.

Brett, the quicker you can understand this wiring diversity (forgive me…liberal word again), the better. And I’m not talking about compromising what you believe. I’m talking about flexing out of your way of thinking to meet people where they are. Seek to understand, first.

(read previous sentence again)

Don’t rush to assumption. Don’t rush to that script you use–and yes, that’s a script–to prove that you’re right.

Instead of getting pissed every time someone disagrees, try this: Close your mouth, furrow your brow, and lean in–on your toes. Because disagreeing with someone on your heels is a lot different from listening to someone on your toes. And this makes a big difference in life.

Until tomorrow.


P.S. Brace yourself: You’ll live in Atlanta one day. (now breathe)

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Letter #21: Be terrified

Posted on 29. Oct, 2011 by .


Letter #21 – Be terrified.
From: Brett Trapp – Oct 29, 2011
To: Brett Trapp – Oct 29, 2001

Dear Brett,

Yo. Like I said yesterday, social life in college is the best. The other thing that makes college awesome is that you get to learn, to be taught. You actually have people in your life who get paid money to make you learn. Teachers! You’ll never have this again. Crazy.

Here’s the thing though: Most people—when they graduate—forget about learning.

College was for learning,” they think. “Life—now—is about earning, consuming, getting.”

And people get busy. The busyness fuses with stress which fuses with meetings which fuses with lots of TV time, and that creates a rusty chain of complacency. That chain is choking, and it will choke out your days. And choked days pile up into choked years. Choked years pile up into a choked life.

The non-learners forget to be curious. They forget to be in awe at creation, life, people.

This is sad.

Brett, be terrified of what you don’t know. Be terrified that there are vast acres of life you were never taught. Be terrified that there are things in your life–odorless, colorless, tasteless–that you just won’t (or can’t) deal with. The carbon monoxide of the soul. Be terrified that, today, there are roots of ignorance and wrong thinking worming into your mind. That’s happening today. Right now.






Kick the tires. Then remove the tires and put them back on again.


Don’t stop digging til you’ve found what you’re looking for. Then dig some more because you’re not there yet.

I’m talking about experiences, books, conversations, note-taking, and sit-downs with people smarter than you. And there are people smarter than you. WAAAAY smarter than you. They’ve got what you need, knowledge & wisdom. Wrest it from them. Gently assault them until your curiosity is satisfied.

Ask questions.

Ask questions.

Shut up and listen.

Then ask more questions.

Don’t stop asking questions until you understand.

Be terrified, Brett.

We’ll talk tomorrow.


P.S. SB: Take the Pats.

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