All It Takes Is A Goal

ATG 4: Billy Ivey on writing his first book, goal-setting without chasing identity and being my first mentor

February 01, 2021 Jon Acuff Season 1 Episode 4
All It Takes Is A Goal
ATG 4: Billy Ivey on writing his first book, goal-setting without chasing identity and being my first mentor
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All It Takes Is A Goal
ATG 4: Billy Ivey on writing his first book, goal-setting without chasing identity and being my first mentor
Feb 01, 2021 Season 1 Episode 4
Jon Acuff

When I asked Billy Ivey to be a guest on a show about goals, his wife asked him, “Is this like some kind of intervention?” That made me laugh and I promise you will too in this fun conversation with my very first writing mentor. We’ve been friends for 22 years, worked closely with the same billionaire and started our first blog together. Take a listen.

You can keep up with Billy Ivey on Instagram or his Napkinisms website.

Follow Jon on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Order Soundtracks, Jon's newest book available wherever you find quality books!

Show Notes Transcript

When I asked Billy Ivey to be a guest on a show about goals, his wife asked him, “Is this like some kind of intervention?” That made me laugh and I promise you will too in this fun conversation with my very first writing mentor. We’ve been friends for 22 years, worked closely with the same billionaire and started our first blog together. Take a listen.

You can keep up with Billy Ivey on Instagram or his Napkinisms website.

Follow Jon on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Order Soundtracks, Jon's newest book available wherever you find quality books!

Jon Acuff:

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Billy Ivey:

Oh, gosh! Well, first of all, you're now both better and faster. You seem to have not aged except for your hair and I am a lot older now. But my mantra for writing, honestly is I really do try to take my time. I try to take as much time as I can to dive in and understand the story. I think what makes a good writer is his experience, but also empathy and being able to really, really allow yourself to dig in and be a part of that story, as opposed to just jumping in and saying "What's on your heart or what's on your mind?" You know, from an advertising perspective, I've spent an awful lot of time on the front end, trying to get to know who I'm talking about, lives, and why I'm saying what I'm saying or trying to, as our friend Jesse Palmer used to say "sing the words of their heart."

Jon Acuff:

Did he say that?

Billy Ivey:

Oh, yeah, man. He used to say, "I really need for you to sing the words of their heart, which was corny at the time, but it makes, it makes sense.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah. The older you are... the older you get, and that that's the fun thing is I describe you as my, like my writing mentor at my first real adult job. So right out of college, we're both in Birmingham, Alabama. I think, I don't remember what my title was. You were probably a senior writer and I was a junior writer. I don't know what they... the titles we had.

Billy Ivey:

I think we were just both copywriters. I never reached the senior status at that agency.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah. But when I started, I looked at you as somebody who was further down the path, had so much information, and it was so fun to kind of bat ideas around with you and go, "Okay, that's where it goes." And it's been fun to watch you take these ideas in different directions. On one end of the spectrum is okay, you've got advertising ideas, but you've actually written a book called "A Sea Between."

Billy Ivey:

Yeah.

Jon Acuff:

And I absolutely love it. How did you get involved in that project?

Billy Ivey:

Well, I don't guess it was an accident, but the story was brought to me. Some friends of mine in Nashville, actually Chad and Mary Virginia Frist (actually Mary Virginia was actually my high school girlfriend for like five years, we dated for a long time). But they came to me and said, "Hey, you're a writer, right?" And I said, "Well, yeah, I mean sometimes," and they said, "We got a great story we need to tell. And you're the only guy we know who could do it, you know, would you like to write a book?" And I said, "Well, writer is next to my name after the comma. And so of course, I want to write a book, every writer wants to write a book." But I was always expecting it to be my book, you know, my story or something that I, you know, sort of devised or created in my head. But when I heard this true life story of this Cuban immigrant who escaped Cuba, on a boat that he built and worked for years in order to raise enough money to traffic his family out of Cuba, and then they were then held captive in Mexico. And so there's a battle and getting his family together. When I heard this story was almost too dramatic and too exciting and too real, to be believable. But I had to write it. So it was, it was a situation where they said, "Hey, we'd like to pay you X amount of dollars to do this. There's no timeline, there's no timeframe, there's no, you know, we just want to tell the story." And I jumped right in took a long time to get it done, though.

Jon Acuff:

Was it hard without a timeframe to get it done?

Billy Ivey:

[Scoffs] Yeah.

Jon Acuff:

Like I asked Patsy Clairmont, who's a writer and she's amazing, "How do you write best?" And she said, under obligation? And I loved that answer. This podcast is all about goals and achieving them and finishing them. How are you able to finish that if there wasn't a timeframe?

Billy Ivey:

Quick story, I'll answer that question, but I told my wife, I told Bethany, who said to say hi, by the way, but I told her I was going to be on your podcast, and she said, "Cool, what's it about?" And I said, "Goals." And she paused and just looked at me and said, "So it's like an intervention?" Because I really, I might be the world's worst.

Jon Acuff:

You think so?

Billy Ivey:

Oh, my gosh, I'm awful at it. I just actually right before we got on, I was on the phone with the publisher. And they said, "You know, just whenever you can do it, we're basically at the epilogue. Now I just need to write the epilogue or whatever, you can do it. And I said, I gotta tell you that's just not gonna... That's not gonna work for me. I need next Tuesday. I actually need next Tuesday at 10pm. I don't need this open ended. Just listen to your heart.

Jon Acuff:

Listen to the words your heart.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, I mean, again, I like to take my time on stuff and I do, you know. I will take as much time as you give me. So yes, it was very difficult to finish this book without a timeline or deadline. Because then it just becomes heavier and heavier and heavier. And you're able to push things off and able to say, Well, I'm going to go fold the laundry instead of sitting down and working on this, or I'm going to go do this, that, or the other thing. I folded a lot of laundry while I was writing.

Jon Acuff:

You get real into socks when you try to avoid stuff.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

Jon Acuff:

Okay. You're on the edge of the epilogue. That's an interesting segue. Oftentimes, it's the last 5% that it's the hardest 5%. Like in a marathon, I think you see the finish line, and you're like, "Why would I stop now?" but sometimes in goals, there's all this pressure. Sometimes you don't want to leave the project because it's been fun, and it's sad to see it end, you know? So like for you, how do you not get stuck in this spot of "I just have to write the epilogue, which is like a complete, like, one page, three page summary of the most amazing thing. So obviously, like, no, no pressure." It's like... Oh, I love when people are like, "Give me your elevator pitch. You have nine seconds to tell me your idea." Like, then it's gonna suck. Because nine seconds isn't like... I'm not Nike, like Just Do It took 40 years, now we believe it. But when he first said it, nobody was like, "Oh, yeah, that makes complete sense." How do you actually get across the finish line or how are you planning to with this epilogue?

Billy Ivey:

First of all, I had to have them define epilogue for me, because this is or what? I was like, I finished the thing. You're not finished. I wrote the synopsis in the pitch. So why don't you just you know, this is an interesting scenario, and probably not an altogether common one. But this story, originally written from two perspectives, which we have determined was a pretty complicated thing to ask a reader to wrap their heads around to read a book or read a novel read this true story from two different perspectives. It's just a little bit confusing. And so throughout the process, I've had to go back and had to change it all to one perspective and tell these stories from almost a narrator standpoint. And then we had to go back and we had to cut out a ton of stuff because the narrator using the main characters, the narrator wasn't working either. And so we had to put everything through the main character's perspective. So it went from a 96,000 word, manuscript to now it's around 65,000 words, because we just had to cut out a ton of stuff. So there's an opportunity in the epilogue to sort of speak to that other character and have them sort of follow up and say what they were feeling at the time or what they're feeling now. So it's a little bit different, probably, but your point of the finish line, I mean, I wrote 70% of this book, and the first three weeks, I feel like. I didn't know how to wrap my head around how to tell this really powerful story. I didn't feel like I was good enough at it. I didn't feel like I was doing it justice. And so every time I would try to end it, it was wrong. Even though it's a true story. I was telling it wrong.

Jon Acuff:

You're telling the wrong part, or you weren't celebrating it the right way.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, that's right. That's right. So the end is the hardest part. A lot of people will say, you know, staring at the blank page is the hardest part. But when you've got a great story and you feel compelled to write it, that was easy for me. It was really easy for me to jump in, it was pretty hard for me to finish.

Jon Acuff:

So if you need a deadline, because I kind of think it's interesting to think through, like, what are the handful of things you require to finish a goal. And you and I are both at the age now where like, we have some information we can pull from. Like we have a data set where we can be like, okay for me, 45 years of life going this way. Why am I surprised? Like why am I still like, "What I need to run so I stay sane and not stressed out? You're kidding me!"

Billy Ivey:

Right?

Jon Acuff:

If you have "deadline" on that list, like if we said okay, it's a recipe, what are the ingredients, like okay, I need a deadline. I need hours, like do you put it on a calendar? Like what are you doing to kind of set yourself up for success? Again, like you're facing a real thing. epilogue is on your plate, you got to do it, Bethany joked that, your wife joked about, "Oh, is this a goal intervention?" So like, what's in Billy's toolkit?

Billy Ivey:

You know, I'm still figuring that out. I'm a respectively, I'm a young man. But I'm a pretty old guy to be starting out on something, you know, to starting out as being an author. And so I'm still figuring a lot of it out. The process has not been at all formulaic for me throughout the process. It's almost unfair to put that in perspective of the entire process. Because to finish this, I know what I've got to do. You have four pages to do this. So I know I've got a I got to set up an interview, I've got to probably go to Nashville and conduct this interview, get some information, and then write four pages. Writing four pages is nothing when you're looking at, you know, 300. I have not at all, and again, this is sort of the comedy of me being on a podcast about goals, I have not found a formula that really works better than others. It's got to take me being intentional, being diligent, and trying to force myself to the table and get it done. The best stuff I ever do is usually at the last minute, and I hate that. I really do hate that. I wish it wasn't true.

Jon Acuff:

I'm working on that. I'm workshopping that idea, right, like right now, my own life. The idea of that I have a deadline discipline, but not self discipline. And I want to tweak that.

Billy Ivey:

Oh, man.

Jon Acuff:

I don't want the deadline to create the creativity. I don't think I can 100% match that. But I think there's things I can do along the way, whether it's fake deadlines, like I'm gonna test that in the coming year to go like, "Okay, what is that?" Because I think that's true of a lot of creatives. I think it's true humans.

Billy Ivey:

Absolutely. I absolutely agree. I've not talked to a creative, especially writers, who aren't compelled to be creative by, by deadlines. And by... For me, it's fear. I mean, I got till January 22 to finish this epilogue. January 22, it's not even December 22, Right? I had a long time. But then you think about, well you got the holidays coming in, and you got lacrosse games and wrestling matches and baseball starting up and dance and cheerleading and all of a sudden, all of a sudden, Christmas is over, the New Year's come and you've got all these other projects coming up. So it becomes again, this anvil. And I don't even know if I work best, I just finish when the anvil is about to drop. I don't like that, but that's just the way it has been. And you know, I'm assuming until you figure it out for me, that's the way it's

Jon Acuff:

I will, I will. That'll be like the third book, gonna be. hopefully down the line. But it's funny because if you did the math, you have like an hour on a Tuesday, the second week of January. Like it's, you know what I mean? Like, this isn't a solo project, so like you have to get on somebody's calendar in Nashville. So you know, you're not doing that before the holidays, like people have kind of shut down already. We're filming... We're recording this in December. And so if you back it out, that's where I think it can get stressful if you're not careful, because then you're like, I have nine free minutes between now and January 22. And the epilogue is gonna be like, "You just gotta believe in yourself." Just be a single quote from, from like Winston Churchill. Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah! So that's on one end of the spectrum, big goal, huge, huge project. The other end of the spectrum, is what you do with napkinisms, where you take single ideas... They're, th y're daily still, right? You're oing them daily.

Jon Acuff:

You're doing these daily ideas. How did you get into napkinisms? Tell people a little about that. Explain your heart behind that one.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, well, as I tend to say it's an accidental, an accidental platform or whatever Because I took something that I was doing everyday anyway. Since my kids had been really little, my daughter who's now, she'll be 21 this week, which is crazy, right?

Jon Acuff:

That's nuts.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah. [Laughs] Since she was five or six years old, you know, I've been putting little notes or thoughts or even little pictures or hearts or whatever in their lunchboxes. And so it wasn't until about four years ago, now, I wrote a note i thought was, you know, particularly funny or insightful, and I took a picture of and posted it to Instagram. And it got a little bit of traction and then posted the next one to Instagram and it got a little bit of momentum behind it. And then I mean, thanks to you, and thanks to your platform. I mean, you you reposted one of these these napkins. A stupid napkin, I don't even remember which one it was. But it was not particularly insightful or funny. It was just "Hey, this guy does napkin notes for his kids, and you ought to follow him." And it kind of went crazy. The momentum behind the fact that this guy was writing silly stuff to his kid. And sometimes verging on obscene things to his kids and funny things, and insightful things or whatever. People just started following. And as people started following, they started sharing their stories with me. And that was a really, really powerful thing, where I was able to see that this very small thing that I did on daily basis, was making a big impact in some people's lives. When people again, when they would share their stories, it was remarkable to see how me writing something as silly as "Remember, every time you smile, a mean kid gets diarrhea."

Jon Acuff:

That's so good. That might be the title of this, of this podcast episode. Maybe? I mean, I haven't titled one before. So we'll see.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, well, we might want to work on that.

Jon Acuff:

So you put that out in the world. And then somebody goes, "Okay, wait a second, this has a bigger impact than you know."

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, they sent me this three page letter about how I'd single-handedly made her reconsider her decision not to have kids.

Jon Acuff:

Wow! Wow!

Billy Ivey:

I mean, what do you what are you talking about? But then she went on to tell her story. And her story was, it was crazy. I mean, she grew up in foster homes, because her mother was an addict and her dad was abusive in all these ways. And foster home after foster home after foster home was a bad situation. And somehow, someway, this stupid note that I'd put on Instagram or Facebook found its way to her, and she got a new perspective. And she said, "Maybe one day I'll find a guy who loves me, for me. Maybe that guy and I will have kids. And I swear to God, when we do have kids, I'm gonna love them. I'm gonna be fun with them. I'm gonna have happy times." So it started to generate this desire in me to... it was a desire, but it was also a lot of pressure, right? I mean, you know, this, I mean, you know this better than most. When you start to get a following, the pressure comes. I've got to perform.

Jon Acuff:

Oh, yeah! Yeah.

Billy Ivey:

So nothing was funny enough. Nothing was inspirational enough. Nothing was good enough. So I started performing for the wrong audience. And Bethany, and all her wisdom would say, "Hey, it really isn't what you write. It's that you write."

Jon Acuff:

Oh, it isn't really what you write. It's that you write?

Billy Ivey:

Yeah!

Jon Acuff:

That's great. God bless that we have awesome wives.

Billy Ivey:

No kidding. No kidding. What do we do? I mean, I didn't make, it doesn't make sense to me. But anyway, it just became this different thing. And not to get too deep into it. But that generated conversations with an employer that we both share an old employer that we both share Chick-fil-a, right? So the Chick-fil-a Foundation reaches out says, "Hey, why don't we put some of these napkins in the free lunches that we give kids during the summer here in inner-city Atlanta?" I said, "Cool." And they said, "Are you sure?" And I said, "Absolutely. I'm sure." And they said, "Cool. We need 300 notes by Monday."

Jon Acuff:

There's your deadline.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, that's right. That's right. And I did it. I stayed up three nights in a row. And I wrote all these notes and sent them off. But the stories that came out of there were equally as powerful as the lady in Houston, who wrote to me about having kids, you know. I mean, these kids are running around the halls, sharing their notes with each other and saying, Mom, look what I got, look what I got. So you just never know what kind of impact you're gonna have. So that summer, we did... I say we, you know, the napkinisms.com, I created this platform where people can send in messages, and I'll write them on a napkin and send them out. But there are over 3000 kids got a napkinism message that summer. Since then it's been about like 10,000 kids, and then had an opportunity to tell the story multiple times. And one of those was with the Children's Hospital here in Birmingham, which is a super big, super influential hospital. And they asked, "Could you write some notes for our kids?" And we created a program where a year ago, January that we started putting notes on the trays for the kids at the hospital every single day, more than 400 notes a day were going to these kids at the hospital. And again, stories after stories after stories of "Hey, my kids too sick to read this, but you changed my day."

Jon Acuff:

Wow!

Billy Ivey:

"My kid can't read, but my husband and I've been having a really hard time with our kid, and we don't know what to do. And we got this message that just said, 'try to say "I'm awesome" 50 times before lunch is over.' And we started laughing and we started doing it. And thanks for that." It's just stupid. It's crazy. It's crazy to think about. A great story. That's been a whole lot of fun for me to do. I do have a daily deadline with those, you know. I want to get up and write a message. And my kids. I wouldn't say they've lost complete interest in it, but you know, I've got a much bigger audience and I feel like it's a neat opportunity for me just to try to be creative every day. It's kind of cool.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, I love that. What are some of your favorite ones? Because like, I think every writer has a like, "Oh, that's a line!" Like I still, it's such a dumb tweet, I did it probably eight or nine years ago, and I tweeted, "Sometimes I worry about the news. Huey Lewis can take care of himself, but those guys are on their own." Like that, it was such a dumb thing. But I still think about it still makes me privately, like probably got like 10 retweets. But what are some that you're like, "Oh man, I love that one?"

Billy Ivey:

Well, it's funny because, again, with the whole performance mentality, right? I mean, my favorite ones aren't the ones that people like the most. My favorites aren't the ones that get re-shared, or, you know, there, there are some messages that have been shared, you know, 10s of 1000s of times on Facebook or through whatever. And I'm always shocked at the ones that do because you just never know what's gonna resonate with people. But the ones I like, obviously, the ones where I think I'm being funny, or I'm making fun of my kids. My kids can take it. They've lived with me their whole lives, and so they can take it but there was one that I wrote that just said, "You might not be as smart as your sister, but she can't eat gluten. So you win."

Jon Acuff:

Did people get mad at that one? Was anybody...

Billy Ivey:

Oh, yeah. I lost some followers on that one. You can't argue with the truth in that. Get a choice between making an A or eatin' a donut, you're gonna pick the donut.

Jon Acuff:

So good.

Billy Ivey:

That "every time you smile, a mean kid gets diarrhea." I think that was that was probably gotta be one of my favorite ones, too.

Jon Acuff:

Oh, that's good. That feels like a T shirt. Have you put any of these on a T-shirt?

Billy Ivey:

No, No, I haven't. It's funny, a lot of folks have asked, you know, and there for a while I was trying to figure out how to monetize this thing. Because, you know, I mean, I don't know, I mean, might as well get paid for it, then get paid for doing it. But I think that when I started thinking in that way, I started, it started losing a little bit of its luster for me, I'm just not oriented that way. And then much to the chagrin of some of my loved ones, my wife in particular, probably, I'm driven by that response, by people sharing their stories with me or people saying thank you. The appreciation is more valuable to me than all this other stuff. So there is a Sellers Publishing, is a calendar publishing company out of Northeast, they put a bunch of these notes in a daily calendar. That's how you can go, you know, search it now and find them by "Lunchbox Lessons", I think is what they titled it. I didn't have a whole lot of control, I just send them a bunch of napkins, they put it in a calendar and see what happens. But that's the first sort of commercialization of this.

Jon Acuff:

Do you write any of them ahead? Like, what's your process?

Billy Ivey:

I have. Yeah, in fact, I prefer to do that. I prefer to... Whether it just be the night before or writing a couple, you know, that might get put in. I don't really like being rushed about it because I have sort of committed to posting one every day. I got into the habit of just choosing some of my favorites from the past year and putting them up there on Thursday or Tuesday or whatever. That kind of defeats the purpose of it, too. I'm trying to be diligent put something out there every day. And so it's Advent season right now, right? Like you said, we're recording this in December. And so actually it's Bethany's idea. She's like, "Why don't you try to bring some focus onto Advent and write napkins every day, you know, for the theme of Advent?" So the first week, last week was hope, and this week is peace, and next week is love, and then the next week is joy leading up to Christmas. So it sort of helps me to have some parameters to write within the short answer. Your question is, yeah, sometimes I'll write them ahead.

Jon Acuff:

Like if you're going on vacation, will you write four or five ahead, so that you don't have to do it at the beach?

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, I've done that. We just went on vacation over Thanksgiving. I don't think, I didn't post any napkins that week. I posted family pictures that week. So I'm not that strict with it.

Jon Acuff:

You've actually got the best family. I wrote this down. This is... it's here written down. I absolutely love your family, except for your sister. Your sister and her husband prank called me once in 2002. And I still have not forgiven them. So this is less of a question is more of me just asking you to remind your sister that I don't like her. So the next time, okay,

Billy Ivey:

I don't like her either.

Jon Acuff:

If it comes up, if you're like, "Hey, there's a guy that you haven't thought about in 18 years, but he still remembers your prank call." That would be helpful. That was, I'm gonna cross it off my list. That was point number 13. A lot of people don't know this, we did have a shared background in that we both used to write for Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-a. Which was this wild, awesome experience. On the list of billionaires I've spent significant time with, it's him. Like it's just if you look at the list, it says "Number one, Dan Cathy." There's not a whole lot of people into that. What what are some lessons you took from him? Because I think we both got a front seat into some, some really interesting things.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah. Well, I saw the back of Tim Cook's head once when he was here in Birmingham. So...

Jon Acuff:

You'd add him to your list? You feel like he's on your billionaire list?

Billy Ivey:

I mean, I saw his head. A person.

Jon Acuff:

They say that the head is the shortest path to the heart. A lot, the back of the head specifically.

Billy Ivey:

Listen, he's on my Christmas card list now. So...

Jon Acuff:

Was his address on the back of his head? How'd you get his address? You don't have his address!

Billy Ivey:

Cupertino, California? I'm just gonna send to "Tim Cook in Cupertino, California". I think it'll get there.

Jon Acuff:

It'll find him.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, the question was about Dan Cathy about Chick-fil-a. I will say that's, that's the single greatest job I've ever had. Being able to be a part of that culture, first of all, because it's legit. It is, it is all the good things that you read and all the good things that you hear that you experience in the restaurants. It comes from a certain place and I think that starts with him. Obviously with his father, with Truett, but the whole family is is fantastic. Thanks to you, you helped make that introduction for me when you are no longer able to engage in that way with him. And so it started a very, very meaningful relationship in a meaningful time of my life where I learned a lot about myself, I grew a lot. I mean, I had a built-in billionaire mentor who just shared a lot of his life with me and vice versa. And so we had a really great relationship. Leaving that job to move back to Birmingham and get back into advertising a little bit was one of the most difficult things I've had to do.

Jon Acuff:

I bet, I bet. Yeah. It was a it was a fun experience for me too.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah. You You had a question in there. I apologize. I probably overlooked it.

Jon Acuff:

No, no, this is, uh, me figuring it out. So a piece of paper, insult about your sister. That was really what I wanted to get across today. You've got like, 22 kids. 20. It's like 22 or five. There's a, there's a lot of kids.

Billy Ivey:

Somewhere in there.

Jon Acuff:

What have you learned as a dad, when it comes to inspiring kids with different personalities to chase their dreams, go after goals? Like there's always this fine line between what motivates one kid and completely demotivates the other kid. Like what have you learned with that?

Billy Ivey:

Yeah. That is a fascinating question. Because I don't know that there's a, there's not a writing formula that I've ever, ever strictly adhered to and there's not a parenting formula that I've been able to adhere to either, because like you said, they're all very different. I do have five kids and ranging from 21 to 13. And so my youngest is 13, seventh grader. And there's a few more in between those two. I've actually learned a lot about goal setting, a lot about discipline from my kids. I mean, just in watching how they respond, or how they get motivated or inspired to do or not to do something has been a really cool thing. I'm not a hands off. Dad, I'm certainly, certainly very, very involved. And I try to interject as much as I can. But my 15 year old daughter, Merrie Cannon, is he most goal-oriented nd discipline-focused person tha I know. She will set her, se her mind to something and she will accomplish that goal. Every hing else be damned. She's just motivated that way. She's j st a go-getter. There's somethin internal, she has to win, she as to... And not in a self- erving way. But she loves to a complish goals. She loves o set the goals and accompli h those. And that's really fa cinating. Because I mean, y u've known me for a long time. I m just, I'm just not that guy I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants, everything's gonna b okay, you know, positive outl ok and idealist. And I've got a other kid who's motivate I think. Not in, not in a ne ative way. I don't want to pai t that picture of him. Bu fear, his biggest fear is fail ng. And so being motivated a out fear is different from being motivated, you know, by ositivity, by accomplishing so ething. I'm like my 17 year old son. We are very, very much like. And I am motivated by po itivity. Right? So positive einforcement to me makes me wan to do more, do better. But if you tell me I'm not good at som thing, and you tell me, "Hey, th t's not working out." Then I'm gonna shut down. t's interesting. I'm not a

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, what, uh, what's your number? Do you know?

Billy Ivey:

I gotta tell you. I really don't know.

Jon Acuff:

I bet people guess. It's hot in Nashville. Like it's very hot in Nashville.

Billy Ivey:

Oh, sure. Yeah, it's hot with the 20-somethings for sure, too. I mean, my daughter's big into it. She says I'm an 8 wing 9.

Jon Acuff:

Eight. I always... I think 8 is like super dominant. So I think... Yeah, 9 is the peacekeeper. 7 are like creative, fun-loving, positivity. I'm allegedly a 7, although sometimes I feel like I'm not a sev- I don't know.

Billy Ivey:

One is the type A.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah.

Billy Ivey:

My wife. There's no question. You know, she's a one. She's all 1. I don't even think she has a wing. She's just...

Jon Acuff:

No wings? Just up there, aerodynamic. She's not even flying. She's got both her arms tucked in. Like a missile! like a missile!

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, there's no coming down on that either..

Jon Acuff:

So funny.

Billy Ivey:

But I really don't... I really don't know. I'm not gonna spend a lot of time on it.

Jon Acuff:

Are you big on other personality stuff? Like, have you... Has there been one where you're like, "Oh, dude, Myers-Briggs, man, changed my life," or even not even that, like, have you read a book that you saw yourself in and it clarified things for you? Like when I read War of Art by Steven Pressfield, I was like, "Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah, that is my book. I'm gonna jump into kind of a separate question.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah.

Jon Acuff:

So I wrote a book called Soundtracks, comes out in April. And one of the things that came up in the research is that there's certain songs that impact you the most. Like, and they're usually heard between 13 and 16 if you're a man, and 11 and 14 if you're a girl. Now, it doesn't have to be exactly that, but it's just, there's times where a song impacts you more. What's a song that impacted you, like on your shortlist? And then what's a book? Maybe outside of that time for like Kurt Vonnegut, I think at one point, you would say, oh man, Kurt Vonnegut, but song and book.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, I love that you remember Kurt Vonnegut.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, you traded a backpack for a first edition, but the backpack was more expensive. We found out later that first edition. I don't think it was that expensive.

Billy Ivey:

It's like 12 bucks. I couldn've, I could have bought it.

Jon Acuff:

Somebody ripped you off with that backpack trade. This is back in the 90s people just did this stuff. They just... the backpack trading mart. There's no Craigslist. You couldn't review the guy. You couldn't give him a negative review. He just, that dude now owned your backpack.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, yeah, he's probably still using it. I have no idea where the book is. Specific songs. Man, that is a tough one. I should have expected the question based off the title of your book and what you're into now. I will say when I was in high school, U2, I couldn't get enough of U2. Bono was the coolest. I mean, he's still one of the coolest guys ever. But he was, he was so cool. I love the fact that he was a professed Christian, and he was a man of faith. And he wrote this rock and roll music and he was super cool. "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" is probably one of my all time favorite songs of his and that's just the first thing that came to mind. I certainly wasn't prepared to talk about him, but I think you'd want, in high school for sure. And then in college, it was just a potpourri of all. I mean, I listened to everything and I mean, Public Enemy to The Connells, to... but when My Friend Steve-

Jon Acuff:

My Friend Steve, yeah. He's an art teacher in Florida I think. I looked him up.

Billy Ivey:

Oh, you did?

Jon Acuff:

Oh, yeah. Love My Friend Steve. We're like the only people.

Billy Ivey:

I know. There's two of us and his students, I'm sure. Loved him.

Jon Acuff:

Do you think? Yeah. One of them definitely, with the internet. And these kids with their whiz-bang Tik-Toks and whatnot. Somebody found it. Somebody found that he was in a band and it's, you know, playing Hey, Victoria. That was the name of their sad song, by the way. She goes to Paris and dumps him. And she's like, it's gonna be fine. It's not gonna be fine Billy.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, she's gone forever. And he's teaching art.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah. That's how... music comes at you fast. I live in Nashville. I'm surrounded by My Friend Steves. I wrote here Pearl Jam was one for you.

Billy Ivey:

Oh, man.

Jon Acuff:

How many Pearl Jam albums did you own at your height? Like the height of your Pearl Jam fandom?

Billy Ivey:

All of them.

Jon Acuff:

No, because they came out with like 400 Live albums when we were hanging out. Do you remember that?

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, I do. They would record every concert.

Jon Acuff:

And I swear I would like, I'd run into you and be like, "Man, this new Pearl Jam Wichita just came out. Oh, crazy. The things they did for those Wichita people."

Billy Ivey:

No, yeah. Pearl Jam for sure. That was more, obviously more college in the early 90s, I guess. I was kind of a superfan of Pearl Jam for a while. I couldn't get enough.

Jon Acuff:

I never went to a Pearl Jam show. How many concerts did you go to?

Billy Ivey:

I think I've been to four Pearl Jam concerts.

Jon Acuff:

That's not that aggressive.

Billy Ivey:

No, it's not. But I mean, they don't tour a lot around the southeast. But I saw them in New Orleans. I saw them in Atlanta and I think Nashville and then I can't remember the other ones. Maybe Atlanta again. But I was big into the Horde festival. Remember the Horde festival and all that? It's like Blues Traveler..

Jon Acuff:

Ah, Blues Traveler. Like if you do a list of famous harmonica players from the 90s and 2000s. It's as long as my billionaire list. It's John Popper. Just that one song where somebody gave Alanis Morissette, a harmonica for like 10 minutes.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, she was cool to. cache. I miss festival.

Jon Acuff:

We grew up in the festival age, like we were, I mean, like Lilith Fair, like there were so, Lollapalooza, like there are so many different many festivals. And when we are coming up,

Billy Ivey:

I was gonna say, as far as books go, I will say I was a huge fan of Vonnegut because I just liked how irreverent he was. And he was weird and wrote funny stuff that he had to figure out. But when I read Blue Like Jazz the first time, I really did see myself in that book. And it's not because he's not great. Donald Miller's a great writer. He's a really good storyteller. But he's a, he's an every man writer, you don't have to be a Mensa to understand his books about life and faith or whatever. So I found myself in that, and it really did make me think that I could do that.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, I think that I completely get what you're saying. And for me, it was that he broke all these rules I didn't even know I had. Where it was like, oh, it felt like a conversation.

Billy Ivey:

That's right.

Jon Acuff:

It wasn't a book written to be like, "I'm on a pedestal. I wrote a book." It was more like, "If we were having a conversation. Here's the things I'd say and they'd be meaningful." And that's where I was like, Oh, I didn't even know we were allowed to write books like that. Like...

Billy Ivey:

That's right. That's right.

Jon Acuff:

It twisted the genre for me. Like that's what I liked about it.

Billy Ivey:

Hmm, yeah, that's a good way to put it. Several of his books, To Own A Dragon, just fascinating to me. Talking about his father and the idea of a father and then A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. That's it? That right?

Jon Acuff:

A Million Miles in a Thousand years?

Billy Ivey:

Million Miles in a Thousand Years, yeah. Or is it the other way around? A million years, whatever. It's a great book, though. Anyway,

Jon Acuff:

Speaking of family, you have bracelet. You're not a big jewelry guy. You're not, you don't have a necklace on right now, right?

Billy Ivey:

No,

Jon Acuff:

Okay. Me either. I'd like to have a friend who's a jewelry guy. But like not super over the top about it. Like he's just like, he wears jewelry and I appreciate that. But we'll see. You have a bracelet that says I want to make sure I get this right "Love like Mimi."

Billy Ivey:

Yeah.

Jon Acuff:

What does, what does that mean to you?

Billy Ivey:

My mother, Mimi, was my mom, and she passed away two years ago April. And the thing about her, she had a depth and way of loving people that I've just never seen before. She was a very faithful person, but her ability to accept and to see the good in people, as dark as they may be to find that little sliver of light in people, it was just incredible. And so after she passed away, her favorite color was this blue and I just had a bunch of bracelets, we handed them out to her memorial service. And it was, most people don't wear them, still, I'm sure. It's been a couple of years. But I love wearing it because it is a reminder, not in a sappy way, but just, it's a reminder to me that there really is good in everybody. There's a lot of bad and there's a lot of, a lot of folks I'd rather not spend my day with but everybody's living a story that I'm not completely familiar with and I don't know all the chapters to and just to love people for who they are. And I posted something the other day, it's "Don't just accept people for their differences, love them because they're different." And I think that's something that my mom just imparted to me. And so I wear the bracelet though, because I like people asking about it. It's a good conversation starter, I'm able to talk about my mom every once in a while.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, I love that. I saw you post that. And knew it was gonna be one of the one of the questions I asked. It feels like it's the kind of bracelet that especially after a year we've had where like, it doesn't feel like we could be more divided. That the idea of like, okay, seeing the good and other people. How do you, how do you suggest people do that? Like, let's say that your goal, I've seen people say my goal is to assume the best or have the best intent or assume a positive intent. I had a friend work at the Apple Store and that was one of their mantras. Assume a positive intent because sometimes when people come into the Apple Store, their computer is on fire, they're mad, you know. Like, how would you say, "Okay, here's a way you can do that. Here's the way you can see the best in somebody?"

Billy Ivey:

I'll be the first to say I suck at it. I think we share the burden of sarcasm. You know, I mean, I think we're just naturally sarcastic and cynical people. And sometimes that can be used for good in comedy. But other times it can be used to sort of be a real downer. It dampens my mood more often than not, because I'm always looking for the line or looking for the next joke or, or how to interject something that might be cutting but funny. That said, I think for me, it really is, and I would attribute it to napkinisms. I would attribute to the stories that other people are telling me that you really don't know what's going on in somebody's heart, somebody's head, in somebody's home. And if you are able to, able to approach each day and each person in each situation, I mean, my gosh, you go to a meeting around a conference table, and there's seven people in there, those are seven different stories that have been impacted by hundreds of different people. And so my gosh, you know, I think a my day, and the amount of people that I see most of whom are live in this house. All these people, but what are the experiences of their, of their day, you know, how can I set their day off on a positive note, literally and figuratively. But I think I think it really is just being open and trying to be compassionate. Compassion is a big deal to me, I want to be better at it. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, I think I'm an empathetic person, because I've been through a lot. And I've seen a lot. And I've, you know, been through a lot of hard things, but a lot of positive things, too. So that also makes you a better writer, and a better creative when you're able to really connect and be empathetic with folks, but I don't know. I mean, I really do think if you're able to just pause before the reaction, before the cynical comment, before the sarcasm, before the joke, and realize that there's a story there. We're all live in one and we all have different chapters and different characters are influencing that. I think that, that's changed my attitude, an awful lot. as I've gotten older over the past several years, just understanding that we're all sounds so corny and cliche, especially in these unprecedented times, if you will.

Jon Acuff:

Somebody told me these infectious times. They said, "In these infectious times," I was like that ain't it homie, that's not the phrase.

Billy Ivey:

We got to figure out a way to quit saying "unprecedented."

Jon Acuff:

I think at this point, you know, we're like a year in it's just, just like, "Hey, how are you?" Do you open your emails with any like inane kind of phrases? Because I've found myself saying, "Hope you had a great weekend!" like a lot, like up till Tuesday I'm saying that. And then like, Wednesday, I shift to "Hope you're having an awesome week!" Do you do any of that?

Billy Ivey:

Not intentionally, not intentionally. But yeah, I've caught myself. I've said, "Hope you had a good week," "I hope you have a good weekend" on a Tuesday. You know, I've just lost all sense of time.

Jon Acuff:

A lot of lead up. You want to give them like a three day window to get their act together so they can have a good weekend.

Billy Ivey:

I know I'm not wearing pants tomorrow, but I shouldn't assume that you do.

Jon Acuff:

I don't want to assume something for you. You might even put on a belt. Right?

Billy Ivey:

That's right.

Jon Acuff:

Nice. Okay, last one or two questions. What do you have planned for the year? So you know, we joked about your wife saying goal intervention. Are you the kind of guy that's like, "You know what, I got a brand new year I'm gonna write some goals. And I'm going to think through some stuff." Like this will probably go, this will probably live in like January-ish, if I've recorded it remotely correctly. But like, what are your goals for the year or even Do you ever look ahead to go "By 50 I want to be blank?" Like, or when the kids are out of the house, like, tell me some of like how you dream about goals.

Billy Ivey:

I mean, we've already established I'm not a goal setter, or I'm not a goal accomplisher.

Jon Acuff:

I feel like you are.

Billy Ivey:

You know, I wanted to run a marathon by the time I was 40. I'm 48 I haven't even run... I ran a 5K when I was 46. You know? So...

Jon Acuff:

Did you really want to though?

Billy Ivey:

That's a great question. I think, I don't want to get too deep here at the very end of our conversation, but what's the difference between a desire and a goal? because I feel like I have a desire, I have a desire to be... I'm six-three already 190 pounds and be just absolutely yoked and you know, I have a desire to write three books next year. Is the difference selfishness versus self improvement? Or like, what what's... I actually asked that question the other day, because I feel like every goal is not really a goal. It's a desire. And that comes from a selfish place.

Jon Acuff:

Wait for every one of yours for you?

Billy Ivey:

I feel like that. Yeah, for me. I feel like that, you know, I went through a thing with church called Battle for the Heart. And there's just, there's just one, I don't remember most of it, but there was this one exercise that we went through. And it was like, What do you want? And then you say, you know, I want to, I want to write a book. Well, what would that get you? Right? So the question was, "What?" Well, that would get me you know, published. "Well, what would that get you?" Well, that would get me notoriety. "Well, what would that get you?" Well, that would give me money. And "Well, what would that get you?" Well, that would help me buy a lake house. "And what would that get you?" It would make the weekends more fun. "And what would that get you?" Well, my wife wouldn't be crazy, you know. So the point of that exercise was to go, "Hey, what do you need?" Are all these wants or these desires? Are they selfish? And what does that get you versus a goal? Like, what's the point? I'm not trying to be so cynical to say, what's the point having a goal and what's it gets you? I'm not saying that, but there is a fine line, in my opinion of what is the ultimate purpose of a goal?

Jon Acuff:

Yeah.

Billy Ivey:

Is it self help? Is it self-realizing that you were made for something bigger? You know, I mean, that, these are big concepts. And so like I said, I don't want to throw it out there at the end of this, but speak to me teacher.

Jon Acuff:

No, I just, I think it's interesting, because I think there's like buckets of evangelical shame around goals that like, and I'm not saying you, I'm just, in the church in general. It's like, whenever somebody goes, "Oh, happiness is useless. Only joy," you can tell they have neither. Like, if you're arguing with me that I use the word happiness and not joy, like you have neither, that's not a fun conversation. I think there is a sense of okay, I think there's there can be selfish goals. I think you can chase them for the wrong reasons, I think you can get things that you didn't really want, and kind of catch them and go, Oh, I didn't really want this. But I think you'd also say, I have a desire to run a marathon, but it's just something fun to say. And that's okay. Like, that's enough that I get to, I get to think that but I think there's other times we go, "I'm gonna write a book, because I have a story inside me and the process of writing it will change me and change what I do. And I'll feel communion," whatever, you know, whatever the phrase is, I always kind of pull back because we both have a faith background where it is that sense of you shouldn't have a goal or you shouldn't have like, desire is bad. Like, you know, there's just a lot of that that exists in the church that I don't think helps people long term.

Billy Ivey:

I 100% agree with that.

Jon Acuff:

I think if we received a task, like if it was all task-based all the time, that wouldn't reflect what the faith really is. Like, it's not that, it's a gift, you know. And so, I think that's fascinating. Because what... it's not selfish if I if I said to you, "Billy, what are your goals for the year?" And your first response is, "I don't want to be selfish. So I can't have any." I'm not saying that's what you said. But I think there are people that go, "Well, I just, you know, like, I can't, I've got five kids. I've got you know, I just just having this sweatshirt on feels like a goal enough today. It's comfortable," you know, like, and you go no there's, there's more to that. So I don't know, where are you on the like, "it's selfish, It's not selfish" scale?

Billy Ivey:

I've not really thought about that before. I only thought about that just the other day, as we were talking about having this this conversation. Because my biggest fear in this conversation was for you to say, "What's your big goal for 2021?"

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, dude, that that question terrifies me. Like, believe me.

Billy Ivey:

I would really would love to write another book. And I would love to write my book. Not that A Sea Between is not going to be my book. But it's, I would like to write my story.

Jon Acuff:

You didn't escape from Cuba, that I'm aware of. On a personal level, I know you've been there because I've

Billy Ivey:

I've never even met a pirate. Yeah. And the reason for that is because I do think that

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, exactly. telling my story could impact and influence and make a difference in the lives of other people. There is a perspective that can be tapped into when you are able to share in other people's stories. And so I do, and I think I've been gifted with a talent or with the ability to string sentences together and make people feel something and so that's the goal. I want to write that book, right. Ask me why. I want to put my name on a book. Yeah! Heck yeah! It's awesome. It's a great feeling.

Billy Ivey:

But I totally agree. I mean, I, you know, there are some, I say selfish I mean, it's not selfish because it's, it's therapeutic and it can be good for your health. But I want to go on a couple of vacations this year, I want to be able to escape with my family or with my wife, and go on vacation. Well, there are practical and just very, very simple steps that need to be taken in order to make that happen, right? You got to save, you got to work, you got to get the projects so you can save and work. So they're very practical things you can do in order to accomplish that goal. If I don't accomplish that goal, am I going to be a failure for the year? Absolutely not. I will have missed that opportunity to engage in that way. But when it comes to real, powerful, meaningful goals, that is life changing or world changing. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I really do

Jon Acuff:

Yeah. And I wonder, I think there's a bunch of questions around that. Because I think there's like you can ask why in a good way. But you can also ask it in like, "Why do I need to explain?" Like, if I want to do it, that's enough reason. Like, I'll go off on a vision quest and feel like I have to justify it. But I also think you could say, like having your wife laugh the way she laughed when you danced with your oldest daughter on the beach, like you did a video she laughed. She told... Your daughter, your daughter was willing to do that with you was like willing to go along with that. So it was like you were on vacation and your daughter was game, your wife cackled. You don't laugh loudly with people you're, you don't love, like you just don't. And so like, there were like five goals wrapped up in that. So I think part of it sometimes is going, "I'm doing goals all the time, then I don't even understand." Like, there's a lot of dads that would be jealous of going, like "My kid didn't have headphones in and wasn't in another world trying to ignore me because I ignored her for 13 years. And now I'm trying to reconnect and it's hard." You know what I mean?

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jon Acuff:

So I look at that. I'm like, that's a huge goal. You're gonna finish the book in January. That's a huge goal. And you you write a manuscript, but I think the question of why do you want to do or, what did you say the question was, what do you get? Like, what does that get you

Billy Ivey:

On that particular retreat, it's what would that get you into? Obviously, the purpose of that was to say, you have everything you need.

Jon Acuff:

Yeah, yeah, you're already there.

Billy Ivey:

Yeah. And I don't think it was necessarily meant to make you feel bad about having wants and desires, but is probably supposed to take you away from the sense of entitlement that a lot of us have, when we say, "Well, I deserve to accomplish that goal, or I deserve this, that and the other thing. And there is a difference there too, right? I mean, you gotta hustle, you got to have the grind, you got to put in the work, you got to be smart, you got to study, you got to be a student of your trade. All of these things in order to allow you to accomplish the things you want to accomplish. It's just sometimes I have a hard time categorizing, what do I even want to accomplish? Again, I'm not saying I'm alone in that I'm probably a lot more in community with with most people who will hear this. I don't know what I want either.

Jon Acuff:

Well I don't... and for me, I do feel a lot of pressure with that question. If the only word that changes is your own, that's enough. So like when somebody goes like, "Tell me your craziest," I think that can be a lot of pressure. Because you're like, well, I gotta like build schools somewhere, like, by my own hands like with and I'm gonna have to like do farm to table bricks, like I needed to do, like, like, and you go, oh my gosh. Where like, being present in your own family can be an amazing goal Like finishing the book, because you knew you had to finish it or just even having a writing habit. Yeah, I think it's, it's really interesting. All this stuff that's wrapped up in that?

Billy Ivey:

Well, and I don't want to necessarily bring it back full circle to me, but...

Jon Acuff:

You are the person I'm interviewing. So...

Billy Ivey:

That's true. That's true. So why don't you stop talking for a second, and I'll get on with it. Just kidding. One of the things that I preach to myself and what I say when I go and speak and when talking about the napkinism story, or whatever. Is I do think that we have fooled ourselves. We as a culture, we as a people, not just we or Christians, or southerners or people who are creative or whatever, we fooled ourselves, though, into thinking you have to do world changing things to change the world. Right? And I don't think that's true. And coming from a guy who writes stupid stuff on napkins at his kitchen table, who is hearing and getting stories of people whose days have been changed, right? And you never know what that day can do for someone. What that what does that day do for the next day and the next day, the next day and the next day? So I do, you know, on the heels of me asking those questions about what's the what's the goal, what's the purpose or whatever, another thing I say one of the tweetable things I say and it's been said before, but it's you don't have to do something grand to do something great. You know, you just got to show up. Do the thing you've been called to do and do it with excellence and then, and things will change things will will happen for you. The stories of life change or days changed that has come out of the napkinisms thing is ridiculous. I never intended to change anybody's life or anybody's perspective on having kids or having family or any of that stuff when, when sitting down to write those notes. But it really, it really does make a difference when you show up and you do the thing you feel called to do. And the goals that I have for myself. I think it's it's tapping more deeply into what have I been called to do? What do I feel compelled to do? And showing up and doing that thing with excellence I think is, that's probably my biggest goal, if I were to bring it back,

Jon Acuff:

That's great. That's a great place to end too. What a good, what a good conclusion. Well, Billy, it's been a blast for me.

Billy Ivey:

I appreciate you.

Jon Acuff:

I think people are gonna love it. Last question. Where can people find out more about your work? like this is the softball, send them to Instagram. Where do you want

Billy Ivey:

Yeah, at W-R-I-V-E-Y @wrivey on Instagram, o them to go? Twitter. There's also an @n pkinisms Instagram, but it's us ally just a repost of what I po ted on my personal page and th re's a napkinisms.com web ite that shares a lot of tha story, and there's opp rtunities to engage there. I do ove nothing more than going out and telling that story. And so peaking engagements have bee few and far between here ove the past several months, but I do love getting out and tel that story. So there's inf rmation about it out there as ell. There's a blog on there whe e I share some of these sil y stories with these, these ki s that I live with and, and on a daily basis. So there's plenty o ways for you to engage in and t ke a look. I would take Google " apkinisms" or go to napkinisms.c m and you can find out an aw ul lot.

Jon Acuff:

Awesome. Billy, thanks so much for joining me on the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast, man.

Billy Ivey:

Thank you, Jon.

Jon Acuff:

This episode of the podcast was brought to you by Medi-Share. Text JON, J-O-N to 47474 for more information. Huge thank you to Medi-Share for sponsoring it. J-O-N to 474747.

Producer:

Thanks for listening. To learn more about the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast and to get access to today's show notes, transcript, and exclusive content from Jon Acuff, visit Acuff.me/podcast. Thanks again for joining us. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the All It Takes Is A Goal podcast.