Gary Harpst talks about the right approach to beat chaos and how to align it with your life’s purpose.
Chaos will always be part of our lives, putting us at risk of anxiety and burnout. The only way to beat chaos is to put it in order and in alignment with our purpose. Brett Snodgrass explores this topic even further with Gary Harpst, CEO of LeadFirst. He talks about how the Biblical creation story in Genesis teaches us the right way to peel back the layers of chaos and deal with it accordingly. Gary also discusses how to create the blueprint for your purpose to gain dominion, how people should come together to defeat chaos, and how to allow God to work through our lives.
I got Gary Harpst from Ohio on the show with me. What's going on, Gary?
Not much. We're neighbors, I find out. That's great.
Not too many neighbors I have on the show. I got a lot of East Coast and West Coast but not too many Midwest guys. Thanks for joining us. I'm super excited about this particular episode. You have been a business leadership CEO for multiple decades. You have a book that has come out called, Built to Beat Chaos. With the title, I was like, “I need to read this particular book.” A lot of business owners and leaders out there need to read as well.
Everyone feels like they're in a chaotic world. We're going so fast, burning out, with no margin, busyness, family, business, money, finances, and relationships. We're trying to spend that quiet time with the Lord. We can't fit that in. That gets in the backburner sometimes. I'm super excited to talk about how we beat chaos in our lives. Before we dive into the book and some of the highlights of that, let's talk about you. Gary Harpst, where are you from? What's your world like?
I grew up in a rural area in Findlay, Ohio, which is a community of about 40,000 people but it's surrounded by farmer country. I grew up in that farm setting. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was a good way to grow up, learning to work hard on a farm. I was fortunate to get started in a business with a couple of other believers at a fairly young age. I was 29 and we started a high-tech company here in the cornfields in Ohio.
The reason we started it was one of my partners said that if you want to grow in your faith, run a business. He was right. For many years, we've been in partnership with multiple businesses. The most important part of the business for me is how it keeps me on my knees, doing things that are bigger than I know how to do and makes me dependent on the Lord. It's been a great journey. In some ways, the journey is accelerating.
You've had multiple businesses a lot in the tech.
There's a tech theme to all of them.
You're inspired to teach others from your experience. I love sitting at the feet of other people who have walked the road before I have. I have some experience but you have a lot more experience than myself and a lot of our audience as well. A lot of us are in the middle of this chaos. You talk about this in your book, beating chaos, but let's define chaos. Can you take us into that? What are you seeing in the present world, especially for business leaders?
That was the point of the book. How do we think about chaos? Are we thinking about it correctly? In general, I categorize chaos into three categories, like the things that we don't control. In insurance policies, I'll have the term, “Acts of God.” It’s things like earthquakes, meteorites, and those sorts of things. There's that category of chaos. It's inflicted upon us and we have no choice. There's then the chaos between us. We see wars, divorces, and fights at work, the relational chaos.
There is chaos within. I was looking at one of your episodes. A secret battle within is a great example of internal chaos. That's the misalignment of our identity, what we think we want, and what we get. In reality, all of these things are interrelated. Our ability to respond to external chaos has to do with our stability internally. It's a very interrelated topic.
We talk about these things that we don't control. We talk about relational chaos and internal chaos. I wrote a book called The Secret War Within. It talks about this character. It’s an allegorical book and a Christian-fictional type of book. It was about a character named Nolan Banks who deals with a lot of this internal chaos. We've defined chaos and some of the things that we work through.
Let's start peeling back the layers so we know and we're aware. I wake up every single day or in a week and I'm like, “I have to do something. I'm going to keep going down this insane path of chaos.” It's not slowing down. I've heard the term and my wife even said this before, “We will do this when things settle down.” I'm always like, “Things don't settle down so we got to figure that out.” We have an audience out there who’s like, “My life is busy and chaotic. What do I do? Where do I start?”
God makes us all different in what our natural abilities are and the experience he gives us. My particular mindset has been that of an engineer. I'm always trying to figure out how things work and why things happen the way they do. It’s the way I am. It started at an early age. When I look at the behavior of human beings, before I became a Christian, I looked for answers. “Why do we do these things that are inconsistent? Why do I say I want this and do something else?” All these things lead to chaos. It leads to internal and relational.
If you go to scripture, you find out the best answers for human architecture and why we do the things we do that lead to chaos. Surprisingly, when you're reading anything, the beginnings and endings of books are important, and the story in between. The beginning of Genesis has some insights that many of us have missed. I did. Writing this book clarified it for me.
If you ask people in the Genesis account, “Why did God create us, and for what purpose,” it’s like, “It says we're created to have dominion,” which sounds the opposite of chaos, to be honest. “We're creating God's image, and male and female, and we have to multiply.” It gives us some hints but there's a bigger hint that we miss.
When you ask somebody about the first thing God created, most people who remember their Sunday school will say, “Was it light or water?” If you read carefully, the first thing God created was chaos. It says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. They were void and without form.” They were in a chaotic state. My premise as an engineer was that God was revealing something to us. Later on, a few verses later, he says we're made to be like him in his image.
What he did was model for us what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to take chaos and bring order out of it. When you wake up with that realization and it starts to penetrate, you begin to think of chaos differently. It's not some oppressive thing. It is our purpose. It then begs the question, “I feel overwhelmed. What do I do about that?” The Bible speaks to that too.
Let's take into that. It’s very interesting because most people reading Genesis, the very beginning of the Bible, don't start to think through that. You talk about the purpose is chaos and to bring order to chaos. Let's go into that. Our purpose is we are overwhelmed. We don't know exactly what to do about it. I don't have an engineering background or an engineering mind. I'm more of a visionary so I tend to go the direction. I was like, “I want there to be order but my habits are to bring more chaos.”
They fight against that, don't they?
Here's an example. My wife and I's vision for our life is we want a simplification of life. We have four children. I run a business, do podcasting, and wrote a book. Her idea of simplification is, “Let's not do a lot of these big things. Let's just focus on God and family, which is awesome. Let's simplify and not do a lot of stuff.”
However, I keep pouring on other projects or stuff so my mind goes to, “I don't want chaos but I want to do these purposeful, big, and impactful things.” I feel overwhelmed. Can you take us into your mind of bringing order? I raised my hand with the chaos. I have that down but how do I start to bring order? Take us into that.
There are two subtle principles or truths in scripture. Unpacking the creation story, he says something very interesting. He says, “You were created to have dominion.” He defines dominion as sky, earth, and water, holistic dominion. He then says, “You have to multiply.” There the trouble starts because there's very little that you can accomplish in your life by yourself.
Bear with me. I have to talk sequentially but the truth is not sequential. It's three-dimensional. Sequentially, the first thing to get straight is purpose. The only way you overcome chaos is with purpose. I like to use your visual person. I like to use a metaphor. Many years ago, we built a house out in the woods. It was an empty field. Trucks arrived with all kinds of wood and stuff to build a house. It looked chaotic. It's piles and piles of stuff.
The only thing that brought order out of the piles of stuff was this guy standing there holding a blueprint. Until you have a blueprint, you have no clue what to do with all the piles of stuff. To think of the piles of stuff as the enemy is mistaken. The piles of stuff are the raw materials. When we label things as chaos, what we're admitting is we don't know what to do with the material that's in front of us. That's a purpose problem. That's step one.
Take the example of you and your wife. Often, the reason we need other people is we aren't balanced. You have a strong desire to keep creating more and doing more. She brings some balance to that and tempers it with some truth. Together, you'll make better decisions than you would by yourself. Either one of you. She may be too reserved and not move far enough or fast enough and you press the other way.
The premise of the book is that this is the essence of leadership and why it's holy. The first responsibility of leadership is to determine purpose. If you can't determine purpose, you simply cannot, by definition, overcome chaos. The second challenge of leadership which the human race has proven and we've never mastered is getting people to work together toward that purpose. These are the two dimensions of leadership.
You have to step back to the bigger question, “Why did God create us in the first place to have dominion?” There's a bigger question here. It's clear the scripture says we were created to have dominion. We are designed to innovate and be like what you are. To see a problem and want to solve it is wired into us. When you look at a baby that's born, the first thing it wants is to roll over. As soon as it rolls over, it wants to crawl. As soon as it crawls, it wants to walk and then it wants to run. We are built to be overcomers. We're very frustrated, angry, and upset when we cannot do that.
In my opinion, God made this universe in such a way that we can't get what we want without working together and we cannot work together unless we have God's spirit in us. We simply are always in battle with each other. He’s guaranteed that we want something we can't have unless we align ourselves with him. That's my premise of what the creation story is telling us.
We've talked about aligning with his purpose for our lives to have dominion. We've talked about the two things to start with, which are to have that blueprint and purpose in your life. Where is your destination? Which direction are you heading? Have that blueprint to put it together. We've also talked about working together. What a leader does is help his team or family work together.
Let me start with purpose. We have the biblical to have dominion. A lot of people reading this are leaders but they struggle with this philosophy of purpose. Think about the book, The Purpose Driven Life. Why that resonates with so many people is because they lack purpose and it's something that they can't quite get a hold of.
Is there something, maybe a tip or a resource, that they can start to look at? Maybe I go with it into the business world, which is developing that mission statement or purpose statement for your life. Is there anything to take us more into purpose when guys are probably reading this saying, “I know what the Bible says. I am a leader and I have dominion but I still can't get my hands around this idea of purpose for my life?”
A couple of things I would point out. The gospel of Jesus Christ is different than all other religions. It says there are multiple levels of life. There's breathing, being healthy, and walking. There are things we can do for each other like loving each other, supporting each other, caring for each other, providing needs, and those kinds of things.
The gospel says that life is not what he intended for us. There’s something above it and it's supernatural. This sounds weird to people. I always joke with my Sunday school class. I said, “We love science fiction or I do about aliens coming. The gospel is an alien invasion.” The gospel says that there's Zoe life that comes into you when you're born again that comes from God.
Zoe is a Greek word that means uncreated life. It means it always existed. I'm a reader and a self-improvement guy. I study engineering and all this stuff. One of the things that people miss is it’s necessary to have skills but there is another dimension to life that intersects with this realm. 2 Peter says, “In Christ, we have all things we need for life and godliness.”
To your point about purpose, you will have chaos in your life. Think about the purpose of Russian dolls, the stack dolls where you take them apart. What's inside of you? What are you built with? What do you love doing? Something in you drives you to a certain kind of work. David Green in Hobby Lobby says he was born to be a merchandiser. He loves thinking about buying and selling merchandise. When he's not doing that, he's not happy.
There's that inner shell. You say, “That's my purpose.” Not really. It's one part of the purpose. You get married and then you have a purpose with you and your spouse. What are you trying to do together? You have to align your purpose with your spouse’s purpose. Together, you form another purpose. You then take a job with somebody. In that job, they expect you to fulfill a role. When you take pay from somebody, you are committing to align with their purpose.
All I'm heading up to is society has proven that at some point, you ask, “What do we align to?” We align with the government and world government. What's left? There's some level above ultimately. If you don't believe in God, there's nothing to align with. You cannot get inner peace unless you get all these purposes lined up. If you don't have a relationship with the Father, who created you, none of the other things know what to align with. You cannot get to this piece without the spirit of God guiding you. You cannot do it.
Let's tackle the second part of that. We're living in a world that loves to battle each other relationally. You mentioned the government. There's a lot of chaos in the government. A lot of fights and wars are going on there. There are a lot of battles and wars within our homes that none of us see. Our selfish desires pop up like, “I want this and my wife might want that so we battle each other.”
The divorce rates are skyrocketing. There are a lot of battles with our children as a father that we talk about on this show a lot. One of the purposes of my life is to father for children. We lead and mentor our businesses so we're trying to develop our teams to work together. There's a lot of chaos and fighting relationally. It seems like it's getting harder to work together.
Even within the church, there's a lot of chaos and people are quarreling. Paul talks about how the churches are fighting and battling each other. “We do it this way. You do it this way.” What do you say to try to come and work together? Together, we know that we can do more. Align together and have a more purposeful life. We can achieve a lot more if we can go together. How do we do that?
There's only so far you can go unless you're led by God in his spirit in you. John 15:14, "I am the vine, you are the branches.” Let me give you an example. We had a flood in our basement. Somebody left the water on that was working here and we ended up 6 inches. We had to replace all the stuff, like the carpet and all that.
My wife called the carpet person and got a quote. My wife told me, “They said we have to move the furniture.” I said, “We can't move the furniture. We need to find somebody who can.” The result of this story was that I was getting upset. I called them and said, “We need somebody who does the furniture.” She said, “Don't worry about it. Talk to the guy who comes out there.”
I'm waiting for this guy to come to do the measurement and ready to say, “How are you going to do this?” He didn't know. He wasn't told that I had this question. When he didn't have an answer, I got upset with him. I started chewing him out. He says, “Why are you talking to me like this?” I calmed a little bit and then I went back to my chair. I was having my quiet time when he came. I was reading my Bible. I picked my Bible back up. I'm trying to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit in my life.
You talk about your book, The Secret War Within. The greatest battle of all is to shut down your flesh and listen to the spirit. I'm sitting there and reading. It said, “You need to go apologize to that guy.” “I don't want to.” It says, “No, you need to apologize.” I then hear him coming upstairs talking to my wife, giving her the quote. I go out. My version of apologizing was I stand next to my wife, look at him, and smile. “There, God, I apologized.”
I went back into my office after he left and sat down. He says, “You didn't apologize.” I walk out of my office. There’s a side door that I can get to the driveway. The guy hadn't left. I went to his window and said, “I'm a Christ follower. I didn't treat you right. I don't want to live like that.” He apologized to me and our relationship became stronger. What I'd submit to you is you said it. We break down the church and marriages.
Frankly, the behavior among believers does not appear to be that different than non-believers. I'm learning to say that my life is not going to get better unless I listen to the spirit inside of me. Everything else I do is natural. Like this guy, it's natural anger. It’s justifiable. They're not doing what I want. I'm the customer. However, it's still not of God. I would submit that when we are acting like that with each other, we're not yielding to the Holy Spirit.
There are so many great things we could dig a lot deeper into this book, Built to Beat Chaos. It's a great book. I want to make sure our audience has access to that book that we're going to talk about at the end of this show here. One final question. You have talked about integrating your faith into your work. Many people think that if they want to live out their faith, they need to vocationally be a pastor, be a missionary, and go into that. If you want to grow your faith the most, be a business owner. That was some advice that you had gotten. You also talked about using your business as a platform to minister to other people. Can you talk to us about that? Being a business owner can impact more people for the kingdom than a pastor.
I'm awakening to this at a late age. I spent my life in technology helping people but God has tapped me on the shoulder to do exactly what you said. We're starting a business to come alongside Christian business owners to show them that you can run a great business. God wants high quality and excellence. Do it in a way that exposes people to the kingdom. It doesn't ram it down their throat but it loves them to the point that they want to know more.
There are 160 million people going to work every day. There are not 160 million people going to church every day. There are 80 million people going to school. These are where we need to have an impact, in schools and businesses. I'm not saying we're churches so I’m not saying that we need the church. It's become my calling. I thought I'd be slowing down but that's what God's telling me to step up to do and help people.
Thanks, Gary, for being on the show. I appreciate you. Is the best place to get the book on Amazon?
It was published by Wiley. It's available on all the major book outlets and our website, but Amazon is easy.
Make sure you get that Built to Beat Chaos by Gary Harpst. Thank you for being on the show, Gary. I wish you the best. We'll see you next time, guys.
Thank you, Brett.