How to A.D.U.L.T: Thrive

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Unbound uses an educational framework called ADULT: Ask, Do, Understand, Live, and Thrive. In the first four posts of this series I talked about Ask, Do, Understand, and Live

Ask means understanding the reality that the knowledge we need to be successful in our world has fundamentally changed. Instead of knowing lots of answers, we need to know how to ask good questions. In a dynamic, rapidly changing world, the critical academic skill is the ability to learn. It’s the ability to quickly and effectively master complicated information. 

Do is the acknowledgment that we live in a world where business and the way work gets done has fundamentally changed. Action now drives theory. Instead of deep planning, iterative decision-making is how we make progress. In this post I argued that project-based education is a better way to prepare young people for most kinds of work.

Understand is about connecting ideas to action. Your life is a story and should be taken page by page and chapter by chapter. Understanding foundational ideas about personal skill and the ways that teams function enables you to take immediate action on the opportunities in front of you right now. It enables you to use those opportunities as natural steps into your future. 

Live claims that you need resilience and purpose in order to live well. Resilience is defined as being able to correctly understand and deal with reality. Once you understand and can deal with reality you should have a desire to have an impact on reality. To live well means to make a difference in the world. 

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In the ADULT framework, Ask is the underlying foundation of ideas. Do puts the ideas into action, and Understand is the hinge that connects ideas and actions to outcomes. Live answers the critical question, “What outcomes?” A student who understands all of these things can make his or her way in the world, but our goal is more than mere endurance. We want an educational framework that enables students to thrive. What does that look like? 

First, let’s start with some context. I am a professing Christian and I take my profession of faith quite seriously. I live, work, and think from a Christian worldview. I believe that Christianity best explains the world and reality in which we live. That Christian worldview will be particularly apparent, and at times explicit, in this article. I believe the answer to the question, “What does it mean to thrive?” is rooted in a Christian worldview. 

If you are reading this and you are a Christian, I think my conclusions will look familiar, as they are derived from Biblical principles. Still, I would caution you to read this as a Berean (if you’re a Christian that admonition will make sense). If you’re not a Christian I humbly ask you to hang in there and keep reading. At best you will find some principles and perspectives that could be life changing. At worst you will get some sociological perspective on what Christians believe. 

What It Isn’t

Let’s start by excluding and ruling out the things that many assume are required to thrive, and that we specifically rejected in that last article.  

You do not need fame, fortune, or power to thrive. This is such an essential and counter cultural concept that I want you to read it again, slowly: You do not need fame, fortune, or power to thrive. 

At some level most people, deep down, do know this. It is culturally embarrassing (at least in the West), to specifically proclaim that you are seeking fame, fortune, or power. To proclaim, “My goal is to become famous” or “My life’s ambition is to accumulate as much money and wealth as possible” or “The purpose of my life is to acquire more power than everyone else” still rings pretty harsh on the cultural ear. 

At heart, people know this isn’t the way, but they still pursue these things because they think some level of these things must lead to some kind of accomplishment and happiness. The problem is that most people don’t look deeper to find what it takes to thrive. As we discussed in the last article, fame, fortune, and power are hollow promises and dead ends as a purpose. They are difficult to achieve and once obtained, they usually create more emptiness than satisfaction. So what do you pursue?

In the Live article I made the argument that it is good to pursue excellence and accomplishment, but not in chasing fame, fortune, and power. Instead, to truly change the world you need to be dedicated to being extraordinary at ordinary things. There’s a lot in that phrase. 

To be extraordinary means to be better than the standard. That means excellence, hard work, accomplishment, and dedication. This is not a call to mediocrity, it is specifically a call to excellence. Excellence in ordinary things. Why ordinary? 

First, because ordinary is available immediately. It is impossible to hide behind excuses, “I will make a difference when I graduate from college, get a job, get married, get promoted, etc, etc.” All of those are excuses to not be excellent now. Ordinary, by definition, is happening now. You can start to make a difference right now. Which means, you’re out of excuses to start right now. 

Second, because ordinary is where you start. You build your skills by doing the easy, the basic, the everyday things. Every coach in every sport tells every athlete to focus on the fundamentals for a reason. Life is no different. The difference comes for those who are wise enough to see every ordinary moment as an opportunity to build a little more skill and gain a little more experience, and practice excellence one more time. Those moments add up. When bigger opportunities come, the transition to those bigger opportunities will be natural and easy. 

Third, because extraordinary is rarely in our control. Large and impressive accomplishments are much more a matter of timing and chance (or from the Christian worldview, providence) than most people are willing to admit. Because of this reality, those who are the anomalies, the ones who become rich, famous, and powerful faster than most, usually pay a large personal price for their success. Those who had time to practice being extraordinary at ordinary things first often find that the extraordinary feels ordinary, and they are equipped to deal with it with much less personal cost. 

If being extraordinary at the ordinary is the key to living well, then what ordinary things are the best to be extraordinary at? What are the normal things that, if done in an extraordinary way, will lead to a life where you thrive? 

What You Need to Thrive

The answer to that question is both simple and surprising.

The ordinary things that (if done in an extraordinary way) will allow you to thrive are rest and relationships

Churchillian Rest 

Why would anyone want to be extraordinary at rest? Isn’t that just a fancy way to say you’re lazy? 

Rest is critical in some surprising ways, but before we dig into that let’s consider a helpful definition of rest, courtesy of Winston Churchill. 

Churchill strongly objected to the idea that rest should be defined as a lack of activity. Sure, taking a nap is technically a rest, but Churchill argued it wasn’t always the best kind. Instead, Churchill said that rest should be defined as activity that was the opposite of, or at least profoundly different from, the activity that you engage in to earn your living. 

By this definition, a nap in the hammock and reading a good book is indeed restful for anyone who engages in physical activity to earn his paycheck. By contrast, if your job is to write and study then rest for you would likely mean something physical. A run or walk in the park, or maybe an intense workout at the gym. That was the case for Churchill. He made his living writing and in politics. In his rest time, he was an enthusiastic and industrious amateur mason, constructing multiple projects in brick and stone at his house in Kent. 

Why Rest? 

Why is rest so important? Don’t we live in a hustle culture? If we want to succeed, we are told that we need ambition, drive, and an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” mindset. But this begs another question: would you say that the people exemplifying this advice are thriving?

Rest is a countercultural idea, but one that almost everyone in our culture specifically yearns for. Who have you ever met who doesn’t want more margin and more rest in their life? There is more to rest, especially Churchillian rest, than just not doing things and getting more time back. Rest that allows you to thrive has some prerequisites. 

What You Need to Rest  

To rest well means understanding at least four things. First, it means understanding the right definition of rest, which we discussed in the light of the wisdom of Winston above,

Second, to be extraordinary at rest requires skill. Not really skill in resting, but skill in work and in life. To be clear, we are talking about rest that is a lifestyle or a habit. Rest that is built into the fabric of your life. To live a life where you thrive means being able to build a life where you get to routinely spend time doing something different than what you do to pay your bills. To live a life like that requires…work. 

If you work a low paying job that doesn’t require much skill, you fail to gain new skill and advance, and you are a poor steward of your financial resources then it is very unlikely that you will be able to be extraordinary at rest. You will have to work hard most of the time just to keep ahead of the bills. Being extraordinary at rest will require you to work hard, learn new skills, gain experience, and steward well what you are given and what you earn. 

Third, being extraordinary at rest requires perspective. Specifically, it requires having enough perspective to be humble. You will never rest if you are so self centered that you believe that you are essential.  

It is a good thing to be needed by your family, your work, your church, your community, and your friends. It is not a good thing to believe that your family, work, church, community, and friends could not survive without you. 

From a Christian point of view this is an even bigger deal. Rest is a specific commandment. The fourth commandment, to be exact. To not rest is to not only defy God’s command, it is to actually defy God Himself. When we fail to rest we are, consciously or subconsciously, saying to God, “You’re not enough—this thing won’t run without me.” When we do practice a Sabbath rest we are saying, “I trust that you are bigger than me, and that there is nothing I am doing that you can’t do without me. I trust that you are in charge, not me, and whatever I am resting from is in your hands.”  

Finally, rest requires relationship—with God and with others. A hermit living by himself in the wilderness has little opportunity for rest. Rest is most possible for those who live in a community with others. 

Relationships make rest possible, but relationships are also the most important ordinary thing that you need to be extraordinary at in order to thrive. 

Time and Tasks Only Make Sense…

In Unbound’s Ascend program we have a live event called Basecamp where we do some intense skill training with our students. In addition to other skills, we teach time and task management. At the end of the task management training, I ask for their undivided attention and say this: “Listen to me carefully. Time and tasks only make sense in the context of relationships.” To drive that point home, I read this C.S. Lewis quote from The Weight of Glory:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

In Christian theology this is all rooted in the idea of the Imago Dei, which means image of God. Christians believe that all people, with no exceptions, are made in the image of God. Consequently, everything we do can only make sense in the context of relationships: first, in the context of our relationship with God, and second, in the context of our relationships with our fellow image-bearers. 

This does not mean that only super social people are holy, or that your worth can be measured by your social media audience. Understanding everything in the context of relationships isn’t gauged by the quantity of relationships you are engaged in, or even by the quality. It is simply the understanding of the reality that everything you do only makes sense in the context of relationships with others. 

Only relationships are immortal. Fame, fortune, and power pale, shrink, and dissolve into insignificance in the light of this truth. 

If you want to really thrive, make sure you continually choose to be extraordinary at relationships. 

So where do you start? First, know that navigating relationships is a skill, and as with any skill you can become better. However, as with any skill, that means that you have to study and practice. There are endless resources to help you learn how to communicate, relate, connect, serve, lead, teach, love, trust, and listen to other people. There are endless opportunities to practice what you are learning. Just consider this perspective: From a Christian point of view, relational skills and relationships are the only things that we are promised will last for all of eternity. How’s that for motivation? 

Second, embrace the ordinary. Start right now. The relationships you have with your immediate family, co-workers, fellow church members, and neighbors (especially the ones that drive you crazy) are the best places to start, and where you will likely learn the most. 

Third, consider the lessons from damascus steel. You can make a knife out of ordinary steel by heating it, shaping it, tempering it, then grinding and polishing it to get the final result. A knife made of a single piece of steel can be strong and serviceable and the vast majority of knives are made this way. 

There is another way to make knives. Damascus steel knives are made by taking a piece of steel, or multiple pieces of steel, heating the steel, and folding it over and rewelding it to itself again and again, over and over. A Damascus blade knife is beautiful and distinct from other knives, even other Damascus blades. Damascus knives cut better, are easier to sharpen, hold an edge longer, and are stronger than regular knives. In short, Damascus knives are better than other knives in almost every measurable way. 

So why aren’t all knives Damascus? Because a Damascus knife requires exponentially more heat, more labor, and more skill to make. 

Being extraordinary at relationships is like that. To be extraordinary at relationships often involves folding over and welding relationships together. That sometimes creates a lot of heat and takes a lot of skill to manage. 

By folding and welding relationships I mean that relationships are often stronger when you connect with a person at multiple levels. It’s easier to compartmentalize relationships. It’s easier to have your extended family in one box, the people you go to church with in another, and your work colleagues in a different box. They’re all different and don’t know each other. That will work. You can have deep, meaningful relationships with people in each of those areas, but that’s ordinary steel, not Damascus steel. 

Folded over and welded relationships are when you choose to live in one place for more than twenty years, go to church with your extended family, hire some of them to work for you, and then choose to all go on vacation together. 

It is far more difficult when you start combining all of those things. It is also far more beautiful, strong, and unique. It is far more extraordinary. 


An educational framework should ultimately teach you to thrive. Not by selling you empty promises of success that comes wrapped in goals of fame, fortune, and power, but by training you to do the things that last, even for eternity. 

To continue to ask questions to get better answers to ask better questions in a continual search for a better understanding of what is true. 

To default to action. To learn by doing, to learn to fail, and to always take action and move forward. 

To understand the core truths and the basic structure of how things really work so that you can build skill and gain experience in areas that are transferable to other areas of your life and other careers. 

To live well by understanding reality and living with purpose. 

To thrive by committing to being extraordinary at ordinary things and focusing on rest and relationships. 

Our experience is that students who use this educational framework are prepared and equipped to live extraordinary lives. Sometimes those extraordinary lives take place in rather ordinary circumstances. More often than you may expect, those lives are rather unique. Some even obtain some measure of fame, fortune, or power, but that’s not something we measure as success. 

What is most important is that they thrive.

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