Billboards At Christmas

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Tim Ferris hosts one of the America’s most popular podcasts, writes one of America’s most popular blogs and is well-known for his best-selling book The Four-Hour Work Week.  I’ve been peripherally aware of Ferriss for some time now, but I just listened to his podcast for the first time this week.  

Tim was interviewing Ezra Klein, a political commentator, blogger and founder of the news website, Vox.com. I’ve followed and enjoyed Ezra’s insightful takes on politics and public policy over the years, so when I saw his name on the podcast I decided to listen.

Recently, GQ Magazine listed Ezra among the fifty most influential people in Washington. He's made it to the top of a challenging and competitive profession. So the fascinating thing about listening to Tim’s interview with Ezra was Ezra's complete transparency about his insecurities and struggles along the way.

While talking with Tim, Ezra was open about his awkward and challenging childhood. He struggled with his weight. He was socially inept. He described himself not just as unpopular, but as the “least popular kid in school.”

He was bullied to the point of switching schools several times. And even though Ezra is clearly a brilliant guy, he talked about struggling to make good grades.

In the interview, he talked about his first attempts to get into politics and then journalism. He recounted internships he didn’t get and first jobs whose funding disappeared. He shared a great story about a failed, uncomfortable experience with one of his political heroes as he was first starting out.

Throughout the interview, I was reminded of my own first opportunities when I didn’t have any experience. Of moments of failure and awkward steps forward. Of challenging slides backward. Of incredibly uncomfortable experiences when I didn’t know what to do or was unprepared for the situation I’d put myself in.

Truth be told I still feel unprepared and uncomfortable more often than I’d like to admit. I bet Ezra does, too. How about you?

Just looking at Ezra, all you see is someone who's become incredibly successful at a relatively young age. You wouldn’t know that he grew up with such insecurity, but he has. 

We all hide our insecurities well, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Tim Ferriss ended the interview by asking Ezra a question he asks many of the people he interviews: “If you could put one message on a billboard for the whole world to see, what would it be?” First Ezra said he would get someone really creative to design a billboard that brings “wonder, happiness and levity” to the people driving by.

And then he said, “Maybe it would just say, ‘You’re almost there.’”

Ezra said he knew the question was coming, so he’d had time to think about it, and he’d made a conscious decision not to try to persuade. He said changing people’s minds is too difficult; he’d rather inspire.

Christmas is in nine days. The message of Christmas fits on a billboard, and the message of Christmas isn’t intended to persuade. It’s meant to inspire.

The Christmas message isn’t Ezra Klein’s “You’re almost there.” The Christmas billboard says, “God is with us.”

It’s a simple message, perfect for people who feel insecure and unprepared and uncomfortable. That means--as Ezra Klein reminded me this week--that it’s the perfect message for people like us.  

If you want to inspire someone this Christmas, remind them of God’s message and let them know that God’s message is your message, too—that you’re with them and for them, too.

Of course, God didn’t just use words. God poured God’s whole self into the message. We’re challenged to do the same.

So this Christmas, what message would you put on your billboard? Who would you want to see it? And how will you demonstrate that your words are true?

See you Sunday.