Zachariah is the Next Generation Director at One Church in Columbus, Ohio. He is also a speaker, and writer for his company Heartbeat Strength which is inspired by his story of overcoming a life threatening heart condition. Heartbeat Strength helps students and professionals step into their potential by becoming “heart centered” so they can lead with more passion, purpose, and love. Prior to this, he worked at a private K-12 school as a Sports Performance Coach and Assistant Athletic Director. Zachariah is a former college baseball player, is an aspiring ametuer ukulele player, and passionate dog dad.
We talk with Zach about how a heart condition caused him to look at character development differently, the courage it takes to be ourselves, and some practical strategies that we can use to help develop courage.
“...What was the biggest thing that I needed to hear when I was in middle school? What was the biggest thing that I needed to hear when I was in high school? And those things were like, I needed to hear that it took courage to be yourself.”
— Zachariah Thompson
- John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with Zachariah Thompson. Zachariah is the next generation director at One Church in Columbus, Ohio. He is also a speaker for CharacterStrong and writer for his company, Heartbeat Strength, which is inspired by his story of overcoming a life-threatening heart condition. Heartbeat Strength helps students and professionals step into their potential by becoming heart-centered, so they can lead with more passion, purpose, and love. Prior to this, he worked at a private K through 12 school as a sports performance coach and assistant athletic director. Zachariah's a former collegiate baseball player, is an aspiring amateur ukulele player, and a passionate dog dad. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Zachariah Thompson.
- John: All right, we are so thrilled to have Zach Thompson with us today on the CharacterStrong Podcast. Welcome, my friend.
- Zach: Hey man, thanks for having me.
- John: Well, Zach, we were connected when you started partnering with us as one of our CharacterStrong Speaker Squad members, sharing your message, which you've been doing for quite some time in many different arenas that you're in. I would say you're a big difference-maker, and we're grateful to be partnering with you. And so, as we talk about that, one of the things we like to do with the Speaker Squad is really get them talking about what it is that you're speaking to students about when you come into schools. People can book you through, obviously, our CharacterStrong website, and you're out and about, I think you were out in Washington recently, where I am, and I didn't get to see you, so totally jealous, but can't wait until I do again. But maybe start by talking... Like, we really talk about really zeroing in our truth that we're going to speak from, and so maybe talk a little bit about how you came to your truth for your talk.
- Zach: Yeah, that's a... First of all, it's such a huge blessing to be part of this organization and be a part of what your purpose is and your mission is, man. It's just such a blessing, so thank you so much for trusting me, and trusting my heart for students, and trusting my heart for character development and leadership development and kindness and love, and all that. And we talk about this capital-T Truth and why it's so important, and just how we came to our truth, and how we want to share that with students, and mine is, it takes courage to share your heart.
- Zach: Really, for me, the word heart hits home in a lot of different areas in my life. Me personally, I struggled with a life-threatening heart condition at a really young age, at the age of 23, and that's really... That time in my life has really shaped when I started to look at character development a little differently, because that time in my life where I was struggling, some adversity, and maybe not handling it 100% the way I should, I had to look at myself a little differently in the mirror, and it's just been this ongoing process of, who was I created to be, and what is the most courageous thing that I can do with the story that I have and the adversity that I've faced? And that's really how I've come about my truth and the stories that I share about, you know, it takes courage to share your heart.
- Zach: You know, one of the things that I always ask myself is, what's the biggest thing that I needed to hear when I was that age? What was the biggest thing that I needed to hear when I was in middle school? What was the biggest thing that I needed to hear when I was in high school? And those things were like, I needed to hear that it took courage to be yourself, like that a great leader is made by being yourself and being authentic and being true to who you are, no matter if you think that you have some weaknesses or not, whether you think that you're imperfect or not, that you were created that way to use those to your advantage, to impact people and influence people in a super-unique way. And yeah, it's just one of those things that's super impactful. Like, I try to put myselves in the students' shoes of, man, what did I need to hear if I was them?
- John: Yeah. I think just the power to... Having heard that, it's like, all right, what would I want to hear? And then you start to go down there, and you share that powerful, like, "I needed to hear about the courage it takes to be yourself," and then realize, "Wait a minute, I need to be telling me that myself now, even as an adult." Like, it never ends, it's like something that... Yeah, we deal with it in the middle school years, right, in the high school years, but also, it's like, ask any adult group how many struggle with this topic, and they'll raise their hand, right?
- Zach: Yeah.
- John: There'll be a huge portion. And so, that idea that we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught, and getting in there and being able to share from experience and through story, powerful story, which is a great teaching tool, that is such a relevant topic for our students.
- Zach: Yeah, I think if you asked anyone what their biggest fear is, I think their biggest fear is feeling like a misfit, or feeling like they don't belong. At least that was to me, and I think there's power in that. There's power in being yourself, there's power in sharing your heart, there's power in being vulnerable. And that's where we... When we talk about love and we talk about kindness, that's where it really starts to make an impact. When we allow ourselves, and we think about the most courageous thing that we can do, it's not running into a burning building, it's not being on the cover of a Wheaties box, or being a superhero. It's simply allowing ourselves to be ourselves so that we can love other people the way that we're supposed to and the way that we're designed to.
- Zach: And so I think, where there's courage, there's always going to be fear, and I share some stories about that, where the most scary times in my life are where the most courageous times in my life came from, and that's allowed me to learn these valuable lessons.
- John: That's great. I think about, too, like when you're going in, will you sometimes... Naturally, too, after you get done presenting, there might be the one-on-one conversations, or maybe you're doing a workshop with students. What are some of the ways, either the conversations you have and/or ways that you might... Is there exercises that you'll do, or practical pieces to help with ways that you can practice that, practice ways that we can... Because like anything else, it's like, if I'm... The key to fluency is repetition, so what are some steps that I could start to take to be more my authentic self? Right? Or to develop that courage, knowing that that fear piece, we always say "false evidence appearing real," right?
- Zach: Right.
“Not what other people are telling me that I should value, but what do I value? What are the things that make me strong? What are my strengths? And then, how can I leverage those strengths to be really purposeful with leading other people in a really kind and loving way?”
— Zachariah Thompson
- John: Is always there, and it's an emotion, but I can learn to choose against that, to develop more courage, and that takes with practice. So, what are some things that you've either shared or practical strategies people can use?
- Zach: Yeah, I think the first thing is you don't know the type of leader that you can be unless you know who you are first.
- John: So good.
- Zach: And unless you know your strengths, unless you know your talents, unless you know the blessings that you've been given in your life to impact and influence people. So a lot of conversations like that, and a lot of, really, self-reflection, which I think is a scary thing at any age, but the earlier that we do that kind of work, and the earlier that we reflect on those things like, you know, what do I personally really value in my life? Not what other people are telling me that I should value, but what do I value? What are the things that make me strong? What are my strengths? And then, how can I leverage those strengths to be really purposeful with leading other people in a really kind and loving way?
- Zach: And I think those are really the conversations that can make a really big difference with, when we talk about leading others and being kind to others and loving others, is really trying to figure out, who are we first, and what is... You know, it comes back to, it takes courage to share your heart. Well, what is your heart? How do you play a role in this? And what are your stories, what's your background, what's the culture that you came? What's the adversity that you've gone through, and how can you help other people through all of that with those things that make you you?
- John: So good. I just think about the power of... Well, one, students will tell you that we don't take the time to have these conversations, and we need to be. And I think about just the... There's such a zeroing in there on the concept of purpose that you're discussing, and even in a world where if you ask the average human being, "What do you want most in life?" one of the number one answers is, "I just want to be happy." And just ask students across the country, "How many of you... How many people in your life on a consistent, regular basis are happy?" And I can't tell you the number of students who are hard-pressed to even come up with one, right?
- John: Well, maybe we're getting it wrong. Maybe instead of striving for happiness, we need to start striving for more clear purpose, right? Who is it that you want to be? What is it that you most value? Right? Even the idea of being a part of something bigger than yourself, and that purpose doesn't promise that everything's going to always feel good, but it can deliver on something much deeper than happiness, which is maybe joy and meaning, right? Why do you wake up every single day? And I think we can do that, like you said, by first having the conversation, planting the seeds, and then creating a space for that conversation to continue, and even practice. Like you said, are we even giving time for self-reflection on who is it that you want to be? Because there are many students, the world's moving so quickly that they don't take the time to actually consider that.
- Zach: Yeah, that's really good, and I think it's kind of like an epidemic in our culture right now of, like, we think that we want to be happy because it feels good. Well, happiness is fleeting, and the most, the smallest things can make me happy, but they come and go. It's like a flash in the pan, or it's like the small twigs on a fire. They catch flame really quickly, but they burn, they crumble. And I almost picture, I love the illustration of the big logs on a fire. That is meaning, that's purpose, that's joy. And they take a little longer, they take a little more work to catch flame, but once they do, they burn for a lot longer time, they burn forever, especially if you tend to it, especially if you keep feeding that flame.
- John: So good. Well, how about this: To end today's podcast, how can people connect with you? Obviously you're speaking in schools, and you're doing different work. If people wanted to connect, obviously if they want to book you, they could reach out through CharacterStrong.com, but also, is there other ways that people could connect with you and the work you're doing?
- Zach: Yeah, absolutely. So, my Instagram is @zachariah.thompson. I try to stay really up to date and share some things that I'm personally working on along with CharacterStrong on there. I work at a church here in Columbus, Ohio, and we're doing some pretty amazing here. I'm the next generation director at that church. And of course, you can connect with me via CharacterStrong, and I would love to just chat and answer any questions that you have on anything, character development, servant leadership. We talk about purpose, that's... Man, that's what I've discovered as my purpose in life, and really what I'm devoting my life to is developing the next generation of servant leaders that really want to make a difference in the world, that know that they were created differently to make that difference, and really want to step into their own uniqueness. So yeah, Instagram and CharacterStrong, those are probably the two easiest ways, yeah.
- John: Great, man. Well, appreciate you, thank you for the work that you're doing. I also know that your wife, you and your wife are expecting soon-
- Zach: Hey.
- John: ... so we're thinking of you all and can't wait to hear. Well, I would just give this one piece of advice: Enjoy the sleep now.
- Zach: Yeah, yeah.
- John: Because you're not going to get much of it soon.
- Zach: Yeah, say some prayers for my sleeping habits right now.
- John: Absolutely.
- Zach: But we're excited for that, man. Thank you.
- John: Right on. Right, take care, we'll talk to you soon.
- Zach: All righty, see you, John.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit CharacterStrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.