Q&A with Jo Saxton“This is the time to discover. To explore what God is calling you into.“
Jo Saxton is an author, speaker, podcast host, and leadership coach dedicated to growing teams and empowering women to find their purpose.
PEER: How did you come to know Jesus? Did you always grow up in the church?
JO SAXTON: No, I didn’t. My family is quite a spiritual family. There are a number of religions represented there. I think it was a school friend who was part of the church just down the street who invited me. It is not like I didn’t believe in God. I did. For as long as I can remember, I believed in God. I believed that Jesus was real. I just don’t know that I connected the dots because there were lots of other things. I was invited to a kid’s Bible study. Once I was invited, it was like all the dots were connected. That was how.
P: What is the essential message that you want young readers to take away from “Ready to Rise”?
JS: I want them to know that God’s calling them now. I think that was partly why I [the book] opened with my daughter, with her story. Why has God gifted them now and calls them to influence now? To speak truth to power now, be creative with what God is calling them to do now. There is no time like the present to get equipped for what God has invited them into.
P: How can young people find and step into their calling at this age?
JS: At my age, I kind of looked back and saw the threads. I can see patterns. At the stage that the readers are at, it’s very much a period of experimentation. This is the time to discover. To explore what’s God is calling you into. The way you do with that is largely by trying things. When you are praying, you kind of gets a feeling or a sense that this is important. That’s something to pursue. There are certain things in the world that we don’t really need an angel to show us that it isn’t right.
What in the world would they like to see fixed? How can they be involved in that? What are the broken? Who’s the lonely in your community? How can you be a friend? I think so much of calling is found in the life we already have. What does it look like to be called to your friendship group? What does it look like in your neighborhood? Who is being treated unfairly in your neighborhood? How can you be the hands and feet of Jesus in any environment you’re in?
Discovery always starts with asking questions. Asking questions of God. What could you do here to change something? How can I be involved to help change something? Who can join me in changing something? Those are the three questions I would keep on asking.
P: What advice do you have for young people to reach out and network in their community or get involved in their community?
JS: I mean primarily, I would just say it is really important. I just think it’s huge, particularly for women, to be honest. I would have wished people would have told me to be curious, try new things, and build a connection with people in the things you’re interested in and try ideas with friends. Those were the things I wished I have been told. I’m kind of glad I didn’t have social media in my youth because I would not have been good with it. But I would say, “Who do you want to follow, and what can you learn from them? How can that be the starting point for your learning?”
I can’t get past the idea of just trying things. Not everything is going to work. The point of an experiment is not just the success but what they reveal. About what you’re called to, about what you’re good at. I would say this as a “seizing of opportunity.” I would say to young adults, What movements are they having on campus? What organizations could you be a part of? Is God invited you to start one? I would say, don’t be put off by what doesn’t exist yet because maybe part of your calling is to start things. Throughout history, some people started things not because of what was there but because of what wasn’t there. If you only look for what is there, you might miss out on some things. Don’t shut the door because it’s not there yet. If it’s not there yet, and you and maybe a couple of people around you feel strongly about it, then that’s an indicator to try to start something.
P: You mentioned women specifically, and it starts young. Do you have any advice for women specifically at this age?
JS: I would say that college-era is about more than getting married. There are wonderful relationships that you could discover. That’s great. But there are other things. I think of my college years. I’m still friends with my friends from college. We have done things together. When we lived in the States, some of my college friends, I did it together. I think I will encourage women to get internships. To build connections in businesses. Even if it’s for a short time.
I think sometimes we treat a calling like “American Idol.” We are looking for the one thing. I think you treat relationships like that too. You want to try lots of things. For women, I would say the networking thing is huge. In America, 85 percent of jobs are found through networks. I mean, statistically. Therefore, the jobs you have, the internships you have, you might get a lot of “no” in things you asked for. You don’t need many “yes.” I would say build your skills, experiment, be adventurous, don’t think small, be daring, take risks. Risks don’t have to be reckless to be worth doing, do you know what I mean?
Take risks in your learning. When imposter syndrome comes and makes you question whether you’re good enough and whether you’re worthy, ignore it. Do it anyway. The other thing I would say, to the college era, is that it’s often the time when a lot of the lid comes off your life. If you’re away from home or just meeting people you have not met before, who have come with different contexts, you hear your own life story differently.
When I was a college pastor, it was the era when a lot of people would acknowledge they encountered sexual abuse for the first time. It was the time a lot of people that look at their parents’ marriage and thought, “Actually, that was domestic violence.” I would say be adventurous, be curious, try things, risk things, etcetera.
No one planned on an eating disorder, no one planned on cutting. No one planned on suicidal ideation. If you recognized those things are there, I would say, don’t feel it’s a shameful thing to get the help you need. Get the help you need. I know people who are very intelligent, very talented and very gifted. But it was that stuff that kind of got in the way. The fact that the pain was so overwhelming that it overrode their life.
P: What is the one thing you wished you knew at age 18?
JS: There a lot of things I wished I knew. I wish I knew who I was. Do you know what I mean? I wish I knew what I was worth. Particularly at 18. I wished I had a clearer, stronger sense of my identity that my worth wasn’t found in keeping people happy and keeping people like me. Definitely.
P: Do you encourage young women and men struggling with their identity to find their identity in Christ?
JS: I do. There are lots of things about that. In some ways, I encourage people to discover their gifts because I want them to discover what Jesus has given them and how God created them. I want people to investigate the broken parts of their stories because I want them to discover that Jesus redeems them. Finding our identity in Him is more than just telling ourselves to do so. There is no shame in that either. I think that’s a powerful thing to do. I would take the Scripture verses and say, “I’m a new creation.”
I’m glad you mentioned it. To be honest. When I was 18, after a lot of mistakes, it was important for me to say, “I am a new creation because of Jesus. I am a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come.” That is one of the tools that Jesus would use to heal you. Otherwise, you know what you’re not, but you don’t know who you are. You don’t know who you are in practice. You don’t know what it means. You know in your head, intellectually. You might even feel warm and fuzzy when you see Jesus.
But when you walked into the restaurant and your friends are there, you don’t know the “how” of certain things. Find your identity with Jesus. But also, be aware of what you put your identity in. Sometimes it’s not that we need more of God, that we need less of us. Work out. Has your identity been in your looks? Has it been on a date? In a boyfriend or girlfriend? Has your identity been in your academic achievements? In your wealth? It’s good to know. Certain things won’t bother you. You just need to know what bothers you. Where the “identity” ground gets shaky.
P: What would you say to a young person who’s struggling to figure out what’s next?
JS: First, it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to grieve what was lost, the milestones, what you hope life would be. In fact, I think it is important to grieve. You can’t heal what you don’t name. On one level, I would encourage you to acknowledge that. Sometimes when we kept pushing on, we are not aware of the things that are catching us up. I would say because so much has shifted, there is an opportunity at this moment.
The world needs innovations. Some of the deepest and darkest fault lines in our society have been exposed. Issues that were always there have kind of come to the forefront. Some of the biggest problems that the world needs to fix that would make it more accessible and equitable for everyone are glaringly obvious for us to see.
I would encourage you to grieve. But, even in that journey of grieving, look up and see what is possible for you now. Maybe you planned things differently. Maybe you’ve not gone to the college you planned. You’re going to a different one. Maybe you’re going in a different way because your family needs support. That’s okay. It is a struggle. It is tough. But it’s okay.
What I want to invite you to do is just take the next step and the next step. But, also, start dreaming. The dream may not be realized straight away. But start dreaming. We will need you. I don’t mean this in a “using somebody” kind of way. But the world needs your ideas. For the things that were broken, the old ideas weren’t fixing them.
Sometimes the people who will lead you out of crises are the ones that got you in there. More often, they are not the ones who got you in there. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have got you in it. We need fresh voices. We need fresh perspectives. For those who have gone to college, we need you to do the degrees and do the training. You’re in the position of leadership in refining the culture because it needs redefining.
P: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
JS: There are two competing ones. One, he is not that into you. It was a horrible piece of advice. But it was the best piece of advice I received at certain stages of my 20s. I think the other one was something around, “You don’t have to apologize for who you are, just get on with it.”
P: You talked about women stepping into your influence in your newest book. Who or what are your influences in your own life?
JS: My family. All of the different generations of my family have played massive roles—my siblings, especially. I’m the youngest. For the rest, I try to be a good listener to the culture and the shifting culture. Obviously, listening to what the Lord is saying.
P: What content have you been consuming lately, like books, podcasts, authors?
JS: Yes. Podcasts. I listen to Adam Grant’s “WorkLife.” Anyway, that has been fun. I listened to a lot of podcasts. Brené Brown, I listened to a lot of her podcasts. I like reading books. I like listening to books. Those are the podcasts I’ve been listening to. I like to read business magazines: Inc, Ford, Entrepreneur, and things like that. I’m interested in leadership. Sometimes, it is harder to find women’s stories. I’m often looking at things, listening out for women’s stories.
P: What is your go-to self-care tip when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
JS: When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I exercise or walk. Depending on how much energy I have. If I don’t have much energy, it would be a walk. If I had energy, it would be a run. There are conversations I don’t have with people until I worked out. It takes the angst out. I’m clearer.
P: What’s a Bible verse that has been on your heart recently?
JS: This is the NLT version, “The LORD will work out his plans for my life— for your faithful love, O LORD endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.” Psalms 138:8 in the NIV, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me, and he won’t forsake the work of your hands.” In past times, that’s been a prayer. It’s just a peace. It’s what we have peace. God has got this. God is faithful.