I look up to Paul Watson as a friend as well as a leader. He’s the kind of guy that makes other men say, “I want to be like him when I grow up.” He’s great at inspiring others to find their strengths and achieve their personal goals. Paul founded the Downtown Vineyard Church and continues serving as the lead pastor. Paul Watson is also an entrepreneur, a skilled speaker, a life coach, and an author. He’s incredibly skilled at surrounding himself with amazing people and teaching others to lead. I feel blessed to call him my friend!
Below are some insights from Paul Watson. Enjoy!
What is your definition of success?
I think that’s changed over the years. When I was a younger guy, I would have thought success was tied to leadership or building successful companies (basically being good at whatever you put your hand to). In the past couple of years, my life has had some difficulties. At this point, I think the definition of success at the end of the day is this: do I have good friends, and do I have a great family?
I’m amazed at how many people are successful at work, and they’re not successful in their own life. They’re successful at business and leadership, yet they are not successful at home. I don’t think that success in the world makes a lot of difference if you’re not successful with your wife and with your kids. So my best definition of success is this: “Are you winning in the things that matter?” The things that genuinely matter are family and friends. That would be my definition of success.
When did you consider yourself a success?
That’s a pretty interesting question because when I was young, I didn’t see myself as a leader. As an adult, I can see myself on the playground rounding up all the other kids, and I was always the kid picking teams. I was never the kid on the wall. When I got into high school, I was the person who made things happen.
I really didn’t know that I was a leader until I was in my early 20’s when I took the Myers–Briggs test. When it was all said and done, the Myers–Briggs test indicated that I should do something centered around leadership. It had on there, “pastor a church,” even though at that time I was on probation. Yeah, I was on probation for three and a half years for some shenanigans I did. So, I took this test, and the test said I should pastor a church, lead a corporation, or go to leadership school. But I didn’t realize I was a leader until I was about 21 or 22 years of age.
I used to think you measured yourself as a success by what you’d write on a book jacket. If I were writing a book about myself, I could say I’m an author, a public speaker, church planter, business owner, etc. All of those would look good on a jacket. Then what I found was that, truthfully, all those things that look good on a book jacket don’t mean a thing.
I consider myself a success if, at the end of the day, my wife and kids love me. I’ve got a fantastic family, and I’m very close to my wife and kids. If I’m successful there, then I’m good. There was a point in time when I was not successful in that area of my life. I was successful everyplace else. I could walk down the street, and a lot of people called my name, but my kids didn’t want to be around me. So I worked hard at that. I now have a very close family.
The most important people in my life are my family and some close friends. If I’m winning in that ball-field, then I could care less if I’m a corporate CEO (although I am a corporate CEO of sorts). We pastor a great church in Grand Junction, and at the end of the day, that’s nice, but I would never consider myself a success in that sense.
We’ve started some cool projects. Many years ago, I started a camp that now hosts 1,000 kids a year from five states. It’s called “White Out.” That’s successful. We started a program called “The Good Samaritan Clinic,” which is a privately funded medical clinic in Grand Junction. People get to see doctors, and it doesn’t cost them a dime. That’s successful. The church is a success. I’ve had a business that did really well. All of those are charming stories for book covers and jackets. What really matters is this: my kids are grown, and we’re still very close. One’s married, one’s getting married and they come over every Sunday for dinner at 6:00. That’s my favorite meeting of the week!
What steps do you take daily to improve?
- I’m a devotion guy. I try to do my devotions daily. That means I read my Bible. I pray every day.
- I think you have to put things on your calendar. Some people would call them “stretch goals.” You have to put something on your schedule to make sure you’re improving.
- I listen to audiobooks a lot. I read books a lot.
- Curtis and I both have a little project we’re working on this year. We’re each trying to ride our bike for 100 days. Neither one of us have ever done that, but both of us are going to accomplish it. He’s going to achieve it before me!
“Practicing what you preach” has become vital to me over the last couple of years. I had taught leadership for many, many years. I trained and hosted conferences for many years. I knew what to tell people, but that didn’t mean I was doing what I told them to do. There’s a big difference between knowing and doing. So I stopped teaching leadership conferences at the time because I wasn’t doing what I told people they should do. I just started the conferences again this year.
When you’re not in pain, it’s easy to know what to do. But when you go through hard times or take a downturn, and have to lay everyone off or fire people, those things become much more challenging. So now, I work hard at making sure that I’m doing what I say. I think improvement comes when you do what you say you’re going to’ do.
What have you recognized as your greatest strengths, and how have they impacted your success?
The thing that I used to think of as my greatest strength was leadership. Truthfully, the greatest strength that I find in myself at this current phase of my life would be trying to practice loyalty. I’m also working hard at not getting offended but instead having thicker skin. We think of leaders as being great at leadership, excellent at decision-making, and skilled at hiring and firing people. I think all of that is true. Those are really great leadership characteristics. I’ve tried to grow in those areas.
If you want to be a leader, here’s what that means: you’re going to take shots that other people don’t, and if you don’t prepare yourself for that, those shots will eventually take you out. As I said earlier, it’s been a tough road and very painful. For a while, I got offended, and I got my feelings hurt when people I loved walked away. So, my greatest strength that I’m working on these days is not being offended and holding people loosely.
I try to be thankful for everyone that’s been on the team whether they’ve come or they’ve gone. Several years ago, I was at a leadership conference. They were talking to a corporate CEO. They asked, “how do you not get offended?” He answered, “I consider everybody that’s ever been on the team alumni.” He’s saying that when someone leaves the team, we don’t consider them a quitter. They aren’t betraying the team. They’re alumni. What that means is we’re thankful for everyone that’s been in our lives, we’re grateful for everybody that’s in our lives now, and we’re thankful for everybody in our lives in the future.
Tell me about a weakness or personal character flaw, and what you’re doing to overcome it?
I think this is the opposite of what we just talked about. I’m very, very, very competitive. In some ways, that’s an excellent characteristic of a leader because it causes you to want to win. But, the problem with competitiveness is when you win, somebody loses. I’m a believer that nobody will allow themselves to lose forever. You can look at somebody when they go through a divorce. When somebody leaves a marriage, many times, they’re saying, “I’m not going to put up with losing all the time.” They feel like they’re always losing in the relationship. The other person walks on them and mistreats them.
So, what I’ve come to find out is this: being competitive is terrific as long as everybody wins, but when you win at the expense of other people, then it’s no longer a good trait, but it’s a character flaw. It’s a weakness. So, I’m working on that loyalty piece, saying, “How do we all win? How are we all for each other?” The other side is: in leadership; you take enough shots, it’s easy to get offended. That’s another piece that I’m really working on in my heart. I’m working on not taking offense (unless it’s meant to be an offense). People often hurt you, and they don’t attempt to, so try not to get offended. That’s a tough thing to overcome. Don’t take offense, unless it’s meant to be offensive!
How do you make important decisions?
Oh my gosh! I am the worst decision-maker in the world! When I was young, I was on probation for some stuff I did. I was on probation for three and a half years. When others were saying something was a bad idea, I would be thinking, “What a great idea!” I would find myself making bad decisions, and then I would get arrested. I think I’ve been in the back of a police car at least twenty times with handcuffs. Not for many years since, but as a kid, I was in the back of a police car a lot. What I realized is that I was a bad decision-maker.
Now I do two things: If I think it’s the right decision, I don’t go with my first instinct, and I give myself time to process. I ask two or three people what they think. It’s not that I don’t make impulsive decisions. I’ve taught myself not to act on my first instinct because that initial instinct isn’t very good. This little thing that I’ve learned has served me well. I have good instincts when it comes to business, leadership, and growing things. But I can also get myself into trouble. So whenever there’s an impulsive decision I’m about to make, I just pull back and wait.
Was there a pivotal moment that set you on the path to where you are now?
Oh, yeah! As a pastor, my pivotal moments are generally spiritual, so I’ll just give you a few of them.
The first was when I was eight years of age. I had epilepsy, and I had 300-500 seizures a day. I was in a constant seizure. Up until I was about eight years of age, I had petit mal epilepsy. It was heavy enough that in second or third grade, I just wasn’t in school. I was at a doctor’s office all of the time. My mom used to take me to doctors and faith healers. One day my mother took me to a guy by the name of Dwight Thompson, and he prayed for me. From that point forward, I never had another seizure. So when I was eight years old, I knew that God was real. I just knew that God was real!
When I was 13, I was at a camp, and my friend and I had done some stuff that gets you kicked out of camp. He was going to confess, and I was going to go hide. I found myself sitting around a campfire. I was truly hiding. I was waiting for the head of the camp to come to find me and take me home. This pastor asked everybody around the campfire just to pray about what God would want for them and their life. When I was 13 years of age, I felt the Lord call me into ministry. I didn’t give my life to Jesus, but it was very, very powerful, and very clear. From that point on, I never wondered what I was going to do, although I didn’t give my life to Christ until later.
At 17 years of age, I was the “popular kid” in high school. I was doing everything except following the Lord. I kind of had a bucket list of things that I wanted to accomplish in high school, but it all had to do with popularity. I had kind of accomplished that list, and I was in my car and felt the Holy Spirit. I just felt the Lord ask me, “Hey, how’s your life goin’?” I was super empty at this time, and I just went, “Not very good!” I just felt the Lord say, “Why don’t you give it to Me?” So I gave the Lord my life when I was 17.
Since that point in my life, all the decisions I make are based on my faith. The way that I live my life and the way that I try to love people are based on that moment in that car when I was 17 years old. It has set me on the path so that 30 years later, I’m a pastor. I pastor a really neat church with terrific people in it. We have done some remarkable things, and it all came from giving my life to Christ when I was 17.
Are there any books you’ve read more than once? Why?
I read nonfiction books. I hardly ever read a fiction book. I’ve read Lincoln on Leadership, probably a dozen times. The pages are falling out because I’ve read it so many times. His Excellency, which is about George Washington, is a book I’ve read four or five times. I love history.
The Power of the Call (a book about ministry) I’ve read probably a dozen times. I don’t read it yearly anymore, but there was a point when I did. The Power of the Call was perhaps one of the most influential books that I’ve read.
I think I’ve gone through just about every John Maxwell book at least two or three times. I’m a leadership guy, and I read lots and lots of leadership books.
I read the Bible all the time. As a pastor, I read it for preparation. As a person, I read it for devotion. I read one Psalm every day, and I read one chapter in Proverbs every day. Then I usually read a New Testament book that I’m in. I love reading the gospels. I love the Pentateuch, which is the first five books of the Bible. I love the books of wisdom.
The prophetic books are a little harder for me. They’re just hard to go through. I don’t know how many times I’ve been through the Bible, but since I gave my life to Christ, I try to read every day. I don’t always read every day, but I try to.
Tell me about a difficult commitment you’ve made, and would you make it again?
In leadership, there are always commitments. Most of the time, committing is difficult. Many years ago, I was on staff at a church, and it was really a tough season for that church. It was challenging to stay on staff, and I had written my resignation letter. I was going to quit. My wife asked me not to until I get an answer from the Lord. So for three weeks every night, I would take a walk. I’d come home, and she’d say, “Do you have an answer?” I said, “Nope, but if the Lord doesn’t give me an answer today, I’m gonna’ turn in my resignation letter.” And she’d say, “You can’t turn in your resignation letter until He gives you an answer.”
I walked every night for three weeks by myself. She and I walk a lot together, but I walked these three weeks at night by myself, and I prayed. Finally, she said, “if the Lord doesn’t speak to you tonight, you can turn in your resignation letter tomorrow.” On that particular night, I was on a walk. He had not spoken to me one time about this topic, and I really sensed the Lord say, “Paul, you can quit if you want to.” I felt released to quit, but as the Lord often does, He gave me a followup to that thought.
I sense the Lord in my head and my heart. These thoughts are super clear, and I go, “oh, that was not from me,” and that’s how I generally hear from the Lord. It was very clear, “Paul, you can quit if you want to…” and then there was this pause. I could tell there was more coming, and the more was, “…but I will still hold you accountable for the call I put on your life.”
There are things that the Lord calls us to, where we respond, “I don’t wanna’ do that.” He says, “You don’t have to do that, but I’m gonna’ hold you responsible for the fact that I called you to it.” Jonah was one of those. He could have run from God. He didn’t have to go to Nineveh. God made it really clear. God kept putting him on the shores of Nineveh. If he hadn’t gone to Nineveh, the Lord would have held him accountable when he got to heaven.
Many years ago, there was a time when I wanted to walk away from the ministry, and He told me that I could. But, “I’m gonna’ hold you accountable for the fact that I called you to it.” That was a difficult moment, and yet I can’t imagine having ever done anything different with my life. The best thing I ever did was never quit!
What character traits do you value most in others?
I can’t say that there’s one character trait that I value most in others because there are character traits in every human being where I say, “Oh, I love that about you!” So, it’s the fact that somebody is entirely given to the character traits that God has given them – that’s what I value the most.
You know, my wife is very loyal. I’m so glad she’s loyal! I have some fun friends. They are just fun people to be around! They joke, and they’re light. I love being around light people! I’m not very light, but I’ve got a friend that makes jokes all the time. He’s very quick on his feet, and he’s not easily offended. I love being around those kinds of people.
I also love being around passionate people. I hate being around “doorknobs” (people that just wait for you to turn them to get them to work). I love being around creative people and smart people. What I really don’t love the most is people that are trying to be somebody else. You get around people that are authentic and leaning into their gifts; those are the character traits I value the most.
This is about what I value the most, but let me just tell you the characteristics I hate. When somebody invites us to their house for the first time, and we don’t really know them, there’s this question I ask: “Do they want something from me or for me?” There are so many people who just want something from you. They don’t want anything for you. I want to be around people who want things for me. My whole life has been giving myself to people, and I’m good with that. But it’s nice to be around people who want something for you, not just from you!
How do you push through your worst times?
The year 2018 has been the hardest year of my life. My father died at the beginning of the year. My mother-in-law died a couple of months ago. My best friend betrayed his wife and our friendship in a horrific way. So, this year I’ve experienced unbelievable betrayal, but there have been three things that have gotten me through this season.
First, there’s a scripture in Psalms that says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” I believe that when you go through hard times, faith is essential. Sensing and knowing God’s presence is unbelievably comforting.
The second is my family, my kids, and my wife. They provide unbelievable support. They’ve been accommodating, and they’ve been very kind. They’ve been very encouraging, and they’ve been very present.
The third has been our church. I really don’t know how people go through hard times without a church. I know I’m a pastor, but we received over 300 cards when my mother-in-law passed away. When my dad passed away, dozens upon dozens of people dropped by with meals and said, “We’re there for you.”
So I believe faith, family, and friends is how you push through hard times.
What keeps you awake at night?
Problems that I do not have an answer to. Period. I am very self-sufficient. So when I have a staff member looking for an answer I don’t have, when I have a financial problem that I don’t have an answer to, or when I have a sideways relationship and don’t have a solution, that keeps me up at night.
What inspires you?
What inspires me is, I love winning! I love winning organizations, and I love winning Sundays, I love riding my mountain bike to a hill that I’ve never been able to climb before and getting to the top.
I also love music. I love going to concerts and just energy flowing. I love being around positive people. All of those things are signs of winning. I have been competitive my whole life. I love winning, but winning to me is beyond a scoreboard. You can win in relationships. You can win in friendships. You can win in personal development. If I read 35 books in a year, I feel like I won. If I go down a roller coaster that’s going to scare me to death and I get in line anyway, I feel like I won. I love to be on the “W” side of the column. It steals the energy out of me if I’m always on the “L” side of the column.
How do you manage and prioritize opportunities?
I can’t say that I manage or prioritize opportunities. I love creating opportunities. I make as many as I can, but I probably do more than I should. I believe life is filled with possibilities. I look for opportunities all the time, and when I find one, I “dog it” until I get it! I think the difference between leaders and “ordinary people” is that leaders seize opportunities.
Some people see an opportunity, and they’ll seize it maybe once or twice a year. I think true leaders see opportunities every day and take them every day. So, I don’t manage opportunities very well. I create as many as possible and seize every one I can.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
“Figure things out faster.” I’ve always been a person that loved to take chances, and I took them fairly quickly. I’ve always told my kids, “Start a business before you’re 30.” But I would really like to say, “Start a business before you’re 27” or “Start a business before you’re 25”. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Take monster risks. Take them as quickly as you can. Don’t wait until you’re ready!
The other part would be: “Don’t be surprised that good things are going to happen to you.” I think that I walked around surprised that good things were happening to me for too long. When my kids tell me something good just happened to them, I say, “Of course it did!” So, what I try to teach my kids is to expect good things to happen to you. Don’t be surprised by that! If you’re doing good things and you’re hanging around with good people and making good decisions, then good things will happen to you! Most people are going through life, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Stop waiting for something terrible to happen! Stop being surprised that good things are going to happen to you!