(Photo: Courtesy of Jake Thompson)
I had heard Jake Thompson’s name mentioned as someone to learn from when it comes to creating a meaningful brand. When I checked out the website for Compete Every Day, the company he founded and serves as chief encouragement officer for, I immediately knew why his was an example of great storytelling. Compete Every Day is a lifestyle brand that sells t-shirts and apparel; but spend just a few minutes on the website and its true mission of encouraging people to fight, every day, for their lives and dreams shines through more clearly than any t-shirt design. In following the story of Compete Every Day, I also began to observe how Jake weaves his own personal story and beliefs into the lifeblood of his company. Even when it comes to his own faith, Jake allows his personal beliefs to influence his work without alienating customers or team members who may believe differently. Even through his own Twitter page, Jake thoughtfully sends encouragement, sometimes through specific words of religious faith and sometimes not, but always with a sense of humility felt even through a 140-character tweet.
Curious about how Jake manages to integrate his faith and creative work, I reached out to him to get his thoughts, which he graciously shared in the following Q&A.
What role does faith play in your life as an entrepreneur and creative person?
It plays an integral role in anything I do. What you believe influences the lens through which you see the world. My goal has always been to create great art. Every artist’s goal is to create something great. It’s nearly impossible for someone to pour themselves into creating something that isn’t influenced by how they see the world, what they believe and how they see others.
Have you confronted challenges with incorporating your faith into your business or creative life?
Absolutely, especially when I started Compete Every Day early on. We did not want to be a religious brand – that was never our goal. [Our] message is not about a specific religion or belief – the idea for competing for your life, I feel, is universal. But it’s hard for it not to be influenced by how I believe, how I see things, how I love people. Understanding how you separate yourself from that is definitely a challenge. I want what I believe and how I see and love on people to influence the brand, but you also don’t want to completely alienate people who don’t see things your way.
It was really difficult at first to balance. I still think that a lot of the things we say and do are influenced by what I believe, because I think it’s hard to completely remove yourself from something you’ve created. At the same time, we’ve taken a religious agnostic stance on the brand itself because we aren’t saying this is the only group that gets this Compete Every Day message.
One of the first instances I had where I was really struggling with this [was when] we had a booth at the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. At the time we had a girls tank top that had the word “faith” on the front – which was very open ended in what [people] wanted that to mean. I had a lady come in and [she] asked me some specific religious questions: “Was it referred to Christianity or a Christian viewpoint?” My response to her was simply that it could be faith in what you believe, in what you’re doing on this earth, and what you believe your purpose is; it’s up to each person to decide how they want that to be displayed because they would be the one wearing it and telling the story when someone asks [about it]. She said, “Well, I wouldn’t wear it if it was something Christian based, but I love it. I want it, I believe in what I’m doing,” and so she grabbed it. Not ten minutes later, someone else walked in and bought it for completely opposite reasons. She wanted it for a Christian viewpoint; that’s what she felt it meant to her and wanted to talk about. At that moment, I realized we had a very fine line to walk because the message of Compete Every Day was applicable to so many different backgrounds and so many different beliefs.
Was there a time when you hit a wall on your journey? How did your faith help you overcome it?
The life of an entrepreneur is a constant roller coaster where you’re just trying to maintain stability. You’re not trying to get too high with the highs or too low with the lows. And when you own the business, you pour so much of your life and soul into it, that it’s really hard to pull your heart and soul out of it and look at things neutrally. So when you do get a victory you really take it to heart, and when you do have a failure, you take it more personally than someone else might in a professional setting.
I’ve had situations where I really wondered, “How are we going to get out of this financially? Are we ever going to make it?” That’s a struggle I think a lot of people deal with daily. I can admit that every so often I have those conversations about doubt and fear that creep into my mind, and I go back to my personal belief that I was born and blessed with certain abilities of encouragement, leadership and making an impact for my faith. So when I look at these tough situations, I try to remind myself of the bigger picture – of why I’m doing this.
In the darkest moments of when I question whether I have what it takes, it’s great to draw on the belief that I was put in this position to make an impact; I was given this blessing of a business and a message to share and I need to see it through. At the end of the day, it’s not about me; it’s about the impact that I can make. Having that faith is crucial for the toughest days, because the doubts and fears can always become a deafening noise in your head if you let them and you don’t focus on what’s really important – what your true mission is here on earth and what you’re trying to do.
Do you have conversations with other artists or changemakers about your faith? What have those conversations taught you?
Yes, from a standpoint of: How do you balance it? How do you create an environment influenced by what you believe, but at the same time not alienating individuals who don’t see things that way? I’ve had some great advice from guys who have built fantastic companies. [I’ve learned that] at the end of the day, you want to love on people. You want them to see the value you see in them. You want to remind them daily of how great they can be…if someone wants to have a conversation with me about what I believe, I’ll happily have that conversation with them. But day in and day out, I’m not trying to beat the door down on anybody. I’m not trying to impose what I believe on anybody. I’m just trying to love on people, respect people, remind people of how awesome they are. And in a world that’s so negative—just trying to pick [people] up a little bit every day.
What advice would you give other artists and changemakers on allowing their faith tradition into their creative or business lives?
The words you say [and] the actions you take daily tell people exactly what you believe about yourself, about them, about the world and about any higher power that you may or may not believe in. You want to take a position, in my opinion, where you integrate what you believe in how you do business ethically and morally; if you have a certain standard, you need to abide by that standard. At the same time, unless you’re outspoken that this is a religious company or brand, you don’t want to beat people over the head. I don’t think people have ever converted to one faith or another by getting yelled at, beaten over the head with something or told how terrible or how wrong they are. More often than not, it’s from someone loving on them, having genuine conversations with them and respecting them enough to care about their well-being.
It’s really about maintaining the consistency in your word and deed with the daily interactions with your team, with the products you produce and especially with the people in the community who support [your business]. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think if you have a diverse team that believes different things, but who are all committed to building that same organization, that product, that brand, they’ll find a way to work together.