160+ Quotes from How to Be Here by Rob Bell - Part One

And it was awful. Seriously - it was so bad.
There was a moment in the middle of the afternoon when I was talking and suddenly realized that I wasn’t even listening to what I was saying. I had somehow managed to stop paying attention to myself....It was my words, but it wasn’t me, if that makes sense.”
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 4

“I remember sitting down at my desk, opening a new word-processing document, and staring at that blank word-processing document, and staring at that blank page with that blinking line in the upper left-hand corner. I wasn’t prepared for how intimidating it would be. Other people are writers - actual, you know, authors. And there are lots of them, many who have been doing it for years… I was now going to try and do that?”
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 4-5

“The blinking line on that blank page kept blinking, like it was taunting me.
There’s a reason it’s called a cursor.
We all have a blinking line.
Your blinking line is whatever sits in front of you waiting to be brought into existence.

It’s the book
Or day
Or job
Or business
Or family
Or mission
Or class
Or plan
Or cause
Or meeting
Or task
Or project
Or challenge
Or phone call
Or life that is waiting for you to bring it into being.”
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 5
 

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What will we make of our lives?
What will we do with our energies?
What kind of world will we create?

Which leads to the penetrating question for everyone of us - including you:

What will you do with your blinking line?
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 9

You create your life.

You get to shape it, form it, steer it, make it into something. And you have way more power to do this than you realize.

What you do with your life is fundamentally creative work. The kind of life you lead, what you do with your time, how you spend your energies - it’s all part of how you create your life.

All work is ultimately creative work because all of us are taking part in the ongoing creation of the world.

There’s a great Latin phrase that helps me make sense of the wonder and weirdness of creating a life. Ex nihilo means out of nothing. I love this phrase because you didn’t used to be here. And I wasn’t here either. We didn’t used to be here. And then we were here. We were conceived, we were birthed, we arrived.

Out of nothing came...us.
You.
Me.
All of us.
All of it.”
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 11-2

“...we come out of nothing. And we’re here. And we get to make something with what we’ve been given.”
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 13
 

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Now for some of us, the moment we hear the word create, our first thought is,

But you don’t understand, I’m not the creative type…

Take accountants, for example.

Accountants work with numbers and columns and facts and figures and spreadsheets. Their job is to keep track of what’s being made and where it’s going and how much is available to make more. That structure is absolutely necessary for whatever is being done to move forward. It is a fundamentally creative act to make sure things have the shape and form and internal coherence they need.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 15-16

Obviously, bureaucracies and institutions and governments and finance departments can be huge obstacles to doing compelling work, but ideally - in spirit - the person who gives things their much needed structure and order is playing a vital role in the ongoing creation of the world, helping things more forward. (Which is an excellent litmus test for whether the work you’re doing is work that the world needs: Does it move things forward? Because some work doesn’t. Some work takes things in the wrong direction. Some things people give their energies to prevent other people from thriving. Some tasks dehumanize and degrade the people involved. Perhaps you’re in one of those jobs, the kind that sucks the life out of your soul and you can’t see the good in it. Stop. Leave. Life is too short to help make a world you don’t want to live in.)
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 16-17

How we respond to what happens to us - especially the painful, excruciating things that we never wanted and we have no control over - is a creative act.

Who starts cancer foundations? Usually people who have lost a loved one to cancer.
Who organizes recovery groups? Mostly people who have struggled with addiction.
Who stands up for the rights of the oppressed? Often people who have experienced oppression themselves.

We have power, more power than we realize, power to decide that we are going to make something good out of even this…
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 21

There’s a question that you can ask about the things that have come your way that you didn’t want. It’s a question rooted in a proper understanding of the world, a question we have to ask ourselves continually throughout our lives:

What new and good thing is going to come out of even this?

When you ask this question, you have taken something that was out of your control and reframed it as another opportunity to take part in the ongoing creation of the world.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 21
 

You know someone is going to die because you know we’re all going to die - you know it in your brain. But then there’s a moment when that truth drops from your brain to your heart, like an elevator in free fall, and lands with a thud. - Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 25

There is a moment when you arrive and you take your first breath, and then there is a moment when you take your last breath and you leave.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 25

Before anything else can be said about you, you have received a gift. God / the universe / ultimate reality / being itself - whatever word you want to use for source - has given you life.

Are you breathing?
Are you here?
Did you just take a breath?
Are you about to take another?
Do you have a habit of regularly doing this?
Gift.
Gift.
Gift.
Whatever else has happened in your life - failure, pain, heartache, abuse, loss - the first thing that can be said about you is that you have received a gift.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 26

People just don’t get it

As he smiled and then repeated,


People just don’t get it.

When I asked him what he meant by it, he said that people don’t understand how previous and incredible life is. He said he hadn’t understood this truth until he knew that it was being taken from him.

Because that’s how it works, doesn’t it?

Suffering and loss have this extraordinary capacity to alert and awaken us to the gift that life is.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 29-30


Begin your prayers - begin your day - by acknowledging that your life is a gift and this gift flows from a source. This source is responsible for the air in your lungs, the blood that courses through your veins, and the vitality that surges through you and everything around you.

...which is another way of saying.

Begin whatever you’re doing by remembering that you are here and you have been given a gift.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 31

Boredom is lethal. Boredom says, There’s nothing interesting to make here.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 33

Cynicism says, There’s nothing new to make here. Often, cynicism presents itself as wisdom, but it usually comes from a wound. 
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 33

Cynicism acts as though it’s seen a lot and knows how the world works, shooting down new ideas and efforts as childish and uninformed. Cynicism points out all the ways something could go wrong, how stupid it is, and what a waste of time it would be. Cynicism holds things at a distance, analyzing and mocking and noting all the possibilities for failure. Often, this is because the cynic did try something new at some point and it went belly up, he was booed off the stage, and that pain causes him to critique and ridicule because there aren’t any risks in doing that. If you hold something at a distance and make fun of it, then it can’t hurt you.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 33-34

Despair is like a dull thud in the heart.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 34

Despair says, Nothing that we make matters. Despair reflects a pervasive dread that it’s all pointless and that we are, in the end, simply wasting our time.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 34

Boredom, cynicism, and despair are spiritual diseases because they disconnect us from the most primal truth about ourselves - that we are here.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 34

All three [boredom, cynicism, and despair] distance us from and deaden us to the questions the blinking line asks:
How are you going to respond to this life you have been given?
What are you going to do with it?
What are you going to make here?
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 34

By the fifth draft, I had lost my way. I couldn’t figure out how to take all that content and make it flow. It was like I had all the notes but no melody. 
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 39
 

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The blinking line can be brutal.

Because the blinking line doesn’t just taunt you with all the possibilities that are before you, the potential, all that you sense could exist but isn’t yet because you haven’t created it.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 40

The blinking line also asks a question:
Who are you to do this?

And that question can be paralyzing. It can prevent us from overcoming inertia. It can cause crippling doubt and stress. It can keep us stuck on the couch while life passes us by.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 40

To answer the question, Who are you to do this?,
You first have to get out of your head.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 41

I use this phrase out of your head because that’s where it’s easy to get stuck. Somewhere between our hearts and our minds is an internal dialogue, a running commentary on what we think and feel and believe. It’s the voices in your head that speak doubt and insecurity and fear and anxiety. Like a tape that’s jammed on “repeat,” these destructive messages will drain an extraordinary amount of your energies if you aren’t clear and focused and grounded.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 41

To get out of your head, it’s important to embrace several truths about yourself and those around you, beginning with this one:

Who you aren’t isn’t interesting.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 42

You have a list of all the things you aren’t, the things you can’t do, the things you’ve tried that didn’t go well. Regrets, mistakes that haunt you, moments when you crawled home in humiliation. For many of us, this list is the source of a number of head games, usually involving the words,

Not _________ enough.

Not smart enough,
not talented enough,
not disciplined enough,
not educated enough, not beautiful, thin, popular, or hardworking enough,

You can fill in the ________.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 42


They aren’t interesting.

What you haven’t done,
where you didn’t go to school,
what you haven’t accomplished,
who you don’t know and what you are scared of

simply aren’t interesting.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 42


If you focus on who you aren’t, and what you don’t have, or where you haven’t been, or skills or talents or tools or resources you’re convinced aren’t yours, previous energy will slip through your fingers that you could use to do something with that blinking line.

In the same way that who you aren’t isn’t interesting when it comes to getting out of your head

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 43

Who “they” are isn’t interesting.

We all have our they - friends, neighbours, co-workers, family members, superstars who appear to skate by effortlessly while we slog it out. They are the people we fixate on, constantly holding their lives up to our life, using their apparent ease and success as an excuse to hold back from doing our work and pursuing our path in the world.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 43

I love those lines from Seinfeld:
This has nothing to do with your friends.
It’s such a special thing.
This has nothing to do with making it.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 46

When you compare yourself with others, you have no idea what challenges they are facing.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 46

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There will always be someone who’s smarter than you.
There will always be someone with more raw talent than you.
There will always be someone more experienced and better qualified and harder working and stronger and more articulate and more creative with more stamina who can sing better than you can.

But who you aren’t isn’t interesting.

And who they are isn’t interesting when it comes to who you are and what your path is.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 47

The more you do the work, the more you build muscles for that particular work...you can acquire skills and then improve on them as you do the work year after year. This growing technique and expertise can help you create and build and act with more ease and excellence, but it cannot help you avoid the blank page.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 50

Whoever you are and whatever work you do, no one has ever lived your life with your particular challenges and possibilities.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 50

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When you say “yes” to your life and your path and your work in the world, you are entering into this mystery of creation, a mystery in which everybody starts with a blank page, and “everybody” includes you.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 51

Now, let’s pause and take a breath.
You’ve been given this gift of life.

You were not given his gift or her gift.
You were given your gift.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 51


Is there any way in which you wish you had someone else’s life?

Is there any way in which you are not throwing yourself into your life because you’re convinced that you could never do it as well as so-and-so does it?

Is there any way in which the blank page that is your life has got you stuck, terrified, asking that soul-crushing question,

Who am I to do this?

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 52


The new question is this:
Who am I not to do this?

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 52

I clearly remember standing there about to start my talk and know that this was what I was going to do with my life.

It wasn’t just the speaking part that I loved, it was the preparation and the nerves and arranging the ideas and going over it again and again, trying to make it better - I loved everything leading up to giving that sermon. I loved the whole process.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 55

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The Japanese have a word for what gets you out of bed in the morning: they call it your ikigai. Your ikigai is that sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make. Sometimes this is referred to as your calling, other times your vocation, your destiny, your path. Your ikigai is your reason for being.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 56

Your ikigai is a web of work and family and play and how you spend your time,
what you give your energies to,
what you say “yes” to,
what you say “no” to,
what new challenges you take on,
things that come your way that you never wanted or planned for or know what to do with -

Your ikigai is a work in progress because you are a work in progress.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 57

You try lots of different things...You follow your curiosity. You watch for things that grab your attention. This is much easier when you’re younger and have less financial pressure and fewer others depending on you, but it’s true no matter how old you are.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 58

You explore the possibilities because you can’t steer a parked car.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 58

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When you pursue your path, exploring the possibilities as you search for your ikigai, pay careful attention to things that make you angry and get you all riled up and provoke you to say, someone should do something about that!!!

The someone may be you.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 59

Some people find their ikigai by asking, What do I love to do?

Others find theirs by asking, What makes me angry? What wrongs need to be righted? What injustice needs to be resisted?

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 60


Listen to your life. Look back on the moments when you felt most connected to the world around you. Think about those experiences in which you felt the most comfortable in your own skin. Reflect on when you were most aware of something wrong in the world and your strong response to it.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 60


Be honest about your joy. Sometimes our ikigai is jammed way down in our hearts somewhere because we were told early on, You can’t make money doing that, of That isn’t a real job, or That’s a waste of time.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 60

Ask yourself: Am I not pursuing my path because of what someone has told me is and isn’t acceptable?

Which leads to another truth about your ikigai: It may involve a paycheck and it may not.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 61

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So don’t apologize for it, enjoy it.

You may love doing or creating or making or organizing something, but that’s different from it being your job. If music was my job, I’d hate it. What often happens is that we love doing a particular thing and so our next through it, I should do this for my job.

Here’s the problem with that impulse: Getting a paycheck for doing that thing you love may actually ruin it.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 62

There’s a chance that putting the weight and pressure of a paycheck on that thing you love might burden it with a load it can’t bear.

Interests, art forms, talents, hobbies, missions, passions, service projects, and causes all have their proper place in our lives.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 62

Some things we do fill us with life so that we can give ourselves to our work in the world with greater love and vitality and passion. Somethings we get paid for, some things we don’t.

There’s a good chance your ikigai will change over time.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 63

It’s the inertia of options: If you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything in the morning, that’s what may happen. You may not go anywhere or do anything.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 65

Wealth often ruins people, because having too many options can easily lead to being stuck, disconnected from your life because there’s no pressing need to do anything.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 65


I get up in the morning and I sit down and start working on my next book or talk or show because it’s the most natural things to do
and yet
It regularly takes all of the discipline and focus I can possibly muster to stay here any this desk and keep working.

I can’t imagine being anywhere else
and yet
Some days I can’t imagine anything more difficult than. the. next. sentence.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 66


Your ikigai is exhausting and exhilarating, draining and invigorating, all at the same time.

There are moments when nothing in the world seems more difficult, and yet you can’t imagine doing anything else.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 66

Better to receive some odd looks and have a few people roll their eyes than spend your days wondering,

What if I did that…?
Take that step.
Make that leap.
Try that new thing.
If it helps clarify your ikigai,
If it gets you up in the morning,
If it’s good for you and the world,
Do it.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 67

This work has brought me more joy than I could ever measure, and there have also been times that were so painful and disorienting and excruciating and agonizing that I wondered whether I was done.

Finding your ikigai will be endlessly challenging.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 69

This is normal. Yes, it’s frustrating when you hate your job, but finding your ikigai can also be maddening even if you know exactly why you’re here and you get paid to do work that you love.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 70

But no matter how simple and straightforward it may appear, you ikigai may at times leave you slumped on the floor.

Embracing your ikigai will always require tremendous faith and courage.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 70

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This is why it’s absolutely vital for you to embrace at the outset the idea that you are a divine piece of work, created to do good in the world. The universe is not neutral or, worse, against you. When you set out to find your path, the universe is on your side. That is the faith that keeps you going.

We’re all a work in progress, dealing with the voices filling our minds and hearts with destructive messages, searching for that sense of satisfying contribution, trying new things, all of it out of a desire to find what it is that will get us up in the morning.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 71

One more truth about your ikigai: You may already have found it.

Sometimes it’s as straightforward as thinking differently about what you’re already doing. Sometimes you discover your ikigai by understanding what you do in a whole new way.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 73

I love this story because driving a bus can easily appear like a mundane job. Like he’s just a bus driver. The power of the story is that he’s more than just a bus driver. He’s doing something far more significant than just getting people around town.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 74

Sometimes we discover our ikigai by dropping the word just from whatever it is we do all day...Sometimes just that little shift in perspective can be all you need to get you out of bed in the morning.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 74

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Any CEO or mom or dad or regional manager or middle-school teacher can tell you this - that first day, first week, first month, first year is exciting and daunting and you’re filled with the adrenaline of a new venture. And then something happens, something unavoidable, something that it’s absolutely crucial you pay attention to…

You discover why you’re doing this work.
...when the newness wears off, you are left with the pure undiluted slog of the work.

And you either love the work,
Or you don’t.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 79

It’s one thing to do it because you want to be known or liked or famous or respected or make lots of money. And some people do their work for those reasons.

But those reasons get old and lose their power.
You can run on that kind of fuel for only so long.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 79

I loved giving that same tour talk night after night after night because I loved the craft of it. I loved telling those stories and trying to communicate the concepts in a certain way so that it created a particular kind of atmosphere in the room. I felt like I was working with clay, molding it and shaping it and forming it, night after night, learning new things about that talk and its contours and textures and the possibilities present in the content. It was deeply humbling, because no matter how well it went, I could always find ways to make it better.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 81

There is a difference between craft and success.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 82


Corvette was the ultimate sign that you’d make it….
All my life I’ve wanted a Corvette. And then I got enough money to buy one, so I did. And then the other day I walked out into the garage and thought, “I own a Corvette.”

That was his explanation -
And I thought, “I own a Corvette.”

...Do you know this feeling? You work and work and work for something and then you finally get it and there is a dull thud somewhere in your spirit? The kind of thud that comes from being let down. Like it didn’t deliver. Like it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 83


Success can never get enough.

It makes your head spin, because you get that thing you were desperately working for, for all those years, and when you get it, you realize that it isn’t what you thought it was.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 84

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What would it look like for you to approach tomorrow with a sense of honor and privilege, believing that you have work to do in the world, that it matters, that it’s needed that you have a path and you’re working your craft?

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 86

When you start out on your path, there’s often a purity to the work, a romantic sort of idealism that drew you to it….we have these images in our heads of what that looks like and it sounds slightly exotic and we’re thrilled that we’re finding our place in the world.

And then we get into it and we discover that some people can’t be trusted and we spend a tremendous number of hours on distracting details and sometimes we pour our energies into a particular project or person and it falls apart and we’re left wondering, Why is this so difficult?

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 87


No one gets a free pass from heartbreak, discouragement, and the dull, weary thud that comes from asking, Did I waste my time?
Over the years, that initial energy and enthusiasm can easily dissipate as life beats you up. You find yourself growing cynical.
You lose your passion.
This is why craft is so vital.
You can find the craft in whatever you do.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 88


Whatever you do all day, do you see it as a craft?

Seeing your work as craft rescues you. Craft centers you. Craft reconnects you to your ikigai. They joy of waking up and having something to give yourself to…
that’s what matters,
that’s where the joy is,
that’s where the life is.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 88

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That’s where you start. With 1.

It’s too overwhelming otherwise. It’s too easy to be caught up in endless ruminations: What if Step 4 doesn’t work? Or What if there isn’t money for Step 11 or what if people don’t like the results of Step 6?

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 93

Your 1 may be making a phone call or an appointment or filling out a form - it may be a fairly simple task and yet it may seem like the biggest, most impossibly massive task in the world.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 94

To do anything new - to do the 1 - requires tremendous mental fortitude to not think about 2 or 3 yet.

That time will come. And it is not now.

Now is the time for 1.

You start with 1. And you work on that. Just 1. And when 1 is done, you move to 2.

You break it down into the next step and only the next step -
the next sentence
the next phone call
the next meeting
the next word.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 94

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What is your 1?

At any moment in the day, you can do only one thing at a time. And the more intentional you are about knowing what your 1 is, the more present you will be.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 95


There’s so much to do! How do I know what to do next?...

Do you see the problem? Chico has his 1. He’s overwhelmed with all the work that needs to be done, but there’s a 1 right in front of him. He has the wrong person in the wrong place. He needs to change that... He has a 1. And yet what keeps him awake at night are the 6s and 11s and 24s.

Start with your 1.
- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 99


We filmed for almost a week, the footage was edited, and then the producer showed me a rough cut they’d made from the usable footage.
A rough cut that was ten minutes long.
This was a problem, because people had given money to see a twenty-two-minute film, not a ten-minute film.

I remember watching it and having two very strong reactions:
What will we tell the people who gave us money?
Followed by
I haven’t seen anything like this before.

- Rob Bell, How To Be Here, p. 102

Source: Bell, R. (2017). HOW TO BE HERE: a guide to creating a life worth living. San Francisco, CA: Harper One.