5 Lessons from 200 Episodes of The Aggressive Life Podcast with Brian Tome


5 Lessons From 200 Lives on the Aggressive Life Podcast

Caleb Mathis

16 mins

What does it take to live well?

I’ve had a front-row seat to observe 200 wildly different, yet incredibly effective, lives—and I think I’m finally honing in on an answer to that question. Which is good, ‘cause boy, do I need it.

Since 2019, I’ve been the executive producer for The Aggressive Life with Brian Tome, a podcast based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Each week, we highlight a guest living by positive aggression—men and women driven to get out into the world and change it instead of passively waiting for things to improve.

Maybe you’ve got your -ish together, but most of the time, I’m utterly confused about how to live a meaningful life. The older I get, the more acutely aware I am that time is limited. I want my life to count. I want to be effective. I want to matter. I want to be faithful, creative, and bold. I want to outlive my life because I’ve made a positive dent on this planet.

But most days, I’m just trying to stay ahead of the bills, the projects at work, and the piles of laundry at home.

Is there something more than the hamster wheel, and if so, how do I get there?

As it turns out, the answer has been in my back pocket this whole time. It’s the wisdom of 200 lives well lived—from movie stars to arctic explorers, Bible teachers to friendship experts, titans of business to stay-at-home dads.

As a podcast producer, I’ve spent the better part of the last four years researching and recruiting guests, writing interview outlines, capturing audio, editing that audio into the best possible product, and making sure it shows up on your phone at 5:00 AM every Tuesday. (Shout out to Laurie, Kari, Kristin, and Brian S. for the invaluable help in that effort.)

We recently released our 200th episode. It’s a huge milestone in an unbelievable trip that, in many ways, has changed my life.

I’ve met personal heroes like theologian N.T. Wright, author John Mark Comer, and Bible scholar Tim Mackie. I drank some of Kathie Lee Gifford’s wine with her after she ordered lunch for me (“These crab cakes are to die for. You’ll love them.”) I delivered a carrot cake to Korn guitarist Brian Head Welch. I nearly passed out, then called all my friends, when Hollywood A-lister Matthew McConaughey agreed to be on the show. I’ve set up mobile recording studios in hotels, a spare room at a silicon ring manufacturer in Nashville, and inside a literal outhouse. You can’t make this stuff up.

Matthew McConaughey on the Aggressive Life Podcast with Brian Tome

200 episodes (times 60-ish minutes with each guest) means I’ve downloaded some 12,000 minutes of wisdom and mistakes, coaching and conversation, and wins and losses from some of the most impactful humans on the planet. The lessons I’ve picked up along the way—some from the guests, some from Brian, and some learning the process—have proven invaluable as I’m learning to create a meaningful life.

They just might push you in the right direction too.


Because our podcast features interviews each week, I am constantly inviting guests to the show. We go big, chasing some of the most recognizable names on the planet (if you know Bear Grylls, Chris Pratt, or Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights, please contact me. Now.)

The vast majority of these guests never respond to my inquiries. I get lots of radio silence (ghosting sucks, don’t do it. I’ll give you that one for free).

Even after rejections, the key to a breakthrough is to keep asking. I’ve learned not to say no on behalf of anyone, ever. When in doubt, make the ask.

James, the brother of Jesus, summed up this bit of wisdom some 2,000 years ago when he wrote: “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2)

He was talking about prayer, of course, but the lesson remains. Boldness makes the ask, while cowardice saves face by hiding behind silence. It’s true; you can’t be rejected if you don’t ask…but you will never see a breakthrough without it.

There’s no reason why stars like Matthew McConaughey or Kathie Lee Gifford should have been on our show. Or the acting head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, during the dog days of the pandemic. Or comedy legend Jeff Foxworthy. Or former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake. Or best-selling author Bob Goff. Or a NASA astronaut, or a legit treasure hunter, or an exorcist…the list goes on and on and on.

A list of 200 guests is impressive, but at least double that many guests passed on the opportunity. But we keep making new asks, and the right people say yes.

Beth Moore on the Aggressive Life Podcast with Brian Tome

(Like Beth Moore!)

Lesson #1: Reject the fear of rejection. Don’t say no for anyone else. Be bold and make the ask. Do that enough, and good things are bound to happen.


When you’re starting something new, consistency is king.

Actually, I take that back: consistency is king all the time.

Whether you’re trying to establish healthier rhythms of exercise and rest, investing in a key relationship, or taking your turn at writing the next great American novel, consistency is the road to success.

That means you work out, even on days you don’t feel like it. That means you go grab a beer with a friend, or read another bedtime story to the kids, even when you’re tired from a long day. It means you set your alarm clock for 5:00 AM and write 500 words daily until your novel starts to take shape.

Because our podcast has found some success, I frequently have aspiring podcasters picking my brain on how to get their show up and running. They want to know how to get “big name” guests, write outlines, or what my favorite microphones are. That’s all well and good, but the best advice is this: consistently release episodes.

Most podcasts go the way of the infamous ‘podfade.’ They start with a bang, consistently releasing content. But over time, as competing priorities show up, they soften. Their release schedule gets inconsistent and then stops altogether. That’s podfading. One recent study said 75% of all podcasts will podfade into oblivion.

In our conversation with NFL legend Shaun Alexander, he distilled this down into the simplest terms. “Don’t be soft about anything,” he explained, “Take ownership, make a plan, and then stick to it.”

Whatever you want to do in life, consistency will be the way to get there. And it will likely take you much longer than you expect. But the successful ones keep going anyway.

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Lesson #2: Keep hitting the same nail. Consistency is king and always wears the crown.


Alright, enneagram nerds, this one’s for you. I’m a ‘1’ on that specific brand of personality typing—which means I’m prone to perfectionism.

When I started producing the podcast, I spent a lot of time in post-production editing, trying to make every conversation perfect. Using audio editing software, I spent hours (seriously, HOURS!) turning down breaths so they’d be less noticeable, removing every “umm” and “uhh,” and correcting vocal tics.

But here’s the thing: humans breathe. And they use “umm” and “uhh.” Some people have vocal tics. Some people stutter. Some people take a long time to get to the point. Some people end every sentence with “ya know,” ya know?

We’re all beautifully imperfect—and when I embraced that, the show took off to new heights. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. What humanity wants much more than perfection is authenticity.

Our host, Brian Tome, is the secret sauce to these podcast conversations. He’ll be the first to tell you he isn’t for everyone, and he’s not trying to be. He’s embracing the kind of leader God has made him to be—one that works extremely hard AND still makes time for fun; one that in the same conversation will quote the scriptures AND make middle-school jokes; one that asks hard questions AND can laugh with anyone.

In his last letter to his mentee, early church missionary Paul told Timothy to “Fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5).

I believe God has plans for you that are unlike anyone else on earth—because your life and ministry are yours and no one else’s.

People connect with other people, flaws and all. Trying to correct and auto-tune every aspect of every conversation was a waste of time, just like it was useless to try to make Brian’s podcast into Carey Nieuwhof’s or Joe Rogan’s.

Brian’s podcast is his podcast. And your ministry (and life) is your ministry (and life).

I’ve spent too much time trying to hit somebody else’s standards for my life. I’ve wasted years shooting for perfection when that’s a pretty impossible target. Both will keep you from making progress.

Lesson #3: Aim for the right goal. Aim at “effective.” Aim at “meaningful.” Aim at “sacrificial.” Aim at “influential.” Aim at “faithful.” Just don’t aim at “perfect” because you’ll never hit it.


With a name like The Aggressive Life, you might be tempted to think the podcast is focused on Brian’s opinions, talking points, and perspective. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I think that’s part of why the show connects with so many different people.

Culture, from all sides of every aisle and debate, only pushes talking points and hot takes. But the magic happens when you listen.

Brian is the founding pastor of one of the largest churches in the nation—and he’s hosted atheists, skeptics, and believers on his podcast. He’s had conversations with Republicans and Democrats. He’s talked with pastors and former pastors still reeling from church hurt. The list goes on and on.

Why? Because there’s something you can learn from everyone if your perspective is to listen before you speak.

It doesn’t mean you don’t voice your opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with other people. It doesn’t mean there is no objective right or wrong anymore. It just means you dignify the other person by listening first—and listening well.

When I make assumptions, I’m almost always wrong. When I jump to conclusions, I nearly always make mistakes. When I interrupt because I’m pretty sure I know where this conversation is going, I just look like a self-centered ass (mostly because I’m acting like one).

Scripture says that all of humanity is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). That includes your annoying neighbor, the rude barista, the last person you’d ever vote for in any election, or your spouse when you’re in a fight.

When you take the time to listen, to actively look for the image of God in “the other,” magic happens. You find connections you could never imagine. You learn lessons you’d never pick up otherwise. And your life changes for the better.

More than Brian’s hot takes, opinions, and off-color jokes (as much as I love them), the magic in these podcast conversations happens because of his ability to listen. He gives guests space to talk, process, and think out loud.

And without fail, at the end of nearly every conversation, the guest ends their time with us lighter than before. They’ve had a positive interaction with a member of the clergy—for some of them; it’s the greatest surprise of the entire hour.

If I could remember this Biblical wisdom before every interaction I have, I’d be all the better.

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

Lesson #4: Sometimes, the most aggressive move is just to shut your mouth.

5) MOVE!

You can guess it from the name, but the unifying factor across all these conversations is that each and every guest took a risk and moved. They didn’t wait for things in their life to change for the better. Instead, they went out and put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it a reality.

That’s true for Colin O’Brady, an adventurer who completed the first-ever solo, unsupported crossing of Antarctica. It’s true for Dan Orlovsky, an NFL analyst who went off-script and prayed for Damar Hamlin live on ESPN. It’s true for Beth Moore, who charted a course to become a beloved Bible teacher despite sexism routinely thrown in her face. And it’s true for Denny Pattyn, who continued to mentor Brian even through their final conversation as he was dying of cancer.

Take or leave everything I’ve said; this one can’t be argued (and 200 lives say the same thing):

Life works when you move.

So take a risk. Dare to fail. Go after something that seems impossible. Throw a wrench into the gears of a problem that keeps nagging you. Ask her out. Try to have kids again. Take the job interview. Move to a new city. Invite a coworker to grab a beer and spark a friendship. Start your side hustle. Homeschool the kids. Spend a whole day outside. Turn off your phone. Pray.

Whatever feels like an aggressive move to you, run toward it.

From what I understand from these incredible lives of meaning and impact, that separates the lives well lived from the lives…well…just lived.

Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” (Proverbs 13:4, NLT)

Lesson #5: Keep moving.


I thought I had five life lessons from the podcast, but as it turns out, I’ve also got a bonus one for the road.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, there is an x-factor in your life. It’s the very presence of God. Once relegated to dwelling in a temple, God’s spirit now inhabits the very lives of believers (1 Corinthians 3:16).

So, to circle back up to life lesson #1…you should ask God to do what only God can do. And ask often.

We hosted a man named Hal Donaldson on the podcast a few weeks ago. If you’re like 95% of the people reading this article, that name means nothing to you. I’ll be honest, before that conversation, it meant nothing to me too.

But Hal has had an impact on this planet few people can rival. He co-founded Convoy of Hope, an international aid organization that has impacted the lives of 200 million people around the globe.

Right now, Convoy of Hope has boots on the ground in places recovering from devastating natural disasters. They’re in Ukraine, responding to the humanitarian crisis of war. They’re in the Philippines, feeding 30,000 hungry children. They’re in East Africa, responding to unprecedented drought and food shortage. And that’s just a fraction of their work.

All that to say, Hal’s life has mattered immensely. During the conversation, Brian asked him if he’d change anything about his career. His answer has been rattling around my head ever since.

“I’d do less… and pray more.”

By all means, you should move. You should listen. You should stop chasing perfection, aim for consistency, and make the ask.

And above it all, you should pray.

In your push to live well, don’t forget the x-factor.

I believe God is pleased to move in the lives of his children, and even more so when he knows he is answering a prayer for someone willing to take aggressive risks.

I confess I’m more prone to strongarm my results than to pray for them. Hal’s answer has changed how I spend my mornings. I’m setting aside time each day just to pray and listen. I’m making it the first thing I do because it’s that important.

I can do everything right and still miss the impact I want my life to have. I need God to make it happen. So I’m making sure I actually take the time to ask.

Life lesson #6: Work hard and pray harder.


Can a podcast change your life? Only if you do more than just listen. You have to copy.

Jack London, a beloved author of books like The Call of the Wild and White Fang, became a literary giant by…copying. Enamored by the work of his literary hero, Rudyard Kipling, London copied his works, word for word, into blank notebooks. Page after page after page, he learned the art and craft of storytelling until he was able to make it his own.

That’s what this podcast does for me—it gives me the best wisdom of 200 lives so that I can copy it until I make it my own.

The key to living well—don’t let life happen to you. Flip that equation around: happen to your life. Make the ask. Be consistent. Choose authentic over perfect. Listen well. Move. And pray.

And when in doubt, cue up a good podcast for fresh inspiration.

Subscribe to The Aggressive Life with Brian Tome podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and check out Briantome.com

Caleb Mathis
Meet the author

Caleb Mathis

Dad of three, husband of one, pastor at Crossroads, and at the moment would rather be reading Tolkien, watching British TV, or in a pub with a pint of Guinness.

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