Carlos Whittaker, ENTER WILD

Carlos Whittaker, ENTER WILD

Zibby Owens: Carlos Whittaker is the author of three books, Moment Maker: You Can Live Your Life or It Will Live You, Kill the Spider, and most recently, Enter Wild: Exchange a Mild and Mundane Faith for Life with an Uncontainable God. Carlos’s wife calls him a hope dealer. He is a People’s Choice Award winner who was a former recording artist signed to a major label, a social media maven, and now he spends the majority of his time writing books and speaking on stages around the world. He did a viral video called Single Ladies Devastation with his family that got millions and millions of views and apparently was accidental, but there you have it. He had a recording deal with Integrity Music and lived in Nashville, Tennessee, but then decided to move more into being what he calls a hope dealer and writing books instead of singing on stage which he says is maybe a little backwards. Let’s hear what he has to say about it to us.

Welcome, Carlos. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Carlos Whittaker: Zibby, thanks so much. Is there a dads don’t have time to read books podcast, or do I need to start that one too?

Zibby: You might need to start it.

Carlos: Okay, because I’m the same way. I love the name of this podcast. I was so excited when I saw it.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Yes, there’s been a lot of debate because obviously these conversations aren’t just for moms. I feel like they do a service because we all are so busy as parents, so it should not exclude dads at all.

Carlos: No. So busy, so busy. We’ve got three kids. They’re all teenagers now, but it doesn’t get any less crazy.

Zibby: I watched, this is from so long ago, but your viral video of your little one who was crying when he couldn’t be a single lady.

Carlos: Yes, he is fourteen years old now. That video haunts him. It’s so funny because we actually won a People’s Choice Award for Viral Video of the Year. He keeps that trophy — we let him have it because he’s the one that cried — in his room as a doorstopper. It’s on the floor, his People’s Choice Award. It’s pretty funny.

Zibby: The best part is you’re saying that I’m the worst dad ever because of course I feel like that as a mom like fifty times a day.

Carlos: I love it. I love it.

Zibby: You have had such an interesting career. You started as a musician. You changed into an author, a speaker. You’ve had such an interesting journey. You even, on your website, said how it’s backwards since most people want to become a musician, and you gave up your big deal to do this. Tell me about that.

Carlos: I did. I signed a record deal with Sony Provident and moved our family to Nashville and started touring and did the whole tour thing. I was on some big tours in front of thirty thousand people a night. It was working. It was clicking. I’ll tell you what, Zibby, you know sometimes when you’re doing something that’s working but still in your heart of hearts you know that it’s not what you’re supposed to be doing? I try to tell people all the time that just because it’s working doesn’t mean it’s right. For me, I’d been growing this online platform, a blog — I don’t know if people remember what those things are. I’d been writing on this blog for about a decade. I had all these people reading my blogs. My wife just kept telling me, “Carlos, you’re a great singer, but you’re a really, really, really great writer.” I said, “Really?” Then I had more and more friends express that same thought to me. It was a really scary moment. The moment that I switched to change careers, I’d just been praying about it and I felt like God was like, yep, you’re supposed to do this. I went to my laptop and I canceled, I think it was eighty-seven music dates for the rest of the year. In the email I said, “I feel like I’m supposed to be a speaker now and an author. If you want a speaker to come to your event instead of me singing, I’d love to do that.” Of course, eighty-seven out of eighty-seven events all emailed me back and they were like, “We’re so proud of you. That’s a great big step, but we don’t need you to come be a speaker.”

All this to say, long story short, fourteen days after I sent this email and I’m freaking out, nobody’s booking me to be a speaker. Nobody wants me to write a book. I’m sending book proposals. They’re getting shut down left and right. I get one email in my booking email. It was from the White House. I thought it was spam, and so I hit delete. Then my publicist called me twenty minutes after I deleted the email. She’s like, “They know you deleted the email.” I was like, “Who are you talking about?” She said, “The White House. Go look at your email.” I opened my deleted folder. It said, “The White House would like to invite you to be the keynote speaker at President Obama’s Easter Prayer Breakfast next Tuesday.” My very first speaking gig ever was at the White House for the president of the United States. I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life to give a ten-minute talk. It’s been downhill since then. I just don’t get nervous anymore. That was the beginning of my speaking career. That was 2015. I love it. I love to be a hope dealer. I do a lot of corporate events. I do a lot of motivational events. I do a lot of church events. I feel like people, especially right now in this season, are just desperate for hope. I do that through my Instagram. I do that through my books. I do that through when I’m speaking on stages. Whatever it may be, I’m just trying to constantly be hope for people.

Zibby: What were the key messages you gave at the Obama Easter service? What were some of the takeaways of that?

Carlos: When I was there, I just remember getting up on stage and — I had practiced a ten-minute sermon, ten-minute little vignette. I think I got done in two and a half minutes. I can’t remember how fast it was. There were all these dignitaries in the room. I just said, “We can put all the policies in place that we can. All the policies will be great. They’ll be beneficial, but nothing is going to change our country unless we change our hearts.” That was really my message to the people that were in there. I think that what I said in 2015 to President Obama is the same thing I would say right now in June of 2020. Policies can be changed by protests, and I’ve already been to three protests, but communities are going to change by conversations. Those conversations are going to change hearts. The message is still the same, just looks a little different.

Zibby: I saw that your connection with your neighbor has made headlines everywhere during this time.

Carlos: I know. I had another video go viral a couple days ago. I think we’re at, combined views of a couple different social media outlets, it’s like two and half million views. It’s the whole thing, the whole conversations change communities. I had a neighbor of mine who — I’ve lived here for four years. I’ve tried to say hi to him. I’ve tried to wave at him. If he’s mowing his grass, I’m very, like, “Hey!” Nothing. It’s the only neighbor that has never said a word to me. Honestly, I started to build a bias in my heart. I started to build the narrative in my head as to, well, he doesn’t like me. I live in a white, suburban, national neighborhood. I don’t look like everybody else. I just kind of assumed that this old white guy didn’t like me because of the way I looked. Then I saw him, Zibby, walk out a couple days ago with a can of paint and a paintbrush. He’s got these two porcelain bunnies in his front yard. He kneels down in front of one of the bunnies and he just starts painting it black. I remember my jaw kind of dropped. I was like, is he really painting one of the bunnies black? It was ground-shifting for me. He painted one black. He left the other white. He walked back in his house. I tried to come up all day long with all the different reasons why he did that that wasn’t the most obvious reason in this current climate that we’re in. I said, you know, the next time I see him, I’m going to walk across the street and I’m going to ask him. I saw him the next morning. I walked across the street. I recorded the whole thing because I was going to show my wife.

I walked across the street. He got the biggest grin on his face. I’m like, oh, this is all it took. All it took was me walking across the street for this guy to smile at me. I just said, “Hey, sir. Why did you paint that bunny black?” He said, “With the current climate in our country, I’m seventy-eight years old, I can’t go protest. I don’t want to get sick. This is my small way of saying that I believe that black lives matter, so black bunnies matter. I painted the big bunny –” there’s a bigger bunny and a little bunny — “the big bunny black because George Floyd was six foot six, and so I didn’t want to paint the little bunny black. I wanted to paint the big bunny black.” All that to say, I recorded it. The second he started telling me this, I knew, oh, I’m not just going to show this to my wife. At the end of our conversation, I said, “Hey, I’ve been recording this. You didn’t know, but I’ve been recording the whole conversation. Would you mind if I put this on my social media?” He was like, “No, that’s totally fine.” I put some music to it. I edited it a little bit. I put it on socials. It just took off. We’ve been on Access Hollywood, all the news stations. It’s been fun to watch just a little bit hope spring out of this really dark season that we’re in.

Zibby: That’s amazing to make connections like that, oh, my gosh. Your book in and of itself, and I know this is your third book, which had such great advice and such personal narratives about your own battles with especially anxiety and panic attacks and how you got through it and how you have turned to God and the Bible and these practices that you’ve adopted to help yourself through. I am like, any advice on anxiety, I will take it. I don’t care what it is. If you want me to read the Bible, that is what I will do. In your book you said, “I’m a prisoner in my own head.” I feel like so many people can relate to that feeling, anybody who’s ever dealt with anxiety or depression or anything. Tell me a little about your whole suite of offerings. I know you have online courses now to teach. You’ve mastered this whole thing. Just take me through it, how it came to be.

Carlos: What I think people appreciate about my books — I do write books on faith. Yet I feel like there’s a lot of people that read my books that aren’t of the same faith as I am. I feel like principles are principles. Like you said, I’ll read the Bible if I have to, because a principle’s a principle. If it helps, it helps. The principles that I give in this particular book, Enter Wild, my latest book, is really what got me to a hundred percent healing from my anxiety and depression. When anyone is suffering with anxiety, like crippling anxiety — I was, panic attacks on a daily basis. I couldn’t leave the house. I was home-ridden. After I did a lot of work, a lot of therapy, exercise, diet, medicine, all the things that I needed to do, I got to about sixty percent better. For anyone that’s ever struggled with mental health issues, sixty percent better after you’ve been at zero percent feels amazing. You feel like, oh, I’m good. I kept going back to the Bible. I kept seeing that the Bible said that it’s possible to not just get to sixty percent, to get to a hundred. Me being the crazy guy I am, I said, I’m just going to trust it. I’m going to do the work that it says.

The book is written into three sections: Enter Rest, Enter War, and Enter Wild. Enter Rest is all about lowering the volume of life so that the volume of whatever needs to be loudest comes up. You know, I know, we are busier than we’ve ever been as humans. I don’t think that we were created to exist at the pace that we’re currently existing in. The whole Enter Rest section is so that we can lower the volume of life so we finally see and hear exactly what it is that we need to work on. Once we enter rest, I call the next section Enter War. In Enter War, really, that whole section’s all about forgiveness. For me, my anxiety got defeated once I started going to this certain therapist here in Nashville that did a version of therapy called HeartSync. What this therapy is — I explain a lot of it in the book. I take people kind of on the story arc of me being healed from my panic attacks. It’s faith based, but it’s also science based. I’m all about finding faith-based and science-based therapists. What I learned is that my heart was in need of syncing again. What we do so many times whenever there’s trauma is we shame a version of ourselves that we’re ashamed of. Say, for instance, you made a bad mistake. You’ve ruined a lot of people’s lives because of something. What you end up doing is you end up shaming that person, that version of yourself, while you continue to dissociate with that version of yourself.

What I learned in this therapy is that version of myself that I was shaming is still a part of me. It’s still a part of me. What I needed to do was to come back into reconciliation with self-forgiveness. A lot of times, people hear forgiveness and they think that’s either forgiving somebody else or somebody else forgiving you when, for me, the crux of my anxiety was based in the shame that I had for unforgiveness of myself. When I finally forgave myself, I’m telling you, it was like magic, Zibby. The day that I went through this one session, all of my physical manifestations of anxiety disappeared. I realized this is so vital for people to understand, that forgiveness is going to be the key of unlocking a lot of the healing in our lives, self-forgiveness is going to be. Then from there, you go into Enter Wild which is my call for people to leave the mild of their life and step into the wild of their life. Right now in this season where we’ve got protests, I’m like, listen, mild would be putting up an Instagram post. Wild would be going to Target and getting a sign and painting something on it and showing up and being hands and feet, putting action behind your intentions. That’s what the book is. Hopefully, it’s going to help a lot of people.

Zibby: Let’s go back to the first part because that was so great. You said, “The way we catch up with God is by slowing down and entering rest.” I think that’s such a good point. I think this whole period of time — maybe there’s a correlation to the timing of things, that we finally have all had time to sit with how we feel about things and what we’re thinking and what is fair and what isn’t fair and what changes we would like to see in the world and in our own lives and in our communities. Your whole message is that, what you just said, it’s so busy. I think about how crazy busy my life was before. I went through my calendar recently. Now of course, there’s almost nothing on my calendar. It’s just my podcast. My kids are here all the time, so there’s no logistics management. I have four kids. I was scrolling back to look something up. I was like, oh, my gosh, look how many things were on my calendar that week. How did I do that? Now I feel like there’s a new paradigm for rest and what we can take. Tell me just a couple more things. I know you just went over it, but tell me how we can slow down, aside from a pandemic. Now that things are slowly starting, how can we keep that really important fundamental truth as front and center?

Carlos: What, again, I want to make sure people understand is that entering rest, the point isn’t necessarily to lower your blood pressure. Although, that may be a fringe benefit. For me, the whole purpose of entering rest is so that the volume of things that need to be loudest in your life continue to go up. Let’s not blame anything, but our phones — I don’t know if you remember in the — at least for me, in the nineties I had an alarm clock next to my bed. That was literally just that. It was an alarm clock. All it did was wake me up. I would set it at night. Then I’d wake up in the morning and hit snooze. I’d get up and I’d start my day. Now my phone is my alarm clock. There’s been studies that show that people that use their phones in alarm clock, they normally hit snooze or hit stop, and then they swipe up and then go and they start swiping. They start consuming content. We consume more content in the first fifteen minutes before we even get out of bed than our parents would consume in an entire day. Again, I don’t want to be the phone patrol, but there’s no way that anxiety and depression can’t be linked with the amount that we are consuming. If you go back in history, this isn’t a new thing. This isn’t a new problem.

We may feel busy now, but I like to tell the Old Testament story of the Israelites that were freed from the Egyptians by Moses. It’s a great story where Moses has freed them. They’ve been slaves for hundreds of years. They’re finally going to the promised land. It’s super awesome. They get to the edge of the Red Sea. They’re like, oh, crap, what are we going to do? There’s an ocean in front of us. They turn around and they look behind them. They see the Egyptian army coming behind them. Now they freak out. It says that they said to Moses, “Look what you’ve done to us. You should’ve left us in Egypt to be slaves. There were plenty of graves for us in Egypt. Now we’re going to die out here.” Moses said something to them which was crazy. He says the words, “Stand still.” Literally it says in the scripture, “Stand still and you will see the Lord savior today. Stand still.” What’s crazy is even the Israelites back then were kind of in this crazy, like, oh, my gosh, what are we going do? What are we going to do? Which is the exact same thing that we do when I feel like what we need to do is just stop. Stand still. Every single time I stop and I stand still, that is when I feel my soul get saved. That is when I start to feel healing happen in my life, when we lower the volume of life, when we stand still. Of course for the Israelites, finally when they stood still, he stuck that rod in the sand. The sea split wide open and they walked to the promised land. For us, it’s going to look different. For us, standing still may be you finding something that really brings you life.

I love to tell people when I do corporate events, when is the last time that you actually jumped for joy? That’s a saying that people say all the time, jump for joy. When you think about it, when was the last time that you actually did that, there was so much joy that filled you that you actually jumped from the ground into the air? What was that? Find those things. Those are things that you’re created to do. Start doing more of that. For me, it’s become fly fishing. I love to stand waist-deep in a river and catch trout and put the trout back in the river. It’s just a calming, soothing place for me to get restored and to get renewed. The whole rest piece is vital. Especially in these days as we’re kind of coming back out of the pandemic, things begin to open back up, it’s going to be really easy for us to lose sight of the simple things that we’ve gotten to do. My family and I have taken a walk around our neighborhood every single day for three months. We never ever took a walk one time around my neighborhood. Now every day at five PM, we know what happens. We walk outside. We take the dog and we walk all the way around. We have the most incredible conversations. We’re entering rest. Our souls are being filled. I just don’t want people to lose that when things start getting crazy again.

Zibby: You’re so right. I’ve started taking walks with each kid. You have multiple kids. It’s so nice just to take a little walk with one kid. Meanwhile, I am mortified to admit this, but the last time I jumped for joy was when a car came into our driveway here, having not seen another human being basically for three months, carrying the groceries I had ordered online and I had my favorite brownies again. I jumped for joy. I jumped for joy to get the food. That’s pathetic, I guess.

Carlos: That is awesome. No, I love that. Brownies.

Zibby: Tell me a little about your writing process. Where and when do you like to write? How long does each book take you? What does that look like for you?

Carlos: Every book has been different. This is my third book. I had a first book called Moment Maker; second book called Kill the Spider; third book, Enter Wild. They’ve each taken a different version. I feel like as an author, now after my third book, I’m finally kind of feeling my rhythm, what it looks like for me. I love to write in public places. I’ll go to coffee shops. I’ll go to libraries. I love our local library here in Nashville. I put in my noise-canceling headphones. I’ve got a playlist for every single book I write. The first book had a playlist. Second book had a playlist. Sometimes the songs interchange, but it’s all epic movie soundtracks like Chronicles of Narnia or Braveheart or Gladiator. It’s funny because as I’m writing, whenever it gets to certain songs in the playlist, I can tell what chapters I wrote to what song because they’re just more epic. I like to write in public. I’m not real good at going to a cabin in the middle of a forest. I think that’s what a lot of writers think that it’s supposed to look like. I need to be around a lot of people. I’ll normally do it first thing in the morning. I’ll get up really early, six AM. I like to write until about nine and then take a little break. Then I’ll write again from two to five. I’ll try to get about seven thousand words in a day. That’s a lot of words. Most of my books are about sixty-five thousand words. I’ll end up writing about two hundred thousand words for each book. Then I just start chopping them down and editing them.

Zibby: That’s a lot of words in a day. I’m impressed. I am impressed.

Carlos: I love it. Then when I’m not writing a book, I like to write about a thousand a day just to keep the muscle going.

Zibby: Then you also have a podcast.

Carlos: I do.

Zibby: Which, by the way, has the best intro music I’ve ever heard for a podcast. That must be you, right?

Carlos: Yep. I’ve got “Fill in the Blank.” That’s a podcast that — I called it “Fill in the Blank” because I just want to talk about everything. I figured what better title for a podcast where I could talk about anything I want than “Fill in the Blank?” I have a lot of friends on the podcast. I’ve batched recorded a lot of interviews that are going to be coming out in the next few weeks. I’ve got a British pop star coming out next week. Then I’ve got my mom on the next podcast, so it’s whatever. It’s a fun outlet. I like to talk. It’s easy.

Zibby: That’s awesome. What’s coming next for you? Are you going to write another book? Are you already hard at work? You have so many balls in the air. What’s next?

Carlos: As of the time we’re recording this podcast, you and I, my book actually comes out tomorrow, Enter Wild does. By the time you guys are listening to this, it’ll have already been out. Really, for me, the big thing is to get this book out. I normally go on book tour. I had a sixteen-city tour that I was going to go on. Obviously, that’s all been canceled. I’ve just got to trust that the book’s going to get in the right people’s hands. I’m going to do a lot of events online. I’m going to do a lot of marketing over the next few months for Enter Wild. The next book, I have a two-book deal with Penguin. I’ve got another one. I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea what the next book’s going to be. I don’t know if they’re going to want to hear that. I’m really thinking about unpacking the first section of Enter Wild, the whole Enter Rest. I’m thinking about unpacking that into its own thing. I just feel like that concept could be something that so many people really need right now. Possibly, it’ll be about calming ourselves and resting and finally maybe getting back into the pace. I tell people all the time that three hundred years ago before there were any sort of planes — I don’t know when planes were invented, but I think it was after three hundred years ago — the average pace of a human being was three miles an hour. That’s how fast we walk. There is nothing about our lives that are three miles an hour now. I’ve thought about writing a book based on what life was like then and how we can take attributes of life from then and apply them now. Who knows? I also have a novel or two in me that I want to write. We’ll see.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Carlos: Yes. My advice would be write, write, write. Just vomit, vomit, vomit. If you’re writing every single day — like I said, I like to write a thousand words a day. I can look on my desk and it could be about my AirPods. I’m going to write a thousand words about what AirPods are. Just write every single day. I think a lot of people that want to write books have this idea that — it becomes so romantic, the whole book-publishing thing. It’s really work. It’s just work. The better you can get at writing, the better your books are going to be. A lot of people are getting book deals right now that have large platforms, that have lots of followers. To be honest with you, their books aren’t very good, but they sell a lot of books. At the end of the day, though, I don’t necessarily consider those people actual authors. I like to speak to authors. Authors are the ones that love to write. If you can develop your love for writing, then your books are going to sell themselves because they’re going to be good. Any aspiring authors, write, write, write. Don’t stop. Every single day, write.

Zibby: Love it. Now that we’ve talked, am I allowed to you call you Los? This was my goal because you said friends could call you Los. I’m trying to sneak in there.

Carlos: We are in. What’s your nickname, though? I’ve got to make sure I .

Zibby: My real name is Elizabeth, so my nickname is Zibby. My close friends call me Zibs, so you could do that.

Carlos: Okay. Zibs and Los. That sounds good.

Zibby: Okay, love it. It was so nice chatting with you. I wish you all the best at your launch tomorrow. I’m honored to have spoken to you today. I got a lot of great tips on anxiety. Your book was really useful and user-friendly and inspiring. I’m so glad that I found it or that it landed on my desk. It was so great.

Carlos: So good. Thank you, Zibs. Appreciate it.

Zibby: Take care. Thank you.

Carlos: See ya.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Carlos Whittaker, ENTER WILD