Jim Akers: Have ‘Godfidence’ to pursue your purpose

Jim Akers grew up in Spokane, graduated college and moved to southern California where he lived until his granddaughter was born a year ago, which prompted a move back to the Pacific northwest. There, he spent 35 years in the paper industry, 25 of them as a senior corporate executive.

He started working in distribution for a paper company that was eventually purchased by International Paper. Then he switched to the manufacturing side before returning to distribution. His company manufactured printing paper and corrugated boxes, distributed simple things like toilet paper and copier paper, as well as designing and distributing sophisticated things like the boxes used to package cell phones.

Before Jim left the company, he was responsible for 23 locations employing 1,200 employees and generating $1 billion annually in revenue.

He loved the creative aspect of packaging, but thrived in developing people to work in specific jobs. His job was stressful, especially with 1,200 depending upon Jim to be successful, including everyone from blue collar employees working as drivers and warehouse staff to salespeople earning more than $1 million a year.

“No stress means being in a pinewood box with a lily in your hand,” he explained. “But, like a rubber band, some stress is essential. You have to be stretched to have enough resistance to hold everything else together.

“There was some stress in my job in trying to figure out how to create opportunities that excited people to follow a vision we laid out for them,” he added. “Having them want to be part of something great required a commitment to build something great.”

As is often the case, once people have achieved some level of success, an even bigger challenge exists to keep being successful, he explained.

“If you’ve been to the mountaintop, you had to go through some valleys to get there. So, you want to stay on the mountain, but life doesn’t work that way,” he said. “God gives us mountaintop experiences to inspire us to see what he has available to us. Then when we go into the valleys, we know he’s still there and calling us to something even greater while promising to never abandon us.”

Married for nearly 40 years, Jim and his wife have two sons and a 1-year-old granddaughter. He loves golf and even plays in winter months sometimes.

“When you’re managing a lot of people in a big organization, it can seem like you’re trying to push on a string. It’s hard to make progress because you’re trying to move a lot of parts,” he explained. That’s why I like golf. It’s just me and the results are mine. Many times when I golf, I’m not really focused on the score, but just going for a walk to clear my mind.”

Jim is a collector of books and built a wonderful library consisting of hundreds of books in his new home. He enjoys classics, but really loves biographies, especially those about business leaders.

“One of the greatest gifts you can leave your children and grandchildren is a great library,” he said. “I do read electronic books, but really love the feel of a book in my hands.”

Jim likes movies, too, such as inspirational family-friendly films, like Remember the Titans, as well as comedies, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Navigating an unreliable world

Jim wrote several books, the most recent one, Godfidence: Reliable Confidence for Navigating an Unreliable World, was released in March.

“For a long time, I used to ask God why he put me in certain circumstances. Now, at age 62, I realize he’s not going to tell me why,” he said. “The better questions are, ‘What do you want me to do with this Lord?’ ‘Where are you leading me?’ Then trusting him by taking the next step in that direction.”

Jim was pushed into an unexpected transition when he was pushed out of corporate life and a job he loved over nothing he had done.

“It’s such a tragedy to feel pushed out of jobs after you turn 50. But, as long as God has us breathing, we still have purpose to our lives,” he explained. “When forced to make a transition, we often think about why we didn’t deserve it. We feel defeated, think our best days have passed and we are incapable of going forward.”

However, that’s inaccurate because everything we have experienced in our lives prepares us for the next great chapter, whatever that may be. Rather than looking within ourselves for answers, we should look to our Creator instead to discover the purpose he put in us, Jim added.

Before turning 50, Jim’s most important accomplishments were being a husband and father as well as helping people grow in their careers.

“We will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in June 2022. The dividends of spending a lot of time with my sons is that they and their wives still like hanging out for us,” said Jim. “Professionally, I poured into people and watched their careers grow as they became capable leaders themselves.

“Even though I earned a lot of awards, if you look around my office today, you don’t see any of the trophies or crystal awards I earned,” he added. “But, you do see photos of people I worked with because they were what I most valued.”

In Godfidence, Jim writes about being 30 and looking for confidence in all the wrong places. His life was about winning success, power, prestige, money, cars, clubs, etc. But, as he zeroed in on the fourth quarter of his life, Jim realized it involved something even bigger. It wasn’t about what he got out of life, but what he could give back to others.

God fired him from his career

When people get fired or lose something important to them, many times they blame others and say they took something from them. But, Jim had a different revelation.

“In the sovereign, providential hand of God, nothing is outside of his purview or his control. So, I realized God fired me by doing whatever it took to get my attention,” he explained. “When we sit idly and just go through the motions of life, God is often begging us to talk to him. Because I was comfortable, I didn’t approach God for that conversation and didn’t realize he had other things for me to do.”

Early in his career at International Paper, Jim was tagged as a “high-potential” which meant he was being developed as someone to become a senior vice president or even CEO someday. As Jim approached his 53rd birthday, his career was right on track. But, within a 24-hour period, without warning it was all gone.

“On a Thursday, my entire team of 300-plus salespeople, sales leaders and division managers were all in a room celebrating the fact we had just completed another great year,” said Jim. “We were giving out awards and everyone was in a great mood.

“On Friday, I got a call telling me the company CEO wanted to meet with me on Monday – and she’s flying in just for the meeting,” Jim added. “When I walked into the meeting on Monday morning, I was told the company was going in a different direction and that all the group vice president jobs were being eliminated, including mine. My 35-year career was over just like that. There were no warning signs at all indicating this was even a possibility.”

After recovering from the initial shock, Jim had to assess his life and determine what he was going to do next.

“In hindsight, I took comfort in knowing God had been preparing me for this moment all along,” he said. “Because my wife and I are valiant savers, losing my job wasn’t going to be a financial hardship at the time. But, I did have to call my son who was attending law school and my younger son who was also in college and tell them, ‘Guess what?’ It wasn’t something anyone imagined.”

Stepping back

After being fired, Jim wrote a personal letter to 10 men for whom he had the utmost respect. Some were business connections; others were people from church and some were long-time friends. He laid out the situation and asked to meet with them individually for a conversation.

“It took me a while to work through all that, but I came to the conclusion the next thing I was going to do had to be enhancing God’s kingdom, and it had to be something I believed in and was excited about,” Jim explained.

“I also knew it had to do with people I would enjoy being with and pouring my life into, and they could pour into me,” he added. “Those three elements became the screens I now use to filter everything with which I get involved.”

Years ago, Jim wrote a book titled “Principles Work!: Six Principles for Winning at Home and Work.” In it, he exuded a confidence that made him look tough on the outside, but on the inside, he was upside down.

“All the elements of confidence that I had were worldly based. I thought I could dig into a couple of new goals, grab this problem by the tail and beat it,” he explained. “But the more I tried to do that, the more defeated I became.

“I had a Bible I probably got for a confirmation or graduation present when I was around 16 years old. I had the book for 40 years. I had made lots of notes and underlined many passages,” he added. “One of the verses I highlighted was Jeremiah 29:11.

“In that passage, God says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future,’” Jim explained. “But that verse was conditional and I didn’t notice it until I got to that stage in my life. ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’“

Reading those passages caused Jim to realize he needed to get his spiritual grounding back. In fact, it became the essential element of his recovery.

“When I started praying to God, looking for his guidance and surrendering myself to his will, then the focus for my next steps became clear,” he explained.

Quiet expectation

The period in Jim’s life following his abrupt dismissal from International Paper was very quiet. Everyone expected him to get another job immediately working for another company. In fact, he expected it himself.

“But, you know what, the phone didn’t ring at all. I also resisted any outplacement work because I decided to give it all over to God,” he said.

“Prior to getting fired, I really had no appreciation for people who had gone through depression or serious circumstances that kept them out of the game,” he added. “Suddenly, it was as though I was standing on the edge of a grave wondering about drugs, alcohol, infidelity – all those things.”

Fortunately, he never ventured in that direction, primarily because he sought God every day instead.

“I’d start each morning by saying, ‘I’m not enough today, Lord, but you are.’ That went on for almost three years,” he explained. “In the end, although it took a while for me to find my bearings, I felt called to write. I was already an accomplished speaker, but I knew my messages could help others.”

It was almost three years to the date from his departure at International Paper until Jim released his second book, “Tape Breakers: How to Maximize Your Impact with People You Love, Teams You Lead and Causes That Stir Your Hearts.” That book was the first step in Jim’s new life.

“In Tape Breakers, there is a lot of the old outward, confident Jim coming out in the writing and it does have an element of faith to it,” he explained. “But, my next book tells the rest of the story.”

Godfidence” is what emerged after Jim had been broken and he allowed God to refocus his attention, redefine his purpose and build a life under God’s foundation rather than his own.

Hitting the wall

One section of Godfidence describes what it takes to finish an assignment once you’ve hit the wall. He cites research conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary which examined 2,930 people mentioned by name in the Bible and found there was enough data on 100 of them to know how they finished.

“The majority of people failed later in life. How did that happen to these godly men and women?” Jim asked. “They knew God and they knew his plan. They were instructed in all these things, yet they failed. Why?

“It turns out their focus ended up ultimately turning away from God and his goodness,” he added. “Look at the contrast between Judas and Job. Judas lived with Jesus every day, but eventually took his eyes off of Jesus. Job never failed to honor God or celebrate what God was doing, even in the midst of tremendous pain and disappointment.”

To live a successful life full of confidence requires people to pursue God and lay everything out for him and accept the direction he wants them to go, he explained. The purpose God has for people may not be grand at all.

The last chapter of Godfidence is titled One-On-One with Jesus. It describes YOFO – the fact that You Only Finish Once. The essence of finishing well necessitates that we fix our heart on God’s purposes for our lives.

“A purpose that may be as simple God saying, ‘Jim, your assignment is to pray these five people or caring for this one individual.’ Would that be enough?” he asked. “Sometimes it is hard to accept God’s greater purpose because our current culture, hyped by social media say everything must be grand.

“I had to change my thinking to say, ‘Lord, don’t let me concern myself with the size or scope of what I am doing, but that it just pleases you,’” Jim explained. “Did I honor you today, God? That’s where people can rejuvenate and find purpose.”

It can be found through the magic of mentoring. For people struggling with a sense of purpose, Jim has an easy solution.

“Ask yourself if I took all my life experience, both good and bad, and poured that into one person, like a single mother or a young athlete, could it be life changing for both of us,” he explained. “We think impact has to be grandiose, but God often wants us to impact one life at a time.”

Forming a foundation

Years ago, Jim elected to defer some of his compensation to retirement at which time he would receive it as a lump sum or spread over five years. Either way, it would be taxed as regular income later in his life. But, after losing his job, Jim received a rather large amount of deferred compensation of which 59% was going to wind up being used to pay taxes.

So, Jim and his wife took a different route. They formed a family foundation. As a result, the tax bill went down and they have money to give away as a blessing to others.

“My boys and their wives are all part of the foundation in directing where that money goes every year to advance God’s kingdom,” said Jim. “My oldest son does an excellent job managing the investments so we have money to impact things like homelessness, hunger and human trafficking.

“We are motivated to make the foundation grow so we can impact more people and bless other organizations doing really heavy lifting with their godly work,” he added.

Jim also selects five people to provide one-on-one coaching services every year. He works with people to strengthen their businesses, but more importantly, to develop their faith.

“I get really excited about having coaching conversations with them because we don’t just talk about business, but about life, family and how my clients can best fulfill those roles,” he said.

“I have met people for whom I hope it doesn’t rain the day of their funeral otherwise nobody will show up. They didn’t have any impact on the lives of others,” he added. “But, every one of us has the opportunity and ability to touch somebody’s life. That interaction could change their life forever and work to influence God’s kingdom, too.”

What’s the next step

For anyone wanting to find and pursue their God-given purpose, Jim offers some advice.

“When you get up in the morning, simply ask God, ‘What’s my next best right step that would bring you glory today?’ Then get busy doing that,” said Jim. “Also, look for ways to serve others without thinking about what you can get in return. Even if it’s the humblest of circumstances, figure out a place to serve.

“Finally, identify who you want to remember you and what you want to be remembered for,” he added. “People will remember us more for things we did near the end of our lives than they will for what we did when we were younger. Answer those questions, and your purpose will produce itself.”

To connect with Jim, visit www.jimdakers.com.

Jim’s books are available at these links. If you click on them, Forward From 50 might earn a small commission.