(Photo courtesy of Pure Publicity)
Q&A: Josh Burnette (“Adulting 101”)
By Sarah Komisky
To develop empathy, it is said that we must walk a mile in someone’s shoes. For Josh Burnette, owner of Chick-fil-A®, this became a life goal. Working hard behind the counter of the famous food-chain early on as a team member, he came back to the restaurant to combine his love for business and people. As current Owner/Operator of a Chick-fil-A® in Little Rock., employing over one hundred people, the experience proved to be grounds to create a resource to help the young adults he employed. The resource would be the book “Adulting 101” which he himself co-wrote with his mentor Pete Hardesty. With business experience, mentoring experience serving in the past as a Young Life leader in college working with a local high school, and life experience as he walked alongside the lives of many young adults with his wife, the book has proven to be a work close to his heart. As Burnette saw a need for young people to be better equipped at home and school, he decided to do something. Mentoring young adults at his own Chick-fil-A®, Burnette also strives to reach a broader spectrum of young people who need practical guidance through his book. His hope – equip this generation with the tools they need for success. Here’s what he had to say on the subject.
I thought we could jump into going back to you as a teen and growing up working at Chick-fil-A® What was that like for you, and what were the things that you learned about growing up through that experience?
Josh: I think any job for a high school student is so crucial in growing up. For me, I had a chance to work on a team that was very large, different types of people, different types of backgrounds, communication styles, and it really helped mature me in a lot of ways. So, I’m very thankful to my boss for not getting too frustrated with the knucklehead high school kid and being patient with me, as I still had a lot to learn. But as I learned so much through that time. Really, so much is about communication, customer service, and learning patience. It was such a valuable time for me, and as a result of that, getting a paycheck––it was so helpful to learn how to manage that money well and effectively. Even as a 14 or 15-year-old team member that makes a few bucks, it was a building block for me for the rest of my life. If I could manage the very small amount well, then hopefully I could do even more with more. I learned so much through having a job in high school, and I didn’t work all the time or crazy hours, but just the act of being employed, being responsible to someone else other than my parents, someone I had to work hard for…incredible lessons learned through that time of life.
Most times, teenagers and some young adults in college don’t really think long term; they think in the moment. How can you encourage young people that are going to read this to start thinking about the long-term effects of the future?
Josh: I think it’s only natural to think of the immediate. I think that’s totally normal for every adolescent, young adult, even college students….what’s the here-now, what’s the test coming up, what’s the sport event. That is normal. The hope behind Adulting 101––the premise of the first two chapters is setting forth this idea that your life really matters, and whether or not you realize you leave a wake behind you, you’re going to impact many people throughout the course of your day. What does that look like? Are you being intentional about the ramifications of that? Or are you not? We spend the first two chapters with this perspective of what do you want to be remembered for. What is most important in life? It’s a little bit higher level, and then all of the rest of the chapters are very detail oriented. “Here’s how you save money; here’s how you budget,” that sort of thing. We really want to kick it off with “your life is about a lot more than just you.” What we have found with adults that have purchased this book for maybe their student or maybe for someone that works for them is to create launching points with the dialogue. Adulting 101 is such a good resource to go back to or to have conversations with students around saying, “hey, what do you want life to be about? What’s most important to you?” We try to give that perspective.
I didn’t know Pete was one of your mentors; maybe you can share with me what that experience was like––having a mentor yourself––and doing this project with him?
Josh: So in college, I was doing Young Life. Pete was my boss, and at the end of our senior year, right before we were going to graduate, he would take all the graduating seniors that had been with him for four years––leading and loving on students–– to a grocery store, and he would hand out this packet of life-wisdom. Everything from how to dress to how to invest to when do you write a thank-you card–just all these basic life skills. And then he took us around a grocery store and showed us how to grocery shop. Which I wish he had done four years prior, but it was still super helpful. Pete, even early on during my college years, he poured into me so much about leadership perspective as he helped me understand what it looked like to build relationships and care for people well. As I’m graduating, he’s like, “here’s all my adulting in formation.” I still have that physical packet––I’ve added to it over the years––and I’ve referenced that thing a million times since graduating. I’ve gone back to that packet of wisdom so many times. I’ve made many copies of it and have sent that packet out to my team members over the year. Pete and I have maintained a great relationship since I’ve graduated. He’s still involved in YoungLife; I’ve obviously moved to Chick-fil-A®. I was like “Pete, kids don’t know how to buy a car. I need to help them with this. Would you help me write this book?” And that was the beginning of it.
Maybe you can share a little bit about where you’d suggest as a starting point to find a mentor.
Josh: I think there’s going to be some natural people who will pop up in your life that if you think through what you want to be good at 5 or 10 years from now, you think through the people who are already there and just ask them out to a cup of coffee. I feel like sometimes this word “mentor” is this big, overwhelming, weekly relationship or something. Really, the idea is you’re just looking for somebody wiser, smarter, and further along in this journey of life than you are. You want to pick their brain and learn from them. I either asked them out to a meal or to coffee and said, “Hey, I want to be where you’re at. How do I get there and what learnings did you have that you’d recommend to me?” Some of those are going to be relationships you already have that are built out, and others will happen whether it’s work, whether it’s an organization you’re involved in. Even now, I’m in the stages of parenting two young kids. But I have this opportunity to see all these young adults that have turned out great that work in my organization, so my wife and I have been taking their parents out to dinner. It’s one of those things that’s like, “Hey, your kids are phenomenal; how did you go about it, or how did you train them, so they turned out this way?” I have a three and a one-year-old, and I’ve realized how little I knew about parenting. It’s been such a cool opportunity to interview the kids parent’s that work for me.
What really caught my eye in this book was the chapter about dating and relationships. That too can cause an emotional bankruptcy when we make the wrong choices. Talk about why this relationship is so important to include in the book in terms of our current relationship and what they’re dealing with.
Josh: I think this is a gigantic piece of every young person’s life; they’re really thinking about relationships. They’re getting inputs from everywhere, whether that’s inputs from school, work, home, the internet, or whatever that might look like. This is an area that’s enormously challenging and confusing. While this isn’t something, I necessarily engage in with my team members, I know it’s stuff that they’re going through, so we wanted to be able to carve out a part of this book that says, “Hey, we know this is hard. You’re in the thick of this right now, and here’s some things that we’ve learned, here’s some things that I’ve learned, in our respective stories. And hopefully that can make your life a little bit easier, learning from our mistakes. Just identifying and saying we know this is huge; we care a lot more about relationships than any budgeting right now.
What has been the response? Like you said, you’ve been giving this to the young adults that work for you. What have they’ve been saying as you’ve given it to them?
Josh: That was the whole purpose for me was to say, “hey, I know I have a hundred people or more on my team consistently,” I want to be able to pour into their lives, so we give this book out as a gift during orientation to say “hey, welcome to the team. We want to give a little background about Chick-fil-A® , a little bit of my background.” I think they really enjoy it because some of their stories pop up in it as well–-and obviously names have been changed and all that––but just getting a chance to learn from people that are their same age and potentially even engage with and are working in the same place that they’re working in. I think it’s been super relatable as well as practical, which has been the hope behind it. Hopefully, they see the heart my wife and I have for them and that we care about them much more than the work that they can do for us; it’s “hey, we love you care for you as a person,” and they’ve given great feedback. They were actually the source of a lot of content of this. I’d send out polls and surveys to my teams and say, “Hey; what are you struggling with right now? Or hey, what’s something you want to learn about, or what’s something you wanted to learn in your early 20s?” They’ve given me a ton of feedback.
I wanted to talk about millennials. You said this book was written for them. They’re very busy, and in this book, you talk about time management. Share a little bit about how we can better manage our time and also maximize it in this generation that is so fast paced.
Josh: It is fast paced. I think the first thing to realize is that it is a much heavier information generation than we’ve ever had. Inputs are coming in from all directions. I think the first step is really balancing that life. This is crazy, and then stepping back from your calendar and going, “Okay, which is the most important thing to me?” I can tell you what you value based upon where you spend your time at. We talk about the idea of having big rocks; so if your life is a mason jar, often times we fill up our lives with these small things that don’t matter much (which would be grains of sand), versus the bigger rocks, whether that’s family, church, homework, or work, we have a tendency to fill our lives with the little stuff first instead of last. It’s an analogy I’ve used with my team numerous times to say “Hey, are you filling your lives up with the big rocks first?” For me, something that I’m even learning right now is to just put my phone away. I, like so many, live a life glued to my phone. That is not the best thing for me and my health, my family, or anything else. You’re constantly available, so I ditched my smartwatch. I answer emails just a couple of times a day now. Whenever I come home, I plug in my phone and walk away from it. You wouldn’t believe how freeing that is. I think the best thing you can do for time management is creating boundaries for yourself, whether that’s around phone use, work, or just anything you do. The creation of boundaries and understanding when you’re going to do what.
How would you address the question “when life takes a turn and has a different plan, yet you’re trying to do all the right things?”
Josh: I think a lot of times we launch out of school and stuff feels really weird. Life is just strange, in so many ways across so many platforms. Everything from your friend group is gone, to nobody’s telling you when to be in class or what homework to do. We even have an appendix on life after college, what to expect. It’s to be okay when things aren’t always okay. I think first is taking a deep breath, knowing it’s going to be alright. The second thing I genuinely believe is work begets more work. Even if it’s not the position you want to be in forever, having a job of any kind––even if it’s not what you expected right out of the gates––will help you get to the next place in life. What I’m finding is more and more students want their first job to be their final job, in terms of the expectations around the role or compensation or how quickly they move up the ladder. Just realizing that out of the gate after school…it’s not going to be exactly what you expect, but if you can go out and get almost any job, it’s going to help propel you forward. Again, not ideal, not perfect, but especially in an economy with such low employment, there’s certainly more opportunities for work than there have been in a while.
What is the thing that you learned personally through your book?
Josh: First, it was a ton of fun writing with my mentor because as he was writing and sending me chapters, I was learning so much from that. It was awesome. Really, for me, just being humbled by the opportunity that has existed to get a chance to do this. I did not know the first thing about writing a book when all this kicked off, and I went into it with complete ignorance. For me, I have learned a tremendous amount about the industry, about marketing, about a world that I didn’t know about. I am so thankful I got to do this, to be a part of this ride. Hopefully I’ve been able to share some stuff with students to be able to help them launch a little better.