Todd Henry Wants You to Die Empty

Todd Henry Wants You to Die Empty

October 23, 2013 by

I had the privilege to sit down with Todd Henry, author of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Dayan important book with a haunting title.  The last two sentences of his previous book, The Accidental Creative, were “Die Empty. Don’t go to the grave with your best work still inside you.” The idea of Die Empty is not to work yourself to death, but to make sure that you’re acting on the things that matter to you every day.

We make sacrifices everyday for our work and vocation that often leave us feeling empty. How does the message of Die Empty counteract the unhealthy lifestyles many people tend to live?

Todd Henry: A lot of people make sacrifices that nobody is asking them to make in the service of their work. People make sacrifices they shouldn’t be making, in the service of their work. Some people think that sacrifice is a virtue and go through their life thinking, “Oh, I have to give up everything, all the time, or I’m not really engaged.” No. It’s not the “I’m giving up all the time.” It’s more about being willing to give up when circumstances call for it.

Look at Abraham and Isaac on the mountain, right? What did that encounter actually cost Abraham? It didn’t really cost him anything. It was the willingness to give up Isaac that was at play there. As a matter of fact, in the end, you see from the story that God provided the sacrifice, right? It didn’t really cost him anything, but it tested his willingness to sacrifice. I think we all have to position ourselves similarly. Are we willing to give up? Are we willing to pour ourselves fully? Are we willing to spend ourselves on behalf of something we care about?

It’s not so much that I have to be completely zapped all the time or I’m not working. The problem is that’s our metric. That’s the one thing we can measure. If I don’t feel like I’m completely spent, I feel worthless. That is an internal dialog we have to deal with because that’s not what’s being expected of us. That’s something we have to deal with on our own.

On the flip side of that, we cannot pursue comfort as an objective. As many people become more and more successful, comfort becomes their objective. They want to maintain what they’ve already got. That’s the short path to irrelevance and mediocrity.

You cannot pursue comfort and great works simultaneously. At some point, you will have to choose between the two. It doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable, along the path. It just means you can’t make that your objective. Those are two sides of the same coin. The truth is you have to stand in the middle and be willing to give what’s being called out of you.

What message does Die Empty have for those in leadership roles in churches around the world?

Todd: You have a tremendous responsibility. You are also laboring on behalf of something you care very deeply about. It’s impossible to separate what you care about in the very narrative that you see yourself living in from the activities that you do every day. When you work in vocational ministry in general, you face a unique set of pressures. You face a set of pressures that ties the very fabric of your life and the way that you perceive existence together with day-to-day tasks and objectives. All of those things now become one. There is no separation and it’s different because the missional nature of what you do is intertwined with everything.

The thing you have to watch when your work is so closely tied to the very nature of how you see the world is recognizing that you [still] have to obey the rhythms that you were created with, the rhythms that are baked into your very essence as a human being.

You also write in Die Empty about team conflict and, essentially, say that leaders can’t prioritize peace at the expense of the team’s best work.

Todd: You can have peace; it just can’t be your objective. The problem is that some teams think that conflict is a lack of health when the opposite is true. In fact, you should allow conflict on your team. People should be arguing  their viewpoint.

The question is: How quickly do those people turn and follow behind one another when it’s time to act on something, and is the conflict centered around ideas or is it personality based? There’s a difference between, “I can’t get along with this person” and “We have conflicting ideas and we fight and we argue and we disagree, but at the end of the day we recognize that we’re all on the same team.”

The problem is when people prioritize a lack of conflict it creates a veneer of health on the team, but underneath, people are still having those arguments and those conversations. You just don’t see them because they’ve gone beneath the surface. I’d rather have those arguments in public so we can address them and then move on.

What do you want your readers to grasp, when reading Die Empty?

Todd: Don’t lay your head down for the last time with regrets about where you spent your focus, assets, time and energy. Be purposeful about how you spend it so that someday you can point to your body of work and say, “Yes! That represents what I care about.” Die Empty doesn’t mean, “Be prolific and brilliant, but don’t be healthy.” The question becomes, are you structuring your life in such a way that you’re spending your focus, your assets, your time and your energy in such a way that’s helping you build a body of work you can be proud of later?


  • Read our review of Die Empty: Unleashing Your Best Work Every Day.
  • Buy a copy of Die Empty: Unleashing Your Best Work Every Day.
  • Read our review of Todd Henry’s 2011 book, The Accidental Creative.
  • Check out our guest post from Todd Henry, Eliminating False Assumptions.
  • For more from Todd Henry, check out his blog and visit for a free chapter.
  • Learn more about how to fight church communicator burnout. We do important work—sharing the gospel—but that doesn’t mean we can work ourselves to death.
Post By:

Jon Rogers

Jon Rogers currently serves The Salvation Army Empire State Division as the director of communications and marketing after more than 10 years of full-time ministry within the local church. A five-time Creative Missions-ary, Jon is passionate about three things: functional digital tools, good espresso and purposeful messaging.
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