Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

No One Knows How Far I’ll Go

Written by: on January 14, 2022

Moana is the story of an intense, fiercely feminine, non-weaponized teenager who sees possibilities that lay outside of her reach.  She is ambitious and has a sense there is more to life on the island that would require venturing out into the unknown sea. She is not satisfied with the “here and now” or doing what is expected of her. Moana desires exposure to new challenges; she anticipates discovering herself.  She sings,

“I can lead with pride,
I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

See the light as it shines on the sea?
It’s blinding
But no one knows
How deep it goes

And it seems like it’s calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What’s beyond that line?”[1]

Moana is empowered by the “Anticipation” molecule, dopamine.


Daniel Lieberman, MD and Michael Long unpack as “unmessily”(I think I just created a word) as possible, the power of one particular molecule in the human brain in The Molecule of More. Lieberman and Long make the argument that one molecule, dopamine, in the brain drives humans desires, aspirations, feeds our creative nature, and pushes the human to crave more. They utilize insights from psychology, neuroscience, and social studies to illuminate the role this powerful brain chemical has in our thoughts and behavior.  They explore the dynamics of dopamine and its impact on love, addiction, domination, creativity, politics and progress.  And they contrast dopamine with the “H&N” molecules of serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and endocannabinoids that produce feelings of satisfaction and contentment with what is right in front of you.

I resonate with Moana; the desire to venture out beyond boundaries of what is seen and to pioneer a new way forward.  Change and the unknown are not things that cause me fear.  Her song speaks to me.  And as I read this book, I saw reflections of my dopamine tendencies. One that sticks out is tenacity. They write, “To bring an idea to fruition we must struggle with the uncompromising realities of the physical world.  We need not only knowledge but also tenacity.  Dopamine, the chemical of future success, is there to deliver.”[2] Before this book, I thought of tenacity as a character trait not a result of a surge of dopamine. Having the courage to explore, to chart a course forward into the future, to realize a dream, to not have a failure of nerve requires the presence of dopamine. I wonder how a leader can access this rush when they are on the verge of giving up? Edwin Friedman talks about self-differentiated leadership from the point of view of self-awareness.[3] Is it possible it isn’t as much about awareness as it is accessing dopamine?

I also recognize how much I value creativity, not solely from an arts perspective but also when problem solving. As I continue the journey of meaning making I have begun to appreciate creativity as a partner in understanding.  The authors conversation around Model Making and the power dopamine plays in the process of creativity was eye opening. They paint a picture of how our brain works to order ones reality, “Models are imaginary representations of the world that we build in order to better understand it….Models contain only the elements of the environment that the model builder believes are essential.”[4] It is interesting to know that one’s world view is connected to a balanced dopamine presence empowering the brain to be creative….to utilize imagination, while pointing to how biases are possibly formed and how critical thinking is practiced.  I do wonder how this impacts Daniel Kahneman’s description of 2 tiered system of fast and slow thinking.[5]

Lieberman and Long go on to say that using models is only useful to the extent that they are utilized with an open mind.[6] Flexibility to incorporate new ideas or to alter the model is needed for growth.  One must be able to contextualize a particular model.  They recognize that humans have a tendency to solidify in stone ones approach or understanding if not mindful. They challenge me to remember being a change agent/pioneer requires a flexible spirt, to have an openness to take in new information and reframe ones model.  This is what the expansion of one’s world view encompasses.

I find the language of Lieberman and Long of the “up world and down world”[7] relates to the theological framework of the Here/Not Yet reality of God’s kingdom.  Often the church struggles to allow the intersection of these realities guide our identity. The church gets stuck on what is in front of it and finds it difficult to be creative and take risks.  This logic would suggest that the church needs a dopamine high more often.  Edwin Friedman’s notion that an anxious system has a low threshold of pain and resists change.  Is the presence of anxiety that which keeps the increase of dopamine from occurring.  How does this impact the churches’ ability for innovation? As I begin interviewing with churches and inquire about their pioneering spirit (asking them how far they will go), I am realizing I need to find balance in my dopamine control system while encouraging churches to find the beauty of creative release.  Perhaps I will find a church that is ready to go as far as I am.




[1] Moana. Disney Film. 2016

 [2] Lieberman, Daniel Z., and Michael E. Long. 2018. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. 1st Edition. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books. Page 66

[3] Friedman, Edwin H., and Peter Steinke. 2017. A Failure of Nerve, Revised Edition: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 10th Anniversary edition. New York: Church Publishing. Page 24-33

[4] Lieberman, Daniel Z., and Michael E. Long. 2018. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. 1st Edition. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books. Page 121

[5] Kahneman, Daniel. 2013. Thinking, Fast and Slow. 1st edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.. Page 21-22

[6] Lieberman, Daniel Z., and Michael E. Long. 2018. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. 1st Edition. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.. Page 124

[7] Ibid, xvi

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

12 responses to “No One Knows How Far I’ll Go”

  1. mm Eric Basye says:

    Wow. I am impressed by your syntypical writing! Well done; I LOVE the connections. And, I love the intro with Moana. I resonate with that for sure, and especially appreciate you comment and insight on the concept of tenacity. Could it be that it is a character train, but fueled by dopamine? No need to answer. Just a thought.

  2. mm Andy Hale says:

    If only the church could be more forward-thinking, not just in the life in the age to come, but in hopefulness of what comes after this 21+ month mess we have been in.

    But I fear many churches are too caught up in the here and now to consider what satisfaction might come if we can not become consumed with the here, considering now what God can do through us to prepare for the future.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Andy I think church leaders must be courageous and access the dopamine. I also think leaders need to invite people into being creative…maybe by first starting with coloring in worship….
      What ideas do you have for leading your congregation past the trauma of the pandemic?

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole – Your post reminded me of a question I had while I was reading this text in regards to the church and dopamine. I was wondering where in relationship to following Jesus, disciples (past and present) activate dopamine — worship? calling? serving? From your vantage point, I’m wondering where you most often see that surge take place as you walk and lead a congregation.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Kayli I have seen it when I invite them to do arts and crafts in worship. Kick starting the creativity rush seems to help…even if they do not see it. However I also think the church suffers from dopamine depletion. I am also convinced that the first chapter on love has something to do with your question. I think unpacking more the balancing of the circuitry coming in maturity is worth informing your question. What thoughts have you had regarding the role dopamine has had on followers of Jesus?

  4. Nicole, Great post and good work weaving Friedman and Kahneman in here. So synoptical of you. 🙂 I’m thinking about your correlation with system 1 and 2 thinking, and how dopamine may interact. What connections do you see/draw from Kahneman and Lieberman/Long?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Michael I see the dopamine control circuit connecting to the system 2 purposeful and intentional thinking. The interesting divergence I think is that according to Lieberman and Long dopamine has no moral or ethical intention. I think system 1 in its almost instinctual fast thinking nature connects to the dopamine desire circuit. I do think there is also at play the H&Ns…but I think they weave through both “systems”….Admittedly I need to revisit Kahneman in order to speak with a more informed confidence. What are the connections you see?

  5. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Nicole, I like how you make a connection between Moana’s song/anticipation and Dopamine. Indeed, like the Dopamine-inspired protagonist in most movies, most achievers probably depend on Dopamine in their anticipation and pursuit of a better future

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Nicole. Thank you for your post! I really appreciate the connections you make with Friedman and Kahneman, along with your personal reflections on tenacity and congregational capacity for pioneering innovation. Your replies to questions from our team members have also provided additional insights. Thank you for those conversations.

    I found especially interesting your engagement with the authors conversation around Model Making. I’m curious: if “Models are imaginary representations of the world that we build in order to better understand it….Models contain only the elements of the environment that the model builder believes are essential,” how would you use/do you use creativity as a leadership tool to help congregation members include new elements in their models that represent the world of their congregation and their understanding of God’s call on their congregation’s life to join in God’s passionate care for their immediate community and the world beyond?

  7. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nicole, your posts are so creative! I love it! I can only imagine that your sermons are equally as creative. I think you hit on something with the church is somewhat stuck in the here and now. During my research last spring I came across Alan Hirsch and his work in bringing the creative and risk taking back into the church. His perspective is that the church community has banned the leaders that could disrupt the stability from the church. Particularly, the apostolic personality. Are you familiar with his books?

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