Category Archives: Lists

Goals, Goals, Everywhere Goals: Aiming for a Bigger Life

“The moment you put a deadline on your dream, it becomes a goal.” –Harsha Bhogle, The Winning Way 

Hello friend,

I have never been much of a goal-setter. Don’t get me wrong; I have always been a dreamer and driven to do great things in my life. I have taken risks and made sacrifices in my attempt to leave my mark on the world. But I have done all that without setting many specific goals. I can’t say why exactly. It just didn’t feel like me. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to feel contained, and goals can sometimes feel like fences to me. I have typically preferred to trust my intuition on how much of something I need, where I need to push, and where to pull back.

But in the last few years, as I have continued to examine my life in my journal and in these letters to you, I have had this creeping sense of disappointment and regret as it has become increasingly clear that I have failed to live up to all of those dreams and ambitions. Eventually, I was bound to ask myself why, and I have been slowly allowing those questions in. I wondered if maybe it was because I haven’t pushed myself hard enough and consistently enough to make the big strides I imagine myself capable of. But why? After all, I had the dreams. I had the drive. I began to wonder if maybe I just didn’t have the right plan. Maybe I needed a new method.

Enter Oola.

A couple of months ago, my sister, who is into self-help/personal growth books and always has her eyes open for things that can help her and her business grow, treated me to a new book that she had been raving about. It was called Oola: Find Balance In An Unbalanced World. In it, the authors, Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl, write about the importance of living in a way that is balanced and growing in all the major areas of life, what they call “The Seven F’s of Oola”: Fitness, Finance, Family, Field (career), Faith, Friends, and Fun. In my old Life Coaching classes, this resembled what is commonly referred to as “The Wheel of Life”.

I am always on the lookout for tips on doing LIFE better, so I plowed through the meat of the book, taken in by the stories of these two guys and how the seven aspects played out in their lives. I knew they grew up in my neck of the woods and were of a similar age, so I also wanted to glean some insight into how they became successful and which tips I might borrow for my own life.

A couple of weeks ago, as I approached the very last section of the book, I was thinking I wasn’t getting much that was soul-stirring or deeply inspirational out of it. I was eager to be done with it, hoping to find something a bit more life-changing from my next read.

But in those last pages was a challenge that would change the entire experience for me. Well, at least I hope it will.

Whenever someone tells me they read my weekly letters or that they read my book, I always want to know if they do more than read it. Do they write their own journal entry about the questions raised? Do they engage someone in a conversation about it? Do they at least take some time to ponder the issue and how it intersects with their own life? I tend to think that the only way to get anything out of my writing is to truly engage with it: to ponder, to discuss, and hopefully to write about it. I definitely hope that my words will be more than just read. Speaking as the sensitive author, I don’t feel like my work can be fairly judged unless you have done the deep diving.

So there I was, beginning to judge the Oola book, when it turned the tables on me. It asked of me what I ask of my readers: to get out my pen and dive deep into the way these “Seven F’s” could change my life. The only catch: I had to set goals. And not just a few, but twenty-one: three for each of the seven areas on the Oola Wheel.

What a predicament! Of course, the idea of setting twenty-one goals–specific, measurable type of goals–was immediately off-putting to my personality, so I was inclined to reject the challenge outright. But. (Oh, the BUT!) But it seemed like my integrity was on the line. How could I defend my own writing’s quality from people who didn’t fully engage it if I wasn’t willing to fully engage this book? That wouldn’t be right. And the other, bigger BUT. But how can I keep rejecting goal-setting if my usual, comfortable method of just going with my gut hasn’t gotten me where I want to be in life?

The writing was on the wall. It was time to get out of my comfort zone. And so it came to pass that I took my pretty-but-somewhat-blurry dreams and gave them some definition, some real numbers, some deadlines.

I made goals. Twenty-one of them. Here they are:

FITNESS

  1. Get my weight to 203 by December 31, 2018. (That is somewhere from 5-7 stubborn pounds to lose.)
  2. Do a full yoga practice at least once per week.
  3. Add rowing to at least one cardio workout every week.

FINANCE

  1. Make more money than we spend each month.
  2. Get a higher paying job with benefits.
  3. Put $250 into a vacation fund every month.

FAMILY

  1. Have one Family Game Night/Family Movie Night per week.
  2. Have one devoted couple activity (game, TV show, whatever) per week.
  3. Take the epic Montana Road Trip by the end of 2020.

FIELD

  1. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible.
  2. Spend time every week writing my next book.
  3. Join my wife full-time in her new business by January 1, 2020.

FAITH

  1. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  2. Take a weekly nature walk practicing mindfulness and gratitude.
  3. Develop a nightly gratitude “prayer” or practice.

FRIENDS

  1. Connect with Johnny in person at least once every two months.
  2. Engage one new person in conversation each week.
  3. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone call each month.

FUN

  1. Become a regular tennis player again–once a week–in the warmer seasons.
  2. Write my second book–spend devoted time every week.
  3. Practice the guitar at least three times per week for at least 15 minutes.

Of these twenty-one, the Oola guys recommend that while you can keep all of them and work toward them, it is helpful to pull out your top seven that would make the biggest impact on your life right now (it doesn’t have to be one from each area). I chose these seven:

  1. Make more money than we spend every month.
  2. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible. (I also chose this as my “OolaOne”, the single thing that would make the biggest immediate impact.).
  3. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  4. Write my second book, devoting time every week.
  5. Practice my guitar at least three times per week, at least 15 minutes each.
  6. Have one devoted couple activity each week.
  7. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone each month.

There they are! It was a grind for me, I fully admit, but even my fluid mind is sitting here appreciating how concrete they all look in their tidy lists with all the details included. It definitely helped to use the popular goal-setting method called S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, Time-based), as that kept me from being vague and slippery. These definitely feel more like the opening quote: like dreams with deadlines. Goals.

Having just finished the exercise, I can tell that all of the specifics are very new to me and my usual processing. My inner world is trembling a bit, no doubt. My cheese has been moved. But I can also see how this will be really, really good for me. That is, it will be really good if I follow this up with the appropriate action steps, like daily To-Do Lists filled with items that work directly toward those goals. I am excited, both to start achieving these goals and just to see my world through a new set of lenses. I think I needed it. No, I’m sure I did. Now that I have some goals, I am charged up and ready for action. I’m off to get my Oola on!

How about you? How do you do with goal-setting in your life? Open up your journal and examine the role of goals in your world. Do you have specific goals in your life right now? What are they? Are they far away things–like an advanced degree or retirement–or something you will accomplish within the next year? How aware of your goals are you on a day-to-day basis? Do you use them to guide your behavior on a normal day, or are they just something you check in with once in a while to see if life is generally heading in the right direction? How specific and measurable do you get in your goal-setting? Do you have exact dates and numbers in mind so you can be certain as to when the goals are reached? Do you have someone in your life who holds you accountable for your goals, or do you count on your own discipline to get you there? Would an accountability partner help? How realistic are your goals? Do you have a strong chance of reaching them? Do you gain confidence when you reach a goal, no matter how small? Whether or not you currently have goals or are aware of how balanced and growing your life is, does the concept of setting multiple goals in each area of your life appeal to you? Have you ever done something like this? So, go ahead. What are three goals you can make for yourself in each of the seven areas: health & fitness, money, family, career, faith/spirituality, friends, and hobbies/fun? In which area are goals easiest for you to make? In which area are you most likely to achieve your stated goals? In which area are you most likely to fail? Is systematic goal-setting foreign to you? How does it feel now doing it? Does it make you more eager to make a plan to achieve them? If you had to choose one goal to pursue that would make the biggest impact on your life right now, which one would it be? Are you willing to commit to that? What small steps can you take today to move in that direction? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which goals can you set to move yourself in the direction of your best life?

Go get it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it on social media. Let’s go after our dreams together!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

The Movie Lines That Narrate My Life

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” –Martin Scorsese

Hello friend,

“BUONGIORNO, PRINCIPESSA!!!!”

If those words—and the image of Roberto Benigni’s effervescent spirit—bring an instant smile to your face, you just might be a member of my tribe. They come from the film Life Is Beautiful, one of my all-time favorites. And even though the movie’s dialogue is all in Italian, somehow that line has become part of the story of my life, something I quote regularly and smile about often. That is how a great movie is, and especially a well-written one.

I love writers and their words. Whether they come from a song, a newspaper, a novel, a blog, or a screenplay, I am captivated by the language that these talented people use to tell the story of our lives and times. While I definitely appreciate journalists and non-fiction writers—I include myself in this category—I am particularly envious and in awe of the writers who pull these amazing tales and beautiful words right out of their souls. It is an astonishing gift.

What makes movies such a transcendent art-form to me is that they combine the writer’s beautiful gift with the talents of so many other artists: actors, directors, cinematographers, lighting designers, costume designers, musicians, and on and on. All of these great artists come together for one thing: to bring to life the words of the writer.

And they live! Oh, how they live.

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I assess people is how well they incorporate movie lines into their everyday lives. Someone who can effortlessly insert a great quote into their conversation that fits the situation perfectly absolutely scores some points in my book.

It has been a while since I was fluent on the popular movies of the day—one of the many failings that I blame on having children—but I still cling to memories of my old favorites (and I have even added my kids’ animated selections to my repertoire). And since I spend much of my time alone or with children, much of my dialogue is contained among the many characters swimming around in my head. They seem to have fun, though, so I don’t judge. Let them talk!

These are some of the lines that regularly make their way into the screenplay of my life (I will try to give you the clean version, though truthfully, I have quite a knack for internal commentary that is a bit more, shall we say, colorful). Enjoy! 

“No pain! No Pain!” –Duke, Rocky IV. Perfect for pretending I am really working out hard. Otherwise, I just sing “Eye of the Tiger”. 

“Ah man, first The Fat Boys break up, and now this!” –Boney T, Boomerang. When something good ends, it is comforting to have Chris Rock’s voice in my head. 

“Ah, hon, ya got Arby’s all over me.” –Marge, Fargo. I have little ones, so I am muttering this one all day long. 

“My father stormed the beach at Normandy!” –Teddy, Stand By Me. I have this at the ready any time someone starts telling a potentially embarrassing story—as inevitably they all are—about a family member of mine. 

“South America. It’s like America, but South.” –Ellie, Up. I insert this into any conversation about geography. What? 

“What the hell is Goofy?” –Vern, Stand By Me. If your children spend any time watching Disney and Mickey Mouse, you need this line to keep you sane. Trust me. 

“I’m not a smart man….but I know what love is.” –Forrest, Forrest Gump. Because I have a lot of opportunities to remind myself that I am not a smart man. 

“You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.” –Buzz, Toy Story. Though this will come into your head often in this world, I recommend keeping the words inside most of the time. 

“It’s all happening.” –Polexia, Almost Famous. In one of those rare moments when everything seems to be coming together for me, this says it all. 

“I don’t sweat you.” –Paulie, Rocky II. I use this one as trash-talk when I am playing driveway basketball with my six-year-old. He has no idea what I am talking about. Whatever. 

“Supermodels are beautiful girls, Will. A beautiful girl can make you dizzy, like you’ve been drinking Jack and Coke all morning. She can make you feel high, full of the single greatest commodity known to man: promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow. This particular aura can be found in the gait of a beautiful girl. In her smile, in her soul, the way she makes every rotten little thing about life seem like it’s going to be okay. The supermodels, Willy, that’s all they are: bottled promise. Scenes from a brand new day. Hope dancing in stiletto heels.” –Paul, Beautiful Girls. Sometimes just quoting any line from this movie in any situation makes me giggle. But Paul is pure in his romantic buffoonery. So I love this monologue. If I don’t have it all in me, I go with his shorter version: “A beautiful girl is all-powerful, and that is as good as love. That’s as good as love.” Hee hee! 

“Chopper, sic balls!” –Milo, Stand By Me. This one works for any yippy dog in my neighborhood or in the car next to me at a stoplight. 

“I can smell you.” –Dug, Up. I have a sensitive sniffer, so I have to amuse myself when it gets offended . It’s either this or the Top Gun gem “Slider, you stink.” 

“Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!” –Celie, The Color Purple. My wife loves to break this one out on me. She’s usually joking. 

“Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!” –Christian, Moulin Rouge. Love is a deep topic; you might as well make a melodious montage out of it! 

“You’re the gourmet around here, Eddie.” –Clark, Vacation. Great for when someone wants to share cooking stories with me and I have nothing to add.

“Willie C!!! Stay cool, man. Stay cool forever.” –Kev, Beautiful Girls. This is enough of a goodbye for me. Sincerity makes the words become magic. 

“You want to get out of here…..GET RID OF THAT MONKEY!!!” Chatter Telephone, Toy Story 3. When my kids are asking over and over when we can leave, I throw this back at them. Or just anytime (some things are just fun to say). 

“You got to coordinate.” –Mr. Jackson, Boomerang. This just makes getting dressed so much more enjoyable. 

“Honey, I’m not an ordained minister.” –Clark, Vacation. I like to pull this one out whenever I am doing something out of my league (assembling something with tools, mathematics, etc.). 

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” –John Keating, Dead Poets Society. Because sometimes it is not a joke. Sometimes I need a reminder about what this thing called Life is all about. 

“Do you like apples? Do you like apples? Well, I got her number! How do you like them apples?” –Will, Good Will Hunting. When I need to rub something in someone’s face, I break out my thickest Boston accent for this one.

“This house is ours.” –Grace, The Others. When my wife is freaking out after hearing a strange noise in the house, I call upon the ghosts. It momentarily quells the fear. Or intensifies it.

“I will fight on!!!!” –William Wallace, Braveheart. When I am watching Roger Federer play tennis—totally stressing out—and he wins a huge point, I shout this, in my best Scottish accent, at the top of my lungs. My wife shakes her head upstairs. 

“Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?” –Clark, Vacation. My version of a compliment to the chef. 

“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.” –Ricky Fitts, American Beauty. You should be so lucky to have a few of these moments in life, quote or no quote.

“Double Burger. Double Burger. Chuck-I-had-a-Double-Burger.” –Morgan, Good Will Hunting. Always appropriate when waiting impatiently for someone. 

“The list is life.” –Stern, Schindler’s List. What did we need at the grocery store? 

“I wish I knew how to quit you, Ennis!” –Jack, Brokeback Mountain. Though this comes from a serious moment in the film, I like to pull it out when my wife is teasing me about something. It makes me laugh. 

“I’m sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.” –Forrest, Forrest Gump. Because sometimes just trying to imitate Forrest is enough to keep me going. “That’s my boat,” “Hey Bubba,” and many others work, too. 

“Now, a question of etiquette: as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?” –Tyler Durden, Fight Club. Though this was an airplane scene in the movie, I smirk as I think this line while scooching down any row anywhere in the world. School programs and church are particularly amusing.

Oh, I could go on and on! And I do, most of the day through. How else does a guy survive? I am not as funny as these screenwriters, so I must steal their lines. It keeps me smiling, anyway. And though we could banter all day, I will leave off with a final thought from my friend, Forrest Gump: “That’s all I have to say about that.”

How about you? What movie lines do you use to narrate your daily life? Open up your journal, and maybe your entertainment cabinet for a reminder. What quotes seem to flow out of you on a regular basis? Are there a couple that have become your staples? Do they come from your most favorite movies, or are they just great lines? Do your normal quotes come from movies you have seen a million times? Are they from your childhood or adulthood? Do you say them mostly in your head or out loud? In conversation, do you use them with people for whom the line is a shared inside joke, or with anyone at any time? How often do the people understand where the line comes from? Does that matter to you? Is it more fun when they get it or when they don’t? Why do you use the quotes? Do they say things better than you can? Do they just make conversation—internal and external—more interesting? Do they make ordinary events more tolerable, even exciting? Do they help you through the worst of times? Do they help you connect with others? Do they simply make you laugh? For me, all of those apply. I guess they just help me tell my story my way, simply through the lines that I choose, which vary by the day. How about you? Which quotes do you choose most often? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which movie lines narrate your life?

Smile at your world,

William

P.S. If this letter made you smile or think, I hope you will pass it on.

10 Places I Want to Visit

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –Augustine of Hippo

Hello friend,

Nineteen years ago, I was flying back from my second great European adventure. I had just spent some quality weeks wandering through the most beautiful and memorable places. I had ridden the train through the Black Forest of Germany and into the mountains of Austria. I had eaten authentic Weiner schnitzel and pure grape juice with the sweetest family at a small vineyard outside of Vienna. I had soaked in the healing waters of a Budapest bathhouse with a bunch of very old Hungarians. I had lost my soul while visiting the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. I had been charmed by the whimsical beauty of Prague and the Czech Republic, and meandered back through the simple beauty of Germany to catch my plane for home.

All of those life-changing places and adventures were swirling through my mind as the pilot’s voice came over the speakers: “Sorry to interrupt the movie, folks, but we are just reaching Greenland. It is out the right side of the plane. And believe me, it is better than any movie!”

Luckily for me, I was on the right side of the plane. When the woman next to me opened the shade, time stopped completely. I was spellbound. My breath was taken from me. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

When the enchanting, snow-covered mass was finally out of sight, I pulled out my journal and tried to find the words to describe a kind of magnificence that was truly indescribable. After doing my best to jot down some intelligible thoughts, I mostly gave up, fully aware of my limitations as a writer in the face of the Universe’s grandeur.

In reading back the final sentences of my journal entry from that day on the plane, it is plain just how awestruck and at a loss I was: “I don’t know. The picture, I suppose, is worth a thousand words, but I really can’t describe the wonder of it. It was a land of fantasy, a dream-like majesty. Or, taken from another side, an endless sea of desolation…..It just went on and on in infinite beauty. That is what I will remember about it.”  

Later, I wondered what it would be like to visit such a unique place. After pondering the prospects—visions of me trying desperately to stalk some wild creature below the ice while freezing to death in a land too cold for vegetation–I decided that Greenland is probably one of the few places on Earth best suited to appreciating from a distance.

But there aren’t many places like that. Mostly we need to be somewhere to truly appreciate it. I have always loved to learn, and one of the most important discoveries of my life is that traveling is the best form of education (I love Mark Twain’s quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”). Meeting new people, learning about different cultures, soaking up the wonders of nature, and finding Peace in the process. “All good things, all good things,” as my friend Olaf would say.

Thinking this week about that European adventure and the magnificence of Greenland, my old traveling soul got stirred up. I decided to come up with a list of places I would love to visit for the first time, whether to explore or simply melt into the beach and bask in the beauty. I am thinking of myself here, not taking into account that my kids never leave my side. And I admit from the outset that I am heavily biased at the moment, as the wind chill has been below freezing in Minnesota in this final week of April. So, don’t be surprised if we end up with a lot of tropical selections!

At any rate, here we go, in no particular order, with my Top Ten Places I’d Like To Visit:

  1. India. I admit that this one is cheating, since it is a huge country, but there are just so many different areas I would like to see, from sacred religious sites to crowded cities to secluded villages in the Himalayas. I named my firstborn child after this place—that’s how long it has been living in me!
  2. Bali, Indonesia. From everything I have read and seen about this place—the extreme warmth of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the pristine beaches—I feel a spiritual connection. I am enchanted!
  3. Yosemite National Park, California. This is a weird one for me. Don’t get me wrong, I imagine it is full of scenic vistas and wonderful hikes. But I can’t help but think that I am only intrigued by it because I want to see what all the hype is about (because I secretly think that my favorite, Glacier National Park in Montana, will put its more famous cousin to shame). Either way, I want to go.
  4. Belize.  This is definitely all about the quiet, peaceful beach vacation, with just enough adventure–via world-class snorkeling spots–to keep it interesting. Actually, Belize, even though it is on the mainland of North America, is kind of the placeholder spot for almost any beautiful Caribbean island beach paradise (insert Jamaica, St. Martin, Dominican Republic, etc.). I have some exploring to do in that neck of the woods!
  5. London, England. This giant is one of the few European biggies that I haven’t visited. And even though I am curious to check it out, its spot on my list is mostly about one particular neighborhood at one particular time of year: Wimbledon, early July. The shrine of Tennis. I would like to attend all four Grand Slam events, actually—amazing trips to London, Paris, New York City, and Melbourne, Australia (yes, please!)—but I would settle for Wimbledon.
  6. Alaska.  This one is a bit of a cheat, too, as Alaska is huge. But if I was in the neighborhood, hey! I would take a trip to Denali (maybe even try to find the bus from Into the Wild), “flightsee” over a mountain range, wander down the Kenai, and hopefully spot some whales and other creatures around the fjords. The Last Frontier!
  7. Kenya/Tanzania, Africa. These two countries get the slash because I would not quibble over an opportunity to take a photo safari through either one (and they are neighbors!). I have always dreamed of this. One day…..
  8. New Zealand. This just seems like good territory for taking a walk. A long walk. Remember The Lord of the Rings? It was all filmed here. The next time the hobbits go out for a wander, I am tagging along!
  9. Amazon Rain Forest, Brazil. I might be freaked out the entire time about being eaten by an anaconda or piranhas or some other invention of my mind, but it would also be so amazing to be amongst all of that Life.
  10. Bora Bora, French Polynesia. I couldn’t resist one more tropical beach! I love the idea of being way out in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from a continent. Of course, visions of those over-the-water bungalows on stilts are appealing, too! I get giddy when I see that clear, turquoise water.

That’s it! Well, of course that isn’t it. There are so many more new places I want to visit, even in my own state. But those ten are the ones topping my Wish List today. I love the feeling these fantasies give me. My adventurous spirit is absolutely tickled right now! I can feel the little perma-grin on my face, too; it hasn’t left since I started thinking about this. The world is such a magnificent playground. Fly me away!

How about you? What new place do you feel like traveling to today? Open up your journal and spin the globe. Where do you want your finger to land? Is there one place that comes immediately to mind? Is it somewhere you have always dreamed about? What has kept you from getting there? How disappointed will you be if you never make it there? How about the rest of your list? Are most of them places that have been on your radar for a long time? Which ones are the most recent additions to your list? What draws you to them? Are your places more about physical adventures (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal), learning about something new (e.g. Incan ruins in Peru), or a good spot to relax (e.g. the beaches of the Seychelles)? Are any about connecting with your heritage (e.g. a visit to meet distant relatives in Ireland)? What about a service destination (e.g. a friend of mine just volunteered at an orphanage in Sierra Leone)? A spiritual pilgrimage (e.g. Jerusalem)? How many of them are you seriously determined to get to? How many of them are out of your comfort zone? Will those be the most rewarding? Which one are you most likely to get to first? How soon? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your aspiration destinations?

Make your life an adventure,

William

P.S. If this got your daydreams into high gear or put a smile on your face, pass it on. We could all use a happy fantasy once in a while!

The 50 Words That Describe You Best

“The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, Stank, Stunk!” –Dr. Seuss

Hello friend,

I told you recently that the way I want to feel this year is BRAVE. After saying goodbye to my trusty old job at the end of the year, I knew that, in order for this year to turn out alright, it would have to be defined by my courage. So far, I would say it has been.

There are many passages in my journal that show me propping myself up, reminding me of both what is at stake and how I have stepped up before. Those journaling sessions have been invaluable, as I have used them to propel myself toward finishing a book and submitting it for lots of potential rejection. I have risen to the challenge. I have been brave.

I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to describe myself as brave! That adjective is hard won, and I am savoring it now. I have realized something else, though, in these days of summoning my courage: I wouldn’t need to be brave if I wasn’t so darn scared!

That’s the thing about courage: it doesn’t show up unless you are afraid.

So, while I am still proud of myself for being brave lately, I would be lying if I said I haven’t spent even more time racked in fear. Fear of going broke. Fear of failing as a writer. Fear of a future in a soul-crushing job. Fear of not being enough. Sure, I have stepped up and worked through it most days, but it has felt crippling anyway.

It was nice to use “brave” to describe what I am all about, but if I am being honest, the adjective “afraid” fits me at least as well. That seems weird, right? I have been wrestling with this seeming paradox this week, trying to understand who I really am. Am I brave, or am I afraid? If one of those words defines me, does it mean the other one shouldn’t? Am I a walking contradiction?

I decided that the best way to work this out is to come up with a bigger list of adjectives to describe who I am. That way I would know if I am being pulled apart on other issues, too (and if I am a good candidate for the loony bin!).

The list, I decided, should be long enough so I am not just a cartoon figure, but not so long as to cover every single thought or emotion I have ever experienced, making me a mere blur of every adjective in the English language. I went with 50.

So, without further ado, this is how I would describe myself, in no particular order:

  1. Brave
  2. Afraid
  3. Curious
  4. Sentimental
  5. Self-confident
  6. Impatient
  7. Sincere
  8. Optimistic
  9. Driven
  10. Altruistic
  11. Mindful
  12. Insecure
  13. Open-minded
  14. Spiritual
  15. Competitive
  16. Pacifistic
  17. Principled
  18. Kind
  19. Stubborn
  20. Unsocial
  21. Grounded
  22. Progressive
  23. Opinionated
  24. Passionate
  25. Compassionate
  26. Silly
  27. Independent
  28. Spoiled
  29. Intuitive
  30. Positive
  31. Non-confrontational
  32. Generous
  33. Grateful
  34. Introverted
  35. Selfish
  36. Happy
  37. Playful
  38. Unforgiving
  39. Wise
  40. Adventurous
  41. Inclusive
  42. Cerebral
  43. Demanding
  44. Nostalgic
  45. Sensitive
  46. Authentic
  47. Caring
  48. Self-isolating
  49. Wonder-filled
  50. Serene

Okay, that is enough! There are plenty more I can think of to cover all of my moods and my worldview, but this is good. It is a fairly clear picture, at least from my eyes. I know we don’t always see ourselves the way others see us, but I will not worry about the others for now. It is challenge enough to clarify my own view.

In looking at it now, I can see that the brave-afraid duo is not the only seeming contradiction in my personality description. I am definitely both selfish and altruistic. I am both cerebral and intuitive, passionate and serene, open-minded and opinionated. And I am certainly, depending on the moment, very often self-confident and very often insecure.

In those combinations, I can see how foolish we are when we try to put others in a box based on one thing we know about them. After all, if I am any indication, the opposite characteristic might be just as true for that person we have tried to trap in the box. So, making them into a cartoon character so that they can quickly fit into a box in my mind simply doesn’t tell the truth and shortchanges both of us.

Much like the contradicting combinations, there are some of these qualities that have both positive and negative aspects, and I can see myself covering the full spectrum. Sensitivity is one. It can be wonderful when appreciating art and being compassionate toward my fellow human beings, but it can also make everything sting more than it should and make me resistant to hearing criticism of all sorts. I can see this range of positive and negative outcomes with my fierce independence, too. As with the combinations, this broad-spectrum view reminds me to be more open-minded when observing someone else’s personality.

That, I can see now, points to the difficulty in gleaning any meaningful conclusions from the list taken all by itself. If I just looked at this list of 50 adjectives and didn’t know who it represented, I couldn’t be sure if I liked this person or not, precisely because each characteristic can show itself in a number of different ways. Sure, some characteristics are almost certainly more favorable than others—kind is better than unforgiving, right?—so we can get hints from the list. But, without the context of the actual person, it is a challenge.

So, though I wouldn’t necessarily use this process as the answer to finding your soul-mate, I found it immensely helpful for examining myself (and that is exactly what our journaling is all about). I learned a lot from those very first words I wrote in my notebook after I said, “GO!” And then later I learned a lot from the end of the process, when I had written around 80 words and had to narrow it down to 50. That is when I started digging harder: “Who am I REALLY?” My answers were revealing, more so than I would have guessed before I started the list.

In the end, I think my biggest takeaway is that I am complex, that I don’t fit very well in any neat box, not even one of my own making. That is an important lesson for me, not just for my own self-awareness, but in how it affects the way I need to walk the world. I have been journaling every day for 20 years, so I know myself extremely well and know that I have well-defined views and attitudes on just about everything. If I am still revealing contradictions and wildly divergent personality traits about myself–and if I am feeling more certain than ever that I don’t belong in a box–then I ought not be so quick to put anyone else in a box, either.

This process, then, has been a necessary reminder to make better use of some of the adjectives I listed in my 50: open-minded, curious, kind, compassionate, altruistic, generous, caring, and inclusive. Yes, I think I will work on those. If I walked out of the world tomorrow and could leave the people in my life with any words to describe me, I would be satisfied with those.

How about you? Which words describe you best? Open up your journal and your vocabulary. What are the very first words that come to mind about you? What is it about those characteristics that make them so prominent in your description? Are they things that you have always thought about yourself? Are they things that other people usually mention about you? How close are they to the core of you? Which of your words are ones that maybe only you think about yourself, words that would surprise other people to read? How much of your personality do most people see? How much of that is because you intentionally protect certain sides of yourself? If I gave a list of 200 words—including the 50 you wrote about yourself—to your three closest loved ones and asked them to pick out your 50, how many would they guess correctly? What if I asked your co-workers? Do you feel like you are honest and authentic about who you really are in most situations—e.g. at work, with friends, with acquaintances, with family, etc.—or do you mostly wear a bland mask until you are with your closest loved ones? How much has your list changed in the last 10 or 20 years? How different, if at all, will it look 20 years from now? How many contradictions are on your list, like my self-confident/insecure combination? Are you more or less complicated than most people, or about the same? How much do you cling to the boxes you put people in? Did this exercise change the way you think about that? Do you like who you are and what is on your list? Which words do you hope to get rid of? Which are your favorite characteristics? Which ones are not on there now but hopefully will be soon? Can you add a new one today? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words describe you best?  

Live free,

William

P.S. If today’s challenge made you look at yourself differently, please pass it on. Let’s all be our beautiful selves!

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

100 Loves

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” –Alexander Lloyd

Hello friend,

Allow me to light up your day! Come along with me and play a game we will call “100 Loves”. The rules are simple. I will name a category, and all you have to do is quickly name ten of the things you love most in that category. There will be ten categories, so ten lists of ten. Hence, 100 Loves!

My one caveat/suggestion: Don’t try to get your list exactly right! In any of the categories, of course there will be many contenders to make your Top Ten. Don’t give in to the temptation to agonize over which ones get those last few spots and which get left off the list. Just write the first ten that come to you. [Secret from the game designer: no one is going to bust you for making your lists a bit longer. If longer feels better, go for it!] This is all about thinking of things that give you good memories, inspirations, warm fuzzies, giggles, and smiles. If you are feeling pressure to get your list right, you are playing the game wrong. And just because you are making a list from one to ten, this is not about dividing up your heart into exact amounts. As long as your answers make you feel good, anywhere on the list is wonderful. Don’t rank them! Got it? Good! Let’s play!!!

Category #1: Books

  1. Walden—by Henry David Thoreau (my all-time favorite piece of literature)
  2. Autobiography of a Yogi—Paramahansa Yogananda
  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—Robert Pirsig
  5. Into the Wild—Jon Krakauer
  6. The War of Art—Steven Pressfield
  7. The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger
  8. Conversations With God (series)—Neale Donald Walsch
  9. On the Road—Jack Kerouac
  10. The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini

Category #2: Foods

  1. Monster Cookies (the ones my wife makes are divine and so naughty!)
  2. Garlic Bread
  3. Root Beer Floats (A&W preferred)
  4. Giant Burritos from Chipotle (I like them all!)
  5. Caramel Rolls (the ones my Mom makes are the best!)
  6. Grilled Halibut
  7. Dr. Pepper (I am not really a soda drinker, but when I indulge, the Doctor is in!)
  8. Pizza (I am not picky, but a simple pepperoni is lovely.)
  9. Smoothies (the one that my kids call “Mango Pineapple Pink” is delightful!)
  10. Chocolate Malt (made by my daughter after school—heavenly!)

Category #3: Inspirational Figures

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Live your purpose. “The time is always ripe to do right.”
  2. Mohandas Gandhi—“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He was.
  3. Henry David Thoreau—Be unapologetically you. Don’t just exist; LIVE!
  4. Ellen DeGeneres—Be you, be kind, and be generous. Oh yeah, and be silly.
  5. Mastin Kipp—Follow your heart. Stick with your biggest dream.
  6. Barack Obama—With the audacity of hope and lots of work, anything is possible.
  7. Dalai Lama—Spread positivity to every corner of the world. Be happy!
  8. Jimmy Carter—Spotlight or not, do good for all of the days of your life.
  9. Van Jones—In the most contentious of times, reach out across that chasm to find that we are rather more alike than we are different. Lead with love.
  10. My daughter, India—A contented soul makes the best company. Kindness first.

Category #4: Music Videos

  1. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. Love that fight/dance scene!
  2. “Centerfold”—J. Geils Band. Those first bars were unmistakable and sent whoever was manning the family room TV into hysterics, yelling, “Centerfold’s on! Centerfold’s on!” so that the rest of the house would come running.
  3. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—Cyndi Lauper. With Captain Lou Albano as her Dad, how could this not make the list? It really was fun!
  4. “Her Mercy”—Glen Hansard. One of the few from my adulthood. My spirit rises with it. So beautiful.
  5. “She’s A Beauty”—The Tubes. I can’t explain it; I just loved this from the start.
  6. “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There’s no need to argue.
  7. “Headphones”—Matt Nathanson. A documentary set to music. Makes me smile through my tears.
  8. “I Love Rock & Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. This is everything about my childhood. The best anthem!
  9. “Brave”—Sara Bareilles. It is a masterpiece of inspiration and fun.
  10. “Thriller”—Michael Jackson. An absolute EVENT. Captivating!

Category #5: Actors

  1. Julianne Moore
  2. Don Cheadle
  3. Cate Blanchett
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis
  5. Emma Thompson
  6. Anthony Hopkins
  7. Kate Winslet
  8. George Clooney (man crush)
  9. Helena Bonham Carter
  10. Sean Penn

Category #6: Games

  1. Taboo—a highly amusing holiday tradition with my extended family!
  2. Ping Pong
  3. Mario Kart on Wii—I love this with my kids!
  4. Yahtzee—classic!
  5. Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo—my Mom bought one of the Classic Nintendo consoles at Christmas, and between my sister, brother-in-law, and my kids, that game was going continuously the entire holiday break. Ahh, nostalgia for the many hours wasted on that game in the old days….
  6. Foosball
  7. H-O-R-S-E (Basketball)
  8. Capture the Flag—My brother and I still get the kids going on this one at the lake every Summer. This was my backyard in the Summers of my youth. So much fun and so many memories!
  9. Rock Band on Wii—because, at one point or another, we all dreamed of being in a band, right?
  10. Scattergories—Great for a large group. Inevitably funny.

Category #7: People (Not immediate family to take the guilt out of it)

  1. Gabrielle
  2. Uncle Bob
  3. Aunt Caryl
  4. Ruby Red
  5. Karen a.k.a. lizzy
  6. Cousin Becca
  7. Aysun
  8. Phil
  9. Foley
  10. Uncle Lloyd

Category #8: Songs

  1. I Go To Work—Kool Moe Dee
  2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters—Elton John
  3. Rochester—Mat Kearney
  4. No One—Alicia Keys
  5. Shame On You—Indigo Girls
  6. Walking In Memphis—Marc Cohn
  7. Let’s Get It On—Marvin Gaye
  8. Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye—Counting Crows
  9. Stand By Me—Ben E. King
  10. Seasons of Love—The Cast of “Rent”

Category #9: Activities

  1. Sledding
  2. Rollerblading
  3. Surfing
  4. Building a snowman
  5. Playing catch
  6. Hiking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Swimming
  9. Yoga
  10. Slip-n-Slide

Category #10: Movies

  1. Dead Poets Society
  2. The Thin Red Line
  3. Stand By Me
  4. Cinema Paradiso
  5. Slumdog Millionaire
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Home for the Holidays
  8. Beautiful Girls
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Life is Beautiful

Whew! We made it to 100! That was just a ton of fun! When I was making it up and deciding on categories, it seemed like fun, but it was so much more than that. It was nostalgic. It was emotional. It was deeply gratifying. Truly, that is what I take away from it: an astounding Gratitude for all of the wonderful blessings in my life, past and present. I am grateful, smiling, and inspired. Hooray!

How about you? What’s on your list of 100 Loves? Which categories were the most enjoyable to list? Which ones were hardest to keep to only ten items (I had a tough time keeping my Movies list at ten and made an extra-long list for that one on my paper). Which categories were the most emotional for you? Which brought you the most smiles and laughs? Did you break out any music, movies, or YouTube while you wrote? Which list had your most favorite memories? Were there some lists that just didn’t do much for you? If we were to make a second 100 Loves, which categories should we add (I toyed with bands, writers, locations, movie lines, even apps)? Was this as fun for you as it was for me? I hope you are smiling, anyway. Thanks for playing along! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your 100 Loves?

Savor Life,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, please share it. We could all use more of those!

Energy Shots: The Little Things That Make Your Life Better

DSC_0381“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Hello friend,

It seems to me that the recurring theme of my mind, and therefore my life, is “How can I make this better?” I am constantly digging into all of the different ways I spend my time—at home, at work, at play—wondering what I can do to improve the situation and make my life the best it can possibly be. I do it with my thought processes, too. It is nonstop. How can I be more efficient with this? Is this serving my greater purpose? Could I be helping more people? Does this reflect who I want to be? How can I make this more fun? What can I do to reduce the stressful parts of this? Have I seen all sides of the issue? What is it about this that doesn’t feel quite right to me? What is the lesson here? Does this make my heart sing?

As a part of this routine of self-improvement, I find myself spending much of my focus on eliminating energy drainers from my life. I try to clean up all the little things that weigh on me and distract me from the things that matter most. I am trying to clear the path so that it is easier to deliver on my potential, to be my very best. These energy drainers take many forms. At work, it can be my psychological discomfort from not being in command of a certain system, technology issues, stress from being late on a project, an unorganized filing system, or a co-worker’s attitude. At home it can be things like my messy office, a family member’s negative attitude, my children’s maddeningly slow pace in just about every activity (it is the slow eating drives me the most crazy, I have to admit), lack of sleep, difficulty finding time in the schedule for my priorities, and so many more. In every area, it is often about a way of thinking that is not working for me: fear, a negative attitude about something or someone, self-doubt, envy, looking too far ahead, or a simple lack of focus and presence.

Most are little gnats. A few are closer to miseries on some days. But always there seems to be something to tidy up in my physical or mental space. The bottom line: there is certainly no shortage of energy drainers to address. And because I am so determined to clear my path to greatness, I seem to devote the bulk of my time and energy to defeating these drainers.

And then I was sorting through some notes a few days ago, and I came upon a page with some lists on it. These were lists I had made for a personal inventory exercise some months ago but had completely forgotten about. The top half of the page dealt with energy drainers, most of which I have spelled out for you above. My answers were all too familiar, and I kind of rolled my eyes at how I have not solved most of my issues in all this time. Just as I was chastising myself for my ineptitude at cleansing my life of these drainers, my eyes drifted to the bottom half of the page. What I saw there stopped me in my tracks.

There were two columns filled with my handwriting. The first was “Energy Gainers at Work.” The second: “Energy Gainers at Home.” The instructions were as follows: Now list the things that impact your life in a positive way (include activities, people, physical aspects of your environment). Before I even started reading through my lists, the impact had already been made. It was a total “A-Ha!” moment for me: “Of course! Energy GAINERS! Why have I been so focused on the Drainers?” It was like both of my eyes were finally open. I could see the full picture so much more clearly.

Yes, of course it is important to identify the areas of my life that suck my energy unnecessarily so I can try to minimize or eliminate those factors. That is still very important. But it is only half of the picture. And the dreary half at that! It is high time I turned my eyes toward the sunny side of my world.

So, I peeked down those lists of energy gainers and got a real boost. I realized that everything on those lists still exist in my life, and more. So much about my little world is conspiring to lift me up, to give me joy, to free me to be who I want to be!

In my working world, I am blessed with the opportunity to help people on their path to a healthier lifestyle, and I get a real kick out of that. It absolutely puts wind in my sails to watch someone walk away happy and excited to become better. I also have some time to work totally alone, and, as someone who skews toward the introverted side, that time also charges my battery. My schedule is amazingly family-friendly, too, so even on the days when crazy things happen, I never resent the job for the things it robs me of. That is important to me. Finally, and something that I have become more and more invested in, I get to use my skills to help my friends pursue their passion. Doing something for a cause adds life to it, and I feel that. For all of the little drainers that show up there, it is nice to remind myself that the tide is mostly rising.

Of course, life is so much more than work, and my world outside of work is, when I really look at it, a beautiful landscape dotted with springs of joy and inspiration. I am allowed—thanks again to my work—an abundance of time with my kids. When they are not at school, I get to be with them, and this means the entire world to me. They are the essence of the term “energy gainer.” But I have other delights, too, that I revel in when the kids sleep. Creating these letters to you each week in hopes of helping you to be your best—and getting responses from you—absolutely invigorates me. Working on my other writing–whether it is my daily journal entries or my larger work, The Journal Project—is like a meditation for me, putting my mind in exactly the right place of peace. And even though it comes in the wee hours of morning when sleeping would still be fantastic, I am revitalized by my daily exercise as well. Even the physical space of my home, especially having my own dedicated work space with lots of books nearby, is an energy boost for me. A few minutes of meditation work, too.  When all else fails, just going outside and being in the fresh air is an automatic revitalizer. I love that!

I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I write about these energy gainers. They are giving me life just thinking about them! The great realization is that they are here every single day, permeating my little corner of the world. How cool is that!

So, it seems the Universe is not, after all, conspiring against my progress with all of those little gnats that I see as perpetually slowing me down and weighing me down. There are, as it turns out, weights on the positive side of the scale, too. Big ones, and lots of them. My life is full of LIFE!

My task, as I can see more clearly now, is to keep those energy boosters front and center. I must be better at giving them my attention, at extracting all of the joy and inspiration I can from them. I must shine that light more brightly on them than on the energy drainers. And finally, I must be more grateful for them and for the way they allow me to be the very best me that I can be.

How about you? What are your energy gainers? Open up your journal and your mind, and shine a light on the aspects of your life that make your load a little easier to carry. Who are the people in your life that give you a boost just by being in their presence or trading messages with them? Do you spend more of your time with those people or with the people who drag you down? What can you do to spend more time around the lights? Okay, now look at your work situation. Which aspects of your job are meaningful to you and make you feel better? Is it your co-workers, the services you provide, seeing the difference you make, your schedule, or something else? Is it just your paycheck? With all of these things considered, is your work as a whole an energy gainer for you? Now think outside of work, to your home and hobbies. Is your actual space a positive one for you? Do you have a particular room or outside space that energizes you? Which activities make you feel better? Does exercise work for you? Being in nature? Do you do anything artistic? Does socializing energize you or deplete you, or some of each? Is there a musical artist or genre that makes you smile? An author? Where do the people in your home fit into the equation? Are you good at recognizing when you need a little pick-me-up? If so, what is your go-to energizer? Are you good at focusing on the positive aspects of your life, or do you spend most of your time and energy dealing with the negatives? All things considered, is your life well-stocked with energy gainers? More positive than negative? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where do you get your energy shots?

Find the good everywhere,

William

P.S. If this helped you see your life in a different light or reminded you of something you had forgotten, pass it along. Let’s help each other find the bright spots!

My Favorite Quotes: The Words That Remind Me What Matters Most

fontcandy“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

Twenty years ago, when I first opened Thoreau’s Walden, little did I know that my life would never be the same. My mind had just begun to open to new messages, and Thoreau came in and absolutely blew the roof off the place. I had found my soul-mate! I was mesmerized by every last word, reading each passage over before moving on to make sure I absorbed it completely. It was as if he as writing directly to me, or, more accurately, writing right out of my own head. I wanted to highlight every paragraph, to quote every line. Some of my favorites:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”

“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Oh, I could go on and on! That book just melted into my soul. I tingled all over as those magical lines burned themselves into my brain, where I would draw on them many times in all the years that have followed. Beautiful words from beautiful minds have that way about them.

Over the course of my life, the three historical characters that I have gravitated towards most are Thoreau, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. I have been captivated by their writings, their speeches, and the lives they led. When I try to come up with my favorite quotes from them, it is very difficult, as nearly everything on record is compelling to me.

With Gandhi, if you forced me to pick two, I might pick the simplest ones, both of which spoke to the way he led. The first is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second echoes that sentiment. While visiting Bengal, a reporter asked him, “Do you have a message for the people of India?” His response: “My life is my message.” Oh, if we could all live up to that, just imagine our greatness!

With Dr. King, it is perhaps even more difficult to pin down a couple of favorites. One of them that has inspired me often with Journal of You, particularly when I have debated whether to write about a controversial or revealing topic—God, politics, sexuality, to name a few–is this challenge to the soul: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That one slays my fears every time.

A good quotation is unbelievably powerful. It strikes you right at your core, making your hairs stand on end or unleashing sudden tears or smiles or knowing nods. Some of the ones that hit me at my foundation are about simple life lessons that I need to be reminded of:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –Norman Vincent Peale

“You never fail until you stop trying.” –Albert Einstein

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” –Persian saying

“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” –Bill Keane (and others)

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.” –Anonymous

“If not now, when? If not you, who?” –Hillel the Elder 

All of these hit home for me in slightly different ways. They are the little reminders that I need to stay clear about how to navigate this world successfully. They are the random–but pure gold–nuggets of wisdom. I love them individually.

On the other hand, I find that there is one category of quotations that I am drawn to most, one topic from which I can easily churn out a big list of favorites. My soul-stingers are the ones that remind me to seize the day and follow the calling of my heart unflinchingly. They can be summarized by three words from the great Joseph Campbell: “Follow your Bliss.” Here are some of the others in my “Follow your Bliss/This is Not a Dress Rehearsal” category:

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” –Paulo Coelho

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot

“I am here to live out loud.” –Émile Zola

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!” —Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” –A favorite Pinterest meme

“Leap and the net will appear.” –John Burroughs

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it—don’t back down and don’t give up—then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” –Bob Dylan

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

“You know, we can’t get out of life alive! We can either die in the bleachers or die on the field. We might as well come down on the field and go for it!” –Les Brown

“Don’t die with your music still in you.” –Wayne Dyer (A spin on Thoreau’s line from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”)

These are like zingers right into my heart. I get that surge of adrenaline and clarity whenever I read them. I think that says a lot about what drives me, what is in my soul’s code. These words have magical powers. They are the wind that fills my sails. When I read them, I think they were written just for me. That is the essence of a favorite quote. I do love them so.

How about you? What are your favorite quotations? Open up your journal and start your own list. Is there one particular writer or speaker, like my Thoreau, whose phrases are burned upon your heart more than others? I think most of us just know our favorites when we see them, but are there any quotes that you recite frequently from memory? Are your favorites from all over the map, or do they tend to fall into a certain category, such as love, change, happiness, humor, motivation, family, leadership, or success? Why do you think you gravitate toward that topic? When you come across a quotation that strikes you at your core, what do you do about it? Do you see it as a message that was meant for you and allow it to direct your course of action, or do you dismiss it as mere chance and move on? Now that you have been creating your list, do you feel inclined to post it somewhere, or at least keep it in a notebook that you will open occasionally for a positive reminder? Which ones are your absolute favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words are yours to live by?

Do your best today,

William

P.S. If our search for quotes stirred your heart and mind a bit today, share it with your world. We could all use a little stirring!

Baby Steps Toward A Better Life

DSC_0941“But trust me on the sunscreen.” –Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, commencement address

Hello friend,

My wife had a rough second half of last year. A college administrator, she finished the school year by winning a major award for her distinguished and very valuable work. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a new position at her school, hoping it would make a positive impact on the campus community while also removing some stress and granting her a more “normal” schedule for time with me and the kids. Well, she got one out of three!

While she was clearly making a positive impact at her work, the benefits stopped there. She was completely stressed out, going 90 miles per hour all day and burning the candle at both ends. It was eating her up. Even when she was home, her mind was not. Her body was showing the signs, too: headaches, big knots in her shoulders, poor sleep, missed meals. She was winning great battles in her new job, but the job was clearly winning the war on her way of life and her happiness. Burnout seemed inevitable. Something had to give.

Never one to give up on a new commitment, the job wasn’t going away any time soon. During the semester break, though, she did some soul-searching and realized that, even if her basic circumstances weren’t going to change much, she needed to do a better job of caring for herself and bringing a better mental approach to her world every day.

As often happens, the Universe honored her new resolve by dropping a gift in her path. She discovered something called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, whose basic concept is that, even amidst your crazy-busy life, you can manage to carve out a handful of minutes just for yourself at the very start of the day, and those precious minutes can get your mind in the right space to create the best possible day. The idea is to spend a minimum of one minute on each of six tasks in this order:

  • Silence (or Meditation)
  • Affirmations (Reminding yourself what is good about you and important to you)
  • Visualization (Imagining how you want your day to look and how you want to feel)
  • Writing (A Gratitude Journal)
  • Reading (Preferably something inspirational)
  • Exercise (e.g. jumping jacks or push-ups)

After months of rebuffing my suggestions that she take some time to go to the gym a few times per week to relieve some stress—making the time seemed impossible to her—I was thrilled to see her latch onto “The Miracle Morning.” “Even I can take 10 minutes for myself,” she said. And she has, for more than a month now. Every morning while I am at the gym and the kids are still sleeping, she takes her ten minutes (adding a few extra in the Reading and Exercise categories).

What a difference it has made! Though her outer circumstances are much the same as they were last semester, this tiny change has made her a different woman. At the breakfast table, the dark cloud that I could almost see over her head before is gone. She is more clear-headed and optimistic about the day. She is more present. She is more aware of the need for self-care during stressful times. The best part: she smiles more.

My wonder at this fabulous turnabout has really caused me to look at my own little world in a new way. After all, I am the guy who is always prodding you to examine your biggest dreams and the deepest calling of your soul. I keep saying, “Follow your Bliss! Show us your Light! Make your life extraordinary!” I ask you to move your biggest rocks. Shake up your world if it is not authentically you. Change jobs. Change relationships if you must. Rock your world if it will bring happiness!

I think what I usually fail to see is that most people are more content than I am. Even though I am wonderfully happy, I am also deeply dissatisfied with a big part of the life I have created. I want to do more with my passions, achieve career success in my dream fields, and more. There are big rocks I must move in order to be content. Because of that, I often assume that everyone else is the same way. I am probably wrong about that.

More likely, I think now, is that most people are more like my wife. Not so dissatisfied with themselves and antsy to make huge changes in their lives to feel fulfilled. More open to subtle changes to give a little boost to their happiness, minor adjustments to their schedule to make their lives a bit easier and their burden lighter. I am guessing that most people aren’t interested in climbing their Mt. Everest today, but maybe they would climb the little sledding hill next door to their house if they thought the ride was going to make them a little bit happier and healthier. Hmmm…..

With this new realization dancing in my head and my wife’s “Miracle Morning” as my example, I am in the process of brainstorming some tiny ways that might help me and you feel a little happier today and every day. Knowing that you probably feel as busy as I do, I want things that will take little or no time out of my day and don’t require a lot of props or travel. We are talking baby steps here, friend. They should be easy, right? Well, here goes…..

  • Hug a loved one.
  • Say “Please” and “Thank You” more.
  • A “Gratitude Jar” to fill with scraps of paper—one or two a day—holding the things you are most thankful for that day (then, when you need a reminder, open up the jar and have a look).
  • Pray.
  • A five-minute (or two-minute or ten-minute) tidy-up at the end of the day so you don’t have to wake up to a mess each morning.
  • A “Song of the Day” that you give yourself permission to take in uninterrupted (or better yet, dance to!).
  • Find a reason to compliment one new person each day.
  • Find a new reason to compliment yourself each day (and mean it!).
  • Keep a picture of your “Why” (your kids, vacation destination, dream job, etc.) on your phone or at your desk or wherever you will see it daily, a reminder to keep plugging away.
  • Take a walk around the block, either alone or with a loved one, depending upon whether it is more important to re-connect with yourself or that person on that particular day.
  • Some simple exercises (e.g. squats, counter push-ups) in the kitchen while you cook.
  • Give a real greeting and farewell every day to your partner rather than just shouting “Bye!” and slipping out the door.
  • Sign up to a daily email or app that sends you an inspirational or thought-provoking message or quote each morning.
  • Use regular events of your day (e.g. stoplights, other people’s phone’s ringing, waiting in line) as “bells of mindfulness,” reminders to stop your busy mind and center yourself in the moment.
  • Write in a journal (of course!).
  • Say “I love you.”
  • Strike up a conversation with an acquaintance who intrigues you.
  • Admit to someone that you could use some help (whether that help is a hug, a loan, some advice, etc.).
  • If you are a Facebook or Pinterest person, find one positive post to share each time you are on (if you can’t find anything positive, change who you follow and what you subscribe to).
  • Drink an extra glass of water.
  • Smile!

Wow, this is fun! I didn’t realize that it would be. The options are endless, and they can all be the first step in the right direction. This is so good for me! Onward!!!

How about you? What simple, quick steps can you take in the direction of a better, happier you? Open up your journal and start your list. What is the simplest step of all for you, the one little thing that you know will make you feel even just a little bit better? Why isn’t that a habit already? As you build your list, is there one area of your life that seems to be the most fertile ground for easy improvement (e.g. relationships, health, self-awareness, gratitude)? Which simple practice is something that you know is important but always seem to fall out of the habit of, only realizing it later? When your list gets really long, does it start to feel overwhelming, even though the tasks are so short and simple? If you had to pick just two little things from your list that most appeal to you right now, what would they be? How much time and energy would they cost you? What would you stand to gain from making them habits? Are you willing to try? I would love your feedback on this one, as I could certainly use your help in building my list. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which baby steps make your life a little sweeter? 

Love the wonder that is YOU,

William

P.S. If the list has you thinking, pass it on. Let’s grow together! Many leaves, one tree.

Have You Gone Dark?

DSC_1061“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” –A.A. Milne, from Winnie-The-Pooh

Hello friend,

Yesterday, I had a total “Blast-From-The-Past” moment. I got a Friend Request on Facebook from an old, dear friend whom I haven’t heard from in over 15 years. It felt like it arrived from another planet! Memories flooded my mind and my heart, and I wanted to see her—or at least give her a call–right then and there. I have thought of her so often over the years and silently wished her all the best. Silently. So what did I do? Nothing. I told myself I would send her a message right then, but something came up—as it always seems to—and the moment passed. Somehow hitting “Accept Request” was not nearly as satisfying as a phone call or an embrace. Bummer. Welcome to my world!

That old friend’s face is sticking with me, though. Eating at me, really. I recently read an article about the most frequent regrets of people on their deathbeds. The one that really struck a chord in my soul was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Actually, it wasn’t just that it struck a chord; no, it was more that it stuck a knife in my heart. I have been really feeling that lately, and the article was a bold reminder.

It made me think of a group of guys that I went to high school with, guys that I liked a lot but weren’t necessarily in my innermost circle of friends. I often hear about these guys still finding a way to get together a couple of times per year despite living all over the country, and still communicating often. I think that is so cool. I am envious of not just their friendship with each other, but their persistence in keeping it close and frequent. They have done the right work, because good friendships are worth it. Those guys will be tight until the day they die.

So, what about me? Have I kept a group like that? And beyond the group, have I even kept individual friends that close? I just now made a list on a full sheet of paper of all the friends who have been nearest and dearest to me on all of the stops on my journey. I started with my friends from childhood and high school; that is where the biggest group came from, and really the people I still consider my dearest friends. Next came the other stops where I stayed long enough or exposed enough of myself to build relationships: college, Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, college again, graduate school, and then finally my pre-children life here. There are over 30 names on the list, and they are all people I would love to happen upon in a quiet space, so that I could give them a big hug and enjoy a wonderful conversation. Friends only, no acquaintances.

It is certainly bittersweet to look at this list. It is sweet, of course, because I truly love these people, and it does the heart good to think of those I love. But the bitter part is aimed at my own role in the next column of the list. That is where I noted how much communication I have with each person. Sadly, next to almost every single name on my list, it says “None”. None! My favorite people in all the world—outside of my family, of course—don’t hear from me at all. That is both disappointing and embarrassing. I cannot stop looking at this list! It is haunting, really. These tremendous people and the relationships that I had with them are now like ghosts to me.

How did I get to this point of having created these ghosts? Of course it is easy to claim lack of time. That is our world, isn’t it? But, even if that can explain it, it doesn’t satisfy me. There is the issue of the increasing awkwardness that goes with increasing time between correspondences. I wonder if it would be weird to call someone out of the blue—would I be inconveniencing them?—so I hesitate. That hesitation continues to the point that I wonder if I even matter to them the way they still matter to me. So I go dark, sitting silently and wishing them well.

Then I think about how to transition the relationship from a catch-up conversation (e.g. “What do you do, in general?” or “How have you passed the years?”) to a regular conversation (e.g. “What did you do today?” or “What do you think about Issue X”). The whole process paralyzes me, gets in my head and keeps me from doing what my heart knows it should do, which is reach out. Make that call. Send that letter or email or Friend Request. But since I haven’t, and because I don’t really seek out new relationships, I have a pretty tiny social circle. Even living in this city the last dozen years, there are only a couple of people I make it a point to see occasionally. This seems to be why, as I age, my family becomes increasingly my best friends (though I do a pretty poor job keeping in touch with them, too, I must admit).

All of this is just to say that I can definitely see how “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends” made the list of top deathbed regrets. I am (hopefully) in the middle of my life, and I already regret it. I miss them. And I think I will miss them even more in the years to come if I continue my silence. So, I think I will get on Facebook tonight and send that old friend a message. Maybe we can even trade numbers and have a real conversation. That would do my heart good, maybe even ease some regret. It is something. A baby step. But nevertheless, a step in the right direction. It is time to break my silence. Time to turn the light back on. I am open for business!

How about you? How well do you stay in contact? Open up your journal and spill some ink. Maybe the best way to start is by making the same type of list that I made, with all of your most beloved friends from the various stops on your life journey and how much communication you currently have with them. How does it look? Are you pretty good at making the consistent effort, or is your list as bleak as mine? Are your best best friends from childhood, like mine, or are they from a different phase of your life? Is your communication frequent enough that you have “regular conversations”, or are you stuck in “catch-up conversations” each time you talk? How many do you get together with in person? Do you have a group that still gets together for things like a “girls weekend”? How much regret do you feel from losing touch with people, and how does that compare to how much you think you will feel on your deathbed? Is it enough to get you to reach out? This listing exercise was quite therapeutic for me, and I hope it works the same for you. Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you gone dark? 

Listen to the quiet wisdom of your heart,

William