Tag Archives: ambition

Maximizing the Summer of Life: Are Your Aspirations Happening?

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” –Salvador Dalí

Hello friend,

Today marks the beginning of the end of my favorite time of the year. I know I am not supposed to be sad on the day of my children’s birthday parties, but I can’t help it. This big, celebratory day for our family is invariably tinged with a sense of loss for me. With one child born in late July and the other in early August, party day just happens to mean that Summer–my glorious, holy, magnificent, all-things-good Summer–is starting to wind down. And that always sends me reeling between sorrow and panic as I fully realize for the first time what I will miss about my season (EVERYTHING) and what I haven’t checked off my To-Do List (SO MUCH).

This year, like all the others, I came into Summer with an ambitious list of all the things I wanted to do before school started up again and Autumn signaled its inevitable return. But this year was even bigger than all those other Summers, too. It was to be the first Summer since my kids were born that I was “off” with them, the happy consequence of working in the school system. So, as we rolled into June, I was aiming high, imagining the biggest kinds of fun and adventures (despite the smallest kind of budget). It would be grand, and we would come away with memories to last a lifetime. I was glowing in anticipation of my season. My Summer.

What was I going to do? Lots!!!

I was going to be the king of day trips! The kids and I–and occasionally my wife–would escape the house in the morning before the heat of the day was upon us and drive out to an area lake or waterfall or forest for a hike and possibly a swim. We would get to know all of these places that we have heard friends and neighbors talk about for years, gems within an hour or two of our house that we never seemed to have time for in years past. We would go at least a couple of times per week and knock one cool spot after another off the list. It was going to be fantastic!

We were also going to do a lot of extended trips to visit family at the lakes for long weekends on the water and around the campfire. The kids would bond with their cousins the way I did with mine as a child, making the kinds of memories that still leave me with the warmest feelings for those people I no longer see very often. Memories like fireworks, sleeping outside, Capture the Flag, tubing, building forts, and telling ghost stories. As I would be tickled by the children’s shared joy and bonding, I would also be fortifying my own connections with my siblings and parents. And of course, simply basking in life by the water. The best!

In addition to these short and medium trips, we were finally going to take a real family road trip. My long-awaited, much-anticipated return to the mountains of Montana was at last going to materialize. This time, instead of me hiking solo up the trails and tenting in the backcountry, I would be showing my kiddos around and introducing them to the magic of mountain lakes and endless sky, waterfalls and bighorn sheep. It would be everything I have been dreaming about in the nearly-two decades since I made the last of my many visits to my favorite land. A reconnection of my heart, mind, and soul. Everything.

Along with the many adventures big and small, this was also to be the Summer when I reconnected with my first love, Tennis. It was a given that I would teach my kids to play, as I do every Summer. But I also would make a habit of getting my own practice in, returning to that place of purity in the joy I feel when the ball strikes the strings and the exhilaration of chasing after the next ball, relishing the challenge of synchronizing my body perfectly to the rhythm of this violent-yet-fluid dance. I was going to be a player again!

These were the dreams of my Summer just two months ago. The mere thought made me happy. Taken together, they seemed ambitious but still realistic. I could do it!

But did I???

I am disappointed to report that, as with most of my ambitions, while I have occasionally hit the mark, on the whole I have not done very well.

On the Tennis front, I have mostly failed. The children, I am pleased to say, are becoming players. They have had lots of time on the court, and it tickles me to see them enjoying the process, challenging as it is. Score! On the other hand, their old man has been a major disappointment. I have sneaked out and found a wall to hit against a couple of times–reminding myself, happily, of the way I passed most of the Summers of my youth–but have not been ambitious enough to find people to play with regularly. I remain a rusty, has-been/wannabe tennis player. Bummer!

On the adventuring front, I wish I had tons of scintillating tales to share from locales across my state and all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Alas, I do not. We have been to the lake cabin to visit family a couple of times–one weekend and one week–which was wonderful (though admittedly not as often as I had envisioned). The local day tripping, however, has been a resounding FAIL. It seems like there is always one little errand or item on the schedule that has kept me from being ambitious enough to do the required research and commit to taking the trips to the waterfalls and forests. The truth is that it is simple laziness on my part, a laziness that I now plainly regret.

I have, in the place of those deeper adventures, found something to soothe my conscience a bit, or at least distract me from my guilt: library events. Yes, I said library events! At the start of Summer, I found a big, magazine-like brochure published by the county library, advertising all of the events hosted by the several branches in our system. I sat down and spent what felt like the entire day loading them into the calendar on my phone, feeling unusually like a responsible parent as I did so. Anyway, we have played with Legos, made bookmarks, seen magic and comedy shows, and created all sorts of other arts and crafts. And we always come home with even more library books, which assuages my guilt from not being outside adventuring, which is, of course, where I ought to be.

Speaking of adventuring, the biggest disappointment from my Summer ambitions has been my failure to execute the dream road trip to Montana. It pains me to even write about it now, knowing both that it hasn’t happened and, more importantly, that it won’t happen. Not this year, anyway. As painful as it is, though, for this disappointment I feel I have some excuse. We were in the midst of a lot of job uncertainty and transition this Summer, and the financial strain that comes along with that. So, despite my fantasies, the big Montana trip turned out to be not exactly realistic. Not this year. Next year, though…..

All of this both bums me out and freaks me out. I hate the feeling that I am not meeting my Summer aspirations with actions and that I am running out of time on my season. I am creased.

Worse, though, is that my fragile psyche then doubles down on the sorrow/panic carousel when, in my ponderings and journal entries of the week, I realize how this annual ritual is a microcosm of my feelings about my existence as a whole and my place in the great Cycle of Life. I see that this whole emotional swirl around “Oh, how I have loved this beautiful, blessed life of mine!” and “Oh crap, I am running out of time to pack more dreams of adventure and accomplishment, service and impact into my fleeting little life!” is just me with Summer, every year. Just substitute “Summer” in for “Life” and you have a pretty accurate picture of me today. It’s just a thumbnail representation of me at this point in my own journey.

Loving its gifts, already lamenting its passing, and panicked that I need to maximize the joy and opportunity in every remaining moment. That is me in Life. That is me at the end of July.

How about you? Where are you with respect to your ambitions, both for the Summer and for your life? Open up your journal and give an accounting of your inner and outer worlds. Start with the Summer itself. What aspirations did you hold for the season when it began? Was it more about revving up your life with some new adventures or toning it down with some serious relaxation and self-care? Were you hoping to travel? Were there books you wanted to read (or write)? Who were you hoping to spend more time with? What were you going to do with your fitness? Were you going to work less or more? Were you hoping to reduce your stress level? How would you be of service? Was there something–some hobby or passion or joy–that you had gotten away from in recent years that you were going to get reconnected with? In what area was your life going to improve the most? Were you hoping to be happier this Summer? At two-thirds of the way through, how are you doing? Are there plenty of items on your To-Do List checked off already, or are you like me and needing to cram a lot into the final month of Summer in order to feel satisfied? For which type of ambitions have you been most successful? Fitness? Travel? Self-care? Career? In what areas have you clearly fallen short to this point? Is there time left in the season to make up for those shortcomings and create a success story? What type of actions will that require? Are you still invested in making it happen? Now pull back and ask yourself all of these same questions about your life in general and where you are on your journey toward the end? Is your reality matching up to your aspirations? How far off are you? Are you willing to take the necessary actions to raise yourself up to your ambitions, or have you resigned yourself that it is too late to be who you once believed yourself to be? When you look at your current spot on what you believe to be your path through LIFE, what do you feel? Panic? Satisfaction? Sorrow? Peace? Resignation? Gratitude? Bitterness? Relief? Apathy? Excitement? Disappointment? Fulfillment? Regret? Acceptance? Does your feeling about your Summer to this point match your feeling about your life to this point? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well are you maximizing your season?

Seize it all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your circle. Together, we can rise to our greatest ambitions!

P.P.S. If this type of thinking appeals to you, I encourage you to check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

On Whose Time? Take Life As It Comes vs. Force Your Own Agenda

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” –Chinese proverb

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I’ve been doing a little experiment over these last several months since I published my book. You see, up until that point, I religiously published my post once a week, only ever taking a week off when I was traveling. Although I don’t recall ever making a cross-my-heart promise to myself that I would get a new letter to you every week, that was essentially the deal. No excuses. And I kept it. For years.

I can’t adequately express to you how distressing it was to–hundreds of letters later–finally come to the decision last Autumn to put the blog on hold for several weeks in order to get through the very tedious and time-consuming final stages of publishing the book. Despite my certainty that it was the wisest course and that I would get right back to these letters when I finished all I had to do for the book, the decision to pause took me weeks to finally accept and execute. I hated to break the flow and the commitment.

An interesting thing happened when it finally came time to resume my weekly letters. I wrote the first few weeks: no problem. But the next week, when it was time to nail down a topic for the new post, I drew a blank. Nothing came to me. I started to panic. It’s not as though I had never had trouble coming up with a topic before; I definitely had. But through manic brainstorms or scouring of old notebooks or searches of the news, I had always come up with something that inspired/confounded me enough to deem worthy of my consideration and yours. But not that week. Try as I might for several anxious days, it just didn’t’ come.

In a rare moment of self-mercy, I let myself off the hook. I rationalized that after all of the work on the book, my mind must simply be not fully restored to its engaged self. I figured I just wasn’t tapped into the Universe the way I had been, and I decided that it would be very “enlightened” of me to accept that reality and flow with it. I gave myself a break. And let me tell you, that felt incredibly strange! I was almost itchy with dissonance. Something was definitely missing from my week.

But you know what? Even without my writing, my world did not come crashing down. I survived the anxiety and guilt of “not doing my job” of writing to you. Inspiration returned the following week, I wrote a long post, and I figured I was back on track. Trusting the flow of inspiration from the Universe was fine for a week, and I gave myself a little pat on the back for giving it a shot. “But I’m a writer,” I assured myself. “From now on, I write. No excuses!”

But then it happened again. Nothing stirred in my chest and my brain, aching to get out of me. I scanned and scoured, but nothing stuck. I had my panic moment, but eventually I rationalized, “Maybe this is the Universe telling me that I have a new pace. I will trust this one more time.” And I let that week go.

I wrote again the next week, then waited on pins and needles to see what would happen. Again I drew a blank and it slipped by. I scratched my head, eventually forgave myself, and moved on. And so it went for these last few months, alternating between a writing week and a head-scratching week. It is not like I didn’t write anything; I still journaled every day. I just couldn’t muster a post idea, and I accepted that–albeit with some suspicion–as me “staying in the moment” and “trusting the Universe to provide inspiration in its time.”

That, I suppose, became the essence of my struggle: deciding how much to view my lack of inspiration and diminished ambition to create something no matter what as A) me surrendering to the whims of the Universe, rather than as B) me failing at something under my control. I battled myself over and over to grant myself permission to let those uninspired weeks slide by without a product to publish.

My natural instinct was to label this inclination ‘Lazy’ and ‘Weak’ and then prod my myself until I found something to make it work. That has been my way for years: no excuses, act like a professional, get it done.

Produce! Push the envelope! Never settle! Go hard to get to your dreams!

That’s the way the world works, right? Or not?

But what about that seemingly enlightened idea of not “pushing the river” from the Chinese proverb? That sounds pretty darn good to me most mornings when my alarm sounds extra-early so I can squeeze more ambition into my day. It felt like a siren song on those weeks when I didn’t (couldn’t?) publish anything, telling me that it was all okay and even healthy to take a break from the rigors of striving for my dreams. It was downright alluring to believe that inspiration would come in its own time, when the Universe was ready for me to receive it, and that I could relax and enjoy the beautiful moments until The Muse decided to tap me on the shoulder and invite herself back into my soul, allowing me to return to my passion fully-armed.

So alluring that if tried really hard, I could almost believe it.

I tried that on myself last week. The week before had been one of my “off” weeks that I have begun to get accustomed to after a post, so last week I was on the clock. A letter was due. But then I got busy at work for a couple of days, and then my kids got out of school and took over my world, and yada yada yada…..the next thing I knew, I was pretending I had a legitimate excuse for not writing to you that week. I truly put in the effort to snow myself into believing I was just too busy and that “sometimes Life intervenes, the Universe decides it’s not time for that,” despite my best intentions. It made for a stress-free weekend.

But not really. Because, despite my best efforts at pretending that I had given my best efforts toward my writing, deep down the truth was lurking. “Trusting the Universe’s pacing” and “not pushing the river” were fast becoming justifications for my laziness and lack of focus on my passion, and I knew it underneath all of my “enlightened” rationalizations.

Although I am a big believer in intuition and following your gut, by nature I am a driver. My inclination is to look for a way I can make my situation better and then to set out to make that happen. I am stubborn about getting things to go my way. I have been known to “push the river.”

Despite all of that, I like the theory of being at peace with what is and trusting that the Universe has my back no matter how things appear to be going. I like the idea of translating my lack of inspiration as, “It’s just not meant to be today. I’ll check in again tomorrow.” I sometimes admire the people who just chill and don’t mind at all what happens with their situation one way or the other.

But despite the allure of “Whatever,” that just isn’t me.

This reminds me of the other age-old dilemma that I have taken my turn struggling to come to grips with: choosing to be happy with who you are and accepting yourself (your body, your flaws, etc.) completely vs. constantly striving to be better than you are today. Maybe it’s exactly the same issue.

In either case, I always seem to fall back to being bothered by the “Just accept things/Let it be” answer because it feels lazy and complacent. It takes my agency, my responsibility away from me. It coaxes me into helplessness. I despise that condition.

I choose to believe that I have the power to change my situation, whether that relates to an injustice in my country or a lack of inspiration in my mind. I choose to believe that, no matter what forces are working against me that seem to be representing “the Universe wants it this way,” I can take action to steer the situation another way. That action might be a march on Washington, DC, or a volunteer shift at a shelter, but it might also be just showing up at my computer next time I don’t feel “inspired” by any particular topic and start typing anyway, one grinding word at a time. After all, The Muse may or may not be real, but if she is (and I believe she is), I am certain that she only helps the ones who are there doing the work that their soul calls out for them to do. When she stops by my house, I plan to be plugging away at my keyboard.

Maybe this boils down to me saying that I have to act as though the Universe does not have a pace, does not have an agenda. That it’s up to me to create the life I long for, despite the circumstances that sometimes seem to conspire against me. I can’t sit on the sidelines of my own life and take the “It’s in God’s hands” attitude. I think God’s hands are my hands. Yours, too. I must use my hands to the best of my ability to create a life and a world that meets my standards. So that is what I will do.

I am not guaranteeing that you will start seeing a new letter again every week. I am only promising that I won’t blame it on someone or something else when I don’t produce or live up to my expectations. I will not write it off to the whims of the Universe or The Fates not feeling me. I will own what I do and what I fail to do, call myself out when I am being lazy or procrastinating, and take regular stock of myself (usually in my journal).

This morning as I was trying to pull this letter together, I took a break to look at social media. One of the first things to pop up in my newsfeed was a photo of one of those old signs that used to be in front of every convenience store, with the rows for interchangeable block letters that listed the hot deals on cigarettes or jumbo sodas or Slim Jims. This one read: EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. SOMETIMES THE REASON IS YOU’RE STUPID AND MAKE BAD DECISIONS. “Yes! This is what I am trying to say!” I shouted to myself. The Universe may have its own agenda, but we have to take ownership of our little neck of the woods.

My new working theory after processing all of this: Maybe each of us doing our absolute best to ambitiously pursue the life and the world that we dream of is what creates the Universe’s agenda. That is, maybe each of us pushing our little portion of the river is what actually makes it “flow by itself.” Yeah, I like that. It doesn’t make me feel guilty for being ambitious and not settling for the way things are. In fact, it demands that I trust that instinct to push the river and live my dreams. That works for me!

How about you? How do you balance trusting the Universe’s pacing with pushing for things to happen as quickly as your ambition demands? Open up your journal and your engine and try to understand how driven you are and what causes the ebbs and flows in that drive. How ambitious are you in getting what you want, whatever that may be (not necessarily career goals or saving the world–could be anything)? Do you impose your will upon the situation and force things to go your way no matter what the circumstances are? Or, if things do not seem to line up in your favor, do you accept that as a sign that it was not meant to be and let it pass? On a scale of 1 to 100–with 1 being “Whatever” and 100 being stubbornly ambitious–how do rate yourself? Would the people in your life agree with that number? What would they rate you? Speaking of them, how does your number compare to the people in your inner circle? How does it compare to the people you admire most? Are the people we generally see as heroic and worthy of our admiration–the people in our History books–more likely to have high ratings? Does that make stubborn ambition better, or does it just make it unusual? How much do you admire the “Whatever” folks who are just fine with any situation? Do you think those folks are happier than the people like me who are always striving and looking for ways to improve our situation? Does the world need more people on one side of the spectrum than the other? What do you think is the proper dispersal of people along the spectrum? What would happen if we all became stubbornly ambitious in our pursuit of a better life and better world, given that we might not all have the same ideas of what “better” looks like? Could that work? Might it be amazing? Okay, so does the Universe–or God, or Spirit, or The Fates, or whatever–have its own timing? Does It aid or hinder us in our pursuits based on Its own agenda or Its own pacing? If you believe so, how often are you aware of that sensation of things being out of your hands and under control of the Universe? What feelings does that awareness bring up in you? Awe? Calm? Frustration? Helplessness? Gratitude? Does it make you more complacent or lazy to think that something is out of your hands or “just not meant to be?” Do you feel less responsible for your actions in those cases? How do you strike that balance in your life between, on the one side, ambition and personal responsibility, and on the other side, going with the flow and leaving it to Fate? Do you often sway dramatically from one end of the spectrum to the other? Have you found your sweet spot yet, where you feel like you are pushing just enough to bend the Universe to your will but still accepting whatever comes as a result of your pushing? Leave me a reply and let me know: Whose agenda is your life following?

Make Peace with it All,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your social media channels. Together we can create a more self-aware world.

P.P.S. If you are looking for a Summer read (and write), check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

Life On My Terms: Learning to Say NO & Loving It

IMG_1667“Time does not stand still. Make it your aim to create time for your dreams, your loved ones and your Creator. Design your life for what warms your heart and get good at saying no to everything else.” –Mastin Kipp

Hello friend,

I remember the days when I wasn’t so clear about what I wanted to do with my life. Things seemed to be going along pretty well. I enjoyed my relationship with my wife. Kids hadn’t entered the picture yet. I worked way too much, but there was free time on the weekends. If something interesting—or not—was on the television, I would plop down on the sofa and watch. Sometimes for hours, if I was tired or nothing was pressing on my mind. If I was invited to a party or event, I usually went, even though I am, by nature, extremely unsocial. If a suggestion to do something or go somewhere came up, my typical attitude was, “Sure. What else do I have to do?” I was easy; I rolled with it. I was happy. Happy, but not particularly driven. Not particularly clear.

My, how times have changed!

A portrait of my life right now looks a little different. Okay, a LOT different! The wife is still here; that’s a good thing. The kids are definitely here! Also good. I am not working way too much—at least not in the way I used to think of working—which is fabulous. Somehow, though, I have forgotten what plopping down on the sofa feels like. And television? The only thing I know about that anymore is that it shows cartoons. The invitations that come these days are for kids’ birthday parties.

Needless to say, on the outside, my world today looks like an alien planet compared to those bygone casual days! The strange thing is, these changes are just a drop in the bucket compared to what is happening on the inside.

The one constant, fortunately, is that I am still very happy. I am glad that even before all of these changes occurred, I had reached the point with my mind where my happiness is not dependent on circumstances. Things and people come and go, but my happiness remains. That’s a comforting realization.

But, as I said, that is the one constant, the one holdover from those days when I had no plans and my ambition was stuck in neutral. When I step out of my mind right now and think about how it works today compared to then, the differences are shocking. Today, I am being driven hard by my dreams and aspirations every day of the year. There is a reason that the sofa no longer remembers my body and I no longer know the names of any grown-up television shows or movie stars.

You might think it is the kids that did this to me. It isn’t. It is my purpose that did it. My passions. I finally woke up to them, and they have been driving me ever since. There is not a day that goes by that, when my head hits the pillow at night, I don’t wish that I had done more soul-stirring activities or had more time for advancing my mission. Never. Then I wake up the next morning with the itch to be more, to do better, to get closer to the fulfillment of my dreams.

I beg the Universe for more time. Time to write. Time to learn. Time to coach. Time to snuggle with my kids. Time to connect with positive people. Time to connect with The Divine. Time to be of service. These are the causes I want to advance, the ones I am trying to fill every free moment of every day with.

That is why the complementary themes that are driving a deep course through my mind as this new year gets into full swing are Efficiency and Clarity. I am trying to be absolutely crystal-clear every single day about the things that matter most to me so that I can put all of my time and energy into those people and causes. That is what I am about right now. It doesn’t allow for lapses of focus or for days spent in front of the television. It certainly doesn’t understand the possibility of me giving the “Sure. What else do I have to do?” response. I ALWAYS have something to do. Usually more things than I can handle. But always something. It has been a long time since I felt bored, and honestly, I am absolutely certain I will never feel bored another moment in my life. How could I? After all, every moment is an opportunity to better myself and the world around me, another chance to DO SOMETHING to fulfill my dreams and passions. How could I pass on that chance?

That is why my entrance into this year comes with a more serious conviction to spend my time wisely, to not waste any of it. And I mean any! Basically, I want to live entirely on my own terms. I want to cut out all things that don’t speak to me or feel “good for my soul.” I just want to trim off all of the excess—all of the distractions and the energy-drainers and time-consumers—and dial into my essentials. I want to do things that lift my spirit and speak to my soul. I want to spend time with people who I love and who inspire me. I want to feel connected: to myself, my maker, and my loves.

Anyone and anything that threatens to disconnect me from those essentials needs to go. Now! Of course, the more I become laser-focused and excited about this mission and visualize me living the dream, the more I realize how much and how often I am going to have to say, “NO!” to make it happen. I will have to be pretty tyrannical about it. Ruthless. That party I didn’t want to go to? “No, thanks!” Getting drawn into conversation with someone who spreads negativity or just talks about other people? “Pass.” TV? “NO!” I will have to get comfortable declining both invitations and my own inclinations, things I have always done but that simply don’t serve me or speak to my heart. That part will be difficult, no doubt. However, I think that with my priorities much more clear to me now, saying “No” should come easier. After all, if the things I am saying “Yes” to—i.e. only my top passions and pursuits—are enough to fill up my calendar (and they are), then it should be easier to say “No” to the rest. And that is what I will do. Eyes on the prize!

How about you? Is your life matching what you believe your priorities to be? Open up your journal and think about how you spend your time and energy. What activities fill up your typical day? Include both your “work time” and your “free time.” How much of that time do you feel is focused and efficient? How many of your activities and hours are tied to your goals, dreams, or things you deem “good for the soul”? How much of your time is casual, unambitious, not driven toward anything specific? How much of your time is spent doing things you would rather not be doing? How much is spent doing things you regret later? Okay, now reset your mind. Write about all the ways you would spend your time if your passions, your purpose, and nurturing your soul were your only priorities. What makes your heart sing? With that goal foremost in your mind, write out your ideal schedule (Remember, it’s ideal. Get greedy. Think BIG!). How would your week look? How many hours would each of these fulfilling activities get? (Side note: How exciting is it to visualize a life like this?!?) Okay, with this new, ideal life clearly in your mind, write down all of the things you would have to say “NO” to in order to maintain that life. This could include career opportunities that don’t speak to you, invitations to social events that you used to accept but that never enriched you, conversations about other people that you used to engage in but made you feel smaller, mindless hours in front of the television, or people that dragged you down. How long is your list? What percentage of your current life would you get rid of in order to make room for your more fulfilling, ideal life? Is there anything you are ready to start saying “NO” to today? If not today, what are you waiting for? Leave me a reply and let me know, When are you going to start living life on YOUR terms? 

Maximize every moment,

William

P.S. If this letter got you thinking, please share it. Our souls could all use a little stirring!

Becoming Okay With BUSY

DSC_0235“I don’t envy ‘busy’. Busy means having a schedule, not living life. What I really covet is leisure and peace of mind. Those who have both, have it all.” –Donna Lynn Hope

Hello friend,

Being busy is becoming like being a slave to your smartphone and disconnected from real interactions with humans. These are supposedly the defining characteristics of we Westerners in the modern age. This is what the older generations shake their heads at us about. This is what yoga teachers, preachers, and bloggers try to cure us of. We are overscheduled, they say. We don’t take time to stop and smell the roses, much less to plant and tend them as they grow. They say we are buried in our screens and always on the go-go-go because we have lost the ability to make essential human connections, especially within ourselves. We go because, they say, we fear what we would find in the stillness of leisure and quietude. We are made to feel guilty for our busy lifestyles.

I admit it: I have bought into all of the guilt-mongering. I feel bad for how busy I am. I arrive at the end of each day and the end of each week feeling as though I have somehow failed in my duties as a human being because I didn’t build some leisure into the schedule, some time to completely shut off my brain and relax. I see all the posts on Facebook about the many great TV series that everyone else seems to be binge-watching. I hear about sitting around after work having a glass of wine. My brother-in-law takes long naps almost every day. When these tales of leisure arrive at my brain, it simply does not know how to process them. It is like a foreign language to me. Having that kind of time available to burn on casual pastimes just doesn’t compute. Idleness truly blows my mind.

It is not as though I feel any disdain for all of the people who are incorporating idle leisure into their daily routine—not at all—but rather that I am in awe of them. I am inevitably left asking myself, “How do you do that???” I just cannot comprehend how there is time available for that when I seem to be rushing from one task to the next from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I start drifting off at my desk and have to lug myself up the stairs to bed to prepare for the next day’s gauntlet. I suppose I am a bit jealous of the television watchers, wine drinkers, and nappers—leisure sounds quite lovely, actually—but I am more dumbfounded than anything else.

It is not just the question of, “Where does the time come from?” Even amidst people’s busy lives, for most it seems there are hours before or after work when the magic happens. I guess it is more about, “How does your conscience allow you to take that time for leisure, for idleness?” As I write that, I can see that this is truly the rub for me. The conscience. That little character on my shoulder—I can’t tell if he has a pitchfork or a halo—must have killed his counterpart, because I only seem to be receiving one impulse. That is, to keep plugging away. Do the next thing on the list. Become more efficient. Don’t waste time. Learn. Grow. Improve yourself. Do it. Do it! DO IT!!! The message is relentless. That little guy sure is persistent!

So I go, and I go, and I go some more. All day. Every day.

Don’t mistake me: I don’t want to make it seem as though it is a miserable slog to get through. It isn’t as though I am not doing things just for me or taking care of myself. I really am. I get some exercise. I write in my journal every day. I write this weekly letter to you. I spend a ton of time with my kids, whom I adore. And even though my occupation is not exactly my dream job—I am working on that, too, of course—it works great with my kids’ schedules and gives me the opportunity to fill the rest of my day with so many other things that are important to me. I am quite spoiled, frankly.

But still, each one of my many wonderful things must be done. I must get the exercise; it is non-negotiable. I must have all of that time with my kids until they fall asleep at night. And then, I must write in my journal. I must keep plugging away at starting my new businesses. I must get some pages read before I fall asleep. I must write this letter to you on time every week without fail. These things are all very difficult to squeeze into each day, and I inevitably fail and feel guilty for that failure. It is an endless cycle.

And then there is the long list of things I really, really want to get onto the Must-Do List. These are things that I truly believe are important enough that I should do every day—call it the Should-Do List–but that I cannot seem to make onto the Must-Do List, and because that list is already overfull, these items never seem to make it onto the day’s docket. Meditation, which I find to be extremely important, is on the Should list. There are a million books on this list, including the hundreds on my shelves. I have always longed to learn the guitar, and I even have the instrument and instruction manual in my office. That should be done, even just a few minutes a day. I should make much more time for Life Coaching sessions. I definitely should enroll in some new classes. I should hang out with my wife more. The list goes on and on. And, oh yeah, I should build in some time for leisure.

Ah, leisure. There it is again. As part of my Life Coach training, I had to receive coaching from my peers. The only topic that I could ever think of was, “How do I maintain my ambition for self-improvement but also build leisure into my schedule to achieve some sort of life balance?” The only allowance I ever seemed willing to grant myself was to carve out one night per week to hang out with my wife after the kids went to bed, to watch a movie or play a board game or whatever. I figured that would kill the two proverbial birds with one stone by combining the marriage time and the leisure time, thereby eliminating this built-up guilt from living an unbalanced life. It worked! For about two weeks. Then I drifted back into my usual busy-ness and imbalance. And then the guilt about the busy and imbalance.

What can I say? I think that what I am coming to, though, is letting go of the guilt for being busy. I mean, it is not as though my kids are overscheduled and going like crazy every day. And it’s not as though I am busy with useless things. I am busy doing the things that I love (minus the day job, maybe). I am in constant pursuit of my dreams and self-improvement. That can’t be the worst thing in the world, right? Yes, I know I have to do better about getting more of those Should-Dos—which includes some pretty leisurely things, like the guitar and the meditationonto the Done list. I know I have to make that time with my wife. But I also have to make peace with the idea that I will never stop trying to learn, grow, and improve. I will be busy until the day I die in the feverish pursuit of my dreams. I realize more and more every day—with so much help from my journal—that I am just hooked up this way. I landed on this Earth hard-wired for ambition and personal growth; it is not something I can undo. So what if it keeps me feeling more busy than everybody else? I am learning to live with that. What I want is to feel authentic, true to myself and my purpose. I could try sitting around this evening drinking chardonnay and watching “Orange Is The New Black” or “Game of Thrones”, but I know that no matter how great those things are, I would find myself stressing about wasting my time and how many other things I am missing out on that are more important to me. In the end, I have to be me, even if Me is a guy whose daily To-Do List is longer than the day itself.

How about you? How busy are you? Open up your journal and think about the role of dreams and ambition in your life. How ambitious are you? Are you constantly striving to improve your life, or are you pretty content where you are now? Of your non-working “spare” time, how much of it do you spend on personal growth versus leisure activities? What are your favorite ways to pass the time? As someone who knows none of the current television shows or movies, do you have any recommendations to me that I could make my one guilty pleasure each week? How much do you wrestle with yourself about the way you spend your time? Are you ever bored or can’t think of anything to do? Of course, my first impulse is to ask “What is that like?” because I simply cannot imagine it. Even if you don’t have the same constant force nagging at you that I do, does it seem like it would be a blessing or a curse? I sometimes wonder. What is on your daily Must-Do List? How about your Should-Do List? How often do you get to your Shoulds? Does it annoy you that you don’t, or are you good at letting it go? I am terrible at letting it go. How driven are you to do more? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is what you do enough for you?

Be relentlessly YOU,

William

The Legacy of a King

IMG_1669“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” –Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

About 25 years ago, I walked into the library of my high school. Well, walked may not be accurate. I felt like I was pulled in, guided there as if by some magnetic force. I was on a mission. I needed to understand who Martin Luther King was and what he really stood for. And, more importantly, why he seemed to draw me to him even though I knew practically nothing about him. It wasn’t for a class assignment or anything related to school that got me into that library. I just really needed to know. I was compelled. There are some things that are just inside of us; we fall to the Earth this way. I was drawn to Dr. King, even before that library mission, and certainly every day since. Along with a guy you might have heard of by the name of Gandhi, Dr. King is my hero. Perhaps unfortunately for me, however, he is also my measuring stick.

I LOVE books and movies, but I tend to be a bit forgetful of the specifics of the story. I watch intently, and I passionately dissect and discuss them afterward. However, if you ask me, years later, what a particular book or film is about, there is a decent chance that I will have no recollection. But, if you ask me how I felt about it, I will tell you with absolute certainty. It is like that quote about how people don’t remember what you say or do nearly as much as they remember how you made them feel. So, there I sat in the movie theatre last week watching “Selma”, being touched and moved by the experience and by Dr. King’s impact on the United States and on me, when a fact rolled across the screen as the end credits began. It reminded me that he was a mere 39 years of age when he was assassinated in 1968. This fact hit me like a giant club upside the head. Thirty-nine!! And it was four years earlier that he had won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Thirty-five!!!

These numbers had my head spinning. First, it was, “How could they take him so young? Just imagine what he would have achieved with 30 or 40 more years on the planet.” That is mind-boggling. After that thought rattled around my brain for a minute, though, it lead right into a follow-up that got me into a near-panic: “He did all of that by 39—even 35. Shoot! I am running behind! I better get going on changing lives and leaving my mark on the world. NOW!!!” 

Like I said, for me he is not just to marvel at; he is my measuring stick. You are probably thinking to yourself, “Why in the world would you choose one of the most accomplished change agents the world has ever known as your standard to live up to? Why not just take an average person—or even a moderately successful person—and try to do a little better than that?” It is a fair question and quite reasonable, actually. After all, isn’t comparing myself to Martin Luther King a direct path to failure and disappointment for me?

Maybe so. Maybe I am aiming too high. And let’s face it, my track record doesn’t quite shout out, “Hero! Difference-maker! Inspiration! Transformational leader!” I am a 42-year-old guy who has bounced around, taught a few people how to hit tennis balls, and sells shoes when I am not raising my kids. It is not exactly the resumé of Dr. King, who had a Nobel Peace Prize at 35 and was a hero and role model to people in all corners of the world. So, what gives?

Potential. That’s what. I am betting on my potential, on what I think I have in me. I think it is a lot. And I think it is special. Heart-changing. Mind-changing. Maybe even world-changing. I have thought about this concept of potential often. I think that in almost all cases, people overestimate their potential. They think they are capable of doing better—and indeed, fully expect to do better—than they actually are or do. I think it is part of why there are so many deathbed regrets. People think idealistically, especially in their younger adulthood, and dream big dreams for themselves. Unrealistically big, in most cases. (Well, as I write this, my mind changes. It is not our potential that we misread; I think those ideals are possible. We just lose our focus and fail to execute. Hence, the regrets.) I certainly may be in that unrealistic category. I am trying to measure up to Martin Luther King, for goodness sake!   Logic says that I am definitely in that category.

But don’t tell me that. Delusional or not, I am going to believe exactly what my heart and soul are screaming out to me.   They are telling me I am destined for greatness. They are telling me that I will change minds and change lives. Last week, I wrote to you that my Life Purpose Statement reads “I am a catalyst of Self-Awareness and Authenticity.” I believe that I was born with that purpose, that it lives in my soul. With that, I believe I am destined to help people know themselves better and live more authentic lives, honoring their gifts and their purpose. And the kicker is this: I believe I will do all of this on a grand scale, not just in the random few who happen to cross my path. I have a vision of publishing books that help people all over the world, of speaking in front of stadiums full of people, and yes, even of coaching people one-on-one. I want the work I do to touch all levels, from the personal to the global. As Dr. King said, I plan to do “small things in a great way” (as in my private coaching), but I also plan to do “great things”.   I believe that it is all in me.

So, while I am obviously running behind schedule on the standard set by Dr. King, I am still willing to bet on myself in the long run. I am working on my coaching practice every day, beginning to help people to live their best lives. I am writing to you every week, polishing my skills and hoping to make a more grand-scale difference as we go. And I am always, in my head, practicing the speeches I will give to you when we meet in those stadiums on some distant day. The foundation is being laid. I have to think that if I keep plugging away at these missions, constantly trying to serve others, one day my potential will transform into results.   Nothing is guaranteed of course—this is still Life, after all—but, as one of my other great idols, Henry David Thoreau, said, “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.” I am betting on me. Watch out, Dr. King, I am coming!

How about you? What do you expect from yourself in this lifetime? Open up your journal and write about what you are going to do before you die. What is your potential? Do you have the ambition to match your potential? Are you ready to dig in and do the work that it will take to live up to that? Do you use someone as a benchmark or standard that you feel you should live up to? Is it someone you know, or a celebrity or historical figure? Is it a realistic guide? Do you think people tend to overestimate, underestimate, or be pretty accurate when it comes to assessing their potential? Where do you fit? When it comes to yourself, do you tend to temper your dreams or go wild? How about with others: are you the friend/confidante who tends to suggest “Dream big!” or are you in the “Be realistic” camp? When you get to the end of your days, do you think you will be more satisfied or more disappointed with yourself and your journey? Do you think that setting your sights lower takes the pressure off and leads to greater happiness and fulfillment? Or, perhaps setting high standards and expecting the most of yourself brings out your best self and helps you play a bigger game? Where do you fall on this spectrum of expectations? Are you okay trying to do small things greatly—being a light in your little corner of the world–or do you feel destined for grander things? Leave me a reply and let me know: How big is your life and legacy going to be? 

Carpe diem,

William