Tag Archives: Authenticity

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

LIFE IS SHORT: What are you going to do about it?

“Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” –Steve Jobs

Hello friend,

Last weekend, my wife’s family had a reunion. From the pictures on Facebook, it looked like a fun and festive time for all. The next day at the hotel, check-out time came and went, but her cousin had not come out of his room. Finding no answer at the door, the hotel staff let themselves in. He was dead. Massive heart attack. He was only in his forties, a few years older than me.

Talk about a gut-punch. Even though I didn’t know him, all the photos I ever saw showed what looked like a healthy, vibrant man with a mega-watt smile that lit up the whole scene. He looked like a guy you wanted to get to know, wanted to be around. Good energy. And just like that, he is gone.

I know that death strikes a blow to each of us differently, obviously depending upon who the person was to us, but also playing a role are what age they were, how similar their circumstances were to our own, how they died, and the legacy they are leaving behind based on how they lived.

Clearly, when a person we know and love dies, there is an intensely personal process of grieving to work through, a process that pervades every aspect of our lives during that period and colors our lenses a different way.

Something quite distinct happens—at least to me—when someone I do not know well dies.   I go inside myself for a while. I feel hurt by it. Deeply hurt. Not necessarily because of that individual and the pain their loved ones are feeling—though I certainly sympathize, we are talking here about people I am not so personally involved with—but hurt from a different source.

I guess you could say that death causes me to feel hurt by the Universe. It’s a philosophical thing, I suppose. I am pained—tortured, even—by the unfairness of life on Earth and how, in the tiny moment a gun is shot or an artery closed, a beautiful life comes to an abrupt end. As deeply as I have probed the spiritual realm and as prepared as I have many times felt to be taken to the next realm, I somehow still come back to this place where the brevity of life–and the nonguaranteed nature of the next moment—just don’t sit right with me. It feels unfair. And anyone who knows me well knows that unfairness burns me to my core.

But that is life. Short, uncertain, and unfair.

Yes, it is amazing, precious, and littered with beauty everywhere you look, too. I know, and I see it that way, believe me. But in certain moments, like when a smiley young man dies of a massive heart attack in his hotel room, the short, uncertain, and unfair side sure delivers a blow to my psyche.

After I go through my process of feeling sad about that person’s loved ones and the life left behind, inevitably I drift into this patch of days where that death—and “Death” itself, the concept, with a capital D—begins to play on the strings of my soul. The reality of how quickly my own life is passing, not to mention the very real possibility that it could end at any moment for countless reasons beyond my control, gets into my core and really stirs things up.

The bigger questions of my existence here become front-and-center issues in my consciousness. How well am I using your time? What positive impact am I making on my world? Am I using my gifts? Am I allowing my soul to emerge, or is my ego keeping it at bay? Am I living the life I want to live, or the life my parents or society think I should live? Am I making the most of every day? Am I in this moment, or am I stuck in the past or future? Am I sucking the marrow out of life or just drifting by? Am I making a LIFE or just a living? Am I being brave enough? Loving enough? Optimistic enough? Empathetic enough? Forgiving enough? Kind enough? At the end of my days, when my life flashes before my eyes, will it be a show I enjoy and am proud of? Am I living my Truth?  

These questions sometimes elicit sobering answers from my mind. Because they are tough ones. Sure, they can be wonderful tools of motivation, serving to remind me of what is most important. But they are also tools of torture. The questions sometimes haunt as much they inspire.

Because, you see, somebody else didn’t get to ask themselves these questions again. Somebody didn’t get another reminder that it is time to make good, time to be bigger and more authentic. I hate that part of it.

When someone my own age or younger than me dies, it is particularly haunting. It makes me start to think it is all borrowed time from here on out. I have to live the kind of life that will allow me to answer those big questions affirmatively precisely because that person didn’t get a chance to. They weren’t allowed the golden opportunity of this day to do something greater, to love bigger, to chase their dreams longer and harder. I get this day that they don’t, and I feel like I owe it to them to do my absolute best, both in my heart and in the world.

I have to stop limiting myself. I have to claim my dreams and give myself fewer excuses for not getting them done. I have to rid my life of the things and people that waste my precious time and energy so that I can devote those resources to doing what I love with the people that I love in the service of this world that I love. Nothing less than that. No compromises. I simply have to be more brave and more disciplined with the life my soul calls upon me to live, for all of the nonguaranteed moments I have left. Death will come for me one day, unbidden, and I would like to be in the midst of something magnificent when it does.

How about you? How can you go about living so as to make your death, whenever it may come, more palatable to you? Open up your journal and make an honest assessment of what you need to do to make the most of your remaining days on this Earth. In what areas are you currently falling short of your standards for a life well-lived? Are you aware of ways that you can right the ship? How much work will it take: is it tweaks or monumental shifts? Are you committed to making the change? Are you like me and sometimes need something as shocking as a death to wake you up to the ways you have gone astray and the need to get back to your Truth before your time is up? What other moments have you had that were reminders of how short this life is? What can you do to keep your priorities front and center, to not waste a day? Is the prospect of death enough to embolden you to live your dreams? I encourage you to go back up a few paragraphs to the italics and ask yourself those questions of existence that are pressing upon me now. I hope your answers to those questions are motivation enough to point you in the direction of your True North. Leave me a reply and let me know: What must you do to make the most of your dash, however short or long it may be?

Be unapologetically you,

William

P.S. If this got you to consider your existence, and perhaps imagine some new possibilities, I encourage you to share it. We all need a little reminder sometimes. Be well!

How to Change and Still Be Yourself

DSC_0405“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

Hello friend,

I have been at war with myself lately. I seem to be constantly wrestling with these questions: “Should I or shouldn’t I???” “Do I dare?” “Is this overkill?” “Am I just being annoying?” “Are my friends and acquaintances losing more respect for me by the day?” You may be wondering what vitally important topic I could be feeling this much angst and drama about. What could be so troubling to my usually-easygoing mind? Is it Love? Money? Freedom? World Peace? No, it’s bigger. It’s much bigger. It’s FACEBOOK!

I have shared with you before that I have been embarking on some pretty major career changes in the past year. My “regular job” has entirely changed fields. In addition, I have embarked on two new career ventures on my own. You see, one of the things I have come to know about myself—it has become crystal clear in the last couple of years—is that I should not have a boss. I do much better working for myself: setting my own standards and not having to answer to anyone or be let down by anyone. I crave independence.

Of course, as much as I want to do my own thing, I also have no real entrepreneurial spirit. PROBLEM! I am not inclined toward sales at all, as I have no interest in making people uncomfortable or telling them how great I am. It just doesn’t feel like my nature. I am inclined to help people, to make their lives better, to give them more choices and more freedom. I am inclined toward partnering with people to reach their highest potential. That really lights me up. That is who I am.

This calling to help people live their best lives provoked me to start Journal of You and these weekly letters to you. It also led directly to my two new businesses. The first one seems an obvious choice for my skills and calling: Life Coaching. The second one takes a little more explaining. I have become an independent consultant for a premium skin care company. The wrinkle here—pardon the pun—is that it involves direct sales. I have to actually put myself out there and tell people about the products and business opportunity if I am going to achieve that financial freedom that I long for. Argh!

It is just SO difficult for me to do that! I do not like salespeople. Not at all, I mean. When I spoke to my brother last month about this job and told him it involved talking to my friends and family about these products, he said, “Whenever a friend of mine approaches me with anything like that, it just makes my skin crawl.” Me, too. I am super cheap. I hate spending money. Thus, it makes me doubly uncomfortable when someone I care about asks me to spend money, because then obligation and guilt enter the equation. It is difficult to say no, but if I don’t, I may resent the entire experience and the friend later. So, I mostly just avoid people selling anything of any kind. And now, that includes me.

It probably sounds like the easy and obvious answer is to just quit this business and focus on the Life Coaching and the writing. And sure, I might be less stressed if I did that. But there is a problem: I actually believe in it. I do. The products work like nothing I have ever seen before, and the way they improve people’s confidence is so uplifting and right up my alley. If it were only for those things, I would definitely still quit the business without a thought. However, there is something much bigger going on with this company. There is a chance to directly help people make astounding shifts in their future by joining as a consultant (a.k.a. salesperson). I have seen a few family members and friends, within a couple years’ time, change their lives to the point of having total time and financial freedom. I have seen others make smaller changes, like going part-time and getting to stay home with their kids, paying for college funds, going on dream vacations, or retiring their spouse. The examples go on, but the key is that this business, like Life Coaching, taps into my calling to help people live their best lives. I truly believe that it is a gift and a way out and up for so many people.

So, I am stuck. I have world’s biggest aversion to selling, and yet I really want to give the people in my circle this amazing opportunity. And frankly, I want to give myself the opportunity. I want to succeed in the way that I have seen others succeed, because I am desperate for that time and financial freedom for me and my family. The way I will get that freedom is by sharing this business with others. It is the beauty of it. It is also the curse of it in my case. Sharing it with others—educating them–is a huge deal, because people need the tools to make an informed decision that could be the key to their family’s future. It is big stuff.

So, on one hand, I have something that feels like it is completely not in my nature. On the other hand, it is exactly who I am. I am torn. This is my own civil war. And this is where Facebook comes in. I have vowed to myself to only ever post things that are authentic to me, that feel like a representation of who I am. The way my skin care business runs is by connecting to my network, most commonly through Facebook. So, I suppose the crux of my war is, “Can I post about my business—i.e. sell—and still be authentic?” This question causes me much stress. I guess that, for me, it represents a much bigger question: How do you “Be Yourself” while trying to grow and change your life? I think of the quote, “If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.” I know I have to go well beyond my comfort zone in order to achieve the goals and lifestyle I am shooting for. My challenge is stay true to my principles and my purpose while taking my activities past my normal limits.

Up until now, I have been very hesitant about posting about my business. Maybe once per week was all I dared to do for fear of feeling like a phony or having my Facebook friends think I was only on there to sell to them. What I am coming to see now, however, is that I have just been playing small. I haven’t been true to myself, because I actually want people to know about this company. I think it would be a great service to them to get involved in it. It could change their lives. Holding back for fear of their opinions of me was just me being weak and inauthentic. So, I am now beginning the process of convincing myself it is okay to share about the company, as long as that is not all I share. I want to put my other passions out there, too: my kids, Journal of You, and maybe even some Life Coaching ideas as my practice develops. As always, I want my posts to share who I am and also offer something that uplifts the people seeing them, whether that is the smiles of my children or an amazing story of transformation on one of my skin care posts. Happiness and positive change are central to who I am, and I am beginning to realize that it is okay for me to share that in whatever form it takes on a given day. In the end, authenticity must captain the ship.

Amidst all of this doubt and insecurity about posting and sharing transformation stories on Facebook, I received a message last week that put the wind back into my sails. It was from an old high school buddy whom I had not heard from in over twenty years. The essence of the message was this: “I noticed your posts and shared them with my wife. It is time for at least one of us to escape the rat race somehow. Do you have time to talk with her?” It blew me away, truly. One of these posts–that I had so tortured myself over–had gotten through to someone! A few days later, she became one of my business partners and was so excited about her future possibilities. I was absolutely thrilled to have had a small part in what will be a huge event in the story of her life. My purpose was being fulfilled! I could feel that. I was finding my bearings just outside my comfort zone. A new normal was being established. I was alive and well—and completely myself—at my growing edge.

How about you? Where is the end of your comfort zone? Open up your journal and think about the purpose of your life and the fears that keep you from living it. What makes up the real you? What do you believe is your life purpose? What is the best version of yourself? What fears or insecurities keep you from living that purpose and that best life? What gives those fears so much power? How much do you fear looking bad (or fake or dishonest or whatever) in the eyes of others? Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it? Name some examples of times when you have stepped out of your fears and into your purpose. How did it feel? Exhilarating? Liberating? How far out of your comfort zone did you have to go to get there? Was it worth the trip? I think it is true that the people who make it their norm to chase their limits and expand their comfort zone are the most vibrant and successful people. Do you agree? If so, why do you think most of us don’t dare go out on that limb very often? Do you? How true to yourself are you? On a scale of one to ten, how authentic are you? Do you think if you faced your fears and stepped out of your comfort zone more often, that your authenticity number would go up? What is one thing you can do today to take on your fears in the service of living your purpose? I dare you to do it! Leave me a reply and let me know: How can you make a big change and still be yourself?  

Be the one and only YOU,

William

Kids Are The Best Teachers

DSC_1239“I wish friends held hands more often, like the children I see on the streets sometimes. I’m not sure why we have to grow up and get embarrassed about it.” –Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

Hello friend,

I just spent a weekend with my kids and their little cousins. A few times, while sitting in their midst as they played, I was able to sort of rise above the chaos and just take them in for the marvel that they all are, individually and collectively. I was completely tickled by it. Certain qualities stood out so clearly in their interactions with one another: excitement, playfulness, honesty, activity, generosity, forgiveness, and authenticity. It was quite amazing to sit back and take in these beautiful characteristics that these kids seem to employ so naturally, so effortlessly. The magic just seems to ooze from them.

In one of my appreciative moments, I was struck by a strange, intrusive thought: What would this gathering be like without the children??? It is really an unusual question coming from me, as I do basically everything with my kids. Still, there it was in my mind, this query begging for a response. Really, what qualities would a fly on the wall—or someone stepping outside of the moment like I did—notice distinctly from this hypothetical gathering of adults only? Let’s be clear: this is not just a random assortment of strangers. It was me, my sisters, and their husbands. I love these people. I even like them and admire them. So, how would the situation look to the objective viewer? What would stand out for them about us and our interactions? What is common to most friendly adult gatherings?

As with the kids and their interactions, I hope that the love would be clear, the enjoyment in each other’s company. I think you would see generosity. I am not sure what else would be clear, though. The activity would be absent. There would be very little play, less sharing, less forgiveness, and, perhaps most tragic in my eyes, less authenticity. Mostly, I think the adults-only gathering reveals just a dimmer expression of the joys of life and the range of human expression.

Adults, when denied the influence of children and left to their own devices, tend to play their interactions—and often the entire game of Life–so close to the vest, not wanting to ruffle any feathers or be uncool. Much gets repressed. The unfortunate result of this self-censorship is that it leads people to be inauthentic. They are not expressing their Truth. It is not done in an intentionally devious way, but still it is an assault on Truth. Whether it stems from wanting to fit in, wanting people to like you, or just not wanting to create a stir, this lack of authentic expression and interaction leads to a real dulling of the scene. The fullness of human spirit and emotional range is stifled. The adult-only landscape runs the risk of being both false and boring.

I admit it, though: I am heavily biased. I have always much preferred the company of children. Through every phase of my life, if I have been forced—and yes, I need to be forced—to attend a large social gathering, you can bet you will find me hanging out with the kids rather than the adults (I love that, now that I am a parent, I have an excuse to “just be in here to keep an eye on the kids” at such events.). Sure, some of it is just my natural introversion, but there is no doubt that I just prefer the way kids interact. I am drawn to their authenticity. I love how they tell their Truth. Not just verbally—though that can be absolutely hilarious—but with all of their being. As I said, it simply oozes from their pores. They come by their Truth naturally and haven’t been trained enough to filter it. It is pure and beautiful to me.

Kids not only display the whole range of human spirit and emotions; if you are deeply connected to them, they take you through it, too! But as taxing, frustrating, heartbreaking, and downright exhausting as that is, it is somehow one hundred times more exhilarating, uplifting, rewarding, joyous, and downright soul-stirring. 

I don’t know how to explain it. If you surveyed folks on individual factors such as stress, self-care, frustration, and exhaustion, I am certain that parents and caregivers would score highly on incidences of these negative factors, possibly much higher than non-kid people. They would probably also score high on the positive end of the spectrum, such as tender, loving moments, or moments that they feel immense pride. If you weigh out all of the factors on paper, it may look like the kid people come out only even at best, and perhaps much worse off than the non-kid crowd. But then ask just about any parent, teacher, coach, or caregiver if they would prefer to be without those stress-inducing kids. Heck no! That theory on paper goes right out the window.

Seriously, I remember so many nights at journal-writing time, when my little ones were just babies and I was totally wiped out from some string of parenting ordeals that day, and I caught myself writing how fantastic it was to spend the day with my angels and how wildly grateful I was feeling. I would try a reality check and ask myself, “Weren’t you the one who got up at four o’clock this morning and hasn’t been back to sleep; who has been peed on, pooped on, and vomited on; who almost went out of your mind because she wouldn’t stop crying; who got so mad when he threw his plate of food on the floor for the seventeenth time; who just about worried yourself to death when his temperature spiked; and who cried with her when she fell and hurt her head? You have NO CAUSE to think this day was so awesome or that you are so blessed to get to spend it here with them rather than at work! There is no logic in it!” Still, there it was. Logic and surveys cannot explain it. I wouldn’t trade any of those days for anything, and I still look back on that time as blissful. Insane, perhaps, but still blissful.

So, this afternoon, with this topic on my mind, I took my kids to the local YMCA for swimming lessons. I was in the process of thinking how narrow-minded I might sound by writing something like this letter I am writing to you now. After all, people who don’t have kids and don’t interact with kids are still happy and fulfilled and wonderful, too. I worried that I may end up writing something that made it sound like if you aren’t a parent, then your life just isn’t very full and worthwhile. So, I took a few minutes and, instead of watching my own kids in their lessons, I turned my eyes to the “play pool” and watched other people’s children. They were dragging each other around on pool noodles, splashing, sometimes fighting, most of the time giggling. They were just generally being silly, playful, dramatic, and completely authentic. It might have been more emotional watching my own kids do this stuff, but even watching complete strangers, I found it tremendously comical, fascinating, and thoroughly moving. It is raw LIFE on display. I highly recommend finding ways to get involved with it (even if people think you are that creepy guy at the playground or pool who just likes to watch the kids play!).

Kids—yours, mine, or someone else’s—are absolutely magical. They can be all four seasons in one day. But even as they take us on this rollercoaster ride, they teach us a million different lessons. My biggest takeaway from this weekend with children—my lesson learned—is to be myself.  To tell my Truth, no matter how many emotions that stirs. To just be me, boldly and unapologetically. And, oh yeah, to have a little fun along the way!

How about you? What do the children in your life teach you? Open up your journal and get real. How much are children a part of your everyday world? Do you wish that amount were more or less? How are you going to go about making the adjustment to your preferred amount? What do you like to do with children—teach them things, just chat, or play whatever they are playing? How different are your interactions with kids than with adults? How much more do you smile? How much more imagination do you use? How much more engaged are you? How different are the feelings you are left with afterwards? As I write those questions, I am picturing one of my best friend’s faces when he is with my kids—he is childless–and how it so totally seems to make his heart sing. This otherwise quiet, unassuming guy just completely lights up. Is that you, or don’t kids really do that much for you? Whether or not you have kids of your own, do you think that raising children generally leads to a more happy and fulfilling life than remaining childless and pursuing one’s other passions more fully? What is the single greatest lesson you can learn from being around children? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do kids teach you?

Be you,

William

Re-Writing Your Story

IMG_1212Hello friend,

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”  —Henry David Thoreau

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the name “Nobel”? If you are like me, it is the Nobel Peace Prize, won by such notables as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Flashback to the 1880s: if I had asked the people of the world the same question, the answer would have been entirely different. TRUE STORY: Alfred Nobel had the unique experience of reading his own obituary in the newspaper, and it changed the rest of his life and his legacy. It sounds like a great premise for a movie, right? Farfetched, but intriguing. And in this case, true. Nobel, who was a scientist from Sweden, had earned a vast fortune for inventing, among other explosives, dynamite, earning the nickname “The Merchant of Death” for his efforts. He was traveling in France in 1888 when his brother, Ludvig, died. When the French newspapers heard that Nobel died, they assumed it was Alfred and headlined his obituary with “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. It went on to say “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”   When he read his own obituary, Nobel experienced a wake-up call regarding the path he had chosen and the legacy he would rather leave to the world upon his actual death. Apparently, the message was received. In short order, he devoted the bulk of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature. The rest is history. I bet when I asked you what comes to your mind when I say “Nobel”, you did not say “dynamite”.

I have lately been pondering the idea of my own obituary, or at least of my eulogy and the things people who know me would say if I died tomorrow. These eulogy thoughts have stemmed from my recent obsession with identifying my core values and life purpose. After naming my core values—personal growth, self-knowledge, spirituality, family, service, purpose, teaching, and authenticity—I tried to nail down my Life Purpose Statement: “I am a catalyst of Growth, Self-Awareness, and Authenticity.” With those in place, it seemed the natural next step to put them to the test by asking if I was really living in line with my core values and life purpose. Part of that asking involved a sort of inventory of my life. I went through the main areas on the “Wheel of Life”–Career, Family & Friends, Finances, Romance/Intimacy, Health & Self-Care, Social & Fun, Personal & Spiritual Development, and Physical Environment—and wondered how well I was incorporating my core values and life purpose in each.

The answers were revealing and helpful, of course, but nowhere near as helpful as when I began to question the potential content of my eulogy. I wanted to compare what I think people would say if I died tomorrow with what I would want them to say. I also considered what people who knew me best would say versus those who only knew me a little. I wasn’t really concerned about whether I was going to be found to be well-liked or not, but rather about whether or not I made a positive impact. These are some of the things I thought and hoped people would say:

  • “He was an awesome Dad.”
  • “He was always trying to be better, to keep growing.”
  • “He reminded me of my magnificence.”
  • “He was the happiest person I ever met.”
  • “He was intensely curious, always wanting to learn more about everything.”
  • “He wanted people to be their best, and to be happy.”
  • “He challenged you when he thought you were sliding or settling.”
  • “He was honest, but he delivered his honesty with love.”
  • “He was always positive, always optimistic.”
  • “He dared me to disregard opinions and be exactly my Truth.”
  • “He wasn’t afraid to try new things or make mistakes.”
  • “He inspired me to play a bigger game in life and kept me on it.”
  • “He shared his love relentlessly.”
  • “He knew exactly who he was and owned that completely.”
  • “He desperately wanted to make the world a better place to live.”
  • “His family meant everything to him.”
  • “Even as he tried to improve everything, he was so grateful for his life.”

As I write these things, it strikes me that maybe this isn’t what other people would say about me. Maybe it is only what I would say about me. I realize that I probably don’t do a good enough job of communicating who I really am to most people. Even though I want to get out and change the world and change lives one by one, I am an introvert, and sometimes I shy away from sharing my passion for life and for helping people. I tend to lock myself down, to hide my light. Because of this, I know a lot of people who know me would probably say that they had no idea that I had all of these thoughts in me and no idea of who I wanted to be to the world.

For all of my talk of authenticity in my purpose, I surely do my share of hiding myself. I am not faking anything or saying that I am things that I am not. I am just not showing up all the way for most people. It is like the old “Lies of Commission vs. Lies of Omission” issue. I have definitely been clear in my head and heart about who I am and what I am passionate about. In private, I have acted it out. I have made the big decisions and life moves in complete personal integrity, fully aware of my motives, strengths, and weaknesses. I go through my day full of passion for my dreams and projects, such as writing these letters to you every week. But in public, I have generally clammed up. I have not, in my everyday interactions, named and claimed the messages that I am driven to share with the world. In that way, I have fallen out of integrity and authenticity. I have been acting in some situations unlike the person that I know I am inside.

I can see from this that if I am to leave the legacy that speaks truthfully to who I am at my core, I must put myself out there more. I must learn to manage my introversion and recognize that if I truly do think my message is important for the people of the world to receive, it is worth me being a little uncomfortable in order to deliver it. I need to make myself less of the “Oh, I didn’t know that about him” and more of the “Yes, I knew that from the first time I met him” kind of guy. Basically, I need to stop hiding my light. I need to not just know who I am, but also to show who I am. Putting myself and my purpose out into the Universe will draw the right people and circumstances to me, and our lives will change because of it. In that way, I can leave a different legacy and be the author my own obituary and eulogy. I can re-write my story. A better story.

How about you? What is the legacy you want to leave? Get out your journal and think about the impression you have left on your little corner of the world. Whose lives have you impacted most? How much of that impact is positive? What would those people say about you? How different is that than what you would like them to say? Is there something you could do in your remaining time on the planet that could bridge that gap, that could cause them to put new words to your eulogy? How would you change your ways to change your obituary? Would it help you to read your obituary or hear your eulogy now, in the way it helped Alfred Nobel? Consider the things you regret most from your life, or the people you may have impacted negatively. How many of these are wrongs that cannot be made right? If there is still an opportunity to make something right–or even just better–are you willing to do what it takes? In the end, does it really matter to you what other people are going to say or feel about you, or does it only matter how you feel you did? Or perhaps how your God judges you? Which matters most? If you could write a eulogy or obituary about your own life and legacy as it stands now, what would it say? What if I guaranteed you twenty more years here to make a new one with the way you live those years—how would that change it? Leave me a reply and let me know, How would you re-write your story? 

Live the way you want to be remembered,

William

Why Are You Here?

DSC_0963“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I watched the movie “Selma” yesterday. It was about the Civil Rights Movement and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for the fair and equal treatment of Black Americans, in this case as it pertained to voting rights. It has really stayed with me, this film, creeping into my consciousness as I move through my day. I was captivated by so many different aspects of the film and the history behind it. One angle that really grabbed me in a unique and powerful way, though, was Dr. King’s resolve and willingness to go back into the fray—being beaten and jailed and leading others into situations that ended in their deaths—over and over despite serious doubts and guilt over so much spilled blood. And then there was his family. He carried the dual burdens of being taken from his wife and kids for long periods of time and also, by virtue of his leading role in the movement and the explosive mix of ignorance and violence that defined the opposition to it, the knowledge that he and/or his wife and children could be murdered at any time. I could not help but keep asking myself, “With so many reasons to NOT keep working for the cause—really big, life-or-death reasons—what kept him going back in?” 

The answer I keep coming back to is that, deep down inside, he knew what his life purpose was. He knew that he was alive for a reason, and that to turn his back on that purpose would be to disrespect his Maker. He had a calling. A reason for being. A purpose.

I latched onto this aspect of “Selma” so strongly because I have been lately in the process of defining my own life purpose. I am going through the process as part of my Life Coach Training Program. It is no small task, either, let me tell you. Along the way, I have had to address what my needs are and what I value most in this world. I have tried a number of different exercises designed to help rank my values. I am not talking about chosen values—standards that I have adopted and held myself to—but rather about core values, which are things that I feel I was born with, things that have been with me all my life. The exercises—indeed, the entire process—have been very revealing.

Boiled down into one-word answers, these are some of my core values: spirituality, self-knowledge, teaching, purpose, growth, family, service, connectedness, health, and authenticity. These things get right to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick. They provide wonderful clues to my life purpose, but they are just the beginning when it comes to trying to define it succinctly.

The next phase of my homework was to make a long list of examples of times in my life when I knew was living “on purpose”. That is, times when I felt completely in the flow, energized, and as though things were effortless. I quickly jotted down more than twenty times in my life when I felt that way, ranging from when I was a teenager all the way up to the last year. My list included many times when I was writing, including writing my very first blog to you. I was on fire with passion for what I was doing, and the work and the cause filled my sails. It was effortless. I also noted many times when I was teaching, from private tennis lessons to Philosophy 101 classes. It included times when I have spoken publicly, including when I performed my sister’s wedding. That felt right to me. I also felt right and true in the simplest moments with my family, as well as hiking alone in the mountains or swimming in the ocean, feeling totally connected to the Divine.

I then took time to write a bit about each of these examples: what I was feeling and what about them struck such a deep chord in me. Next, I combed through all of my descriptions for recurring themes and words that resonated with me. It turned out to be not so different from the list of core values I had already made. Words that kept surfacing were: Connected (with the Divine, with others), Inspire, Dreams, Growing (personally and spiritually), Motivate, Teaching, Sharing (my love, traditions, my message), Challenging (myself and others, moving beyond the comfort zone), Family, Creativity, Self-Improvement, and Improve the World.

With clarity regarding both my core values and the recurring themes of the most “on purpose” moments of my life, I was feeling ready to write my purpose statement. After some tinkering with language, this was my first draft:

The purpose of my life is to help people—myself included—to live their best, most authentic lives by teaching and inspiring them to know themselves better; to be grateful for all that they are and have; to challenge themselves to grow spiritually and experientially; and to honor and pursue their dreams.

I was kind of liking it, actually. It named the things I want to do with my life, and that hit me in a good spot. It rang true.

However, I felt the pressure to make it short and sweet, so I started chopping. To a writer, cutting out words is like killing your babies, so it was no picnic for me, I promise you. My condensed draft looked like this:

The purpose of my life is to teach and inspire people—including myself—to know themselves better, to connect to the Divine, and to follow their Bliss.

While I wasn’t so sure I liked it better than the long version, at least it was concise. I figured I would put them to the test with my teacher when I got to class tonight. I was feeling pretty confident.

As it turned out, the joke was on me. I got to class tonight, and he started explaining life purpose statements and the differences between purpose, mission, and vision. You see, mission statements talk about the ways we are going to fulfill our purpose. They are action statements. Purpose statements, on the other hand, identify our calling or reason for being. Curses!!! While I had thought I had two pretty solid versions of my purpose statement, what I really had were a long and a short mission statement. Back to the drawing board!

To get to my purpose rather than my mission, I need to focus on Who I Am more than what I am going to do to express who I am. At my core, who am I? Why was I born? Why am I here? What is in my soul’s code? With only a few minutes of reflection—and what will probably be the first of many drafts—I suppose I would answer this way:

I am a catalyst for self-knowledge and authenticity. 

Yeah, I suppose that about sums me up. I want people to know themselves deeply and to own themselves completely, including the honoring of their dreams and their own unique path in life. In a way, I think my purpose is to help everyone live their purpose. Or, is that my mission? Whatever! In any case, I think I am starting to understand why I am here. And that’s the whole point, right?

How about you? Why are you here? Open up your journal, and get ready for some deep diving. What are your core values? Can you name your top ten? If you had to get it down to three—and really, you don’t—what would they be? Are you living from those values now, or are you off-course? Think about the times in your life when you have felt most “on purpose”. Write them all down, and then elaborate. What were you doing? What are the common themes running through those experiences? Do those themes mesh with some or all of the core values you listed? Now, write out your Life Purpose Statement. Be as concise as possible; really try to boil it down to your essence. And don’t play small! Your purpose is magnificent, so name it and claim it. How difficult is it to crystallize your calling? Have you always known what it was, or is it only now becoming clear to you? I think writing a mission statement is really helpful, too. I accidentally wrote mine first, which gave me some good clues as to how to write my purpose statement, but I think it probably works best to know who you are first before stating the way you are going to fulfill that purpose. In any case, do the work. Dig. Ask yourself some tough questions. And take the “shoulds” out of it. What do you really value? Who are you really? Not who do you wish you were, or who do you think you should be to make others happy or proud. WHO ARE YOU? There is no greater question and no more important answer. Leave me a reply and let me know: Why are you here?

Your truth shall set you free,

William

What’s Your Elevator Speech?

DSC_0600“Every job from the heart is, ultimately, of equal value. The nurse injects the syringe; the writer slides the pen; the farmer plows the dirt; the comedian draws the laughter. Monetary income is the perfect deceiver of a man’s true worth.” –Criss Jami 

Hello friend,

Teacher. Waiter. Tennis coach. Maid. Actor. Retail manager. Personal trainer. Construction worker. Courier. Painter. Secretary. What does this seemingly random list of professions have in common? These have all been, at one time or another, my answer to the age-old question that defines social gatherings in our society: “What do you do?”

Now look at that list again. If you and I had just met, made it past the names, and arrived at the inevitable “What do you do?” question, which of my answers would have interested you enough to start a real discussion or made you consider either employing or referring me in the future? Let me answer for you: “Very few!” Maybe the actor made you at least curious enough to ask, “Have I seen you in anything?” Maybe if you were really into tennis or fitness or desperately needed your house painted, you might have asked a follow-up question about my services. Otherwise, my answer was probably a conversation dead-end and an encounter you quickly forgot. The next time you needed a courier, a maid, or a secretary, you did a Google search—or Yellow Pages back in the day I was doing some of those jobs—and found someone, because our conversation certainly didn’t hold me in your mind.

But what if, when you asked, “What do you do?” I had said, “Have you ever invited a special someone over to your place for the first time—or agreed to host a party for your job–and desperately wanted to hide the fact that you haven’t dusted since, well, EVER, and that you aren’t even sure you know how to use the vacuum cleaner? Well, I work with people like you to take care of all their cleaning needs so that they can be free to focus on the more enjoyable things in life, like getting dolled-up for that date or making hors d’oeuvres for that party. That way, they can be at their best when it matters most.” How would that grab you? You just might ask to get my business card, because you either A) are that messy person who wants to impress, or B) know someone who is. In either case, I have your attention and will probably come to your mind the next time you need a maid. Behold, the power of the Elevator Speech!

An Elevator Speech gets its name from the idea that if you got on an elevator several flights up and someone asked you the classic “What do you do?” you could, in the thirty seconds or less it would take for you to arrive at the lobby, interest them enough with your answer that the person would ask for your business card. It is a marketing spiel, of course, but its purpose is not to sell something immediately but rather to begin a relationship.

The relationship you are trying to open is not necessarily with everyone but with your target audience. When I was the maid, if I had given you that speech in a crowded elevator and you were compulsively neat, it would have had no effect on you. But, that handful of slobs sharing the elevator with you should have been completely captivated by my speech to the point that they pulled me aside as we got off in order to get my card. If your Elevator Speech is truly tailored to your desired audience, that audience should automatically gravitate toward you when you give it, eager to learn more.

So, what makes a good Elevator Speech? I think it starts with authenticity (as just about anything good does, right?). It has to come from your heart and not feel canned. It should sound conversational. Metaphors and examples are great, as humans tend to think best in vivid images and stories. Clearly conveying the benefits you can provide for your audience is crucial; that is, not just telling people what you do, but, more importantly, how it makes their lives better. If people think you are authentic and they can clearly visualize how your product or service can benefit them, they are going to want to find out more about you. If you get that far, you have a good Elevator Speech.

Being new to this whole concept and to marketing in general, I asked my wife if she has some version of an Elevator Speech ready for when someone asks her what she does. She runs a multicultural center at a college, so I thought that such a spiel might be the farthest thing from her mind. Much to my amazement and delight, she immediately (and so casually) replied, “I create opportunities for people to have authentic dialogue with each other about difficult issues in order to learn more about their own and others’ perspectives.  Ultimately, the goal of my work is to facilitate dialogue and create spaces that allow people to build effective relationships across difference and develop a mutual understanding of each others’ experiences.” WHOA!!! This woman is good! She is very, very good. (Writer’s Note: It is really cool to still be impressed by your spouse after a million years together.)

So, what about me? I have only been learning about this stuff in the past week as part of my Life Coach training program. By nature, I have approximately ZERO INTEREST in sales or marketing. None. I guess I have always taken the mindset of, “If I deliver a good product, word will get out, and people will come.” That has been my version of marketing. It is no wonder I am not a salesman! However, my teacher has been hitting me over the head with the idea that, no matter how great of a Life Coach I am, if I am not willing to put myself out there and talk to people about the benefits of working with me, I am going to be a broke Life Coach. So, it is time to start talking!

This is what I have come up with so far:

“Do you know those people who are really driven to reach their full potential? Well, they often become frustrated—even stressed-out—about how to best use their time and their talents. I work with those people to CLARIFY WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO THEM, and to eliminate the distractions that drain their energy. What’s so great about that is that they can then direct all of their efforts into FOLLOWING THEIR PASSIONS and LIVING THEIR PURPOSE.” 

What do you think? Did that peak your interest at all? Maybe make you want my business card to learn more about what I could do for you? If it did, awesome! If not, either the speech needs a lot of work—which is definitely true—or you are not part of my target audience. I actually kind of like it, though, at least as a start. Well, maybe it is not so much the speech that I like but, rather, I like that I get to do those things it talks about. It is good to appreciate your job, to feel as though you are adding value to the world. I am right there with this new gig. Now I just need to tell people about it!

How about you? What do you say when someone asks what you do? Take out your journal and write about your work. Do you usually respond with a couple of words, such as “I’m a nurse,” “I’m in sales,” or “I work at a grocery store”? How often do people ask you for your business card or for more information based on what you tell them? Do you like your job? Do you think if you liked it more, you would be more eager to use an Elevator Speech to describe it? Does it even interest you to find out what people do for a living? I tend to be a bit repulsed by the question—similar to talking about the weather—because I think most people ask it simply as a reflex. I would rather know what someone’s hobbies or passions are. But maybe if people gave more Elevator Speeches, I would like the “What do you do?” question. Have you ever used an Elevator Speech? Did it work? Did it surprise the person who asked you? I think I would be shocked to hear one, just as I was when my wife dropped hers on me. If you could come up with one now, how would it go? Leave me a reply and let me know: What’s your Elevator Speech?

Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing,

William

A Lifelong Love Letter

DSC_0880 2“Say what you want to say, And let the words fall out honestly.  I want to see you be brave”             –Sara Bareilles, Brave

Hello friend,

There is something so nostalgic and heart-tugging for me about reading a letter. Not a text or an email, but a real letter on actual paper. It is somehow more romantic if written in ink rather than typed, but as long as the signature is hand-written, it has my heart. I love to dig through old piles of random life stuff and come across a letter from long ago. It doesn’t matter who it is from—childhood friend, sibling, lost love–it suddenly takes on enormous emotional power. Maybe it is because I love to write, maybe because I really want to share my Truth with those I love, and maybe just because I often have a tough time saying just what I want to say in person. But whatever the reason, I have always been captivated by letters.

I don’t write them often enough. It always seems like such a great idea in theory, yet I never seem to make the time (I am beginning to think this is the story of my life—ugh!). So the people who have meant so much to me have not always been aware of their impact and my gratitude. I have a lot of regret about that. I have, however, developed one redeeming habit that I hope to never break. Ever since my daughter turned one—she will be six this week—I have written my children a letter on their birthdays. I just spill out what they have been up to and how I feel about them. At some undetermined point in the future—maybe when they turn 20 or 25 or when they get married or have their own child—I will give them the letters. It may sound small and silly, but gosh, what I wouldn’t give to read something like this from my own parents! I am a nostalgic guy and a natural chronicler of events. If my kids are anything like me, maybe they will appreciate what their old man was thinking about them as they moved along their journey through this wonderland called Life. So, here is what I wrote to my son last week on his big day:

30 July 2014

To my Isaiah on his 4th Birthday,

Happy Birthday, Best Man! My Prince is four years old! I suppose I am supposed to say, “Where did the time go?” But it really feels like you have been with me forever, so thinking of my baby as a 4-year-old doesn’t make the old parent in me feel sad or like I am losing time. I think what makes that the case is that you and I squeeze the most out of every day together. And we spend SO MUCH TIME TOGETHER. We are pretty much stuck together like glue—you and I—and that suits me just fine. I cherish every moment with you.

Someone once asked me if I could name the characteristic that really stands out in your personality. I told her, “He is the funniest and most fun-loving person I have ever met.” That is totally true. Once you get past your crusty-crabby state right when you wake up in the morning—you are no fun at that hour—you are the most fun-seeking, fun-having person in the world, always trying to find something to amuse yourself and anyone else who is around. That gets you into just about everything, of course. It is tough to get mad at you even when you are causing trouble, though, as I know your underlying intention is good (just sometimes misdirected!). And when I am giving you the angry Daddy look for being a little rascal, neither one of us can keep a straight face for long, because you shoot me that little glance that says, “Yeah, I am just playing the little menace role right now, but I am really just messing with you, Dad!” Then we both giggle and move on, as neither of us wants to miss the fun stuff in the next moment.

And what fun we have! One of your favorite games is “Shoot the Ball at Somebody!!!” which involves you and I getting out all of our million balls in the playroom and then throwing them at each other over and over(and, of course, laughing all the way). You also love “Dino-Fighting” which is basically just you and I pretending to be dinosaurs and wrestling each other in the yard. I may be bigger than you, but you make up for that by never getting tired. You also love to have bike races up and down the street (and yes, you beat me in that every time, too). Almost every time we go out to ride, you are totally unwilling to go back inside until you have taken at least one ride to the end of the street and back in each of your favorite vehicles: bike, Big Wheel, balance bike, and scooter. The neighbors all know to drive slowly, because you drive amazingly fast but don’t always look where you are going! It is so fun to do all this stuff with you.

You were busy away from the house this year, too. You love playing with your cousins, at Minot for Christmas but especially at Pelican Lake in the Summer. You all play together so well and have the best time in the lake and on the trampoline. Those are my favorite times of the year, when I get to bring you to a place that has always been special to me and see you love it as much as I always did when I was a kid. When you are not terrorizing your sister, you are glued to her and think she is the coolest thing ever. The zoo is another one of your favorite spots, as you are a great explorer. This Winter, you got into your first class ever: Swimming! After spending the entire first class period being held by the teacher while screaming for me—one of my toughest half-hours ever–you were a champion the rest of the way. It is such a treat to watch you enjoy the water. Just last week, you and I were the only ones in the outdoor pool at the gym right when it opened, the only two foolish enough to be out there on a gray, 65-degree morning. We had a blast, though, as always! Just a couple of weeks ago, you also got to start Soccer. And while you haven’t gotten into a Tennis class yet, you and I have spent a lot of time on the court together (most days you don’t want to hit anything but overhead smashes, which is how I know you are my kid!). It is such a treat to be your best buddy for all this.

The one hobby that I wish you did less of—but that totally mesmerizes you—is watching television and movies (your big favorites this year have been “Monsters Inc.,” “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “The Incredibles, to name just a few). What amazes me always is how perfectly you memorize all of the scenes. And because you are a born actor, you entertain us nonstop with performances of the scenes the rest of the day, or you just throw movie lines into your regular conversation. It is genius and completely hilarious. Since just before your last birthday, you have been into superheroes. You were Superman for Halloween last year and are already trying to decide who to be this year. Superheroes, balls, dinosaurs, cars & trucks, wrestling—yeah, you kind of seem like a stereotypical boy in a lot of ways.

But you are also so unique and extraordinary. You are amazingly intelligent and so sweet, and somehow you manage to balance all of that with your superhuman energy and joy of life. I am in awe of how you can contain all of this in one little four-year-old body. It is a testament to the power of your spirit. You are surely destined for magnificent things. I can’t wait to cheer you on every step of the way. I am so, so proud of you and so wildly grateful that I get to be your Dad. I couldn’t imagine a better son, and I thank you for sharing your magic with me every single day. These are the best of times. Happy 4th Birthday! I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

Always, Dad

What about you? Is there anyone you want to write a letter to? What do you want to say? If you feel a little weird about it–or scared or whatever–sometimes the best place to start is in your journal. Open it up and just start writing to the person from your heart. Don’t judge it; just say what you want to say. If you think they don’t know how you really feel about them—most people don’t, precisely because we don’t tell them—then really lay it out there. Say what you have always wanted to say, what you have always really wished they would know about you and what they mean to you. Who in your life do you need to deliver this letter to? A parent? Sibling? Childhood friend? Teacher? Hero? The one that got away? The one who doesn’t know they are the one? How about someone right under your roof who you have been unable to get on track with for awhile, e.g. a child or spouse? Maybe the letter you need to write is to someone no longer living, someone you never got to say all you wanted to say to. That is a wonderful letter, a healing letter. What about my habit of the annual letter to someone, whether you save it for later or deliver it each year? Is there someone you might get in that habit with?

In the end, it makes me feel better about myself—more honest and more fully who I am—when my Truth is out there and my loved ones know where they stand with me. I can feel how it deepens the relationship. Actually, that is how journaling has made me feel about me. I am authentic because of it. I know myself, warts and all. Telling on yourself—whether to yourself or to others—is the best way to rob shame of its power. Then you can just be you. Authentic, beautiful you. So, write to someone! Expose yourself and experience how liberating that is. And please, write in your journal. Give yourself the gift of a lifelong love letter. 

You are worth it,

William

Who Are You Trying To Impress?

DSC_0728“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

Hello friend,

Yesterday I was given a stern warning that I needed to “be careful” about what I write in my blog posts. The subtext seemed to be, “People who know you are offended by your opinions and will think less of you if you keep speaking your mind.” It took me a minute to process this warning, but ultimately, my conclusion was: “I don’t really care what people think of me. I will tell my Truth, and that is enough for me. I will be relentlessly me. My peace is in my authenticity.

In coming to that conclusion, however, I had to really look myself in the mirror and ask myself how consistently my actions support that philosophy. Am I really the maverick, the nonconformist that I fancy myself to be, seeking only self-approval and dismissing the expectations and judgments of those around me? Am I walking the walk?

In Walden, my favorite book, Thoreau says, “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 he hears, however measured or far away.” When I first read that quote in my mid-20s, it was just what I needed to hear. Like seemingly everyone else I know, I spent my school years trying to do all the right things to become “popular” and “successful” by the only standards I knew: number of friends, grades, trophies, and positions. I dressed like everyone else, got straight-A’s, won tennis tournaments, and was on the Student Council. Since I was a little kid, I always said I would be a doctor, as that seemed to be the most prestigious job. I followed that path for 21 years, living by the standards set by others for what I should do and never once questioning the authority of either the standards or those setting them. My future was set in stone. I was a sheep.

But then something happened. I heard a voice inside me. It was screaming for attention, begging me to look within for the answers rather than simply at what everyone else expected of me. That voice scared me more than anything I can imagine. Following it would mean completely jumping off a cliff in terms of who I thought I was and how people would perceive me from that point forward. I would look like a giant failure to everyone, including those I loved the very most. The only one left in my corner, it seemed, would be me. I was alone on the cliff. And I jumped.

“Leap and the net will appear.”

As terrified as I was to jump off that cliff in a sort of reputation suicide, the new me that showed up as a result was completely liberated of all that baggage that comes with trying to impress people and live up to their expectations. I think it must have worked like this: when I thought I had been written off and abandoned by everyone in the audience—everyone I was trying to please–I realized the only one left in the room was the guy in the mirror. How was I going to please him? There was an amazing freedom in that absence of an audience. My new standard derived from how well I listened to that inner voice, how true I was to myself. Authenticity and happiness became my new barometer for success.  It was not long after that that I came upon the Thoreau quote in Walden. My hair stood straight up. I wasn’t alone after all. I had a supporter, and it didn’t matter one bit that he was 150 years older than me. On I marched!

Over the many years since my cliff dive and liberation, I have come to many forks in the road that involved similar decisions: do what is expected or do what is in my heart? In following my heart and living to my own standards, I have given up other chances to put a “Dr.” in front of my name and taken career demotions because they better suited my priorities. These decisions have become easier over time. I may not be making my parents—or anyone else—proud in terms of fancy titles or big salaries, but I am deeply happy and doing my best to live my Truth, to step to the music that I hear in my soul, “however measured or far away.” 

Writing this blog to you the last few months has been a wonderful outlet for me in that regard. In being so open and honest with you about what I have been through and what makes me tick, my goal has been simply to get you to examine your own life, to know yourself better so that you might live more authentically and, ultimately, more happily. I understand that in putting myself out there in this way, it leaves me open to criticism, such as from the person I mentioned in the opening, who was essentially trying to “shush” me. If I can get you to live more authentically and happily, I will gladly take the criticism any day of the week. I like Aristotle’s view on this: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” I think I would rather be me. Relentlessly me.

This is not to say that I don’t fall prey to societal expectations in some areas of my life. I have told you before that I have an ongoing battle with vanity, some of which is certainly societal. I try to look good and not stir up trouble at my kids’ teacher conferences, because I don’t want any biases against them in their education. I am sure it shows up in many other areas as well. On a scale of 1 to 10—with 1 being “I march to my own drummer; the approval of others is meaningless to me” and 10 being “I do everything I am supposed to do; I don’t rock the boat; I require society’s approval”—I would say I am currently about a 2 ½.

How about you? Where do you fit on the scale? It is time to open your journal and look yourself in the mirror. Look at your life: your job, your wardrobe, your hobbies, your schedule, your friend group, your car, your conversations, the way you handle conflict, EVERYTHING. Are you telling your Truth? Are you doing and saying what you think everyone else wants you to do and say? Do you have an opinion and share it, or are you the “go along to get along” person? Have you swallowed yourself so many times that you are not even sure who the real you is anymore? On the other side, have you ever gone overboard, given yourself too much license to the point where, in the name of “being honest,” you were really just being offensive? Fill up some pages in your journal—it’s a big topic—then leave me a reply. I want to know: who are you trying to impress?

Be relentlessly you,

William

What Makes You Happy?

DSC_0405Hello friend,

Making snow angels.  Running through the sprinkler.  Taking photographs.  Surfing.  Playing “Keep-it-up”.  Building a snowman with my kids.  Skiing.  Visiting my parents and siblings in the house where I grew up.  Writing this blog.  Holding hands with my wife and kids when we are walking somewhere.  Sledding.  Yoga.  Hiking along a mountain stream.  Reading.  Snuggling.  Just being at my family’s lake cabin.  Doing “Steamroller” across the carpet or grass with my kids, just like my Dad used to do with me.  Hitting a tennis ball.  Flying a kite.  Swimming.  Tickling my son.  Writing in my journal.  Having a dinner date with just my wife and talking about our hopes and dreams.  Ice skating.  Paddling my kayak on a quiet lake.  Swaying in my hammock. Working on my book.  Sitting by the ocean. Learning something new.  Teaching.

These are my happiest moments.  These are the activities that bring me the most unbridled, unadulterated joy.  These are the things I am willing to take time out of a busy schedule for, because I deem them to be “Good for the soul”.  They make me feel pure and centered and serene and light and alive and joyful.  They just feel right in every part of my being.

I got to thinking about these activities and the feelings they produce in me.  Does the mere doing of them—and the frequency with which I do at least one of the items on the list—dictate my level of happiness?  I tend to think of myself as the happiest person that I know.  I could be wrong about that, but I think it nonetheless.  In any case, I am happy and don’t want to trade places with anyone.  But is it all about the snow angels and the Steamroller?  Is that enough to explain my happiness?

I decided that what those activities do for me is necessary but not sufficient to justify my happiness.  That is, I need them, but there is more to it.  They certainly produce Joy, Peace, and Love, which, I think, are kind of a deal-breaker trio when it comes to living happily.  But what else does it take?  Is there a short list or equation that can actually explain not just joyful moments, but true, deep, ongoing HAPPINESS?

I checked it out.  One of the most commonly quoted happiness recipes (attributed to a variety of sources) is: 1) Someone to love, 2) Something to do, and 3) Something to hope for.  That sounded pretty good.  The philosopher John Locke went simple with, “A sound mind in a sound body.”  He is onto something there, I thought, if you expound on the “sound mind” part.  Aristotle said, “Happiness is a state of activity.”  That didn’t do it for me at all.  Mohandas Gandhi, who is on the short list of my all-time heroes, said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  I liked that one, too, but I still wasn’t sure I had it yet.  So, I went with one of my other all-timers: my wife.  At lunch today, I asked her what she thought the short list of happiness components should be.  After a moment of thought, she came up with: 1) Contentedness, 2) Self-assuredness, and 3) Peace.  That is a solid recipe (I think I’ll keep her on my all-time hero list!).

With those wise folks as my jumping off point, I decided to take a crack at a simple recipe of my own Happiness Stew.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. As a base, pour in one gallon of Authenticity (a la Gandhi): living your Truth
  2. Fold in four cups of the Connectedness of your choice:, To a Divine Source, To family, To friends, To everything (whether you feel that is Divine or not)
  3. Blend well with an atmosphere of Progress/Growth by continually learning and stretching your limits
  4. Garnish with as many “Good for the soul” activities as you can swallow

Enjoy!  (That should actually be part of the recipe, too.)

Now, what is your recipe for happiness?  Get out your journal, and go for it!  There is no single right answer that applies to everyone, so you have to look deep into yourself to find your unique recipe.  Is it a mix of the ones I mentioned, or none of the above?  Is it way more complicated than I am making it sound?  While you’re at it, process this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  If he is right, you have an awesome responsibility on your hands!  Finally, make out your own list of “Good for the soul” activities, the things that make you feel happy at your core.  I would love to hear what you come up with, so leave a reply and get the conversation started.  Trust me, just making the list will put a huge smile on your face.  I guarantee it will be worth your time.  What are you waiting for?

Be happily you,

William