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Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Hello friend,

The year 2017, as told through the screens on my phone, tablet, computer, and television, was just about the most absurd, infuriating, and demoralizing year imaginable. I had the feeling so often this year that, if we were being studied from afar by alien scientists, they would report that we are clearly devolving as a species, degenerating into a lower state of intellectual and moral being. I suppose there are plenty of “Year in Review” types of shows airing this week, but I don’t even dare to watch. I don’t much care to relive anything that people were talking about this year. It was pretty darn awful out there. I fear that if I admit to just how awful or try to delve into it, I will make for a most depressing companion at the New Year’s festivities. No, I think I will pass on assessing the great big world this year.

But how about my personal year in my little corner of the world?

That doesn’t seem nearly as depressing or daunting a task. After all, as I sit here in these final moments of the year, I still have a smile on my face and a mind eager enough to learn and grow from the lessons this year has provided. It helps, I know, that I process it every day in my journal, so I have some sense of how my report card will come out–I guess I can sense it was not all rainbows and butterflies, but I know it was one I would not trade, either–but I am open to being surprised by my assessment of the various aspects of my existence and how they were shaped by the events of 2017.

Hindsight has a way of casting a new light on things, dusting off some of the emotions and baggage of the moment and revealing its true essence and its value in the grand scheme of our lives. I think I am due for some of that clarity after what has been a most unusual year in the History of Me.

So, how did I do?

Well, maybe it is healthy to admit to a failure right from the start. I know I deserve an “F” in the Finances/Career departments. I was horrible at that from start to finish, truly. Starting the year out having just lost my job last Christmas was certainly a harbinger of things to come. I struggled to find my way all year into something that both paid the bills and met my family’s other needs. Though I have tried to maintain my general positivity and my big picture perspective through it all, I admit to falling into moments of shame, frustration, and disillusionment regarding my aspirations and failings on this front as the year passed. I have chastised myself for both my failings as a breadwinner and my weakness in allowing those failings too much control over my emotions. So, definitely an “F” here.

Another thing I did not do very well with is my Friendships. It is true that as an unsocial and introverted cat, this has never been my strong suit. So, it isn’t as though I had a very high standard from which to judge myself. However, I found myself thinking more and more as the year went on that this is an area I want to do better with: both in making new friends and in staying well-connected with my old friends. Truth: I didn’t do very well with either. I am most disappointed in myself for doing a poor job of keeping up with my best friends, letting too long pass between visits and calls. Maybe a “D” here. Not good.

Okay, this report card is not looking so good at this point! I must have done something well….

How about Family? Yes, the family stuff was quite good this year on the whole. Though I again did poorly with calling my siblings and parents, I made a bigger effort to travel to spend time with them. That was immensely rewarding, both for me and for the children. Speaking of the children, the one thing I think I do consistently well is fatherhood. That was the case this year; we have had a great time, and my relationship with each kid is strong and loving. I wish I could say I did as well as a spouse, but I consistently fail to live up to my expectations there. Still, I have had fun with my wife and have tried to be supportive while enjoying watching her grow and blossom in her new endeavors. All in all, a good score here (let’s say “B+”).

As for my Health, I am grateful to say that I would give that a “B”. There are reminders everywhere of how dramatically one’s quality of life diminishes when health problems arise, so I feel quite blessed that my issues this year have been small. I have had little nagging injuries that have kept me from some activities, but no injury has shut me down entirely. As a guy who needs to be active to remain sane, I will take that as a blessing.

Looking back, I realize that I did not do quite as well as usual with my Spirituality, which also dictates my Psychology. I seemed to be less mindful during the day, less aware of the beauty and wonder of the Divine all around me. With that, I was somewhat less grateful than normal, having fewer of those bowled-over-and-humbled-by-the-absolute-magnificence-of-the-Universe moments than I am accustomed to. I have long believed that Gratitude is the mother of Happiness, so maybe I was a bit less happy this year than my usual state of Bliss. I can make lots of excuses for this distraction from my spiritual home base–joblessness, financial strain, self-induced pressure to finish my book, etc.–but the fact is that it is under my control, and I did not live up to my high standards this year. I would say “B-“.

As someone who spent all of his school years as a “Straight-A” kind of guy, these grades for 2017 are not looking very good to me. There is a ton of room for improvement! And though I am definitely disappointed in myself on multiple fronts, there is something that sneaked into the picture late in the year that softens the blow and even puts a smile on my face.

Is there a spot on the report card for “Fulfilled a Lifelong Dream”? If so, I want to give myself an “A” there. While I had worked on it for years, it was only in this year when I truly devoted my focus to not just working on the book but finishing it. It had been my biggest goal when 2017 started, and I felt the weight of that as Autumn came. The clock ticked loudly every day, and fears and doubts screamed at equal volume. But I reminded myself that, coming into the year, the way I said I wanted to feel all year was BRAVE. On I went. Then, finally, it was done.

Of course, there was relief for being finally finished, and there was excitement about seeing my creation out in the world. But the best part was the feeling it gave me way down deep inside, in a place that I would venture to call my soul. I guess I would describe it as feeling “solid” there, like a deep confidence at having done something substantial toward my life purpose. My foundation was cemented. That is quite a feeling. I hope that you will feel it one day if you have not yet. It will change your world.

I know that this effort and its incalculable reward came at the cost of some of those low grades in the other categories. And though I certainly wish they weren’t so low–I like to have my cake and eat it, too–I have to admit that, in the end, doing the work of my soul and cementing a foundation piece of my purpose made all the sacrifices worth it.

2017 was obviously not the year in which I sparkled across the board. It was, however, the year that I built a lighthouse, one that will keep on shining, providing me with a guide during the many storms that the coming years are sure to bring. I am at peace with the sacrifice and grateful for the light. Bring on 2018!

How about you? How would you grade your 2017? Open up your journal and ponder all of the various aspects of your life over the last year. Even before you dissect each one, how do you feel, generally speaking, as you sit here at the end of your year? Satisfied? Relieved? Stressed? Elated? Indifferent? If you had to describe your year in a word, what would it be? Okay, now look at the different areas of your life and build your report card. You can just go category by category, or you can start with all the good or all the bad. How was 2017 for your job and career path? Closely related to that, how was it for your finances? Better or worse than your expectations? Why? Did it have more to do with things under your control or out of your control? Did you remember that you are in charge of your attitude no matter what the circumstances were? How well did you choose that attitude? Okay, how about your friendships? Were you as good a friend as you want to be? Where can you do better? How about family? How happy were you with your relatives this year? Did you strike the right balance of time with them: enough to deepen your bonds, not so much to drive yourself crazy? How was your health and fitness this year? Did your body hold you back from doing things that you wanted to do? What grade would you give your spiritual life this year? How about your psychological state? Were you grateful? Did you feel connected? How much awe did you experience? Okay, big picture: how does your report card look? Do your scores in those main categories make it seem like a good year, or not so much? Now consider this: was there something else–some bigger event or accomplishment–that overshadowed the main categories and colored your view of the year, either for the good or the bad? Perhaps it was a major personal achievement that brightens the rest–like me with my book–or perhaps it is something like the death of a loved one, which darkens the rest. Now that you have considered the categories and graded your year in each, what grade would you give the year as a whole? Was it twelve months that you would gladly relive, or are you eager to move on? Leave me a reply and let me know: How does your report card for 2017 look?

Make each moment count,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s make LIFE together!

P.P.S. You can find my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten and many of your other favorite booksellers, including barnesandnoble.com and iBooks.

Between Milestones: Where are you on The Map of LIFE?

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

“So, now you can start learning the guitar?”

That was the first thing out of my nine-year-old daughter’s smiling mouth about a month ago when I showed her the proof copy of my book that had just arrived in the mail for final edits. That was how she viewed the culmination of my years of dreaming and hard work: a chance to learn the guitar.

Perspective.

I had told her a while back that I have always wanted to learn to play the guitar and that I even got one–complete with an instruction manual–for Christmas several years ago, that it was right down in the basement in the unopened case waiting for me. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t played it yet. I explained to her that I really wanted to, but I hadn’t made the time yet because my writing was such a huge priority for me. As the reality of the eventual book approached, I told her that as soon as I got it published, I would finally unzip the case to that guitar and begin my education.

And though I wasn’t quite ready when she asked me a month ago–there were final edits to do and some tedious reformatting for e-book conversions–I am ready now.

So, a few nights ago, when I was absolutely sure I had finished by book stuff, I looked at the clock and was astonished to realize that I had an hour to myself without any pressing task that involved my life purpose.

Free time? FREE TIME!!!

It had been years–seriously, years–since I wasn’t pressed (and a little stressed) to get something done in any available moment. It was the strangest feeling! Like cabin fever in my brain. I truly did not know what to do. I had the realization, “So, this is when normal people watch all of these television shows I have read the names of!”

But then I realized: This is my moment! This is what I have waited for! I reached behind the bookshelf and pulled out the dusty case. My heart pounded in my chest as I reached for the zipper. And just like that, there it was. My bucket list item.

So, for the next hour, I put dents in my fingers as I fumbled through the first awkward notes. It was a frustrating and humbling hour, but it was also glorious. I was learning the guitar! After fantasizing about it all of my adult life, I was doing it. I was treating myself, too. Both of those things felt fantastic.

I have done it a couple of times since that night–not for an hour but a more realistic ten or fifteen minutes–and each time I get this weird sensation when I go to pick it up. It is excitement, but it is also guilt. I can’t seem to believe that it’s okay to take this little spot of time just for me. Granted, my daily writing time and my early mornings at the gym are also just for me–I understand that intellectually–but this guitar thing just seems different. Like goofing off. Cheating. Hence, the guilt.

I cannot even begin to count up the number of hours I put into making my book. It was an enormous investment of my mental and emotional energy, too, but tons of time. It was a labor of love, though. A beautiful grind. Whatever energy and time I had left after prioritizing my family first, I gave to the process of the book.

But now the book is done. What the heck do I do now???

Sure, the guitar training was a nice carrot to put out there as reward for finishing–and it is also a bucket list item just like writing a book was–but it is not as though I am going to devote my life to it the way I have with my writing. It’s a few minutes per day, a few times per week.

Maybe I should try to slow down and ease up on the pressure to get so much done, perhaps even try to get a full night of sleep regularly. After all, I have been mostly burning the candle at both ends since I had kids, at first because they were babies and then because I rediscovered my passion for improving people’s lives through my writing. After all of the late nights and bleary eyes, maybe I ought to take this chance to return to sanity and balance for the first time in a decade?

NAH!

I know myself well enough now that if I tried to become a “relax and watch TV” kind of guy, I would go stir crazy. There is just too much I want to accomplish in the rest of my numbered days on this planet. Heck, even after a few days of being free of the book tasks, I am already chomping at the bit.

This is why I am writing this letter to you today. I took some time off from writing the letters in order to make the last big push on the book edits, but in that time I have often felt the tug in my heart that tells me I miss the actual writing and connecting with you. It is why Journal of You began in the first place: I couldn’t wait to get my voice out into the world and to try to make a positive impact on your life. So, this feels good to me right now, like I am finally reconnected again.

But I don’t think this is going to be enough.

That book project was a major deal in my little world. After pushing that big rock up the hill for so long–in addition to my weekly letters to you–I think that once this exhalation feeling wears off (as it seems to be now), I might feel a bit hollow without a new big rock and a new path up the hill. Because, I have to own the fact that, in my vision for my finite life, there wasn’t just one book listed on my Amazon Author Page. There were many, and they tapped into different subjects and different writing styles.

So, while I am purposely trying to give myself a moment to take a breath, to relax, and to appreciate the fact that I just checked my biggest bucket list item off the list, I also get the sense that I need to act on this antsy feeling and just dive into another big project. Because even though I see value in honoring a personal milestone and enjoying the moment for what it means to my life’s journey, I also want to be clear in my mind that this is just one step on that journey and that there are many more to go. I want to act like, “OF COURSE I did this huge-but-no-big-deal thing. There was never a doubt in my mind. So, let’s get on with the next huge-but-no-big-deal thing.”

I guess I want it to be normal in my life to achieve big goals and take on big challenges, to be constantly growing and knocking items off the list. Those milestones should be dropping like flies. Looking at my life so far, I plainly haven’t earned that brand of normalcy yet. It has been a lot of dreaming and experimenting and fantasizing and chipping away, not so much on the milestone-busting. I have been smaller than my expectations.

Does that mean I should accept this slow pace as the Real Me and bask in this one milestone as perhaps the only one I will ever reach? It is tempting (and probably others might say “realistic”). But giving in to that temptation and slipping into laziness and complacency is not me. I know that. I have decided it, and I know that I will keep deciding it as I continue to shape my life and legacy.

I may not have done as much as I had hoped up to this point, but I refuse to settle for one milestone, one check on the bucket list. I have not reached my peak at age 45. There are so many more mountains left to climb.  I better get going now. Onward and upward!

How about you? Where are you in relation to your life goals, and how do you react to hitting a milestone? Open up your journal plot out the map of your life. Have you hit any major milestones or bucket list goals? If so, what was it? A graduation? Promotion? Award? Creation? Opening your own business? Relationship? How did it feel? Were you more thrilled or relieved? Did you take a break afterward, give yourself some time to enjoy the accomplishment and recharge for the next? Or did you, rather, press on full speed ahead, propelled by the momentum of your achievement? Did you feel a letdown after your milestone, feeling that “What now?” of being without the goal to drive you anymore? Did you have a little reward ready for yourself when you hit it, like my guitar? Whether or not you have hit a major life goal yet, are you in hot pursuit of one now? What is it? How close are you to achieving it? Are you moving quickly toward it, or is it a slow grind? Do you get tempted to quit? What keeps you going? How devastated would you be if you didn’t get there? Regarding your big-picture vision for your life, how are you doing relative to your ideal? Are you on pace to get it all done? How realistic are your expectations for yourself? Are you living up to your potential? How does that sit with you? How important is it to have goals or milestones out there to reach for? Do they provide meaning for the struggles of life? Are these big achievements what motivates you, or is it other things, like relationships or simple pleasures or daily contentment? Leave me a reply and let me know: What role do big goals play in your life? 

Shoot for the stars,

William 

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. Let’s grow together!

P.P.S. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, find it on Amazon at www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten I would so appreciate you reading and leaving a review. Cheers!

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

Permission to Fail: Learning to Grow by Taking Risks

DSC_0678“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” –Henry Ford

Hello friend,

I have been faffing all week, and it is beginning to drive me crazy! “What in the world is faffing?” you may be asking. Good question! Well, it is not exactly a word in every dictionary. I think it is British. I heard someone explain it once, though, and I appreciated the concept so much that I have adopted it as a real word (with my own slant). Faffing, at least for me, is when you busy yourself with lots of tasks that, even though they may be somewhat important and productive, aren’t the primary thing you really ought to be doing. While faffing, you may be keeping yourself so busy that you aren’t even fully conscious that you are avoiding the important thing. You have an alibi, an excuse. It is a subtle form of procrastination or stalling, masked in productivity. And if you are not honest with yourself, you can really make a habit of it. Trust me, I know.

What sorts of things have I persuaded myself were important this week? It suddenly became very pressing that I take care of some long-neglected financial stuff. I just had to find out how to unsubscribe from a service that I have been a part of for too long. My desk area needed a re-organization. The old basketball hoop demanded to be disassembled. On and on. You get the idea. I was filling the time with tasks, checking things off the To-Do List. Good, right?

WRONG!

I have been slowly growing more anxious and irritable by the day. I feel like I have cabin fever. I am pent-up, ready to burst. You see, even though all of those things were important tasks that I have been needing to accomplish—I tend to put off all unnecessary tasks in favor of my absolutely most important pursuits, so these things tend to build up—they definitely could have waited for a different day. So, why was I doing them?

I was hiding. Scared.

I have recently made a commitment to myself to write a new book I. I wrote a quick opening last week, and just the feeling of being started was a wonderful relief. But, I also knew that the next phase of the book would be by far the most difficult for me to work on. I had a grind ahead of me. I was feeling insecure about so much of it—how long I should make this part, how much detail was just the right balance between being informative but not boring, whether I was skilled enough to write in a style that I was not accustomed to, how I was going to find the time to sink my teeth into the research—and that insecurity began to freeze me. I was afraid. Afraid that once I dove in, I might not be able to swim as well as I want to believe I can. So, unconsciously at first, I started looking for a way out.

Faffing was my way out. It allowed a psychological warm blanket. After all, I hadn’t quit on the project, so there should be no guilt. I was just too busy to work on it for a few days. That’s fair, right? Life is busy. It’s a great excuse.

I used to be able to faff for long periods of time. Years, even. I am not a good faffer anymore. Thanks to my daily journaling, the persistent call of my soul is too unmistakable now. I cannot shut it out for more than a few days without getting that anxious, pent-up feeling. I am too aware of it, even from the first day. I have, over the years, become an expert at recognizing things that waste my precious time. I cannot stand to waste time.

So why would I allow myself a string of days with no productivity on the thing that my soul is shouting so determinedly in favor of? Fear of failure is a powerful beast.

As I recognize my faffing for what it is, I am starting to see that perhaps the greatest gift I can give myself right now is permission to fail. If I continue to focus on how difficult the task is and how I might not have the tools and talent to pull it off, I will never dig in and try. I will just sit here with my fears and my excuses—always masking as BUSY-NESS—as my prime slips past me and my passion slips away. That sounds like a fate worse than death.

In my case, I think I need to just plow through what writers often refer to as “my crappy first draft” so I can get all of my thoughts out there, however jumbled and unclear. If I can release my fears and insecurities about how bad it could be and who might read it and just write the darn thing, I know that I will be able to see the whole project more clearly and learn what it will take to be better. Then I can set about to actually doing it better in the next draft. By the third one, I should have it.

Better than that, though, is that I will have the confidence of knowing that I stood up and acted in the face of my greatest fears, that I made a bold move on behalf of my dreams. I have to think that can only help me in calling upon my courage the next time. And the next time. And the next time. Exercising those “brave muscles” will make them stronger and more used to working, making it easier and easier to call upon them when the old fears creep back in, as I know they will.

I am bound to fail, of course. I will mess up. This first draft will be horrible. Probably the second draft will, too. Maybe I will even recognize later that it is just not going to be a book that will be as helpful as I had envisioned when I was starting, and I will trash it. Maybe. But even if this one works, my next idea might not. Failure is part of the deal. I like the inventor Thomas Edison’s quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This from the guy who is also known to have claimed, “I failed my way to success.” He sounds like a brave guy to me.

Of course, “failure” is a relative term. There are bound to be bumps in the road, missed marks, and rejections. If I can recognize them as parts of the learning process rather than finalities, I think I can do this thing. Or at least keep trying to. I will try to follow Einstein, who said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” I plan to keep trying—and failing—to make my dreams come true. That is the path for me. No more faffing. I am ready to get back to work!

How about you? What do you aspire to but often wrestle with your insecurities about actually doing? Open up your journal and get real about what holds you back. What do you want most to do that you aren’t currently acting on right now? Think big! What is it? Okay, now write down your list of excuses. What are the things you tell yourself about why you aren’t pursuing that passion? How many of those excuses are based in fear? What would you be risking in taking a shot? Would you look foolish if it didn’t work out? Would it threaten your financial future? How embarrassed would you feel if you failed? How many people know about the thing you want to do? If you could take the risk to try it without anyone else knowing, would that make it easier? How crushed do you think you would be if your first attempt did not work out? Is it important enough to you that you would keep trying anyway? Will you keep trying no matter what happens? If your big thing is too big for you to make a full go at it right now, is there a small step you could take today in the direction of your dream? How tough will it be to give yourself permission to take it? What is the worst that could happen? What is the best that could happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you willing to take a leap today?

Bet on yourself,

William

P.S. If this made you think a little bigger or had you feeling dreamy and tempted, please share it. Let’s build an audacious community!

The One-Item Bucket List: what MUST you do before you die?

IMG_1171“I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” –Jimi Hendrix

Hello friend,

Did you ever come to an important realization about yourself, only to smack yourself in the head and say, “Well, that was obvious! Why did it take me so long to figure this out?” If your answer is YES, then you are in good company, because that is totally me right now!

I have been lately working every day on what I call TJP, short for “The Journal Project.” Essentially, TJP is a life review, using my 20+ years of journals, in an effort to better understand who I have been and how I have come to be the man I am today. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a book in the making. I am attempting to construct a readable story using only journal entries. It was originally intended just for me, but then I thought I might make it for my kids so they would understood who their old man really was. Finally, I decided to see if maybe my thoughts could be helpful to a wider audience. So, that’s how I am reading the entries now, with an eye toward a real book. I won’t know until I finish the project if it has value for anyone besides me, but I hope that it works out that way. If not, just going through the process will have at least taught me one important thing that I didn’t know before: that I am a writer.

You see, it was around the time I was starting The Journal Project that I was coming up on my 40th birthday. Somehow, whether it was the approaching milestone or just coincidence, I began to obsess about finding my true purpose in life and doggedly pursuing my dreams. As I read through my first few volumes from around 15 years before, all sorts of references to my desire to write books jumped off the pages at me. Examples:

October 20, 1997: “…but I just want to write all the time. I stop myself so many times in the day from pulling out the pen because I know I haven’t really anything to say. It’s all I want, though, it seems.”

December 10, 1997: “When I think of the concept of writing a book, it just seems so big and daunting. But the thing is, I know I can. I have no doubt that it will be a ton of work, but that aspect excites me to no end. I want to be up to my ears in it. I love the image of writing through the night on some incendiary ideas which evolve into world-changing passages.”

May 3, 1998: “Perhaps I should begin to organize my first book.”

August 23, 1998: “I was just thinking, I think I should write for a living.”

July 3, 1999: “I wonder how many of these things (journals) I will fill up before I finally write a book and publish it. Thirty? Fifty? I think this is the fourteenth one. Shoot, maybe that number will be 100. It is coming to me, though.”

September 27, 1999: “I really want to write books one day. I want to be an author and a lecturer, a teacher to all.”

October 4, 1999: “Wow! I cannot wait to start writing. The time is approaching when I explode onto this world with love and hope for all. I feel it in me.”

These passages seemed to stand out in bold to me as I read them. Why? Because I had almost completely forgotten how badly I had wanted to write books. I mean it. I fell into a long phase of life during which I was focused on my “realistic” career and marriage and parenting, and the thing I was most passionate about doing faded out of my mind. I took my eye off the ball, fell asleep at the wheel.

Fast forward all those years later, from my mid-twenties to almost 40, and the search for my passion, my true calling, finally woke me from that phase that I now call “Sleepwalking.” Suddenly, my journal entries began to be littered with thoughts that had disappeared those many years ago:

September 14, 2012: “I will write a book. I will. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. I am excited.”

September 19, 2012: “I am fairly clear now that I will not be a novelist. My books will be non-fiction, most likely involving self-help/confidence, spirituality, or tennis, or perhaps all three together.”

September 27, 2012: “…I have often thought of writing an autobiography, or trying to piece together an interesting story of a man—me—told only through journal entries. Probably it would only be interesting to me, but it may be very satisfying to work on anyway. Who knows? There may be something there. I will keep this in my head.”

October 3, 2012: “So I will be a writer instead. I am going to keep telling myself that—I have just recently giving myself permission to announce my dreams, at least to myself—at least until it comes true. The more I say it, the more it pushes me to start doing something about it. That is, to start writing, or at least researching, brainstorming, and jotting notes about what I want to write. It is a first step in the right direction. This is going to work.”

October 13, 2012: “With this ‘announcing’ thing on my mind lately, and me making my ‘Write, William. WRITE!!!” sign for my desk, I thought it fortuitous when I received this quote on Thursday from one of my greatest idols/inspirations, Henry David Thoreau: ‘A single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we must walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.’ I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer. I share myself with the world in order to educate the world. By giving of myself, I can make the world better. My thoughts are worth sharing. I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.”

Even though those entries were almost four years ago now and you still don’t have a book of mine in your hands, I am pleased to report that this time, I have not forgotten. The book has sometimes had to be put on the back burner for long stretches as Life intervened, but it has never left the stove. And lately, I have been pushing hard on it. It is far from complete—probably there are years of work left—but there is no longer any doubt that I will complete it. And if my first one isn’t worth publishing, I will write another one. And another.

My bucket list—you know, those things you plan to do before you die—has only one line on it: WRITE A BOOK. Oh sure, there are other things I want to do before I kick the bucket—learn to snowboard, take my kids on a National Parks trip, get back on a surfboard, learn the guitar, live on a beach—but there is only one thing I need to do in order to die satisfied. It’s the thing I once knew, then forgot about, and then was reminded of again, thanks to my journals. I need to publish a book. Sure, I plan to publish many, but one is the absolute minimum standard before I go. That’s all I need to do.

How about you? What one thing do you need to do before you die in order to leave satisfied? Open up your journal and flesh out your deepest need. This is a tough one, because it forces you to separate needs from desires. Start off more generally, making a list of everything on your wish list of life experiences or achievements. What types of things come first to your mind? Are they career goals, like promotions or raises? Learning a new skill, such as a musical instrument or a language? Travel? Physical achievements, such as weight loss or running a marathon? Adventures, like sky-diving or swimming with dolphins? After you have your list together, see if something stands out and speaks to your soul more forcefully than the others, something you are unusually drawn to. Would that experience be enough to allow you to die satisfied? How risky is it for you to pursue this most important endeavor? Risky in what way—financially, physically, emotionally, or something else? How far out of your comfort zone is it? Is it something you have always dreamed about? Have you verbalized it, even if only to yourself (your version of my “I am a writer” mantra)? How difficult is your item to achieve? Do you need help from anyone to achieve it? Are you willing to ask for that help? How long until you will be reasonably able to knock this off your list? What will it mean to you to have done it? Will it bring more excitement or relief? How badly would it disappoint you to not do it? Leave me a reply and let me know: What one thing must you do that will allow you to die satisfied?

No day but today,

William

P.S. If this letter helped you put some things in perspective for your life, pass it on. I encourage you to sign up to receive each week’s post in your email inbox. Now write!