Tag Archives: Bucket List

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!

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!