Tag Archives: calling

Learning to Flex Your Brave Muscles

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time he can be brave,’ his father told him.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Hello friend,

I am attempting a new workout routine to start the New Year. Like any new workout, it is causing me lots of aches and pains. Lots of grumbling, too. It is hard to keep going every day. It’s even harder to step up to those crisis moments, when it feels too daunting to continue, when giving up is the greatest temptation. They say that’s just how new workout programs are. The muscles need lots of time and repetition to get accustomed to lifting the load over and over again. After a while, it will get easier, or so they say. Right now, though, it’s hard to believe them. It just feels like a lot of work and pain and doubt.

Which muscles am I working on, you ask? My Brave Muscles.

That’s what I call them anyway. The Brave Muscles are the ones you need when you feel the most self-doubt. They are the ones you need when you feel afraid, unsure, and embarrassed. You need your Brave Muscles when you feel alone and not up to the task ahead. You need them most when your dreams—the very life of your soul—are at stake and you feel like giving up and playing small.

I have felt all of those things lately. None of them are any fun, believe me. That is why I started my workout routine. I need to build up my Brave Muscles, because they seem to have withered over the years.

The place where I worked for the last few years just shut down, so I am out of work and hoping to avoid a family financial crisis in the coming months. When I started that job, I planned for it to be the last “real job” I ever had, before my writing career took off and I could work from home around my family’s schedule. Well, I wasn’t exactly up to speed yet when the axe fell, so now I am in a minor panic about my future, my dreams, and my family’s well-being. I desperately want to get to some writing projects that could be the transition to that career of my dreams, but the tension is rising as the clock—and my bank account—counts down.

Looming on the other side is the “safe route” of a real job and more money, but that translates to the loss of my dreams and a coinciding loss of my family’s charmed existence of maximum quality time together. I despise that safe route right now! Still, it sings its siren song of safety and certainty.

Needless to say, I am at war with myself. I know I am supposed to feel weak and embarrassed—and I do–about threatening my family’s financial stability by being without a guaranteed, regular income. I know I am supposed to feel guilty—and I do—about selfishly going after my dreams instead of settling for something more stable. The uncertainty of it has me feeling quite alone on my island. Those feelings—weak, embarrassed, guilty, selfish, uncertain, lonely–don’t sit well with me at all.

But on the other side of all of that weakness is this fire raging in me to burst upon my dreams with all the gusto I can summon, to demand from myself and from the Universe that THIS IS MY TIME!!! My soul demands that I seize this little moment—despite it being forced upon me—to lay claim to my purpose and Follow My Bliss. And of course, to make it work.

The path of least resistance—at least on the outside—is the safe route. There is such a powerful allure to that. It doesn’t require the workout routine. My soul can be a couch potato and sloth away the years of my life. When I am not guarding my thoughts closely, I fall prey to all of those self-defeating thoughts and emotions. “It’s too hard (or risky, new, unlikely to succeed, selfish…..). I’m not good (or prepared, talented, connected, wealthy, lucky…..) enough.” They spread like a gasoline fire through my heart and mind.

They come whenever I get stuck at a tough part while writing my book. They come when I am reading about how hard it is to get an agent or a publisher. They come when the bank statement arrives in the mail. They come when someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?”

This is where the new workout routine enters the picture. I decided, entering this year, that how I wanted to feel most this year is BRAVE. So, whenever one of those weak moments arises—it happens many times per day, believe me—and my confidence starts spinning away into oblivion, my job is to recognize it as soon as possible, before the devastation is too widespread. This early recognition is an enormous challenge, but I am getting lots of practice and learning the telltale signs: constricting chest, pit in my stomach, frown on my face, and that twisting, sinking mind. Once I recognize it, it is time for those Brave Muscles to go to work. I remind myself to take a deep breath. Then I clear those awful thoughts from my mind, replacing them with visions of what my soul is called to do. Finally, I speak some words of conviction and determination: “I’m doing this!”

And I am. One crisis moment at a time, those Brave Muscles are getting stronger and stronger. I know there will never come a day when I don’t need them anymore, so I might as well get lots of repetitions in now, to build that strength and endurance for the long haul. The biggest dreams need those things.

The workouts may be exhausting and the signs of progress frustratingly slow to reveal themselves, but I can already tell that it is worth the effort. These Brave Muscles are flexing, and every time they do, I can feel my soul begin to rise. I think I might just soar.

How about you? In what part of your life could you use more courage today? Open up your journal and let yourself feel around for your weak spots. In what part of your life are you operating out of fear? Is it in a relationship? In your career? Your finances? Your politics or spirituality? In what area is your self-esteem the lowest? Where are you in relation to your dreams? Are you following your Bliss? If you are not, why not? What would being more brave look like in your life? Would the changes be subtle or dramatic? How does that image of a Brave You feel in your heart? Pretty awesome, right? What specific things are keeping you from flexing your Brave Muscles and demanding that life? How good are you at catching and correcting your mind when it starts spiraling out of control with thoughts of fear and self-doubt? It’s hard! But your best life is worth the effort. What small act of bravery can you take today to better yourself? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How strong are your Brave Muscles?

Stake a claim to your greatness,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. And make sure you are signed up to receive every post in your email inbox right when I publish them. Make it a brave week!

Enjoy Life or Improve It: What should we do with ourselves?

DSC_0819“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” –E.B. White

Hello friend,

Last month, I received a note from a dear uncle that scraped an open sore in my psyche. His words: “I worry about you—not that there’s anything wrong, but that I know you’re a person who is continually trying to make sense of the world, how you fit into it, and seeking to improve it. By my reckoning, those are all admirable traits. I mostly hope that you will be happy and fully enjoying each day of your life.” It was part of a very sweet and complimentary letter, and I very much appreciated his kindness. He means a great deal to me, and I believe he understands me better than most.

This is why the subtext of those words has lingered and festered in my mind over the ensuing weeks. The subtle message: If you spend your life trying to improve the world, you miss out on all the fun. Just enjoy the ride.

Don’t think that the concept of “Just Enjoy Life” is not appealing to me. It is. We should seek to be happy, to enjoy both the simple pleasures of this life and also the more elaborate ones. Life is to be enjoyed. Spending your precious time on things much bigger than you—and perhaps beyond your sphere of influence—can be reasonably considered a waste. I get it.

But I don’t really get it. Not in my soul, in my spirit, in my daemon, in my calling, in my Fate, or whatever you want to call this thing deep inside me that seems to be driving the bus. It has its own set of demands, and they seem to trump anything that my logical mind sees as reasonable.

Once in a while, I talk myself into “killing time” with something mindless or gratuitous. Maybe it is watching television or surfing the Internet, something purely for leisure. I might go for a bit without any repercussions, but before long, the boss notices that something is amiss. I start to remember all of the other, “more important” things I could be doing to advance my dreams and make my world better, and then I get anxious, antsy. It is like cabin fever for my brain. I am dying for an outlet of “productivity.” And even though I know leisure is part of a healthy lifestyle, it has to be the right kind of leisure for me. It has to also fulfill a need, like physical health (from going to the gym) or self-awareness (from writing in my journal) or peace (from a walk in the woods or a ride in the kayak). When I stop and smell the roses, it has a purpose.

My inner control panel has very sophisticated instruments to detect activities (and people) that don’t serve my greater good, and it is quick to alert me of things that waste my time. I just don’t tolerate these things well at all. They make my skin crawl, truly.

So, I do my thing. I stick to my priorities. I deal with people who are meaningful to me and spend my free time only on things that speak to my deepest passions. And I trust the control panel to alert me to anyone or anything that will distract me from my highest priorities. I am extremely protective of my time and energy.

I admit that I have high aspirations, both for myself and for the world. High aspirations require a higher level of dedication, a deeper commitment. I understand that one of the trade-offs of that commitment is less time fooling around and “taking it easy.”

It is tiring, though. I admit that, too. Every day the tasks of aspiration bark their orders at me and don’t much allow me to let up. Moments are not to be wasted. I sometimes get a little burnt out.

That is when I have one of those aforementioned evenings of forced leisure. I try to restore the proper balance. But, as I said, I never last long in leisure mode. I hear the ticking of the clock like firecrackers going off in my brain. I feel the time wasting. I start to go stir crazy. My projects call out to me. I ache to get back to them. So, the cycle continues.

I suppose I just have to surrender to my internal wiring. I am almost certainly never going to be the guy who doesn’t have at least one thing he is aching to learn about or improve upon in any given moment. In spite of everything that is happening in our world today, I fully hope and expect to live a lot longer, and thus I expect to accomplish a lot before I leave this place. So, on the surface at least, I may never come across as the “just relax and enjoy” guy.

But that is not to say I don’t enjoy my life. I do. I love it, actually. I find myself often counting my blessings regarding my regular need to juggle so many high-priority tasks that I truly love. I love spending tons of time with my kids. I love writing in my journal. I love writing these letters to you. I love working on The Journal Project. The only thing I don’t love is the pressure of trying to squeeze all of these wonderful things into every day. It is a huge challenge, and even more so when I try to mix in some other, more “pure leisure” activities into the schedule. So, even though I am doing all of these things under the stress of deadlines and sleep deprivation, I am thoroughly happy and grateful that I get to be the guy who juggles them.

Sometimes I compare my kind of grinding happiness to the way a pro athlete goes through the wringer in a very tight and important competition. It is high drama. You see him tortured by his own errors or the luck of his opponent, totally dejected after the loss of a critical point and cursing himself in the process. It is like a Shakespearean tragedy. And yet, even after the worst of dramatic losses, when it hurts like his dog has been shot, if you asked him if he still likes to play and still wants to practice, he would look at you like you were insane. “Of course! I love it! Let’s go play it again right now!”

That’s how I see myself most days. Yes, trying to improve myself and the world every day is taxing and often frustrating. Sure, I have to pass on more leisurely activities that I know would be lots of fun. But do I regret the bargain I have made? Heck no! I get a great rush when I make a personal breakthrough or learn that I have made a positive impact on someone’s life. It feels like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.   And hey, I gotta be me!

How about you? How do you balance striving and leisure in your life? Open up your journal and give yourself an honest assessment. How driven are you? What is the thing that keeps you striving to be better? What is your level of obsession with that task? Is the growth you seek to gain from it purely personal, or does it also have an element of a greater good, of service to others? Do you allow yourself to take a vacation from it sometimes, to let yourself totally off the hook? Are you like me and get a little antsy when you are not doing something productive? Do you set aside time for fun and leisure? What do you do to “Just Enjoy Life”? Is it your primary goal? Is it more about an attitude, or is it about finding lots of activities that are enjoyable? Is it okay to be entirely about enjoyment, with no thought to self-improvement or the greater good? Isn’t being happy a type of gift to the world, too? Is there a proper mix for how to spread one’s time–such as 90% enjoyment, 10% service/improvement—or is the answer as individual as we are? Do you think someone like me, who is a little bit obsessed with the service/improvement part, is doing it wrong and likely to end up unhappy (and perhaps not even impactful anyway)? Does the world need a few people bent that way, anyway, so that the majority can be more pleasure-focused? Where do you fit? Leave me a reply and let me know: What drives you? 

Do your thing,

William

P.S. If this helped you to see yourself, share it. Encourage everyone with the light that you radiate!

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

If Money Was Not An Issue…

DSC_1066“Making money isn’t hard in itself… What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.” –Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind 

Hello friend,

My life coaching classes have really gotten me thinking lately. Stirred up might be more accurate. You see, one of a coach’s best tools is a powerful question. A powerful question can make you see things in a totally new way, a way that might suddenly provide wonderful clarity on a topic that you have long been struggling with. Often, a coach’s questions cause you to look more deeply into your heart and mind to figure out what really makes you tick and what you really want to do with this wonderful gift called Life. What I have recently discovered is that the question that best grabs me by the collar and throws me up against the wall in its demand to be addressed is, “If money was not an issue, what career would you pursue?”

Of course, it is easy for my mind to run wild upon hearing this question. I mean, “If money was not an issue…” can easily translate into fantasies of living on the beach in Aruba. Who needs a career if money is not an issue, right? So, I must clarify the question. “If you were to make AS MUCH AS YOU DO NOW DOING ANYTHING….” or “If you made ENOUGH TO BE COMFORTABLE-BUT-NOT-WEALTHY DOING ANYTHING…” seem to put it in better perspective for me. The other way that helps me—the husband and parent part of me–get to my most pure answer is, “If you had no wife or children that you felt compelled to provide time, energy, and money for, what career would you pursue?” That one really helps me crystallize the issue, because I wasn’t much bothered by being broke as a single person, but I don’t want that for my wife and kids.

In any case, all of these versions of this question, at their core, simply ask, “WHAT IS YOUR BLISS?” What is your dream? What career thought absolutely lights you up inside? What is your calling? What job will most help you give your unique gift to the world? This topic—following your dreams–is probably my most favorite one in the entire universe. I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame, completely compelled by it. I feel so passionate about it for myself and for others. I could certainly write a post to you every week on this topic. I know it is why I have been drawn to life coaching as well. I just really want to see people living in the light of their own Truth by listening to their soul’s calling and following their Bliss. That is the key to living authentically, and I am nothing if not a fan of authentic living.

For me, then, the trouble with this supremely important question—What does your Bliss look like? (and no excuses allowed)–is that it is a trap. It compels me to live out my answer or else feel like a fraud, an untruthful version of me. I just find it so necessary to follow whatever my answer to this question is, because that seems to be the only way to live truthfully to my calling and purpose. After all, I know what my values are. To maintain my integrity, I must be able to answer to the man in the mirror. Living my Truth is the only way I can look that guy in the eye for any sustained period. Thus, I feel even more emboldened to follow my Bliss and live out my dreams. I start plotting my future as a writer, speaker, and coach as though it is the most natural and obvious thing to do–starting immediately, of course!

But then guilt or humility or the voice of Society smacks me back with a “Who are YOU to get do whatever you dream?” and a “Be realistic!” I start to wonder if I am just being a selfish, spoiled guy—which I am, of course—expecting everyone else to make allowances for me to live my dreams. I wonder if my sense of entitlement—the “How could I NOT get to chase my calling? How DARE you stand in my way?” feeling—is justified. Because, really, who else is following their Bliss? Is there really anyone else out there who has not been forced to settle for less in order to keep the lights on or the spouse satisfied? Why should I be so lucky?

But then the relentlessness of my Truth comes roaring back. Along with it comes my dogged determination to not settle for less in my life, to never give up on my endless quest to learn more, grow more, BE MORE, and in that, to be completely and truly ME. This feeling—and indeed, even the logic behind it—wins me over every time I ask myself this most powerful of questions.

I understand that it may seem selfish. Believe me, I have felt the guilt from that jab from my conscience. But I really do think—in theory—that people should be following their Bliss, going after what lights them up inside. It just so happens that it is a lot more convenient to do that when either A) no one else is counting on you for food and shelter, or B) your partner is not simultaneously taking the same kind of risks. I truly want my wife to be happy and fulfilled and following her Bliss. But I secretly hope that her current, stable, insurance-granting job makes her feel that way so that I can continue on my uncertain, not-yet-profitable pursuit of my own dreams. Oh, the ways my mind has to twist things in order to live as though money is not an issue!

How about you? How well are you doing at chasing your dreams? Open up your journal and answer the question for yourself. What do you most want to do with the rest of your work life? Are you doing it now? Are you even in the ballpark? If not, what are the main factors keeping you from following your Bliss? I know that, for me, Time and Money are my biggest, most overused excuses (Time being my favorite crutch), but get creative and specific with your challenges. What is really holding you back? Once you have identified your calling, how patient are you in needing to see results? How do you manage expectations? I really battle myself about this. While in my most generous moments, I appreciate that I write to you every week and that I am taking classes for coaching and thus am working toward my goals, most of the time I am kicking myself for not being “successful” yet and wondering why I can’t just drop my other work to devote all of my time to what I am most passionate about. How entitled to your calling and the pursuit of it do you feel? Which of your current responsibilities or commitments would it be reasonable to let go of to give yourself more time to pursue your dreams? Do you dare announce your dreams to the people around you? Most of us are too afraid to tell others what we really want to be, because revealing that leaves us open to judgment, both about our dreams themselves and about not living them. How much do you share? Are your loved ones supportive of your pursuit? In H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s book P.S. I Love You, he says, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I bet that something—some long-buried dream–jumps into your mind when you read that. Don’t ignore it. Honor it. Consider it.   Then leave me a reply and let me know: If money was not an issue, what would you be doing? 

You are worthy of a big dream,

William

Are You Wasting Your Life?

IMG_1196“Don’t die with your music still inside you.” —Dr. Wayne Dyer

Hello friend,

Did you ever read or hear something that completely stopped you in your tracks? I mean, totally stunned you, and in that instant gave you a smack-in-the-face reality check that made the state of your life crystal clear? I did.

I mentioned to you in my last post, “Falling Off The Tightrope”, that probably my greatest fear in this world is wasting my life, that I am not making the most of my time here. I also talked about how I am desperately trying—and failing—to do everything I possibly can to be productive and fulfill my dreams……after 8:30 P.M., when my kids fall asleep. I have enormous ambitions for those late-night hours: write these blog posts to you, write my own journal entries, work on “The Journal Project” to eventually produce the story of my life, study all of the many things I still want to learn, and on and on and on. That is my window of time available, and I am squeezing hard to fit it all in. It is a tall order, and no wonder that I have had such trouble finding the right balance.

That imbalance—specifically, the desire to accomplish more of the things that I love and feel called to do—creates a lot of tension in me. Turmoil. Stress. Anxiety. Quite simply, I want to do better than I am doing now. MUCH better. Even as I have recently become more clear about what is my soul’s calling and what lights me up, at the same time it becomes increasingly apparent how I am failing to make that positive contribution to the world in the scope that I feel capable of. I feel like I am running a losing race against my potential. That hurts my heart much more deeply than I can find words to explain. So, I keep rushing around trying to pack more and more in so I can make a greater contribution to the world before I die.

With all of this as background noise, I was, not so many months ago, going about my busy way. To ripen me even more for a wake-up call, I had just that morning had a situation at work that had gotten my blood pressure up and soured me a bit. I escaped for a quick workout in hopes of improving my mood, and when I hopped on the elliptical machine and turned on my e-reader, I found a “Quote of the Day” message in my inbox. Here is what it said:

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.” –Eric Hoffer

I was absolutely shell-shocked. Stunned. You could have just as well hit me over the head with a baseball bat. I stood there dazed for a few moments before I could do anything else, and finally I started reading it over and over to slowly dissect and absorb it. It was a total “A-ha!” moment for me. Suddenly my life situation was crystal clear to me. I wouldn’t be trying to squeeze in a book or a kayak ride or a nature walk or learning the guitar or even just watching an occasional movie if I were writing full-time. Those things get edged out because I have to write and do The Journal Project in the few “free” moments I get, always feeling rushed and compromised.

I like my job. I like teaching people and helping them to gain more confidence in themselves. I really like being a small part of one of the highlights of someone’s week; that never gets old. However, thanks to the clarity that has come from a lot of soul-searching, my career has become my version of “wasting my life” by not being what my true purpose is. And because it occupies the time that it does, I am trying to hurry to do the rest and never succeeding at that. Thus it feels, as Hoffer says, as though I have no time for anything else because I am not spending the bulk of my time and energy on my calling. What a glorious feeling it would be to live my purpose—to literally work on my calling—from nine to five instead of 8:30 P.M. to oblivion. I could actually use the evening hours for hobbies and rest, and not even be stressed or guilt-ridden by that. That is a happy thought.

And so, it seems that the gauntlet has been thrown down. What am I going to DO about this moment of clarity, this reality check? It is, after all, much easier to understand my situation than it is to change it. The time for thinking has passed; the time for doing is upon me. Starting Journal of You was a direct result of that “A-ha!” moment. It was my first step out of my comfort zone, and it was my announcement to the Universe that I am in the ring at last, ready to give my gift. I can see now that this was the first of many necessary steps. This one has kept me in the post-8:30 P.M. hours, though. I must take some bolder steps in the direction of nine-to-five. These are the steps that will take more courage, more audacity.

I am definitely scared of the risks required to make the next big move, but I am getting to that tipping point of being MORE scared of the regret I will feel if I don’t. Now is the time to engage my soul and my dreams with this world. It is time to give my gift. Along with the Wayne Dyer quote at the top, the other thought that keeps pecking away at my mind is, “This is NOT a dress rehearsal!” If not now, when? It is my time to act with courage, to embrace the uncertainty, to be radically myself. I can do it. I will do it. Onward and upward! Let me never again have to wonder if I am wasting my life.

How about you? How comfortable are you with the way you are spending your time on Earth? Open up your journal, and take a long look in the mirror. What is your potential? Seriously, how great can you be? How much can you contribute to the world? Don’t limit the meaning of “contribute;” it can be anything you decide (how many smiles you put on people’s faces, how well you raise your children, how honestly you share yourself with others, how professionally you do your job, and a zillion other seemingly invisible things are magnificent contributions). Does the difference between your contributions and your perceived potential bother you like it does me? How rushed do you feel? If you do feel rushed, is it because there is simply too much to do, or are you not spending your time the right way? How does your job and career path mesh with your dreams and your purpose? Is it integrally intertwined, totally unrelated, or somewhere in between? Is your work fulfilling? What one thing could you do today to more closely align your schedule with your calling? How can you live better? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you wasting your life?

Go boldly in the direction of your dreams,

William

Are You in a Shadow Career?

DSC_1071Hello friend,

An English Literature professor who always believed he would write novels.  An assistant to a cutting-edge entrepreneur who, deep down, believes that she would be a brilliant entrepreneur herself, if only she dared.  A construction worker whose true calling is to be an architect.  These people have one thing in common: shadow careers.

In the pandemonium of raising two little kids in recent years, one of my deepest passions—reading books—has mostly fallen off of my schedule.  However, two of the titles I that I have finished—The War of Art and Turning Pro—are from the same author, the brilliant Steven Pressfield.  These books are directly addressed to artists of all kinds but very much apply to anyone trying to diligently pursue their true calling.  Pressfield says that we pursue a shadow calling when we are frightened of owning our true calling.  “That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career,” he writes.  “Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same.  But a shadow career entails no real risk.”

This idea of the shadow career really struck a chord in my soul as I read.  Something was stirring.  I knew that I had some internal exploring to do.  It was time to shine a light on the work that I have chosen to call my career and see if it really represents my true calling, or if it is a mere metaphor for my “real career” that I don’t yet have.  Am I in a shadow career?

I teach Tennis for a living.  I have done it full-time for about 12 years.  Prior to that, I bounced around in other pursuits that very much interested me but that ultimately did not sustain.  In my last life crisis moment—when I dropped out of my Ph.D. program and needed to figure out what was next—I kept asking myself what it was that I have always loved to do that also offered actual jobs.  Tennis was my answer.  I had taught it for fun here and there prior to that, never considering it an actual career path.  But at that life moment, there it was.  Something I love that also earns a paycheck—that sounded like the perfect combination.

What I loved about teaching Tennis—indeed, what I still love about it—is that I get to coach.  I get a wonderful boost from helping people take steps towards excellence and personal growth.  I like delivering both the information and the inspiration.  I love the process of figuring out which button needs to be pushed at just the right moment to guide the student to a breakthrough and newfound confidence.  Even as a graduate student, my absolute favorite part of the gig was teaching a couple of discussion classes per week with college freshmen.  I loved leading them and opening their minds to new ideas.  It was a rush.  It is still a rush.  Another thing I love about coaching Tennis is that I regularly get to share in the best part of someone’s day (or week).  I don’t know that many professions that get to say that, so I don’t take it lightly.  I also greatly appreciate that I get to share the first great love of my life—Tennis–with others.  And I get to contribute to people’s fitness and overall wellness, which is enormously gratifying to me.  As I reread this paragraph, I am thinking this definitely sounds like my true calling.  Right?

Maybe not.  Maybe it is really just a great shadow career.  In the months surrounding my 40th birthday—I’m honestly not sure if it was the milestone birthday bringing it on or just the fascinating, inspirational stuff I was reading at the time—I started to really take stock of my life and wonder what I really wanted to do with the rest of it?  Was I really living my calling, or had I missed some signs along the way that were pointing me right to it?  I truly believe that our inner voice—our soul or intuition or the still, small voice, whatever you want to call it—is always communicating with us but that we are often either not paying attention to it or are hearing it but willfully choosing to listen to our logic or our senses instead.  So I started really listening to that inner voice, started looking for its signs.  I noticed when something gave me a big rush or made me feel at home or tingly.  I sensed how reading about or talking to some people totally entranced me, how I was envious of their careers or how they were shaping their world.  And I owned my longings rather than dismissing them.

It was also around this time that I began what I call “The Journal Project”, which was a thorough review of the nearly 50 journals I have filled in my adult life.  The combination of paying closer attention to the inner voice and doing an in-depth life review was totally enlightening when it came to this idea of my true calling.  What I found in both sources was a deep desire to be a writer/teacher/speaker/personal growth catalyst.  Every time I came across an entry in my journals about feeling called to write, I would get tingly all over my body and my hair would stand on end.  The still, small voice was speaking to me.  And it spoke so plainly and so frequently that after awhile, I could not ignore it.  I knew I needed to begin to move in the direction of my dreams.  My first book idea became very clear to me, as did the necessity of starting this blog as soon as possible.  I wanted my mission of helping people to know themselves better and to live more authentically and happily to have a vehicle immediately, even if I didn’t directly have a career in it for a while.

So, what does this say about my beloved Tennis career?  To me it says that it is a shadow career, a metaphor for my “real” career as a writer/speaker/life coach.  It certainly shadows it in many ways: I get to teach and inspire people, to share in their highs and lows while all the time seeking to build their confidence and push them toward growth and excellence.  It is a great job for me; it really is.  But, as it turns out, it just may not be the job for me.

So, how about YOU?  Are you in a shadow career?  Open up your journal and write about your career.  What drew you to it?  Do those same qualities keep you there still?  Are you just collecting a check, or is your work fulfilling as well?  How much is your career tied into your identity?  Most importantly, what do you really want to do?  Is your current career a shadow of that dream job, or perhaps not even in the ballpark?  Be honest: do you think you will pursue your dream?  Why or why not?  Are you playing small because it is comfortable and what you know?  What if you were meant to play a bigger game?

This topic obviously has a built-in challenge: if you admit you are not doing what you really want, you are forced to justify why not and why you aren’t—right now—about to make a move to change that.  Leave me a reply and tell me if you are in a shadow career.  I want to know: are you ready to step into your purpose?  What’s your next move???

Let your light shine,

William