Tag Archives: dreams

Job Search: Go For Your Dreams or Whatever Works For Now?

“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” –Charles Bukowski

Hello friend,

I distinctly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with my cousin about his job. We were catching up after years apart, and I asked him to tell me about his work. He described it in very neutral terms, not at all glowing about it but not hating it either. It wasn’t anything he had gone to school for or aspired to, and it didn’t light him up inside. It was just a job. A solid one, though, that paid well enough and had benefits and flexibility and all of that good stuff for a guy with a young family. To sum it up he said, “It’s nothing I’m passionate about, but I don’t think anybody really gets to do their dream job.” I nodded and let the conversation drift to other topics, but as it did, I was quietly dejected and indignant at the same time.

I was sad both because I hated to see this guy I like and admire settle for something that he didn’t love, and because I hated to even entertain the idea that he might be right. I was indignant both because I was sure that he had to be wrong and because I was determined to never fall into a mindset that would let me settle for “whatever keeps the bills paid.”

For all of the emotions that short conversation stirred in my heart–and that I stayed quiet about–I have never been able to forget it. If you have read my book or have been reading these letters for a while, you probably know that I am very much about helping people to find their passion and their purpose and then to pursue those things relentlessly for all of the days of their lives. I think it is of the utmost importance that we immerse ourselves in the activities and the people that fill and expand our hearts and minds. That includes our jobs, where we spend such a large portion of our lives.

That is why that conversation got stuck in my heart. I hated that this deep, talented man was settling for less, but I hated even more that he might be right in asserting that hardly anyone is working in jobs that they love and feel called to do. I was determined that I would not only continue to nudge people to uncover and live their purpose but also that my own career path would align more and more closely with my own purpose as the years passed.

As I look at my present situation, I wonder, “How in the world could I have missed the mark this badly???”

I am in the midst of a job search. Actually, I have been in the midst of a search for a long time now. It started off more casually, as my wife still had a nice job with health insurance and such. But after she left all of that security behind in order to start her own business–and since her company hasn’t quite reached Fortune 500 status in its first several months–there is a sense of urgency about the search that increases by the week.

The thing that I have noticed lately, though–and that I am becoming increasingly alarmed about the more I allow it into my consciousness–is that as the urgency is growing, my standards seem to be shrinking proportionally.

When I started my search, I was idealistic and had at least a shred of confidence. I knew that my resumé was not the most attractive for the kind of job I wanted–basically I wanted to do things that were unlike my previous work experience–but I also believed in my abilities and figured I had enough crossover skills and adaptability that I could learn to do almost anything (e.g. a type of computer software) quickly. I could definitely land a job that, even if it wasn’t my dream job, at least let me use some of the skills that I enjoy using and make me feel like my talents are not being wasted. I just needed an interview and I would convince them I was their man!

Fast forward to the present to find me wallowing in the self-doubt that comes from being ignored by just about every company who seems to have an opening for a position that appeals to me. When I send the resumés out and hear nothing back, that silence eats at my confidence and makes me question my abilities and my career outlook. More and more lately, as I have been scouring the job sites, I have been horrified to notice my eyes wandering to positions I would not ever have considered before. I hear my brain justifying how “It wouldn’t be SO bad,” or “Maybe my back could get used to standing for that long,” and other such dispiriting arguments.

Clearly I am not the same person as the one who was offended by the thought of doing work that didn’t stir my soul but merely paid the bills and was convenient for my family!

But which guy was right: the Idealistic Me who believed I had to be passionate about my job, or the World-beaten Me who is ready to settle for anything that keeps things flowing at home, no matter how uninspiring? Or are they both right somehow, depending on life circumstances? Does my job have to be a perfect indicator of whether I am living authentically and following my passion, or can it just be a job?

When I coached tennis for many years, I loved that I got to share my love of the game with people, that I got to motivate and share life lessons, and that I got to share in the best part of my clients’ days. It was a good job for me. However, I came to realize that, while I loved it, it felt like a shadow career to me (see “Are You In A Shadow Career?”). That is, it looked like what I really wanted to do in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t it. I wanted to write books and give speeches and be a Life Coach. That was my ideal.

When I left coaching and took a job managing a store, I knew it had even fewer elements of my dream job. I, of course, found the parts that made it meaningful to me, but I knew it was not my passion. I did it because it worked well for my family’s needs at the time and allowed me to still give energy to my other passions. It was a compromise I entered into with a clear head, and I knew it was not permanent.

When I started my current job several months ago, it was basically the same deal. It was not related to my passion, but I hoped it would work out for my uncertain family situation (and again, that was a compromise I was willing to make).

Well, as I explained above, the family needs something different now. And now I see myself defining what “the right job for now” is and how vastly different that looks compared to “the right job for me” in my idealistic mind. It is amazing how necessity can twist a person’s standards! Because when I notice how I am thinking about this now, and then I compare that to how I would be thinking about it if my wife had the same salary and benefits as she did last year, the difference is shocking.

I find it interesting to follow the history of my mind on this topic. Regarding which jobs to go after, my level of idealism has taken a steep decline over the years, and I also have a much more complicated view of what “settling” means. As is almost always the case, the deeper I look into it and the more life experience I gain, the more I recognize the answers to be in the many shades of grey rather than so black-and-white. I now think life circumstances have a huge impact on this “Ideal vs. Right For Right Now” continuum. (And yes, I am also open to the idea that I may be conning myself by justifying my failure to live up to my career dreams by claiming that I just did what worked best for my family.)

Another thing that has shifted my perspective was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert (of “Eat Pray Love” fame) called “Big Magic.” I read it last Summer. It’s about continuing to do soul-stirring things throughout your life. In it, she talks about how she had three novels published by major publishers and was still having to work her day job full-time. After years of feeling like I somehow deserved to be making a living with my writing as long as I was working hard at it, Gilbert knocked me back into my place. She made it clear that creative types are not owed work in their art and shouldn’t feel entitled to a consistent income, but rather they should assume that they are just going to continue to have to make the time for their passion projects outside of their “regular job” hours. That was a tough pill for me to swallow, let me tell you. But, especially since it came when I was looking frustratingly hard for work and feeling a little bitter about the whole concept, I did swallow it. I have been more accepting of the idea of getting a “regular job” ever since (even if I still hate it).

In the end, I guess I don’t know what role my next job will play in my life. At the moment, it looks as though it will be this big thing that I will basically just tolerate for years and years. Ugh!! I hate that I even thought that sentence, much less wrote it down as truth. I can’t stand the idea of settling, especially when it is something that takes up so much of my limited time on this Earth. But maybe, as I have discovered over the last few years, settling for a job is not as bad in practice as it is in theory. Maybe, especially if I compartmentalize it well in my mind, it will make the rest of my life easier.

This would be an easier sell if I were not so naturally dreamy and idealistic. (Oh, and there’s also that thing about me never actually wanting a job. I suppose that plays a role in all of this.) I can tell that I will be vacillating on this subject for a long time to come. Welcome to Life: it’s kind of messy here! I will keep working through it, journaling and pondering and journaling some more. That may be the only job I am truly cut out to do!

How about you? Do you have 1) your ideal job, 2) the right job for right now, or 3) something entirely different? Open up your journal and flesh out the role your job plays in your life and how well that sits with you. Describe the things you do for a paycheck. Now think about the things in Life that move your soul, that lift you up, that excite your mind, that get you out of bed in the morning. Do any of the things on that “Bliss List” match up with the things on your Job List? On a scale of 1 to 10, how closely do the lists match up? Has it always been this way, or has your job history moved you at different times closer to and further from your purpose? Has your level of job satisfaction shifted accordingly? How about your level of overall Life Satisfaction? To what extent do you associate your job with your identity (i.e., you answer the “What are you?” inquiry with your occupation)? Are you happier when you do work that is meaningful to you? How important is a fulfilling job, anyway? Is “whatever pays the bills” sometimes the ideal job, even if it doesn’t at all resemble the job you dream about getting one day? Do you have to take a job that looks like your dream job–or at least feels like it will lead to your dream job–in order to be authentically living your purpose and passion? Do you have a clear idea of what “settling” looks like to you? Where are you now in relation to that? How does that answer sit with you? In five years from now–and ten, twenty, and at retirement–do you believe that you will be doing something closer to your dream job than you are today? For the creative and entrepreneurial among us, should we be content with doing a “regular job” to keep the bills paid and then squeezing in our art or our side hustle at night and on lunch breaks, or should that thought torture us until we are so determined to “succeed” in our passion that that we somehow make it into gainful employment? Is there anything wrong with working purely for the money if it lets the rest of your life (family, hobbies, stress levels, vacations) run smoothly? Overall, how tolerant are you of work that does not move you in any way that is not financial? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the role of your job in your life?

Light your world,

William

 P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your social media community. Let us live our authentic Truths together!

A BOLDER LIFE: Are You Existing or Adventuring?

“I refuse to walk carefully through life only to arrive safely at death.” –Paulo Coelho

Hello friend,

About 25 years ago, I was about the most stable, on-the-right-path guy in the world. I knew exactly what I would be doing in two years, twenty years, and any other year before or after. How did I know? I had been planning it ever since I was little. Everyone I knew was sure of my plan and its success. They, too, had been in on the idea from the beginning. None of us doubted it.

I was pegged as a smart, achieving kind of kid at a young age, and in the small town I came from, the richest, most envied people were the doctors. So, I was going to be a doctor. No question about it. My Dad told me so at an early age, and I never forgot or considered otherwise. Elementary school and high school sailed by with complete clarity about my future, and Pre-Med was in full swing, the Road of Life paved smooth in front of me. Set in stone. I was about to tell the most boring, predictable life story ever.

But then, I changed it. I decided that my life should be a tale of adventure instead.

Well, I didn’t exactly think of it in those terms. I mean, I didn’t say, “My life is now an adventure!!!” It was more like, “I am scared to admit that I have a different dream because then I would have to take a big risk by jumping off the safe path, but I am more scared of living that nice life everyone has always had planned for me but that doesn’t light me up inside.” 

I suppose it sounds weird that the safer, more predictable path was the one that eventually frightened me the most. But it’s true. I guess the lure of my dreams just became too enchanting once I finally admitted to having them. I became addicted to that feeling of giddiness–and yes, even anxiety–that bubbled up when imagining how my life could be. It was more risky, sure, but so much more exciting.

You know, like an adventure.

So I did it. And for the next several years, it really felt like a big adventure.

I bounced around the country, living in iconic cities and meeting fascinating people. I acted in the theatre. I learned to surf and practice yoga. I traveled the world. I discovered my journal. I found my spiritual foundation. I read. I wrote. I fell in love.

It was fantastic! Scary sometimes, and almost always uncertain, but every minute engaging and enlightening and invigorating. I was most certainly alive. And I never once regretted jumping off the safe, predictable path (though that doctor money sure would have been nice!).

It is amazing how you can start to clamor for stability and certainty–and doctor money–when suddenly you have other lives depending upon you for cereal and new basketball shoes.

My wife was always the one in our relationship who sought the most stability and provided the most stability. She always had the steadiest job with the insurance and the retirement package. She seemed to like it that way, even as I gave up my career arc and slashed my working hours (and dollars) when our kids were born to maximize my time with them in these irreplaceable years. She was our rock and put up with the silly adventures of her three kids (me and the two little ones), sacrificing some of the fun stuff in order to do meaningful work and keep us in cereal and basketball shoes.

I thought that she would be content on that stable path until she retired. She was so good on it, and I figured that maybe she was just genetically inclined to like that stuff better than I could. I admired her for it and was grateful that she could bear a burden I didn’t seem wired for.

Then, several months ago, she jumped off the stable path, too. Overnight she became an entrepreneur. She had been on a regular salary in a low-risk career her entire adult life–and as a guy who has lived with her for 18 years, that shoe seemed to fit–and BOOM, she decided to take on a new career and no guarantees. Talk about an adventure!

I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was by this move. As the guy who thought he owned the rights to “trust your gut, dream bigger, take a chance on yourself” in the relationship, I was absolutely tickled to see that side of her emerge. I was so happy for her, and proud. Very, very proud.

I’m a little scared, too, I admit. After all, if you are on the whimsical, perhaps-artistic, not-so-inclined-to-grind side of the spectrum, it is reassuring to be partnered up with someone who is better at enduring the dirty work than you are. But this is what makes her all the more worthy of my admiration: because she was brave enough to follow her heart off the safe and secure path even without a safety net. She is braver than me!

And now, my friend, we are on a real adventure! Who can say how it will turn out or what new ways our family will adapt and grow: new skillsets, new attitudes, new sources of income, new opportunities for play and family togetherness.

That family thing is crucial for us. And even as we try to navigate this new era of uncertainty in our little corner of the world, we use that home base of family as our rock. Now matter how adventurous you are, it is nice to have a few bases of certainty. These people in this house–and indeed, the house itself–are definitely that for me, for us.

So there I was last week, wading these uncertain waters of our new life, when my wife says to me out of nowhere, “Seriously, name a state you are willing to move to.” Like many of us in northern states at this time of year, the bitter conditions outside had pushed her just far enough that day to question her sanity for living here and consider leaving for good. She wanted an answer.

I giggled and decided to play along, sure that nothing would come of it. “Oregon,” I said. Rejected! “Okay, how about Colorado?” “Hmm….” So, right then and there, she hops on the computer and starts researching. And not just for a few minutes, but for over an hour! She gives me stats on diversity, school rankings, all kinds of stuff that matters to us. I actually started getting a little freaked out. In my head, I was like, “Who is this new, ready-for-change person? And are we seriously talking about moving???”

I am relieved to report that nothing has come of it in the ensuing days. I have put it out of my mind. Well, not true: I have sort of put it out. Suddenly, I am not so sure of just how adventurous this lady I live with has become. Might she want to roll the dice and make an even bigger change in our life? And while that is a bit unnerving, I have to admit that it is exciting, too. Invigorating. The overall air of uncertainty about the specifics of our future has sparked something enchanting about our life together. There is intrigue. There is fantasy and dream-building. There is a sense of the potential that we have only just begun to tap.

There is a true sense of WONDER that is nothing short of intoxicating.

I have this sense that, even though I haven’t a clue as to what our future holds, somehow it will be truly magnificent and saturated with blessings. So, let’s throw off the bowlines and let this ship sail in the big waters of LIFE. I am feeling ready for an adventure!

How about you? At this point in your life, are you more drawn to the stable and secure path, or the uncertain and adventurous one? Open up your journal and trace the path your life has taken to this point. Has it always been fairly clear where you are headed, or have you taken some bold leaps off the path and brought a sense of adventure to your world? When you were in elementary school and high school, how did you imagine your adult life? How about when you were in college: was your career path clear in your mind? How accurate have your visions turned out to be for yourself? Do you work in the field that you went to school for? Have you ever switched career fields entirely and started fresh? If so, how difficult was it to arrive at that decision and take action? Are you currently on a career path that is satisfying to you? If not, how likely are you to do something bold to change paths? How soon will you take action? How brave will you need to be? How about the place that you live? Are you satisfied? Have you considered moving to a different area of the country or a different country altogether? Have you done it before? What are the chances? How would you describe your relationship with Uncertainty? Have you made friends with it? Do you fear it like The Plague? On a scale of one to ten–with one being “Bore Me With Stability” and ten being “Bring On the Change and Adventure”–where has the path of your life revealed you to be naturally drawn to? How has that changed as you have aged? Generally speaking, why do you live the life you live now? Is it because you don’t dare to try another one? At the end of your days, is that answer going to satisfy you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is your life a daring adventure or a safe walk? 

Be brave,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. A world full of authentic people would be a grand thing!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

Goals, Goals, Everywhere Goals: Aiming for a Bigger Life

“The moment you put a deadline on your dream, it becomes a goal.” –Harsha Bhogle, The Winning Way 

Hello friend,

I have never been much of a goal-setter. Don’t get me wrong; I have always been a dreamer and driven to do great things in my life. I have taken risks and made sacrifices in my attempt to leave my mark on the world. But I have done all that without setting many specific goals. I can’t say why exactly. It just didn’t feel like me. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to feel contained, and goals can sometimes feel like fences to me. I have typically preferred to trust my intuition on how much of something I need, where I need to push, and where to pull back.

But in the last few years, as I have continued to examine my life in my journal and in these letters to you, I have had this creeping sense of disappointment and regret as it has become increasingly clear that I have failed to live up to all of those dreams and ambitions. Eventually, I was bound to ask myself why, and I have been slowly allowing those questions in. I wondered if maybe it was because I haven’t pushed myself hard enough and consistently enough to make the big strides I imagine myself capable of. But why? After all, I had the dreams. I had the drive. I began to wonder if maybe I just didn’t have the right plan. Maybe I needed a new method.

Enter Oola.

A couple of months ago, my sister, who is into self-help/personal growth books and always has her eyes open for things that can help her and her business grow, treated me to a new book that she had been raving about. It was called Oola: Find Balance In An Unbalanced World. In it, the authors, Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl, write about the importance of living in a way that is balanced and growing in all the major areas of life, what they call “The Seven F’s of Oola”: Fitness, Finance, Family, Field (career), Faith, Friends, and Fun. In my old Life Coaching classes, this resembled what is commonly referred to as “The Wheel of Life”.

I am always on the lookout for tips on doing LIFE better, so I plowed through the meat of the book, taken in by the stories of these two guys and how the seven aspects played out in their lives. I knew they grew up in my neck of the woods and were of a similar age, so I also wanted to glean some insight into how they became successful and which tips I might borrow for my own life.

A couple of weeks ago, as I approached the very last section of the book, I was thinking I wasn’t getting much that was soul-stirring or deeply inspirational out of it. I was eager to be done with it, hoping to find something a bit more life-changing from my next read.

But in those last pages was a challenge that would change the entire experience for me. Well, at least I hope it will.

Whenever someone tells me they read my weekly letters or that they read my book, I always want to know if they do more than read it. Do they write their own journal entry about the questions raised? Do they engage someone in a conversation about it? Do they at least take some time to ponder the issue and how it intersects with their own life? I tend to think that the only way to get anything out of my writing is to truly engage with it: to ponder, to discuss, and hopefully to write about it. I definitely hope that my words will be more than just read. Speaking as the sensitive author, I don’t feel like my work can be fairly judged unless you have done the deep diving.

So there I was, beginning to judge the Oola book, when it turned the tables on me. It asked of me what I ask of my readers: to get out my pen and dive deep into the way these “Seven F’s” could change my life. The only catch: I had to set goals. And not just a few, but twenty-one: three for each of the seven areas on the Oola Wheel.

What a predicament! Of course, the idea of setting twenty-one goals–specific, measurable type of goals–was immediately off-putting to my personality, so I was inclined to reject the challenge outright. But. (Oh, the BUT!) But it seemed like my integrity was on the line. How could I defend my own writing’s quality from people who didn’t fully engage it if I wasn’t willing to fully engage this book? That wouldn’t be right. And the other, bigger BUT. But how can I keep rejecting goal-setting if my usual, comfortable method of just going with my gut hasn’t gotten me where I want to be in life?

The writing was on the wall. It was time to get out of my comfort zone. And so it came to pass that I took my pretty-but-somewhat-blurry dreams and gave them some definition, some real numbers, some deadlines.

I made goals. Twenty-one of them. Here they are:

FITNESS

  1. Get my weight to 203 by December 31, 2018. (That is somewhere from 5-7 stubborn pounds to lose.)
  2. Do a full yoga practice at least once per week.
  3. Add rowing to at least one cardio workout every week.

FINANCE

  1. Make more money than we spend each month.
  2. Get a higher paying job with benefits.
  3. Put $250 into a vacation fund every month.

FAMILY

  1. Have one Family Game Night/Family Movie Night per week.
  2. Have one devoted couple activity (game, TV show, whatever) per week.
  3. Take the epic Montana Road Trip by the end of 2020.

FIELD

  1. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible.
  2. Spend time every week writing my next book.
  3. Join my wife full-time in her new business by January 1, 2020.

FAITH

  1. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  2. Take a weekly nature walk practicing mindfulness and gratitude.
  3. Develop a nightly gratitude “prayer” or practice.

FRIENDS

  1. Connect with Johnny in person at least once every two months.
  2. Engage one new person in conversation each week.
  3. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone call each month.

FUN

  1. Become a regular tennis player again–once a week–in the warmer seasons.
  2. Write my second book–spend devoted time every week.
  3. Practice the guitar at least three times per week for at least 15 minutes.

Of these twenty-one, the Oola guys recommend that while you can keep all of them and work toward them, it is helpful to pull out your top seven that would make the biggest impact on your life right now (it doesn’t have to be one from each area). I chose these seven:

  1. Make more money than we spend every month.
  2. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible. (I also chose this as my “OolaOne”, the single thing that would make the biggest immediate impact.).
  3. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  4. Write my second book, devoting time every week.
  5. Practice my guitar at least three times per week, at least 15 minutes each.
  6. Have one devoted couple activity each week.
  7. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone each month.

There they are! It was a grind for me, I fully admit, but even my fluid mind is sitting here appreciating how concrete they all look in their tidy lists with all the details included. It definitely helped to use the popular goal-setting method called S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, Time-based), as that kept me from being vague and slippery. These definitely feel more like the opening quote: like dreams with deadlines. Goals.

Having just finished the exercise, I can tell that all of the specifics are very new to me and my usual processing. My inner world is trembling a bit, no doubt. My cheese has been moved. But I can also see how this will be really, really good for me. That is, it will be really good if I follow this up with the appropriate action steps, like daily To-Do Lists filled with items that work directly toward those goals. I am excited, both to start achieving these goals and just to see my world through a new set of lenses. I think I needed it. No, I’m sure I did. Now that I have some goals, I am charged up and ready for action. I’m off to get my Oola on!

How about you? How do you do with goal-setting in your life? Open up your journal and examine the role of goals in your world. Do you have specific goals in your life right now? What are they? Are they far away things–like an advanced degree or retirement–or something you will accomplish within the next year? How aware of your goals are you on a day-to-day basis? Do you use them to guide your behavior on a normal day, or are they just something you check in with once in a while to see if life is generally heading in the right direction? How specific and measurable do you get in your goal-setting? Do you have exact dates and numbers in mind so you can be certain as to when the goals are reached? Do you have someone in your life who holds you accountable for your goals, or do you count on your own discipline to get you there? Would an accountability partner help? How realistic are your goals? Do you have a strong chance of reaching them? Do you gain confidence when you reach a goal, no matter how small? Whether or not you currently have goals or are aware of how balanced and growing your life is, does the concept of setting multiple goals in each area of your life appeal to you? Have you ever done something like this? So, go ahead. What are three goals you can make for yourself in each of the seven areas: health & fitness, money, family, career, faith/spirituality, friends, and hobbies/fun? In which area are goals easiest for you to make? In which area are you most likely to achieve your stated goals? In which area are you most likely to fail? Is systematic goal-setting foreign to you? How does it feel now doing it? Does it make you more eager to make a plan to achieve them? If you had to choose one goal to pursue that would make the biggest impact on your life right now, which one would it be? Are you willing to commit to that? What small steps can you take today to move in that direction? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which goals can you set to move yourself in the direction of your best life?

Go get it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it on social media. Let’s go after our dreams together!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

What A Difference 10 Years Makes! Revisiting Life A Decade Ago

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” –Robert Frost

I have been fighting off a lot of yucky feelings and negative self-talk this week. You know those feelings. They are always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce when your defenses go down. I usually have mine up. My defenses are 1) my attitude of gratitude, 2) my optimistic view of the future, and 3) my big dreams. When these things are intact, all is well in my world. I am sunshine and happiness. That is my normal mode.

This week, though, I have been dealt a few blows that have threatened my usual sunny outlook. Things just haven’t been going my way. My car needed a major repair. Then the furnace went down and needed to be replaced. The taxes brought their annual drama. Amidst all of this extra financial pressure, I have been beating my head against a wall trying to get my dreams going and figuring out the next source of income for my family. The weight on my shoulders feels like it has suddenly multiplied.

These simultaneous setbacks and struggles have created a storm inside my head. I have been all sorts of things I don’t want to be. Worried. Confused. Self-pitying. Stressed. Unsure. Pessimistic. Fearful. Doubtful. Disappointed. Defeated.

Yes, it seems I allowed my circumstances to ignite a pity party in my mind, and then I realized that the party had gotten a bit loud and out of control.   I needed an intervention.

One of the strategies that the self-help gurus often suggest for people facing some kind of drama or dilemma is to ask yourself, “Will this even matter in X number of years?” (you fill in the X: five years, ten years, twenty). Supposedly, that helps to put the problem in perspective, perhaps revealing that it is really no big deal at all.

So, I wondered: Would this little moment I am having now—this crisis of dreams, career, and finances—even matter ten years from now? Will I remember it? Or will it be just a minor blip on the radar?

Maybe Life is just a constant flow of these moments, some just less stormy than others, but all of them basically just blips, not so much blow-ups. Or maybe not.

I decided that I needed some perspective. Luckily for me, I have a few big storage tubs full of perspective in my storage closet. My journals. They are all there: keys to the past just waiting to be turned. I searched through the stacks to find the one that contained my daily entries from ten years ago at this time—Volume 36—to see what I was up to, how stressful and dramatic it was, and if it all even mattered in the end.

What did I find? Stress. Drama. Exhaustion. Happiness.

Ten years ago this week, I was in the middle of making a big decision about which of two job offers to accept at the company where I worked. I was also studying and taking some important exams for my career. There was also a lot of political drama going on at work that I was forced into the middle of. And in the background of all of that was a very real struggle to become a parent (which all by itself would have been stressful and dramatic enough). In between lots of visits to doctors’ offices in our quest to become pregnant, my wife and I were also interviewing to adopt a child.

Some excerpts from those days in late April of 2007:

Is my body supposed to be this sore so early in the week? My goodness!……I am wiped!….It is coming down to it on the job thing……There is so much to do every day. No wonder lifetimes just zip by and roll together. I will blink and be 50. It is crazy. I am happy, though, always happy. It is good to be me. La vita é bella.

 After all of this rollercoaster nonsense, I am actually pretty excited about it. I hope that it goes well and that I can report some good news in my next entry. I am optimistic. Come what may, I will be happy.

I accepted the job tonight. ….So, on we go. I hope it is tons of fun. I am excited about it. New challenges. It will be that. This week has tapped me. …It is a mad, mad world. The beat goes on. I am so very blessed. Life is beautiful.

Who ever thought there would be so much to do in this world? I really do not like being crazy busy, but it has certainly been that way in the last several years. …The extremes are there. I would love to get some balance. Some day. I am alright. I am Love. I am Joy. I am Peace. Life is beautiful.  

I am no fan of these political battles… I am optimistic. ….I am excited for the challenge. They never seem to be in short supply. …Let’s cross our fingers. Good things will come.

It is a busy time in the world. … What an adventure lies before me!. ….I am always optimistic. Good things are coming our way. Blessings abound. Life is beautiful. 

Whew! I really was running around like a crazy man in those days! Working long hours, and every day of the week. Stressing hard about my job. Basically, I was a workaholic. Thank goodness for a supportive and understanding wife! The only other saving grace was my attitude and worldview. Despite my circumstances—which I would not recommend to anyone—I remained so grateful and optimistic. So happy. I am pretty impressed by that (if I do say so myself!).

What can I learn from those days that will help me now? Is there really a gift of perspective?

On the one hand, I made it through that drama, which should give me hope that I will make it through my current crisis. On the other hand, that moment was not nothing. Those decisions and actions were important and had long-lasting effects.

Of course I survived, and I would have survived whatever came. But things could have gone in different directions had I acted differently, and especially if my attitude had been different. I could have let the pressure and the exhaustion get to me. I could have been less diplomatic at work and ruined my opportunities. I could have let the pregnancy/adoption stress drive a wedge between me and my wife. I could have given up on lots of things when it got so hard. I could have failed to enjoy it and be grateful for it all. I definitely could have made it worse.

So, is this current dramatic moment something? Or is it nothing? It certainly feels like something to me. It feels like there is a lot riding on the coming days. It feels like much could change in my story and the story of my family depending upon the way this all shakes out.

Does that give me any specific direction on my next action? No, not really. But what it does give me is a reminder of the importance of my attitude and outlook. I need to take a lesson from that guy I was ten years ago. No matter how uncertain or contentious things get, I need to be grateful for the wonderful blessings all around me. And I need to be optimistic and excited about what the future holds. I know that will help to guide my decisions to the outcomes that are best for me.

Ten years from now, I hope to look back at this moment with complete gratitude and wonder at what a magnificent life was brewing in the middle of this divine storm. I hope I will be proud of the way I rose to the challenge and acted with courage, kindness, and integrity. The lesson, after all, will be decades in the making.

How about you? What did your life look like ten years ago? Open up your journal and your memory. What was going on with you a decade ago? How old were you? Who were the most important people in your life? What kind of work were you doing? Were you heavily involved and connected with your job? Too much so? Where were you in relation to your dreams? How would you describe the state of your spirituality? How tired were you? What were the biggest issues you were facing? Did it feel like a lot of drama or crisis at that time, or were things flowing smoothly? How happy were you? Describe your attitude at that time. Were you grateful? How optimistic were you? Looking from today’s eyes, what can you learn from you and your life of a decade ago? What were the things you did then that have carried over and shaped your life today, for better or worse? Now answer all of the questions above as they relate to your life today. Do you prefer today’s version of you and your world, or would you take yourself back a decade if you could? Which parts would you do just the same again from that time? What would you change then to shape a better today? What is your biggest regret from that time? What was the best thing you did for yourself ten years ago? What can you do for yourself now that you will thank yourself for in ten more years? Leave me a reply and let me know: What can you learn from a look back at yourself in 2007?

Enjoy the ride,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please pass it on. We are here to teach each other.

What’s the Difference Between You and Everybody Else?

“To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and utterly unique an experience that it’s hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.” –Simone de Beauvoir, Prime of Life

Hello friend,

I remember when I was in my twenties. I was out in the world doing my thing. I was meeting tons of different people, figuring out how we all fit together. In all of those countless interactions, the thing that always seemed to bother me the most was when someone claimed to understand me, to know what I am all about. I was so sure that they weren’t even close to comprehending my essence and what made me tick. I just knew that I was completely different from everyone else and that no one could imagine my depths.

There are passages in my very first journal that allude to this feeling of being different and how that feeling isolated me.

“I am destined to be a loner, for no one can understand the things that drive me. I feel I am becoming more and more ‘abnormal’ as the days go by.” –July 7, 1994

“And even if I let some pretty close, I’ll always be alone, because no one can see what’s there. Some will claim to, but they won’t know the half of it.” –February 22, 1995

Ironically, at the same time that I was being regularly offended by people claiming to get me, I was arrogantly assuming that I could read everyone else like a book, as this passage reveals:

“I think the main reason for my silence and solitude goes back to the original issue: I feel I have these gifts or abilities in my mind that make me feel unlike the rest of society or members of my species. I truly believe, when I am honest with myself, that I am “different” from the rest, somehow cut from a different cloth than the rest of mankind. Although I am a believer in the thought that we are all truly different, I believe there are things inside of me that are beyond what lies inside the minds and souls of others. I feel I can truly understand every man and his thoughts and feelings, and then go beyond that to a very large place that no one else can know.” –July 25, 1997

Oh, the self-centered thoughts of a young adult! Those entries fascinate me—and embarrass me a little–all these years later. You may not be surprised to learn that my perspective has changed somewhat in the two decades that have passed since then.

These days, I am simply less sure. I don’t assume I know as much as I used to assume. I think I read people well, empathize with their experiences, and take them into my heart so I can feel their joy and pain. But I am quite sure there are hidden depths and dark corners inside them that I haven’t the tools to navigate. That certainty about my uncertainty has humbled me over the years.

I am not sure I have changed as much on the other side of the coin, though. I still tend to think that people don’t understand me very well. Maybe it is because exercises like last week’s 50 Words Challenge reveal that I have a number of complexities to my personality, a lot of conflicting traits that take time to expose.

Understanding the labyrinthine nature of my heart and mind has helped me in my humility, as I figure that most other people are more complex than I ever imagined. At least they might be, and that grain of doubt should keep me as free from certainty and judgment as possible. That uncertainty should keep me always in the moment, receiving them anew as our interactions evolve. It is a good lesson for me.

But how about it: AM I different??? Am I something extraordinary? Is there something totally unique about me? Obviously, the broad range of things that make up our personality and history makes each of us unique. But you know what I mean: Is there something that makes me so unlike most people?

I think that claiming characteristics outright seems a bit presumptuous—arrogant, even—so maybe it is wiser just to list a few potential candidates, ways that I usually feel isolated or unique (again, fully aware that each trait has an infinite number of variations and ways it intersects with our other traits).

One that comes to my mind is my hypersensitivity to oppression and unfairness. I have always been extremely averse to examples of historical, systematic oppression and mistreatment, such as that which our country and its citizens acted out on the American Indians and the African people ripped from their homelands and brought here as slaves (and, of course, everything that followed both of those things). I get the dual reaction of my blood boiling in outrage and my heart being torn to shreds when I think about such injustice. Even with modern examples, when I see a politician or pundit spew hatred or see a friend or family member support that hate-spewer, I become deeply offended by that. My sensitive heart gets broken often by such things.

I have always been that way about perceived unfairness. I think back on all the times I played with cheaters on the tennis court. I would get so appalled by the unfairness that I could hardly function. It is also why I get so worked up about the issue of privilege, such as when I see a highly privileged friend—born into wealth and whiteness and more—look down upon people who were born with fewer advantages and cannot fathom why the privileged should share either money or opportunities with the unprivileged. That ignorance enrages me. The people around me seem to be much less affected by such things. Or maybe they just hide it better.

Besides my sensitivity, the other characteristic that might separate me is my intense attachment to the concept of identifying and following one’s Bliss, dream-chasingk. I was bitten by this obsession before I ever wrote my first journal entry, when I decided to leave school and become an actor. I have sometimes remembered and sometimes forgotten to keep chasing my biggest dreams, but it is so obvious to me how that concept is such an enormous and identifying part of Who I Really Am. It is why you are reading these words in front of you: they are part of my dream.

I seem to be obsessed both with chasing my own dreams and helping others do the same. I see it as so important, even essential, to true happiness and fulfillment in this lifetime. I want it as much for you as I do for me.

The other day I was tooling around on Facebook and happened upon a meme that a friend had shared. It said, “It’s messing people up, this social pressure to ‘find your passion’ and ‘know what it is you want to do’. It’s perfectly fine to just live your moments fully, and marvel as many small and large passions, many small and large purposes enter and leave your life. For many people there is no realization, no bliss to follow, no discovery of your life’s purpose. This isn’t sad, it’s just the way things are. Stop trying to find the forest and just enjoy the trees.”

My first reaction was, “No! That meme was written and shared by people who just haven’t found their passion yet. They will change their tune when they find it.”

But the argument has stuck with me, even haunted me a bit. It made me think about the people in my life and how I am the only one who seems so obsessed by this concept of following my Bliss and living my purpose. I am the only one who thinks it is a great idea to set practical realities aside and just chase my dreams single-mindedly. I am the only one who keeps cheering others to do the same. I guess I think it should be common, should be normal to do that. It just isn’t.

There are probably a handful of other ways I feel myself sticking out from—or retreating from—the crowd. And like I said, I know we are all complex. We are the products of ever-changing intersections of different shades of countless distinct and indistinct qualities that blend with circumstances. But we are all humans. We share the same Earth and the same company. How different can we be?

Still, even though there are 7 billion of us inhabiting this third rock from the sun, I can’t help feeling that I am one of a kind.

How about you? What makes you different from all the rest? Open up your journal and think about the times you have felt unique, special, or misunderstood. Which of your characteristics seem to bring about these moments of feeling extraordinary? Are they qualities that you deem positive, negative, or somewhere in between? Do they seem to reveal themselves more now than in previous eras of your life, or were they more prominent before? What makes your version of that quality so unique? Have you had different characteristics that took turns setting you apart along your journey, or has it been just one or two core traits that have sustained? Do you appreciate your unique traits, or do you wish for others? Would you rather blend in more? Generally speaking, do you feel pretty well understood by the people in your life? Do you wish to be more understood? How much work would that take on your end? More than you want to do? Is it nice to have a little something just for yourself? How clearly and deeply do you think you understand the people in your life? Better than they understand you? What makes you think so? Would you guess that most people feel ordinary or extraordinary? If it is the latter, how many are willing to claim it out loud and celebrate their uniqueness? Should we do better at encouraging that? Do you celebrate your unique traits? Leave me a reply and let me know: What’s the difference between you and everybody else?  

Shine on,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you look differently at yourself, please pass it on. Tell your loved ones that you appreciate their unique magic. Blessed be.

The Best Present I Ever Got

“A gift consists of not what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.” –Seneca, Moral Essays: Volume III

Hello friend,

I wasn’t always so sure about my purpose in this world. I didn’t always know how best to be who I really am. I definitely didn’t always know what I wanted to do with myself, what kinds of actions I needed to take to fulfill my potential. It is only in the last handful of years that it has become so clear to me that I am a writer.

Sometimes in this life, you get a gut feeling about what is right or what you must do. You get a tingle in your spine or your heart skips a beat when you think about a new direction for your career or your spare time. That burst of adrenaline, the one that feels like candy in your brain, that’s a message from your soul. If followed, it can lead you to the life you were born to live.

Seven years ago, I was just beginning to have those magical butterfly feelings. I was getting the jolts of electricity, goosebumps, and songs in my heart. My soul was catching fire. The idea that had begun to circulate in my brain and cause shockwaves through the rest of my system went something like this: I think I want to be a professional writer. The kind with real books and readers. I don’t know for sure what all the books will say; I only know I want to write and improve people’s lives.  

I had always known I was here to be of service to my fellow human beings, to help lift them up to become as magnificent as they were created to be. I just didn’t know how I was supposed to do that. Until then. It struck me one day with a thought. Then the thought came again. And again. Whenever it came up, those tingles came with it. I finally felt it enough times that I told a close friend about it. I mentioned that I had started a fund for a laptop and had a few hundred bucks in it already. The beginnings of a dream were forming.

Not long after, that friend stopped over and, with an “Aw shucks, this is nothing” look, handed me a white box with the picture of an apple on it. A brand new laptop. His humble explanation: “My Grandma gave me this, but I don’t need it.”

Needless to say, I was absolutely floored. I tried to say I couldn’t accept it, but he wasn’t budging. He wouldn’t even take the money I had in my laptop fund. All of a sudden, my dreams were right there in front of me, literally at my fingertips. I was totally humbled by the gift, and speechless. I knew immediately that it was the most meaningful present anyone had ever given me.

That night in my journal, I wrote, “This is a great jumping-off point for me. In giving me this gift, he also really challenged me to get to work on a book idea…I need to break out the ideas and start jotting everything down in this computer. I can do this thing. Dreams will come true.”

A few days later, after I had started outlining some potential book ideas on the computer, I wrote in my journal, “It is very exciting. I am actually on my way to something! In 20 years, I could be a professional writer who is reminiscing upon these first days of book design. In any case, it is a real rush to dream. My mind and heart are stirred up, and I love that feeling. I am a deeply grateful man tonight….I promise to chip away at this stuff, promise to stay on it and try to remain stirred up. What a wonderful ride! I am so happy and invigorated; gosh, that feels great! Life is so very beautiful.” 

From where I am today, those words sound amazingly prescient. Even though it has all taken me much longer than I had hoped, I have certainly remained stirred up about writing. I have continued the dream and continued to chip away at the work. Next week, Journal of You will be three years old. I am also just finishing my first book and preparing to market it to agents and publishers. It is an exciting moment in my writing career—the culmination of years of hard work and resolve–but this also feels like only the beginning.

Really, though, I know where it started. It started with that simple white box.

Sometimes in life, no matter how independent and self-motivated you think you are, what you really need is someone to stand up for you. You need someone to be your witness, to be the one–maybe the only one–who says, “I believe in you.” That simple white box was my friend telling me loud and clear—and in a way that he probably didn’t have the words for—“I believe in you.” That was the nudge I needed. That was the permission—even more, it was the gauntlet thrown down in front of me—to live my dreams. My course has been set in that direction ever since.

And that is how I know that that simple white box—and the belief it represented—was the greatest gift I have ever received.

How about you? What is your best present ever? Open up your journal and think about what you value and how someone connected you to that value. I excluded gifts from my parents and my wife from consideration, but you can decide how you want to do it. It is probably easiest to begin with a rough list of favorites that jump out at you immediately. Though mine did not come from a birthday or Christmas, those are good places to start the search through your memories. Obviously, it is easiest to name the biggest, most expensive gifts you ever received, and that can be a good launching pad. In my case, part of why some of those big-ticket items are so meaningful to me is the sacrifice of money on the person who gave them to me, especially if they went out of their budget because they knew how much I would appreciate the gift (I think of the time my wife got me a really nice camera that really changed my life and the way I observe my world). However, I challenge you to move beyond the obvious. Are there special gifts that cost the giver little, if any, money but that came from the heart and are thus priceless? Maybe it is something they made for you. Maybe it is a letter. Or the gift of their time. What else, from any price range? What makes the gift so meaningful to you? Is it about who it comes from? Is it because it connects you to your passion or your dreams, like my computer? Is it because it signifies a show of love and support from the giver? Does it say something in a way the giver was never able to say in words? Have you ever given a gift that could be the best that person ever received? What do you think made it so? What does it have in common with your favorite? Has this exercise made you think differently about how you might give in the future? Has it made you more clear about what is truly valuable to you? What is it? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the best gift you ever received? 

Be a gift to your world,

William

P.S. If this letter reminded you to be grateful, pass it on. Make it a small gift to a loved one. Blessed be.

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!

Next Year in Review: How will your 2017 look?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

How do these New Years keep coming around so quickly? It is faster and faster every year, it seems. It feels like just a couple of months ago I was looking forward to 2016 as I wrote “A New Year’s Question: How Do You Want to FEEL This Year?” And wasn’t I just recently writing “New Year’s Excuses” as I thought about how 2015 would look? Oh, where does the time go? And why don’t I ever seem to accomplish as much as I hope to? Are my dreams too big?

I have been thinking about this lately, wondering if I am shooting too high. After all, I have a long track record of missing the mark. Perhaps I should be taking all of that evidence into account when I set my aspirations for the year ahead.

NAAAHHH!!!

I don’t believe in the concept of “aiming too high.” I look around and see a world full of people aiming too low and settling for less than what makes their hearts sing. I don’t want that. Not for them, and definitely not for me. I believe in dreaming big dreams. And I admire the people who dream the big dreams and have the courage to go for them with all of their heart. Those are the people I want to hang with. More than that, I want to be one of those brave people.

Maybe I ought to try a new approach heading into 2017. In years past, I have done the “Daily To-Do List” and the “Excuse Inventory” to nail down some habits of thought and action that I wanted to be disciplined about. I have always centered the exercises around the question, “How do I want to FEEL this year?” That seems wise; I will keep that. But for this year’s look ahead, I think I will try imagining myself looking back instead.

That’s right, I think it will be fun–and helpful–to write a letter from the person I am at the end of next year to the person I am today. Because honestly, I could use a little perspective from someone on the other side of this fear and uncertainty I am feeling now, even if he is only in my imagination. So, here goes……

Dear William from the start of 2017, 

Congratulations, my friend—you made it! I know that a year ago at this time, you could hardly imagine the grass looking this green. You had just lost your job. Your wife needed a new job. Your whole, beautiful lifestyle with your children, something you had worked so hard to cultivate, was seemingly about to slip away from you. Everything seemed uncertain. You were scared. Very scared. And hey, I don’t blame you. It was a lot to lose.  

And that is why I congratulate you now: because when it came time to ask yourself, at the end of the 2016, your usual, “How do I want to FEEL next year?” question, you gave the answer that shaped all of the days that have followed. “Brave,” you said. “I want to feel BRAVE!” The rest, as they say, is history. 

You have needed to respond with courage often this year—it feels like daily—as so many challenges arose that could have had you cowering in your shell, giving in and making choices from weakness and fear. Starting your year without a job probably ended up being the best thing that could have happened, as it backed you into a corner immediately and demanded a response. Your uncompromising determination and devotion to your purpose in that crucial period set the tone and built up those “brave muscles” for future challenges.  

And out of it came your first book! A lifelong dream accomplished. I know that you know it is only one small step in the direction of your dreams. But, just between you and me, it was also a HUGE leap and something you really needed. So, while I know your nose is still to the grindstone and plugging away at doing more and better, take a moment and accept this pat on the back for hitting a milestone. You have done something important. (Okay, now back to work!) 

Courage came in handy in all of those moments, big and small, when global and national events seemed to conspire to bring you down and made you want to crawl back inside yourself and be quiet. You chose to be brave. You used your voice where you could. And instead of blaming the President or “the system” or whatever and giving up, you took ownership of your own sphere of influence and tried to make a difference where you could. You made deeper connections. You found more reasons to care. You discovered a way to feel powerful instead of helpless, and you shared it with others. That took courage, and it was worth it.  

At home, you entered a year which promised to hold the most uncertainties yet—finances, career transitions, schedule changes—and reminded everyone, yourself included, how blessed and how fabulously capable you all are of dealing with life’s changes, all the while keeping a steady hold on what is most important to your family unit. You now walk out of that fire stronger and more connected than ever.  

It really was a wild year! Coming into it, I couldn’t (that is, you can’t) imagine all of the twists and turns your road would take and all of the fascinating new ways you would find to look at your journey. I can smile back on it now, but I don’t blame you for being scared from where you stand, at the edge of the cliff with only the dark of night around you, not sure if your next step will find solid ground. You will find yourself there more than once this year.  

Just remember how you said you wanted to feel. BRAVE. As long as you remember who you are and what matters most to you—and that you continue to choose BRAVE—things are going to work out beautifully. Trust me, I’ve been there! 

Your better self,  

William from the end of 2017  

Call it foolishness or denial or whatever, but somehow reading that note from that guy makes me feel a lot better about where I am right now and this cliff I am about to step off. Do me a favor: remind me not to forget the BRAVE part, okay? Yeah, something tells me that this year is going to bring some magic with it, the kind of stuff that is beyond my imagination. I am open to magic right now. Let the games begin!

How about you? How are you approaching the New Year? Open up your journal and get ready to write a letter. What are your defining thoughts and emotions as this past year draws to a close and a new one begins? At New Year’s time, is your tendency more to look back at the past year or forward to the next? What lessons from the past year will you use to take on the year ahead? Where are you on the Optimism vs. Pessimism spectrum about the coming year? Will it be better or worse than normal for you? How much of that is up to you? What do you expect will be your favorite parts of the year? Are you expecting any major changes? Big breakthroughs or milestones? What do you expect your biggest challenges will be? Are there major transitions in your near future, like in mine? How much uncertainty are you feeling about the road ahead? What do you fear? How powerful are those fears? Do you feel equipped to deal with them? How strong are your brave muscles? How do you most want to feel through the coming year? What kinds of actions will bring about that feeling? Is there something you can do immediately to give that feeling some momentum early in the year? Now write that letter from your end-of-2017 self to your current self. What does that future self know that you could really benefit from now? What could that self say to give you more belief in yourself about the road ahead? What would ease your fears? What single thing do you most need to hear? Write honestly. Write from the heart. And don’t forget that you made it through the year, so you must be about to do something right! What do you want to say about that? Leave me a reply and let me know: How was your 2017?  

Shoot for the stars,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you or helped you see yourself from a different perspective, please share it. We are all on the journey together!

Who Do You Wish To Be, Part 2: The DOING Part

IMG_2404“What we do comes out of who we believe we are.” –Rob Bell

Hello friend,

Last week, I wrote to you and asked, Who do you wish to be? It was a general question about the type of person you were striving to become, your vision for your best self. It was about the character traits you want to exemplify and the impact you want to have on the world in the rest of your numbered days. I asked you to keep it about who you wanted to be, to not get bogged down by needing to know exactly what you wanted to do. The being and the doing are hard to separate, of course. I tried, and here again is what I came up with for my best version of me:

I wish to be a person who inspires others. I wish to be an example of how sincere self-reflection and an open mind can allow you to know who you are and what your purpose is. I want to be an example of how that self-knowledge, far from being something to fear and find shame in, is something that can grant you the deepest peace and gratitude, basking in the beauty that is your Truth. I wish to share the stories of people who are doing the daily work of lifting others up, providing the rest of us with living examples of empathy, courage, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and social justice. I wish to be a person who brings people together to learn from each other, help each other, and enjoy each other. I wish to expose injustices where I find them, to give a voice to the voiceless. I wish to enlighten the most powerful among us in hopes that they will use their power for good. I wish to be an example of loving kindness for everyone I meet. I wish to be an example for my children of integrity and authenticity. I wish to show my loved ones how valuable they are to me. I wish to embody Gratitude every day. I wish to be relentless in the pursuit of my dreams. I wish to be unapologetically me, all the time. I wish to be Peace. I wish to always be mindful of the Divine in me, and the unity of us All.  

Okay. A week later, that still sounds about right for me. As I read through it, I keep nodding my head in agreement and feeling my heart rise up in me. That tells me my vision rings true for me. It resonates. So, what now? I can see how I want to be and the impact I want to make, but how do I do that? Just sitting here thinking good thoughts is nice, but it isn’t going to amount to anything if I am content with that. I need to take some action!

But what? What kinds of things will get me from here to there? Probably it is better to pretend for the moment that excuses don’t exist, that there is nothing holding me back from doing the things that will make me feel like the person I want to be. All of those things I habitually tell myself—there is no time, no money, I can wait until the kids grow up, I need more practice, I’m not good enough, I don’t know the right people, etc.—need to get checked at the door if we are going to do this the right way. Because we are talking about our own happiness and fulfillment here, friends! And we are talking about our ONE lifetime with these gifts and these opportunities. This isn’t a dress rehearsal here! The clock is ticking, so let’s—at least for now—pretend those obstacles don’t exist.

Imagine it: a clear path to the You of your dreams. All you have to do is take the actions to get from here to there….

This is tough! I am feeling the pressure. Okay, clear action items…. As I re-read that vision a few more times (am I stalling?), the concepts that jump out at me are 1) Be an example; 2) Share the best examples with others; 3) Speak up, on behalf of others and because there is light that needs sharing; and 4) Be grateful, mindful, and unabashedly me. Okay, that helps. I can see my best self more clearly in action now. So, here goes! These are some things, if I had no excuses, my best self would be doing:

I would volunteer more for causes that would help people who need a hand up. Homeless shelters, food shelves, family crisis centers, that sort of thing. I am so, so blessed, and frankly, it feels wrong to not do more for others than I am doing now. I am embarrassed by this.

I would write a book about how regular folks like you and me can do simple things in our everyday lives that will help make our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and our entire country places of greater compassion, kindness, inclusiveness, courage, justice, and joy. I am actually in the early phases of that project right now, and it definitely feels like the right thing to be doing. It checks all of those four boxes I just mentioned, so I am doing a little cheer inside as I realize that. Go, Me!

I would put myself out there more, really engage the people I come across, and act as insatiably curious as I really am inside. I am horribly unsocial, so I tend to keep to myself even in obvious social situations, and then later I wish I had dug a lot deeper, found out what someone is passionate about, and made a true connection. I have a long way to go on this one.

I would write Journal of You. Even on the days I am feeling sorry for myself about how few people actually read these posts—bless you, my dear reader—I know that this is the right thing for me to do. It is a labor of love.

I would write more about social justice issues. Though I know they stir stuff up—and probably contribute to my small audience—I can tell by how I feel when I am writing them that it puts wind in my sails. I definitely fits that third box of speaking up on behalf of others. I need to be more brave here.

I would create a media outlet—web-based newspaper, YouTube channel, social media—that would tell the stories of all of the people doing great things in my community. I mean people who are living examples of generosity, compassion, inclusivity, forgiveness, open-mindedness, peace, and justice. I would tell their stories and let you know how you can connect with them, perhaps contribute your gifts to their work. I would make a calendar of local events that bring people together across difference so that they might get to know each other, learn from each other, and ENJOY each other. It would be a clearinghouse—a one-stop shop–for all that is positive in my area. And I would make it reproducible, so that the same format could be used in other cities. Anywhere in the country, you could know where there are good things happening, where you could be helped, where you could shine your light, and where you might find your tribe. This is a recent vision I have been brainstorming, and I love it! It is enormous, though, so I am definitely in the mode of making excuses and letting in lots of limiting beliefs. Pray for me!

I would make all of these things happen and find a way to make them my full-time lifestyle, something I could earn a living at and not just squeeze tiny bits of them in here and there. I feel like I owe that to myself, and I owe that example to my kids. I tell them how important it is to serve others. They see me trying to write while at their swimming lessons or soccer practices, but they know I work a regular job during the day. They hear me tell them to speak up for others, to ask questions, and to fully engage the people they meet. And while I know that it is important for them to learn that striving to act well and striving toward one’s dreams are part of the bigger process, I desperately want to be the guy who is exemplifying a lifestyle of acting well and living out one’s dreams. I want to show them that following their passions is both expected and rewarded.

I guess I want it all!

How about you? If you were being your absolute best self, what would you be doing? Open up your journal and let your mind run. As I mentioned, I think it is best to not be so “realistic,” that is, to not allow yourself too many excuses based on your current time constraints and responsibilities. However, when you finish with the exercise, I do think it is helpful to name all of those excuses and do your best to dismiss them as quickly as possible. So, let’s get to your best version of you. If you didn’t write it down last week, write that out first—the general picture of the character traits you would like to exemplify and the type of impact you would like to have. With that vision of who you wish to be clearly in your mind, start filling in the picture with actions, things you would be doing while being your ideal You. In what ways would you treat people? How would you spend your spare time? What would your career be? How different are these actions of your ideal self from the things you do now? What are some things you do now that you wouldn’t change, that speak to your highest self? In what area of your life are you closest to your best? In what area do you have the furthest to go? On your list of things your best self would do, is there something that you can get started on today? No matter how small, I bet your soul would appreciate the doing. How confident are you that you will live out your vision? Is the striving toward it reward enough? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would the best version of You be doing?

You can have it all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you imagine a life that made you smile, I hope you will share it with someone. We all have greatness in us. Share yours!

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!