Tag Archives: Friends

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!

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

From Gripes to Grapes: Finding Your Way to THANKFUL

IMG_1667“Be thankful for every mountain, because it is the mountain top that will give you the best view of the world.” –Gugu Mona

Hello friend,

Last Sunday at my spiritual gathering, the minister explained that the collection for the day would go entirely to the refugee family that our congregation is sponsoring and who will be arriving in a couple of weeks. We were also collecting household goods—beds, sheets, lamps, cleaning supplies, etc.—to get them started on their new life in America. Well, one person in my row was paying attention to the minister.   So, when the basket was passed around, I pulled out my wallet and grabbed more than I usually do. My wife looked over, her eyes got big, and she whispered, “Whoa! Big spender!” I whispered back my defense: “It’s for the refugees.” An “Ahh” and a look of recognition appeared, followed by a nod of approval and a thumbs-up.   In that moment, I suddenly felt so grateful for something that usually has me either worrying or complaining: my bank account.

You see, as I alluded to in my letter to you a few weeks ago (see “How Much Is ENOUGH?”), I tend to be gripped by dread and insecurity each time I open my wallet. I hate spending money, and wish I had more of it so I wouldn’t be so obsessed by it (at least that’s how I explain away my worries and stinginess). So why was I suddenly feeling grateful for the money in my wallet and so willing to part with it?

Because I realized that I have a lot more of it than the entire refugee family has, and I actually have a bank account to fill my wallet up again when it goes empty. And in that moment, I realized that that was called good fortune.

In this time called Thanksgiving, I think I am usually like most people: I take a moment to give thanks for my family and friends, my health, clean water, a roof over my head, and warm food in my belly. Those thoughts humble me, and they connect me back to my Creator and what is really important in this world. I love Thanksgiving for just that reason: the humble reminder.

But as I thought about my sudden burst of gratitude concerning my old nemesis, money, something struck me about my usual Thanksgiving moment of gratitude: I am letting myself off easy.

Think about it. How about much work does it take to be grateful—on a day that we get to take off of work for the specific purpose of giving thanks for our blessings—for the things that are so obviously good in your life?

That’s why the money incident got my attention. Money is just not something I am used to being overwhelmed with gratitude for, or believing I have in such abundance that I should always be feeling grateful for. I really should, though, because I realize now that I do, indeed, have enough.

But I don’t always feel grateful. Instead, I worry. I gripe. I clamor for more. I get a little bitter. Those aren’t good feelings. I don’t want more of them.

I truly enjoyed the experience of feeling grateful for the money I have and that I could give some away. Of course, I am a big fan of an unexpected joy and a boost of gratitude. So, I started thinking of the other things I am most hung-up about in my little corner of the world. You know, the things I tend to complain about, fear, or be depressed by. These last couple of days, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can change those downers into things I can be grateful for. I’ve come up with a few ideas.

I am not a Winter person. I never have been. I don’t like the cold. I don’t like shoveling snow. I don’t like the consuming darkness. And I despise the inconvenience of putting on so many clothes before leaving the house. It’s just not me. I’m a Summer guy. So, as these cold, dark days have been descending upon me following a lovely Autumn, my tendency is to get the grumbles. Misery loves company, and there are people everywhere I go who are willing to complain about Winter if I give them a little nudge. But today, I am flipping the script. Today I am focusing on the fact that the cold, dark days of Winter are usually the time when I get my most and best writing done. Of course, I love that. So, come on, Winter! I am already grateful for you!

One nice thing about this process is that I am realizing that I don’t have a lot that I consistently complain about, no anchor in my life that always brings me down. I am grateful for that all by itself.

I have to admit, though, that I have been carrying around a weight of sadness since the election, and even in the months leading up to it, as I watched my country be revealed as a place I had been blindly hoping it was not. I confess to a silent resentment toward my many family members who voted for this person whose success translates into other members of my family and my friends living in greater fear for their physical safety and the potential loss of their civil rights. I have had a terrible time reconciling that. I don’t want to feel that anger toward these people that I love. So, today I am trying (with all my might) to let that resentment go. I am deciding to focus on the fact that they are otherwise loving, decent people who have always treated us, on a one-to-one basis, very kindly. I am grateful for that, and I will keep working hard to focus on that kindness.

On a less personal and more broad scale, I have been fairly devastated by what has felt like the loss of the country I thought I had been living in. Though I had been dispirited by the entire year-and-a-half Presidential campaign and its recurring themes of racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance, I was somehow still hopeful that my fellow countrymen would, when they and their consciences stepped into the voting booths together, make a bold and decisive stand against that brand of ignorance.

Of course, my optimism was shown to be shockingly misguided. My psyche has been ravaged as I have watched the ensuing expressions of hate in our schools and streets, as well as the celebrations by white nationalist and white supremacist groups about the election results and the Cabinet appointments that have followed. I have listened to my loved ones who aren’t straight, white, Christian, American-born males express their fears and share the bad experiences they have had due to their identities. I’ve been feeling so stupid because I believed something about my country that turned out to be untrue, and then I have felt sick about the truth. I have to be honest: as a guy who tries to practice and preach Gratitude and always searches for the silver lining, I have had a hard time finding it on this topic these last couple of weeks.

But then I was standing in my kitchen on Thursday evening, looking out over the Thanksgiving meal being enjoyed at my dining table and family room sofas by a small gathering of friends and family members. There was lots of laughter, but there were also interesting discussions about a wide range of topics, including faith and social issues. After listening to some specifics in the few small groups, I pulled my view back a bit further and saw something different, something that changed me.

Here in this one room in my home was a microcosm of the America I had believed in just a few weeks ago. There were white people, Christian people, straight people, able-bodied people, American-born people, and male people, of course. But there were also black people, multiracial people, Muslim people, nonreligious people, gay people, disabled people, immigrant people, and female people. They were just enjoying each other and strengthening the bonds of community and humanity by learning more about one another. It was a little, one-room Utopia.

So, despite all of the legitimate fear and worry that these people feel with the recent election results, and despite how down I have been about living in a country that voted for this fear by voting in the intolerance and bigotry that causes it, my table reminds me that I can still do something about it. That we can still do something about it. It may become more difficult in the next few years, and we may be doing a lot more comforting in our gatherings than we would like. But if we are intentional, and if we keep Love at the forefront, we will not be broken by this setback. The arc of the Universe inevitably bends forward, toward progress. It is not always linear, but the long course of history shows it to be steady. I am thankful that the people who gather at my table just as they are—as equals—will be the keepers of the flame, the ones insisting on progress despite formidable obstacles in our path. I am so, so thankful for that.

And I needed the reminder.

How about you? What are the things in your life that you usually complain about or that drag you down that you are willing to try to turn into things you can be grateful for? Open up your journal and peruse your pattern of thoughts. What do you complain about? Is it big stuff or small stuff? Is it worthy of your effort it takes to complain? What is the stuff that annoys you but that you hold your tongue about? What kinds of things really depress you or otherwise drag you down? Do your issues tend to be constant or recurring things—like money or Winter—or unique issues that come up once, like an election? Pick an issue. What can you do today to change your mind about that issue to the point that you are grateful for its existence? Try that question with progressively bigger hang-ups, going as deep as you can with each to come up with something positive about them that you can be thankful for. How hard is this for you? I think it is easier sometimes to imagine how you will see these “problems” twenty years from now, because from that point-of-view you might be able to see how these issues were actually blessings helping you get to where you need to go. But maybe not. Do you have anything that you absolutely cannot spin in a grateful direction? Is that due to a lack of imagination or effort on your part, or is it just so dark and bad that there is no lens from which to look at it and find something to be grateful for? Does this quest for gratitude make you feel better and help you to see light where you didn’t before? Is this a natural habit for you or something you need much more work to develop? Leave me a reply and let me know: Can you find your way to THANKFUL? 

You are a gift,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to move toward an attitude of gratitude, or if something else resonated with you, please share it. Gratitude is worth spreading!

This Is NOT an Election Article!

dsc_0566“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen

Hello friend,

Imagine a group of college-age friends who grew up together. They are all figuring out what their path in life is. Nearly all of them, of course, are going the conventional routes: business, teaching, medicine, technology, trades, and the like. They want to be respectable, earning members of the workforce until they retire. Generally speaking, you would say they are a group of very stable people.

There are two outliers in their group, though. One friend has decided that she wants to follow her passion for the arts and become a painter. She’s not exactly sure how she will make it work financially, but she is a dreamer and has faith it will work out. The other friend has decided he is going to become an estate lawyer and make a fortune scamming old people out of their money. His goal is to make money, and he doesn’t care about the human cost.

How, then, does their stable group of friends react to these two who are straying from the conventional path?

As for the artist/dreamer, they are concerned for her but don’t dislike or distrust her for her decision. They dismiss her, in a way, as being too whimsical, not sensible enough, foolish for choosing the unstable path. They warn her about the starving artist lifestyle she is choosing, reminding her that she will be without health insurance or a 401K plan. The stable crew feels a little bad for their artist friend, even, as she “just doesn’t get it” and “lives in a fantasyland.” Her heart is in the right place, though, so they don’t dislike her. But they also don’t take her seriously and are relieved there aren’t lots more like her. She is a bit dangerous to their stability. Lovable, but dangerous.

The scamming lawyer, on the other hand, is now viewed by the friends as dangerous but unlovable. It is clear that his heart is not in the right place. A moral failing has entered the picture, and their sensibilities are offended by that. They are disappointed. They realize they can no longer trust him the way they thought they could. A wall has gone up in their relationship, one that is probably too steep to climb in order to build that relationship back to whole again.

The artist’s flaw, according to the group, is that she feels too much, she lets her heart guide her. The lawyer’s flaw is that he is heartless, callous. The artist can be forgiven for veering off the path of the rest of the group, but the lawyer cannot.

You are probably wondering why in the world I am having you think about these people. Well, lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the individual people in my life, how I interact with each, and whether they seem more like someone who I want closer to me or someone who I need to distance myself from. I am oversensitive to just about everything, but especially to the prospect of spending time with people I think poorly of. I am repulsed by that and have left jobs and relationships because of it.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we have this magical way of reconnecting and staying in touch with so many more people than ever before. People from your past—high school and college friends, former colleagues—and even people whom you have never met in person. You can actually learn a lot about some of them. Sometimes more than you want to.

As you well know, it is political season. And while many of the people I know–whether intimately, in person, or online–tend to reveal little to nothing about their political views, there are certainly others who really put themselves out there for their candidate or cause. They reveal their positions on some topics that truly matter to me. That’s where it can get uncomfortable.

As I have watched other people’s interactions and tried to understand my own reactions to people on the other end of the political spectrum from me—I am quite liberal on just about all of the big topics—I see patterns emerging. So, I am developing my own pet theory on how a relationship between a liberal person and a conservative person plays out when their views are made known to the other. (Keep in mind that I am well aware that the people of the world hold a zillion varieties of viewpoints, and that the liberal and conservative in my theory are, by necessity, caricatured people that are to the far left and far right, respectively.) Check this out and be ready to help me tinker with my theory by sharing your personal pattern of reactions.

Remember the artist/dreamer of the friend group? Well, in my developing theory, the way the group viewed the artist is the way my conservative character views my liberal character. He (the conservative) sees her (the liberal’s) flaw as her “bleeding heart,” always thinking the government should help everyone and right wrongs. In his eyes, she is leading with her heart, which is foolish and impractical, because of course we can’t foot the bill for other people’s problems. Her insistence that we can is more annoying than anything. But at least her heart is in the right place, so he can’t despise her for that. He tolerates her.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the conservative is looked upon the way our friend group reacted to the scamming lawyer. She sees him as having abandoned his heart in favor of his pocketbook. His is a callous perspective, ignoring the plight of others and even basic human rights (I have been using universal health coverage in my ponderings, but we could use things like capital punishment, women’s health issues, LGBT rights, or the Syrian refugee crisis, too). He has taken moral issues and turned them instead into economic ones, ignoring hearts and souls in favor of financial calculations. This is incredibly disappointing—even hurtful—to the liberal. Her feelings are hurt by the seeming callousness of the conservative’s positions. Her sensibilities are offended. A trust has been broken. There is a “How could you?” in her reaction, as in, “How could you devalue human life this way?” The liberal does not want to believe someone’s heart could be so cold. It is a devastating realization. She is effectively done with him.

So, at the end of it, it looks as though the conservative would be more tolerant of the liberal than the liberal is of the conservative. The conservative sees the liberal as a failure of reason and practicality, whereas the liberal sees the conservative as a failure of character and conscience. Her failure is acceptable; his is not. He can continue with her in his life, just as the stable group of friends could keep the artist. The liberal, however, no longer feels any interest in fraternizing with the conservative, seeing him as the friend group sees the scamming lawyer: morally bankrupt. With the trust broken, for her, the relationship is as good as over.

So, that’s the theory at this point. Like I said, the positions are probably a bit extreme for most people. But I have to admit, the liberal side is mostly a projection of stuff coming up from my own heart in these situations. I recognized the feelings I was having in response to all of these political posts as well as my conversations with different people, and the theory emerged from me trying, mostly through my daily journal entries, to make sense of the feelings. I wanted some clarity, which is what journaling has always brought me.

This process has helped me to better understand my internal workings, as well as my evolving relationships with family members, friends, and online connections. I have to admit it is a bit disturbing to see the final product being a desire to end, or at least pull back from, a number of relationships that I had once enjoyed and valued, even if on a more superficial level. But I can’t fake it, either. As I mentioned early on, it is a weakness of mine that I am oversensitive. Another one is that I am stubborn. That combination makes me tough to hang with. If you break my trust, I don’t easily let it go. (And yes, I recognize the irony in the fact that despite seeing my political positions as more enlightened and compassionate than the other side, I am the one who ends up being more intolerant in the actual relationship. I guess personal boundaries come with a cost.)

I suppose I hope for other people’s sake that they can make peace with people who hold vastly different views more easily than I can, that they can either forgive or compartmentalize their politics. Maybe it is like my theory—the conservatives can do it better than the liberals can—or maybe it is only me. In any case, the theory-making helped me to know myself better. Even if the results have shaken me a bit, I am glad I took the dive.

How about you? How would you categorize your reactions to people whose views are starkly opposed to yours? It is probably helpful to start by locating yourself along the political spectrum. Are you fairly far in one direction overall, or pretty moderate? Is there one particular issue that you hold an extra-strong opinion about? Can disagreement on that issue trigger an emotional response from you? If you are on the conservative side of the spectrum, does my proposed theory resonate with you at all, i.e. do you find yourself being dismissive of liberals because their “bleeding hearts” make their proposals too impractical and expensive for your tastes, even if you tolerate them because they mean well? If that is not how you experience it, what is your reaction to someone you know who proposes a liberal idea? Do you find that the liberal ideas fail your test morally, or is it more logically or practically? If you are more left-leaning, does my theory resonate with you? Have you had the experience, in talking with conservatives about these issues, of being so dismayed—even hurt—by the callousness and lack of compassion in their positions to the point that you no longer wish to socialize with them? Have I gone too far in that side of the theory? Is your experience more like I described for the other side: it is frustrating that the conservative disagrees with you, but that has no bearing on how you rate their character and how much time you want to spend with them? If you are someone who is kind of in the middle on the issues—conservative on some, liberal on others—do you find yourself still leaning toward one side in terms of which friends you like or respect more, or is it also a pretty even mix? Is there something more morally upstanding about one side or the other? If you had to choose between spending your time with someone who is hopelessly impractical or someone who is immoral, who would you choose? Do you mostly try to avoid political discussions with people in your social groups so you aren’t forced to make these kinds of character evaluations and relationship changes? I think most of us do that at least some of the time, because let’s face it, it’s risky to wade into these waters. Is that an unhealthy denial, or is that simply a wise way to make life bearable in your little corner of the world? I am dying to know how you navigate this stuff! So please, leave me a reply and let me know: How do you handle your relationships with people who differ from you on important political issues? 

Claim your amazing self,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you examining your relationships and how your political opinions shape your friend group and your tolerance for others, I hope you will share it. If you want these letters in your Inbox as soon as they are published, I invite you to sign up for the email.  Peace and Love, my friend.

Dear Past Me: a letter to my 18-year-old self

DSC_0140“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

I have been swimming in a pool of graduation-induced nostalgia lately. For one, I have both a niece and nephew graduating from high school in the next couple of weeks, and I am sympathetic to both the kids and their parents. Second, I just finished a book of collected college commencement speeches, so I have been thinking a lot about what I might say to young people who are making a huge transition into the world. To put a cherry on top, this week, while working on The Journal Project, I came across my entries for the week that my little sister graduated from high school. I was seven years out of school at the time, but her graduation stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Here is a little portion of a journal entry I wrote on May 28, 1998, recalling my own graduation week seven years prior:

“I remember how sentimental I was in my last days there. I wanted so fiercely for it not to end. I knew what a special thing we had going and what an incredible group of guys that were saying “so long.”   I can look back now and see that I wasn’t a fool in that regard. I don’t want to go back to eighteen again, because I live with the wisdom that brings me an amazing level of joy and peace. But I can still see those guys and feel exactly the way I felt about them then. I dearly loved them then, and I dearly love them now. I know that most people’s best friends are the ones they met in college. Mine are the ones I have known since high school and grade school.”  

I still feel that way, actually. I had an incredibly lucky childhood in just about every way imaginable, and as I approached my high school graduation, I knew that just about everything that made my life so free and love-filled was about to change. I was chosen to be the speaker at my graduation. It was kind of ironic that the guy who didn’t want that charmed life to end was the one chosen to tell everyone it was over and to offer some words of wisdom heading into their next lives. I don’t remember the words I said, but it was a lot of schmaltzy quotes read from a page and very little from my heart. I said the types of things they told me I was supposed to say, so I didn’t really think about making an impact.

Looking back now, I wish I had said something profound that day. Heck, I wish I had heard something profound that day. I needed at least as much guidance as everyone else did. I was an 18-year-old kid. What did I know? Instead of me giving out hurrahs and platitudes to my classmates, I wish someone who really cared about me and who had been down the road I was about to go down could have sat me down and given me some real advice.   I am not sure I would have listened—I was 18, remember—but maybe something would have sunk in and helped me in all the 25 years that have followed.

So today, I decided to write my 18-year-old self a letter—sort of a high school commencement speech to myself—and tell him all the things I wish he could carry with him on the journey through the circus that is early and middle adulthood. So, armed with 25 more years of experience, here goes….

Dear 18-year-old William,

When I wrote in your future niece and nephew’s graduation cards last week, I told them that my one piece of advice was “to understand who you are and what makes your heart sing. Then just be unapologetically you, forever and always.” Twenty-five years after I was in the shoes you are in now, that message pretty much sums up what I have learned. I suppose that sounds kind of vague and unhelpful to you right now, but it truly is the essence of what I wish I would have heard when I was sitting in your seat.  

But how do you do it? Well, that’s the tricky part.   There may not be an exact answer—you could start by getting a journal, I suppose–but these are some of the habits that have most helped me to know myself and live my Truth along this beautiful path called Life.  

First, be completely curious. Be open to all new ideas, and learn as much as you can about as many different people as you can. Find out who they are and what makes them tick. Learn about different professions, different hobbies, different lifestyles. The more you know about the way others live, the easier it is to choose wisely for yourself. (Oh, and don’t EVER stop being curious!) 

Trust your intuition. There is a still, small voice inside you, and if you listen closely and courageously to it, it will keep you on your path forever. This one is much more difficult than it sounds, though, because there are other voices trying to shout down the true voice. They are voices of fear and insecurity, of society, of family, of shame. It takes a discerning ear to focus on only the voice of your Truth. And it takes courage to own that.  

Be the one and only you, unapologetically. To deny the world your complete and authentic self—with all of its idiosyncrasies—is to give in to fears that you are not enough as you are. And you ARE enough! You are amazing, mostly in your uniqueness. So give us the gift that only you can give! 

Understand your value. You are a miraculous being, fully part of the Divine, and your presence in this lifetime is a gift to the rest of us. As much as you treasure and respect the people in your life, remember to value yourself at least as much.

Have an opinion about yourself. I know this overlaps with the last one—all of these really are different angles of the same point—but I cannot stress it enough. It is not only important to know your worth, but also to know what serves you and what doesn’t. When you have an opinion about yourself—a strong, positive one, of course—you act like it with the choices you make. You don’t allow the negative people and the drama queens into your inner circle. You don’t take jobs that don’t speak to your values. You don’t let people take advantage of you. You stand up to injustice. You use your time instead of wasting it. You give up being a victim. Basically, you become an active participant in your own life and assume responsibility for what is in it.  

Follow Your Bliss. If you are in the process of being curious, open, and trusting of that inner voice, you will undoubtedly come upon the things that simply light you up inside. These are the jobs, the hobbies, and the people that make your heart sing, the ones that “just feel right” in your gut. They are your dreams, your calling, your Bliss. And that warm, fulfilling feeling that overtakes you when you pursue it, that is your intuition telling you that you are on the right path. Follow it! 

Act like this is a one-shot deal. In other words, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” Even if you think there is some kind of afterlife or reincarnation or something else spectacular waiting for you after this dance, act like this lifetime is your only chance. Love wholly and completely. Dream big and go for it. Give everything your best effort and focus. Forgive. Agree to disagree. Move on. Say what you have to say. Take chances. Follow your fear. Just be sure that in the end, you have lived, not merely existed.  

Never settle. Don’t be lulled to sleep by the life everyone else says is enough for you. Don’t take a job that doesn’t mean anything to you. Don’t keep poisonous relationships just because it is inconvenient to cut ties. Don’t stop learning just because you have a degree. If your dreams are bigger than your current life, do what you must to go get them. Playing small only sucks the passion out of life. Play the bigger game for the stakes that YOU have determined are enough to fulfill you completely. That is living.  

Just make sure that whatever you do, you do it for yourself. Do it because it fascinates YOU, tugs on YOUR heartstrings, and stirs YOUR soul, not because it is what your parents or friends or society expects you to do. It is your life, not theirs. Pleasing them may seem to be the path of least resistance, but it will kill your spirit in the process, and that is not a good trade. Keep your integrity by living the life you were born to live, the one only your soul knows the way through.  

Above all, enjoy the ride! Be grateful for it. Life is a miraculous journey, every single step of it. You have a choice whether to see it that way. I highly encourage you to do so. It makes for a lot more Love and Joy in the process. I wish you all the Love, Joy, and Bliss you can handle. Carpe diem!

 Always, 

43-year-old William

P.S. Don’t lose touch with your best friends. These are the best guys you will ever know.  

P.S.S. About those girls that you are going to have the crushes on but will feel too scared to say so: get over yourself! Fortune favors the bold. Ask them out! 

How about you? What would you say to your 18-year-old self? Open up your journal and organize some thoughts. The easy part—especially compared to last week, when we wrote to our future selves—is that you know exactly who you are writing to. You know how you were at 18 and what types of things Life has thrown at you since. If you could sum up your message in a short sentence or two—like on my graduation cards—what would it be? Is that the kind of message your 18-year-old self would have taken to heart, or would it have gone in one ear and out the other? Now expound on that summary. Do you think your letter would have more general rules, like mine, or more specifics, like my P.S.es? What did you really need someone to tell you at the end of high school? If they had, how do you think your life would be different now? Do you wish it were? Is there one specific decision or time in your life since 18 that you wish you would have been warned about back then? Who was the person in your life back then—friend, relative, teacher–who was most likely to give you the kind of advice you would give yourself in this letter? What role, if any, does that person play in your life now? Is there someone that you can play that role for? Would you write them the same letter you wrote to yourself—is your advice universal—or something very different? Is there something that every 18-year-old would benefit from hearing? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would you say to your 18-year-old self?

Carpe diem,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you feeling nostalgic or reminded you about all the lessons that Life has taught you, please pass it on. Wisdom is meant for sharing. Cheers!

Using Facebook As Match.com For Friendships: Searching for Real Human Interaction in the Digital Age

DSC_0518“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.–A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh  

Hello friend,

I have a new fantasy woman in my life. She’s super smart, creative, and funny. The way she strings her words together makes my mind light up and my face smile. She comes from a wonderful family and puts great value there, just like I do. Oh, and did I mention that she is also totally beautiful? I can comfortably say she is out of my league. But what the heck, I am going for it! She has all the makings of a true gem, a diamond in the rough. Women like this don’t come along every day. I must stick my neck out and risk the rejection. I have to take the chance!

Sure, I am happily married. So why is this woman living in my head and making me excited to reach out and talk to her? What do I want from her? The answer is simple: Friendship. I want her to be my friend. Well, more precisely, I want to find out if she could be a true friend. I want to connect with her—actually speak to her, even if on the phone—and see if she is actually as cool and deep and inspiring as she seems to be from our few brief online exchanges and a long history as childhood acquaintances. I feel like I have a good sense of her, but I realize that you never really know from a few emails or Facebook comments. Maybe we take that skeleton and fill in all of the rest of the heart and soul and guts with our own minds, romanticizing (or demonizing) the people we have these familiar-yet-distant online relationships with, making them into whomever we want or need them to be. I am aware of that very real possibility in this case, and that is why I am determined to find out.

It requires a social risk, though. In this digital age, we are all used to having relationships that are very friendly but that are also at arms’ length. Facebook, Instagram, and the like have allowed us to connect with new people and reconnect with our old classmates and co-workers. We like and comment on each other’s posts and, in the process, we build and/or keep good feelings toward one another. It’s a great deal. I love it!

As a relative newbie to social media—I’ve been on Facebook for a year-and-a-half and just opened an Instagram account but have no idea what to do with it—I have been amazed at how much I have enjoyed learning what my old elementary and high school classmates are doing. Because I am a terrible friend and haven’t kept up well with anyone from any phase of my life, I was very skeptical about Facebook going into it. I couldn’t imagine why someone would send me a Friend Request if we aren’t actual, current friends, and entering into these relationships seemed really awkward to me, even phony. I was completely out of my water. Much to my surprise, however, it turns out that I LOVE reading about my old schoolmates and seeing their photos. It has helped me to stay better connected to the few people who I still considered to be my friends—even if we had neglected each other for too long—and it has given me a new window into the lives of people I didn’t know well enough, some of whom I still had very fond impressions of.

That brings me to the people like my new fantasy woman. I wrote to you a while back about “The Facebook ‘Friends’ You Wish Were Your Real Friends,” mentioning a handful of people from my (mostly distant) past—some of whom I did not know very well even when I “knew” them–whose Facebook posts I love and who seem like the kind of people I would love to gather in the same room with to see if we might save the world together. Just like the title of that post says, I wish they were my real friends. Well, at least I wish my ideas of them were my real friends. This is where I think social media can be at its finest. Perhaps this thing called Facebook—or Twitter or Instagram or whatever else I know nothing about—is like a global friendship screening system. We can become “friends” with hundreds of people on there, and hopefully from those hundreds we find a special few who make it onto to our wish list.

The question is: What do you do about these people? Do you keep them at the necessary arms’ length distance of a social media relationship, enjoying their posts and occasionally sharing a good-hearted comment exchange, maybe even a private message? OR, do you take a social risk and ask to meet up with one of them—either in person or on the phone—to just talk. You know, the way humans used to do it.

We are increasingly and rapidly losing our social skills in this digital age, which makes it feel awkward and dangerous to make that step of inviting an actual engagement with another person, a real conversation. But that also makes it so much more important that we make this connection. We need more genuine human interaction. Conversations from the heart. Diving deep into another’s life story. A look at the world through their eyes, walking that proverbial mile in their shoes.

I know I need it. I lack that connection in my life. I am cut off. I usually write it off to my introversion, hiding behind my insecurity and my love of solitude to justify why I don’t open up or reach out. Historically, I have tended to see myself as the oddball, though, the only one who stands alone. Lately, however, I have been seeing it—and feeling it—in others all around me, wherever adults happen to gather. I watch the parents on the soccer sidelines and at the bus stop. I am not the only one who shies away. It feels distant and awkward between almost everyone. It’s like we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. It is a great disconnect.

This great disconnect–whether it is spreading like a virus for the modern age or I am just noticing it more–is precisely why I believe in not just making that “Turning a ‘Friend’ into a FRIEND” list but also in doing something about it. Suggesting a meeting or a phone conversation. Actually finding out if you have a fantasy figure created mostly in your head—as I do—or a potential dear friend for life. That is what I decided to do this week. My fantasy woman and I exchanged a couple of messages on a topic, and I was so enthralled with her ideas that I asked her if we could set up a phone call so I could hear more of her thoughts and her life story. I felt weird asking it. After all, in the arms’ length world, each of us has some romantic image of a soulful, creative genius on the other end of the screen. Maybe finally speaking will burst both of our bubbles. Maybe it will just be great catching up but left as a one-shot deal.

But maybe not. Maybe we are destined to teach each other great lessons or collaborate on a world-changing project. Maybe we will be the best of friends. Whatever it is, the social risk seems worth it. A true human connection is something you can’t put a price on. If it happens, I just won the jackpot. If it doesn’t, well, it’s just another day without it. We haven’t had the call yet, but I assure you that the excitement I feel in anticipation is well worth any letdown I will feel if it doesn’t work out. I am that hungry for a connection of my soul.

How about you? How hungry are you for a deep friendship? Open up your journal and think about your online relationships. Which ‘friends’ would you like to make your true friends? What is it about them that resonates with you? What draws you in? Do you have a little dialogue going with them already, whether through comments on each other’s posts or private messages? How much of a social risk would it be for you to propose a meeting or phone conversation to get to know each other better? What do you think they would say? What do you have to gain from reaching out? I understand the other side is the pain of rejection, but answer me this: what do you have to gain from doing nothing? Which gain is more valuable to you: a true, deep friendship or a more superficial but always positive online relationship? How authentic do you think most people’s social media personas are? Do you think you have an accurate read on your friend list from their posts and comments? Is it possible to have a deep relationship with someone online only? Have you ever pursued a relationship because of social media content? Do you have that one fantasy friend who you are just sure that you are meant to be besties with? What keeps you from making that connection happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is your social media fantasy, and what are you going to do about it? 

Love is worth a risk,

William

P.S. If this speaks to you, please share.  You never know who it might connect you with!

Happy Gratitude Day!

DSC_0127“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” —Meister Eckhart

Hello friend,

I had a birthday this week. Birthdays seem to be received in such a wide variety of ways as people move deeper into adulthood. I know people who will simply not acknowledge that it is their birthday. They bristle at any greetings or gifts from loved ones, sometimes even going so far as to question the intelligence of the well-wishers, as there is simply NOT a birthday occurring on this day. I know others who somewhat-begrudgingly acknowledge their day and humbly accept their gifts and greetings, but they don’t want to talk about how old they are or dive into any deep sentiment about the passage of time and the life they have lived. They will be pleased to have the day move into tomorrow, just another day. Still others I know are more than happy to use the occasion as an excuse to have a party, eat some yummy stuff, and misbehave a bit. It is another Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day for them.

For me, though, Birthday Mode is something different. I have never been much for wild celebrations, so it is always very low-key. I enjoy the cake, of course, and hanging out with my wife and kids. I like hearing from my parents and siblings, and birthdays and holidays tend to provide us with the excuse to finally make the connection. Other than the cake and a few extra phone calls, though, the day tends to look—on the outside, anyway–like most of the others.

On the inside, though, the concept of my birthday has changed. This year I was keenly aware all day that I have come to see it asGratitude Day,” a day to be reminded of all of the amazing gifts in my life, which are too many to count but can definitely be felt. So, while the day seemed to go on fairly normally on the outside, I was doing an internal meditation on these innumerable blessings and just how thankful I am for them.

Of course, I thought about the many wonderful people in my life. My wife and kids–with whom I shared the cake and the laughs that day–are the very best that I could imagine, so it was cool just to bask in that kind of gratitude that comes from being up close and personal with its source. My parents and siblings are such admirable people in so many ways, and so I found myself truly absorbing and appreciating each call, FaceTime, and voicemail. These are conversations that I cherish. And while I don’t have many close friends, I was well reminded of them and how interconnected they are with the story of my life. Without them, there is not me, and it was nice to take some time to ruminate on that idea.

The group of people that surprised me most in my level of gratitude for them was the Facebook crowd. Seriously! This is the first year I have been on Facebook—yes, I am a little slow to join the new millennium—and one of the people closest to me said that I should make open to the public as little about me as possible. She said she doesn’t list her birthday because she doesn’t want people who barely know her wishing her a Happy Birthday. I didn’t listen, of course, so how pleasantly surprised I was to get a little shout-out from dozens and dozens of folks, mostly old high school mates and distant relations. Though I would probably not recognize all of their faces if I saw them today, I was somehow very touched and appreciative of the little moment it took them to just type “Happy BDay” or the like. It reminded me of where I came from and also of the importance of small gestures and how I need to do better with them, as I was certainly grateful to every one of those folks who took that little moment. People are good!

Already in the gratitude flow, I found myself really aware of the little things that I generally take for granted. As a middle-class American suburbanite in the 21st century, I live so amazingly comfortably compared to most anyone in the history of the world. There is a fridge full of food and money to buy more. I know I will be warm through a Minnesota Winter. Everyone in my family is healthy, and we can see a doctor any time that changes. My bookshelves are full, and the library is nearby in a pinch. And I have the privilege of not having to think about this stuff everyday, leaving me free to do things like studying life coaching and writing this letter to you. It is definitely a good gig, this one of mine.

Finally, I took a page from The Secret and expressed my gratitude for all of the magnificence to come. Actually, I find myself doing this almost every day in my journal entries. I am in the habit of sharing my thanks in advance for the many wonderful blessings that are surely on the way (it helps that I see everything as a blessing in my philosophy). For me, this helps me to walk each day in gratitude and to maintain my unbridled optimism for the future. In that vein, this is how I closed my journal entry on my birthday afternoon:

I am going to have a very good 43rd year. I can feel that. There is so much growth out there for me, and I am wildly grateful for that. Lots of change, lots of growth, lots of Love, lots of fun, lots of memories. I am really, really excited for what is coming. I am about to jump out of my skin as I think about it right now. The Universe and I will be sharing our gifts with one another. I am SO excited. It truly is a happy Happy Birthday and Gratitude Day that I am basking in right now. God permeates. I am oozing Peace. Life is beautiful.

How about you? What are you grateful for today? Open up your journal and remind yourself why it is good to be alive and be you. What are the circumstances you are most thankful for? Do you have food and shelter? Do you have enough money to pay for those things? Do you feel safe where you live? Are you reading this on a computer or smartphone? Are you allowed to freely express yourself? Do you have the chance to pursue your dreams? Are you educated? If you answered “yes” to any of those things, you are off to a good start. If “yes” to all, how blessed you are! How about the people in your life? Think about all of your friends and family members who make your little corner of the world a place you appreciate. Which ones would you not trade for a million dollars? How many people would take that moment out of their day to send you a Facebook birthday wish? Would that moment make you smile the way it made me smile? Are you grateful for that moment? What about the coming moments? Do you allow yourself to be grateful in anticipation of good things to come? Is your level of optimism about the future reflected in the level of anticipatory gratitude you feel toward it, or do you keep these things separate? How do you treat your birthday? Do you deny it or embrace it? Do you celebrate big? Does it draw you into deep thought about your life and its many blessings? If you are like me, your birthday has become a lot like what the other big holidays have become: a chance to give thanks for this beautiful Life. Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you celebrate Gratitude Day?

Let your light shine,

William

Challengers of Change

DSC_0904“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.” –Joan Wallach Scott

Change is tough stuff. It is so necessary for growth and vitality, but still so very difficult and stressful. Relocations. Career changes. Relationship beginnings and endings. Births. Deaths. Heck, even your favorite TV show getting moved to another night! This stuff is no picnic, even when the changes are ones we have looked forward to. We always hear people say “Change is good!” while we are gritting our teeth about something changing in our lives. It seems no accident that the word “CHANGE” can be extracted from the letters of “CHALLENGE,” as the former never seems to come without the latter hanging all over it like a wet jacket. When it comes to making a major move in our own life—especially an effort to improve ourselves or our station in the world—the haters seem to come out of the woodwork to let their feelings be known.

Unfortunately, the first person we usually have to battle in this process of change-for-growth is ourselves. We put up a mighty challenge, too. When I think of big moves I have made in my adult life—quitting school (a couple of times!), moving to New York and Los Angeles, leaving LA, giving up single life, going to graduate school, leaving management, even starting “Journal of You”—there wasn’t a single one that didn’t involve a full-scale war against my own fear and self-doubt. So many of those changes involved facing The Great Unknown—which I think is the biggest fear for most of us—and others involved jumping into things that seemed known but still terrifying to me. When I look at that list, I can clearly recall that I was achingly close to not pulling the trigger on every one of those moves. I was my own biggest challenger.

I may have been my biggest challenger, but I was certainly not my only one. I think most people who make big moves in their lives find the same thing. When we finally push back our demons, face our fears, and claim the move, we feel a huge relief. The weight is off our shoulders. We think we are in the clear. Only then, however—when the news gets out—do we get the multitude of challengers and haters bringing their own issues to us. Our life changes trigger a lot of issues inside of the people around us.

Jealousy is a big one. Disappointment. Anger. There is a “Who moved my cheese?” element to it, as your friends, family, and even acquaintances can no longer take your role in their lives and in their minds for granted. You have become a wildcard, a rogue player. You must be assessed in a totally different way. That uncertainty is highly uncomfortable for most people, and especially so if your life change involves you—at least in their eyes—“rising above” the status you shared with them. There are a lot of psychological forces at play.

In most of our stations in life, we don’t like to admit—to ourselves or to others—that we don’t want to be what or where we are. So, we keep the “getting out” or “rising above” discussions away. But then someone in our station, out of nowhere, announces that they are making the move, getting out. And for the rest of us, our very first reflex thought is, “Oh, you lucky son-of-a-gun!” Whether what follows are well-wishes or resentment depends on the emotional maturity of the onlooker.

I see exactly this in the world of Tennis teachers, my field of work. We are all just a freak injury away from being out of a career, so we would be fools to not have at least considered a back-up plan, no matter how much we love our work. Yet no one ever talks about it. EVER! It is like some silent code that we have agreed to. Then one day—it happened last week in my office, actually–one of our co-workers announces he is getting out, becoming a civilian, and here comes the silent chorus of “Lucky son-of-a-gun!” thoughts from the rest of us. It is a fascinating relationship we all have with denial.

It often takes someone moving the cheese to release what lies beneath. That is when the challengers of change reveal themselves, both inside ourselves and in the form of the people in our lives. We must be armed and ready to take on all challengers. I think I am about due for some change, so I suppose it is time to strap on the armor. I love the quote from an unknown author, “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” I feel like flying. So, bring it on, world! I am grateful and ready to begin anew. I accept the challenge.

How about you? How well do you deal with change? Open up your journal, heart, and mind, and let it all flow out. Make a list of some of the big moves you have made in your life. How scared were you? Were you more scared of the change itself, or of announcing your move to the world and dealing with everyone’s reaction? Which of your moves represented an attempt on your part to “move up” in the world, to change your station or follow your dreams in a new way? Were those the scariest? How did the people in your life react to those announcements? Were you supported? Did you lose any relationships over any of these changes? Thinking back over your lifetime, which potential moves did you not make because of fear (of the unknown, of letting people down, of failure, etc.)? Do you regret that now? What would you like your next big move to be? Moving away? Job change? Going back to school? Having a child? Ending a relationship? How much of your own internal resistance will you have to overcome to make this big change? How much resistance will you get from your acquaintances, friends, and family? Whose disapproval do you fear the most? Are you ready to make the move anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you up to the challenge of change? 

Be boldly YOU today,

William

Not Ready To Let Go

DSC_0232“Death, the one appointment we all must keep, and for which no time is set.” –Charlie Chan 

Yesterday I got to hang out with my Mom on her 69th birthday. Just like every year, I felt blessed to be with her on her special day, and even more grateful that she is alive and kicking. Just a week ago, after all, she had paid me a surprise visit, as she had to drive her brother to town for an emergency open-heart surgery. I was reminded that, even though 69 is not exactly ancient, something—like an emergency heart surgery—could happen at any time. Obviously, none of us is ever promised another breath—we could all go at any moment—but, just as obviously, the odds go up with each passing year.

My father had a major heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery nineteen years ago, on the night of my Mom’s 50th birthday. Even though I wouldn’t have categorized our relationship as “close,” this incident shook me to my core. I remember sitting alone in the hallway outside of the Intensive Care Unit, sobbing like a baby. I had never lost a family member or close friend, and I was clearly not prepared to do so. Not much has changed on that front in the ensuing nineteen years. My grandparents and two cousins have died, yes, but those happened at times that were expected given their circumstances, and I had thus built up my emotional mattress on which to land comfortably enough. But, I am grateful to report that no one in my immediate family or closest friend group has died. I have to cross my fingers and knock on wood as I type this, because I am well aware that I have been extremely lucky on this front and that my number is bound to come up soon.

My parents are now 72 and 69, and, in terms of generations at least, they are next in line to go. That was the one realization that hit me the hardest when my Mom’s father—and my last remaining grandparent—died two years ago: how awful it would feel to not have (living) parents anymore. That would seemingly be soon mixed with the other potentially troubling pill to swallow: that you are the next in line to go. While most of us can go through most of our lives in complete denial of death’s inevitability, I am guessing that is not an easy trick to pull off when there is no generation older than you at the family reunion.

With the birth of my children, I definitely became more invested in extending my stay on the planet (see my “Clinging to Life on Earth” from May 30, 2014). But in general, I have a much easier time with the idea of my own death than that of someone near and dear to me. I don’t know exactly what it is. I don’t think it is about leaving things unsaid, as I have done fairly well in letting people know how I feel about them. I had the chance this weekend to visit my great-uncle–closing in on 90–and I told him that he is the most kind-hearted man I had ever known. I had long wanted him to know that, so it felt good to get off my chest. If I don’t see him again, I am glad I left it that way. I think I am fairly solid in that department with most of my loved ones. I am also quite clear that it is not about uncertainty or fear regarding what comes after life on Earth; I have no problems with that. I don’t dread what comes next, for me or anyone else. So what is it? Why am I so unwilling to let people die?

I think that it must be rooted in the potential richness of future experiences. I am so deeply and unapologetically about living life to its fullest and “not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived,” as Thoreau said. With that, I think I have an unrealistic need for the winds of Fate to blow just the right way for me, for everything to come up aces. My vision of The Best Life for William has all of my loved ones in it and thriving for a very long time, and my children getting to know their grandparents the way I knew mine. As a constant chronicler of my world—both through my journals and photographs—I adore looking back on the pages and pictures to find images of a life blessed with a happy, healthy family and good friends. It pains me greatly to even imagine these days and years passing without a key ingredient in this idyllic scene that is my life. It would just seem so much LESS to visit my Mom on her birthday and have Dad not be there, or to walk my kids through this world without my wife’s hand holding up the other end of our chain. LESS. Less rich. Less joyous. Less unstoppably beautiful as I believe Life to be. I don’t want Less. I reject it for my world.

I can see as I write this that I am in for a mighty fall some day. Neither Fate nor I have equipped me very well to deal with a loss like this, and I seem destined to crumble like a house of cards. Probably I should begin to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, but I don’t want to diminish any of the richness of these wonderful moments in the process. My parents have aged pretty well. I don’t expect something bad to happen to them any day now—I save that for the decade of their 80s—but I suppose I have begun to become a bit leery of these years. As my 64-year-old uncle’s surprise heart surgery reminded me last week, something could happen at any time. My Dad had a major heart attack nineteen years ago, so I suppose I have been on borrowed time with him for a while now. Am I just a fool in denial for not expecting the other shoe to fall at any moment? Probably so, but it is not in me to live expecting the worst. I will cling to my unbridled, irrational optimism of long and prosperous years to come, and I will savor every happy, healthy moment of our togetherness. It feels better to me this way.

How about you? How prepared are you for the death of a loved one? Open up your journal, and write yourself to clarity. Have you had a member of your inner circle die? How have you handled death up to this point? Have your coping skills changed as you have aged and moved closer to the front of the line? How does your view of “the afterlife” affect this process for you? After a loved one has passed, does it make the occasion more sad when the rest of your gang gathers together, or do you feel more of an obligation to each other to make each moment together as rich and joyous as possible? Which person’s death in your inner circle are you best equipped to handle, and why? Which one’s passing would devastate you the most? How well do the people you love know how you feel about them? Do you still have things you need to say so that you can live without regret if they died tomorrow? Maybe today is a good day to share. Are you like me, living mostly in denial of the inevitable loss of your loved ones? Is that okay? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to let go?

Live out loud today,

William

The Fine Line Between Compromise & Cowardice

DSC_0144“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

Hello friend,

A couple of nights ago, my wife shared with me some wonderful news about one of her oldest, dearest friends. Then she followed it with, “She is just the sweetest person on Earth. It is too bad she is incredibly homophobic.” Huh??? My sensibilities had just been completely offended by such a statement, and my mind started spinning with questions and challenges. How could you call someone “sweet” in one breath and then point out her severe intolerance in the next? How can you claim to be so close with someone who embraces such bigotry and not even challenge her on it? Even more, how can you even be friends with that person? What does that say about you?

These questions were flooding my mind, and I had to take a step back from the situation to keep my blood from boiling. I am probably on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to how quickly I am offended by intolerance and bigotry. I am highly sensitive to racism, sexism, classism, and in this case, heterosexism. Thus, I had to fight myself to keep from pouncing on my wife’s statement about her friend’s seemingly contradictory personality traits of sweetness and homophobia.

You see, I hold my wife to a very high standard. She runs a multicultural center and is a highly conscientious and brilliant educator in the field of tolerance and diversity. She has been a shining example for me to follow in the many years we have been together, so the bar is set high regarding the people I expect to find in her inner circle. Thus, even as I was struck a bit sideways by the mere idea of a “sweet homophobe”, I was shaken even more by the fact that this walking contradiction was her dear friend. How could she fraternize with a bigot? Where were her high-minded ideals of tolerance and inclusion? Had they been compromised? Was my wife–this paragon of virtue–actually a spineless coward?

Before I let my idealistic image of my wife crumble in front of my eyes, I needed a reality check. I needed to understand just how glass my own house was before I started throwing stones at hers. I started combing through my mind and my history to dissect my closest relationships. I wanted to know if, and to what degree, I had compromised my own standards to make friends and to keep my loved ones dear to me. Maybe I was spineless, too?

I didn’t have to look far to find examples. My family is the greatest. Of course I love them all, but more than that, I genuinely like and respect each of my siblings and my parents. I very much look forward to every chance we have to get together; these are my favorite times of the year. BUT—there just had to be a “but”—there are definitely things that don’t get talked about for fear of upsetting the applecart. Several years ago at Christmas, I mentioned casually that I was no longer a Christian. BOOM!!!!! It was like a silent bomb went off. No one has spoken about the topic in my presence since. Then there is politics. I grew up in a house that worshiped Ronald Reagan and all things Republican. As far as I can tell, the rest of the gang (and their extended gangs) has remained pretty far—some very far—to the right. I, on the other hand, lean heavily the other way on pretty much everything. So, do we have a dialogue on the important issues of our time and the way our country is going? Heck no! We stay as far away from that as possible. Nobody wants to start a fight or to risk thinking less of someone that is going to be in his life for a long time. Avoiding the conversation keeps everyone from exposing themselves. Our silence keeps the peace. Denial runs deep.

My dearly departed father-in-law wanted nothing to do with his Black daughter dating—much less marrying—a White man. It wasn’t personal–it didn’t matter that I knew him before we even dated and never had a problem with him—the rule was for any White man. He openly denounced the relationship from the start, and carried it to the point of not attending his daughter’s wedding. He was always kind to me when I visited his house after our marriage, and my wife continued to dearly love and even admire him to the day he died. Still, it was tough to wrap my mind around, and despite his friendly actions, I never quite got myself to the point of real comfort around him because I could not untangle the web that could hold such extremes of belief and action. My wife, though hurt by his disapproval, remained as loyal and loving to him as ever.

It reminds me of the way we idolize people and want to see them one way, subconsciously blinding ourselves to the not-so-heroic stuff. We see Christopher Columbus as the brave explorer and discoverer of America, neglecting the land-raping, slave-taking parts. We see Thomas Jefferson as the author of our Constitution, top-tier President, and one of the most brilliant men in our country’s history, conveniently looking right past his history of holding (and having children with) slaves. We see Martin Luther King only as the great Civil Rights champion, ignoring his infidelities. We shield ourselves from the truth in order to make things fit more comfortably in our minds. Caricatures are easier to deal with than complexities. This goes as much for our heroes as for our loved ones.

Is it even possible to have it all one way, though: to see our loved ones as entirely commendable and agreeable, to sit comfortably with everything they do and stand for? As it turns out, human beings—all of us—are complicated creatures. We are not cartoon characters, so plainly hero or villain. No one is completely clean or completely dirty. Despite our greatest efforts to paint each other entirely black or white, it turns out that we are all a big, messy rainbow of grays. If we chose only to love the pure, we would all surely be lonely souls.

So, we do our best. We love those whom our hearts can’t help but love. We love our family members through some cosmic-genetic-magnetic force that pulls us together in that “no-matter-what” way that we can feel but can’t quite explain. We love our friends because we fell in love with their best qualities when we met and now cannot simply choose to fall out; they are residents of our hearts whether we like it or not.

For all of these residents of our heart, we find a way to make peace in our mind. It is a delicate balance of trying to see the good in them without being in total denial of the less savory elements. We become managers of our interactions, chemists desperately trying to avoid a combustible mix. We choose to steer clear of conversations that will explode in our faces, only dealing with certain issues if they are thrown hard at us to the point of inevitability, and even then only briefly and tactfully. We choose our battles.

There is no doubt that it requires a certain level of denial. There are just things we don’t like to think about when it comes to our loved ones. Even more than thinking about it, we definitely avoid actually confronting the offending companion. Be honest, do you really want to have a dialogue—either internally or with the problem person—about your father’s racist comments? Do you want to address your best friend’s homophobia? How about your sister-in-law’s belief that poor people are poor because they are lazy? No, as repulsive as all of these things make us feel inside, there is no doubt that our tendency is to deflect them as best we can, steering instead toward safe harbors of conversation in the service of keeping the peace.

But how much can you swallow—how much can you compromise your principals—before you reach the point where you feel entirely spineless? The answer, of course, is different for everyone. Much, I suppose, depends upon how much we feel like we “need” the relationship (frequency of visits certainly plays a role as well). If we are willing to let it go—obviously not as convenient with family as it is with friends—we may be more willing to take the risk. Sometimes we take the risk because the relationship cannot be let go of (e.g., if you and your sibling have fought and made up a million times before, you might think one more round for a good cause is worth the family drama).

Whatever the justification, it seems that we, more often than not, pretend that our loved ones’ unacceptable views do not exist. We sweep them under the rug. It is, whether conscious or not, a compromise of our beliefs in the service of keeping the relationship. But perhaps it is really much more than a mere compromise. Maybe that is putting a nice face on it. Perhaps it is more accurate to call it cowardice or spinelessness. After all, if you are not sharing your Truth or not addressing your loved one’s Truth for fear of disliking each other, aren’t you living like a coward? It takes a lot of courage to be who you are and accept others for who they are.

That was the one part, in hindsight, that my complicated father-in-law had down. He may have openly disapproved of my relationship with his daughter, but he didn’t shut her out or stop loving her because of it. They both spoke and lived their Truth—and agreed to disagree on how she should live her life—and kept right on loving and admiring each other despite their differences. They were able to meet each other right where they were and accept the other’s beautiful complexity rather than living in denial and pretending everything was wine and roses. Perhaps that is the courage we should all aspire to. Yes, I think I will start there.

What about you? How do you justify spending time with/accepting/loving someone who holds views so antithetical to who you are and what you stand for? Get out your journal and write about your relationship with your loved ones. Which ones can you share your Truth with and fear no drama? Which ones do you not even want to hear their Truth?  How willing are you to challenge someone on their actions or beliefs? Does it make a difference if that belief regards you (e.g. your race, sexuality, politics, etc.)? Are there people you avoid at family gatherings, knowing they will say or do something that will make it hard for you to hold your tongue and keep the peace? What issues are off-limits when you get together with family? Are those issues different when you gather with your friends? Which of your relationships could withstand a challenge like this? Which relationships would crumble? What does the answer to those two questions say about how you should value the relationships in each camp going forward? Maybe you would be doing both parties a favor with a challenge. Is there one relationship in particular in which, if you don’t challenge them soon, you will pass from the point of compromising for the sake of keeping the peace to the point of feeling like a spineless coward for not telling your Truth? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where do you draw the line between compromise and cowardice? 

Surround yourself with Love,

William