Tag Archives: friendship

Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

So, how did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make each moment count,

William

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

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

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!

What I’ve Learned In 12 Years of Marriage

DSC_0230“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Hello friend,

Today is my anniversary! Twelve years ago, in front of a small group of loved ones on a gorgeous Saturday, I vowed my friendship and love to an amazing woman. Near the end of the vows, I said, “It is my intention to be with you forever….” That’s everyone’s intention, right? So, why does it seem so rare that people actually pull off this trick of staying married forever? Beyond that, why is it even more rare to stay happily married forever, with the friendship and love still flowing? Well, I’ve only been at it for twelve years, so I can’t claim any great expertise or mastery on the topic of a lasting marriage. But, at least at this point, it feels like we are ready to press on to our Forever, walking the Road of Life hand-in-hand. I sure hope so.

Marriage is a challenge. Whoever tells you otherwise is a liar. For almost everyone I meet, I can, within a few minutes, tell you about a dozen reasons why I would not want to be married to them. It is simply a challenge to live cohesively with someone for any extended period. It is why, for most of us, we love it when our friends or relatives come for a visit, but we also secretly love it when they leave.

And I am the worst. There is no way I could be married to me. I am spoiled. I hold everyone to very high standards. I am opinionated. I am stubborn. I am sure that I am always right. And, possibly most challenging in a marriage, I am hypersensitive; I take everything to heart. All of that makes for a combustible mix of “Difficult to Live With”. I would not wish me upon anyone. My wife, needless to say, is a saint.

I never thought I would marry. Before I met my wife, I was too blissful in my singlehood to think of marriage as an option. I just liked being alone and devoting my life to personal improvement: learning and growing spiritually and intellectually. I guess I thought marriage would stifle that learning and development. As it turns out, marriage has taught me a few things that no amount of book-learning or meditation ever could. For a guy who naturally prefers solitude, twelve years in a marriage—and nearly seven as a father—come with lessons that are only understood intellectually but never mastered, that must be re-learned and practiced every single day.

The first lesson that I practice—and fail at—every day is the importance of continuing to act like my partner’s best friend and biggest fan. I think so much of this lesson that when I was asked to officiate at my sister’s wedding a few years ago, I chose it as the main focus of my sermon. It is easy in the euphoric beginning to be the biggest fan and the best friend. The “in love” part is still in full effect, and the personality and behavioral idiosyncrasies—as well as their contrasting viewpoints on what cleanliness looks like, how much time with in-laws is enough, how to spend your money, what to watch on television, how frequently to have date night (and “date night”), where do your shoes go when you come inside, and how to raise children, to name a few—have not been in your face EVERY SINGLE DAY without pause. The challenge is to be able to pull off the “How would the biggest fan act?” and “How would a best friend act?” every day, even while swimming in the pool of all these potential triggers. The lesson I am learning—and trying to remind myself every day—is to ask those questions and be sure that I can answer with my head held high. It is a challenge.

Another daily challenge of a lesson for me in my super-sensitivity is to not take umbrage at every seeming slight or unfairness—“Why do I have to cook so often?” or “Why don’t you acknowledge me for all I do?” or “That comment was passive-aggressive”—because letting all of that stuff stick only makes you bitter and more thin-skinned the next time, as though you are always building a case against your partner. Building a case against them—just like “keeping score” on the dishes or the cleaning or the gifts—is a recipe for disaster. It only makes you more resentful, and only makes them more defensive and distrusting, seeing your love as conditional. I am all for communicating your needs and letting your partner know when they have hurt you—I need to work on that one rather than writing it in my journal—but I have definitely come to see what a terrible waste of energy it is to hold onto every little grievance, or even to take them seriously. Choosing every one makes you a constant victim and makes your partner feel like they can’t do anything right. Neither of those roles is fun to play.

One role that is good to play is Yourself. I am learning—and trying to put into practice—the lesson to let your partner be who they are, even the stuff you would rather change. Challenge them, sure, and help them see if they are being destructive, but sometimes you just have to understand that they aren’t there for you to mold them. Just love them and accept them. Affirm that you love unconditionally. Feed whatever parts work for you while still accepting the rest.

Probably the greater lesson that binds these other lessons together—and actually bonds each of our individual lives together—is the supreme importance of CHOICE in all of this. You have to CHOOSE the right attitude, CHOOSE to be forgiving, CHOOSE to be a fan, CHOOSE to not be petty or snarky. It seems way easier to let a marriage drift into unloving, spiteful oblivion—which I believe it would do if left to its own devices—than it is to CHOOSE to do the daily work of cooperating, forgiving, and supporting. But what do you want? You have to do the things—CHOOSE the things—that get you what you want. If you want marriage to work, CHOOSE to do the things that make it work. Of course, it still requires your partner choosing to do the same, but start with yourself. You have control of that much.

Yes, as a grizzled veteran of twelve years in the marriage game—were those the easy dozen or the difficult dozen???—my takeaways seem to come down to some really simple concepts: appreciation, forgiveness, acceptance, and the absolute necessity of choosing the right attitude. Hey, those sound like my takeaways from LIFE! Oh, what a tangled web we weave. In the end, good principles transcend all institutions and never go out of style. I can only hope that I have the fortitude to keep these lessons front and center for all of my days to come. If I can do that, I can earn my “happily ever after”.

How about you? What lessons do you take from your most intimate relationship? Open up your journal and dive deep into what makes it go and what makes it stall out. How equal is your partnership? If you had to name a percentage, how much of the load do you feel like you are carrying when it comes to keeping the relationship going? How much of the physical load (e.g., keeping up the house, taking care of kids, etc.)? How about the emotional load? Financial? Is one of you clearly the rock, or does that role get passed back and forth depending on the situation? How long have you been in this relationship? If you had to guess, is it going to last until death do you part? How confident are you in that guess, and what dictates that level of confidence? How good of a job do you do at being your partner’s biggest fan? How about their best friend? Are you doing better or worse at it now than you used to? If worse, why do you think it turned? What can you do to better act like the biggest fan and best friend? How sensitive are you to perceived slights by your partner? How much do you feel like you are keeping score against them and building a case? Does that serve you in any positive ways? How well do you do at allowing your partner to be themselves? How consistent are you in the attitude you choose for the day? Do you usually go more positive and forgiving, or do you tend toward the negative and unforgiving side? What principles guide your relationship? How is that working out for you? If you could choose other principles—(hint: you can!)—what would they be? Do you think it’s up to you how long and strong your relationship goes? What’s your prediction? Beyond just lasting, what have you learned about how to make it happy? Leave me a reply and let me know: What have you learned, and how far is that going to take you? 

Go and love,

William