Tag Archives: fun

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!

Friendly Warning: Do Not Sleep Through Summer (Again)!

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” –Jean de La Bruyére, Les Caractéres

Hello friend,

I remember last year at Labor Day. I was returning from the lake with my kids. I am always very contemplative when I am driving home from a trip. The kids sit in back and watch a movie, and I am left alone to take stock of my life and re-orient my mind to the real world. On that particular drive, I was feeling the sadness that every Labor Day brings, fully aware that Summer was officially over and that there would be no more weekends at the lake until the next Summer, which felt a million years away.

It wasn’t just my characteristic Labor Day sadness that sticks out from that drive, though. It was the regret. It was the disappointment.

I had not done enough with the Summer. I had not capitalized on all of the opportunities of my season. There were so many more Summery things that I wanted to do, that I had told myself I would do before the season had started.

More beach writings. More trail runs. More bike rides. More campfires. More s’mores. More photos. More nature walks. More kayaking.   More tennis. More driveway basketball. More stargazing. More playgrounds. More hammock time. More roadtrips. More boat rides.

That is the stuff of Summer for me. And in that car on the way home last Labor Day, I knew that I hadn’t done enough of it. I had gotten too busy and too lazy. I had let my little windows of alone time slip by. It was too easy to choose to write on the sofa versus loading my backpack and biking down to the beach to write. The gym was easier than gearing up for a kayak ride or trail run. Weekends away and staying up late by the fire seemed like too much hassle. The hammock and the nature walks didn’t feel productive enough.

I am the first to admit that I am generally (and unhealthily) obsessed with being productive and always having something to show for my time (e.g. so many words written, pages read, or tasks knocked off the To-Do List). But, really, is your ideal Summer supposed to be described as “productive”? To me, that sounds like a good word for the other seasons. You know, the ones that have cold in them.

Maybe all along I should have been aiming for different adjectives to describe how my favorite season would be. How about fun? Adventurous? Soul-stirring? Enriching? Invigorating? Inspiring? Liberating? Enchanting? Yes, these all sound wonderful. But just plain old fun is perfect. “How was your Summer?” you ask. “It was nonstop fun!” That is exactly how I wish my response had been last Labor Day.

So, of course, on that contemplative drive home—and on almost every day after until June rolled around—I vowed that I would redeem myself this Summer. I would engage all of these beautiful, inviting days and live them fully. I would absolutely suck the marrow out of Summer this time!

I even had a list going in my head, the things that I would definitely do to make me feel satisfied when the next Labor Day rolls around. These are just some of the items on my Satisfying Summer Checklist for this year:

  • Take my kayak out at least three times
  • Become a regular outdoor journal writer
  • Find several new spots to try out my portable hammock
  • Take my kids to our local beach regularly
  • Get my ancient mountain bike fixed and ride the area trails
  • Roadtrip to the family lake cabin at least three times
  • Roadtrip to visit my sister and her family
  • Play tennis several times with other adults
  • Teach my kids tennis at least once per week
  • Do several trail runs
  • Use the neighborhood fire pit and roast marshmallows with my kids
  • A few daytrips to regional parks for hiking with my wife and kids
  • Make a habit of taking my daughter to the local lakes on early weekend mornings for father-daughter bonding time
  • Play a lot of driveway basketball with my son
  • Take lots of photos of the whole wild ride

That was a start, anyway. My mind seems to add new To-Do items every day, and the Wish List grows. But that stuff marked the basics for my Satisfying Summer Checklist.

Well, I just looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway to Labor Day. Gosh, that sneaks up, doesn’t it?!? So, how am I doing with my list?

Well………

Okay, there are some positives. I am about to take the second roadtrip to the family lake cabin for what has become my and my children’s favorite week of the year (score!), so only one more to go on that one. I did get the mountain bike fixed, but I have only been out in the dirt with it once so far. I have been writing most of my journal entries outdoors, though usually it is just on my deck (but at least it is usually in a hammock!). I have done pretty well getting the kids to the tennis court, not as well getting my own practice in. I have taken my kayak out (once). I have done a couple of trail runs. The driveway basketball is happening. I have not made the roadtrip to my sister’s place, but my intentions are still there. The portable hammock has been used (but not enough). We have not done the fire and s’mores (well, we microwaved them once!). We have only done the local beach once. We have failed completely on the regional parks and hiking. The discovered gem in the lot has been the father-daughter bonding time early Sunday mornings at the local lakes—absolutely priceless. And there have been some good photos of the ride.

If I had to give myself a grade so far, I would say maybe a C-. I have definitely done some small portion of many of my items, which is good. But there is much more than half left to do in this final half of Summer in order to achieve Satisfying Summer status.

I better get busy being NOT BUSY. I must get more ambitious about my leisure, more serious about my fun. I need to buckle down, because now that the Fourth of July is over, you know what the next holiday is, right?

Labor Day.

It won’t be long before I am taking that long, contemplative drive back home from the lake on that final day of Summer. Though I am guaranteed to feel a bit sad that day at the passing of my favorite season, my hope is that I will have done enough in the second half so that I don’t have to mix regret and disappointment with my sadness.

I needed this check-in to get real with myself about my laziness and excuses. It’s half over, friend. We have now been warned! I am planning to heed it this year. Carpe Summer!!!

How about you? Are you making the most of this precious and fleeting gift called Summer? Open up your journal and go through your own checklist? Are you satisfied with how you have been using your time lately? Start with how you want to feel this Summer and how you want to describe your Summer when it ends. What words would you choose? Is “FUN” one of them? Regardless of your adjectives, what activities are on your Satisfying Summer Checklist? Are they things that are quite unique to the season or things that you carry along all year? In either case, how are you doing for the first half of the season? Have you gotten most items on your list started at least? How many items are finished? How many have you not even touched yet? What kind of grade would you give yourself so far? Now, knowing that you still have plenty of time to make necessary changes and do great things, how confident are you that you will improve your grade by the time Labor Day rolls around? Which items will you prioritize? Are there any items that you will get rid of? Any new ones to add? Does making a To-Do List and scoring your progress take some of the fun out of it and kind of defeat the purpose of making it fun and stress-free, or do you appreciate that it keeps your priorities straight? For me, I need the reminder from time to time. Keeping fresh air and fun in the forefront of my mind is crucial for me. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you need to do to finish this Summer right?

Adventure is out there,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Make the most of your days!

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do your thing,

William

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

A Front Row Seat to a Magic Show

IMG_2888“The miracle of children is that we just don’t know how they will change or who they will become.” –Eileen Kennedy-Moore

Hello friend,

Yesterday I went to my first track meet since I was a kid. It was quite a show! My soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter was finishing her week of “Track Camp”, a serious-sounding name for a week of playing Tag and Ships Across The Ocean, mixed with a few laps around the track. Thus, I wasn’t exactly expecting her to be pole vaulting and throwing discus, but I actually did hold out some secret hopes for her running and jumping prowess. Of course I am heavily biased, but I have seen her go. She outruns me around the house, and she is sporting some pretty good muscles (you know, as six-year-olds go!). So I kind of thought the track meet might be a coming-out party for her, a discovery of something she would excel at and take confidence from.

Well, not so much. She wasn’t bad. She just wasn’t a hero. And the funny thing was this: it didn’t seem to matter at all to her whether she won or lost. Unlike her fairly competitive parents, she just isn’t very into that side of sports. As a result, she doesn’t seem to either gain or lose confidence from the results. As baffling and uncommon as that is, I find it totally refreshing. After all, isn’t that what the coaches and sports psychologists of professional athletes are trying to instill in them? A kind of independence from circumstance, not affected by luck or momentum.

It is how she is in school, too, according to her teachers. At conferences, they tell us she plays with every kid openly and patiently, even the boys who have just been totally obnoxious and rude. When I asked her this year if she knew why she went to the Gifted & Talented teacher’s room almost every day of the week, she had no idea other than “to work on math” or “to work on reading” or whatever. When I explained that she was blessed by being more intelligent than most kids, it didn’t phase her at all, and she never spoke of it again. She somehow just absorbs her situation and finds joy there, no matter who else is there. After the first day of Summer camp, our conversation went like this: “Did you meet any new friends?” “No.” “You didn’t talk to anyone?” “Nope.” “Was it fun?” “Yes!!!” Same thing the next day. On the third day, she met some new friends. “Fun?” “Yes!!!” It just doesn’t matter to her. She hasn’t had a bad day at camp all Summer. We should all be so lucky.

Her little brother, meanwhile, had his own fun at the track meet. Even though he was too young for camp—still four for a couple more weeks–and just a spectator, he was more busy than all of the competitors. He explored, as he always does, every nook and cranny of the new space with the specific intent of discovering all the ways he could turn it into a funhouse. He loves making his sister his partner in this adventure, as they are quite a pair in a new place. The novelty completely stirs them, and I am completely amazed by the variety of ways they can find to create fun and excitement out of thin air. I am so envious of their creativity and zest for amusement.

I am also envious of my son’s demand to be heard and be a part of the action. After all of the big kids finished their runs, he demanded a turn to run around the track. Captivated by his spirit, I, of course, conceded to his order. He coaxed my daughter into a 400 meter race—in his Crocs, no less—and joyously crossed the finish line in victory. Then, “I wanna do it again!” His spirit is relentless.

He seems to have staked a claim to his right to pursue Joy in whatever way he sees fit. So he goes after it with fervor, whatever it is. In one moment, he will demand that I play along with one of his jokes to make his Mom and sister laugh. In the next, he might order me away for a few minutes so he can have some time with his “imaginations”. But mostly, he is ordering me from one amusement to the next in his never-ending search to find and provide greater enjoyment in this wonderful game called LIFE. He is a born performer and makes friends wherever he goes. In most cases, you would say his confidence is through the roof. But then it’s not. I have to twist his arm to go to the child center at the gym or any new thing without his big sister. Suddenly, I have this uncertain little boy on my hands that needs lots of hugs and reassurance. Forty-five minutes later, when I come to pick him up, he practically owns the place. It is such a high-wire act. I so admire the way he conquers his insecurities and completely flourishes, never allowing his spirit to be held down.

What are they going to be when they grow up? Who knows! When my daughter first started day care at six months old, she brought us home some awful germs. On my very first day home alone with her, I was as sick as could be, totally vomiting and unable to get off the sofa when I was not in the bathroom. Amidst my misery, I was completely in awe of her as she just sat in her swing across the room, staring at me with the sweetest, most empathetic eyes. I swore right then that she was destined to become a healer of some sort. When she graduated pre-school, she said she wanted to be a teacher. I don’t know anymore. What I do know is that the world will be better for having her in it. As for my son, I have always guessed he would be some sort of entertainer. Even before he could speak, he would work hard to find ways to coax a laugh and a smile out of people, then give a look of satisfaction when it was achieved. No matter what he chooses, it seems clear that making people smile will come along with the package.

They take you on a ride, these kids. You simply don’t know which way they will turn their lives from one moment to the next. The only way to stay with them is to live in the moment. Living in the moment. It is just about the most important lesson any of us can learn in life, and kids teach it best. The other lesson they teach me so beautifully is to be authentic. Live your Truth. Just be yourself. Relentlessly yourself. Don’t bother with what the crowd is doing or what it means to someone else to be cool. Just do the thing that makes you feel like you. Following them around every day is the best education I have ever had. I feel so incredibly blessed that they take me along for the ride that is their lives. Whatever twists and turns they take, it never fails to feel beautiful and magical to me.

How about you? Who in your life brings you that sense of awe and amazement? Open up your journal and your heart. Are there children in your life? How much do they mean to you? Do they take you to that place of wonder and fascination? Why do we not allow our grown-up selves to be experienced this way? Can we take the edge off our jadedness and begin to see our peers as the amazing creatures that we all truly are, and can we let down our guards enough to let ourselves be seen as the unique, beautiful creatures that we have been since we were babies? Has the premium on fitting in caused us all to lose our shine in the hopes of not sticking out? Is the magic still there under all our self-censorship?   I hope it is. I hope we are not naturally less fascinating and less divine as we age. Even if I am my only audience, I want to still be magnificent and awe-inspiring. I want to be what my kids are to me. Do grandparents still see that in their adult children, or do they just rev it up again with their grandchildren only? How will I observe these two magicians when they are my current age? I guess I have to wait and see. I have a feeling it will be a fun wait, though. I am already grateful for all that is to come. Are you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who keeps the magic and the moment in your life? 

Just be you,

William

20 Toys For Kids That Adults Should Be Playing With

DSC_0880 2“If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.” –Katharine Hepburn

Hello friend,

Yesterday, after prying my kids away from the television and wrestling with them for a while, I announced that it was “quiet play time”, which means that Daddy wants some time with his books in the midst of the madness. While my son went for his cars and dinosaurs, my daughter grabbed the old-school Etch-A-Sketch and sat down beside me. Every minute or two, she had a new, red-framed design created by those two magic knobs. She nudged me every time and said, “See, Daddy!” Pretty soon her brother wanted a turn with the knobs, and he skillfully whipped up a four-year-old’s rendition of a dragon, school bus, or Ironman every 20 seconds or so. Back and forth they went, demanding their turns more and more impatiently. I was captivated by their creativity and their simple joy in playing, and pretty soon I wanted a turn on the Etch-A-Sketch, too. I haven’t played on one since I was a kid, and as fun as it looked to me thirty-some years later, I couldn’t help but wonder why I stopped.

What is it that happens to us as adults that we stop thinking it is acceptable to play and create? I suppose it starts around middle school, when it becomes devastatingly uncool to try things that you might not be good at. As we pass through adolescence and young adulthood, it seems we are trying so hard to be cool and smooth that we hardly dare to be silly. Then we have kids and are supposed to feel bad if we take a turn on the pogo stick or the Etch-A-Sketch. I watch parents at the sledding hill all the time, standing at the top of the hill for an hour as their kids gleefully take ride after ride. As the guy who seeks out any chance to do “childish” things and is definitely flying down that sledding hill as joyfully as any kid out there, I cannot understand these standing people called “grown-ups”.

I think we—all of us, at every age—need to find reasons to be playful, creative, and silly. We need to be “childlike”. The other day I was brainstorming with some classmates about different ways to “plerk,” that is, to play at work. It can be tough, as most of our workplaces don’t encourage joy and creative expression, much less play. Let’s face it, some days it can take a creative mind just to find the good parts of our jobs. So, if we aren’t getting that outlet at work, and we are either too tired, too guilty, or too cool to get on that sled with the kids, we are just not hitting our quota for creativity and play. We are getting old before our time.

I have written to you before about keeping playful activities in your life (see “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”). But what hit me yesterday, as I was itching for a turn with that Etch-A-Sketch, is that we adults need more than just to hang around kids more often (it does help, though, trust me). After all, we don’t all have that option. What we need most of all are the tools of fun that kids have at their disposal. WE NEED TOYS!!! And I don’t mean iPads, RVs, and speedboats, though those are fun, too. I am talking about simple, inexpensive toys that draw out our creativity and our joy. Sure, they are marketed to kids, but I am telling you, any adult would be well-served to include these delights in his or her life.

So, when you head out shopping next time, I recommend adding a few things to your list:

  1. Play-Doh—Seriously, how much creative fun did you have with Play-Doh as a kid? It is still here, as simple and fabulous as ever.
  2. Magna-Doodle—What a stress reliever it is to doodle! And then, the pure joy of sliding that magic bar across the bottom to erase the entire board, ready for another magnetic masterpiece. Genius!
  3. Etch-A-Sketch—Need I say more?
  4. Harmonica—Endless enjoyment, the challenge of learning something new, and it is smaller than your smartphone. I love harmonicas!
  5. Rip-Stik—I got one of these things a couple of years ago, and my neighbors thought I was crazy as I tried to learn it, like “What is the old man doing on that thing?” But let me tell you, it is so fun! And I felt pretty cool when the 10-year-old down the street came over this Fall and asked me to teach her how to ride. I am a big fan of any riding toy, so consider the Rip-Stik the representative of scooters, sleds, in-line skates, and bikes. I have all of these things, but my dream is an adult-size Big Wheel. If I ever get to Heaven, I trust that one will be waiting for me at the pearly gates.
  6. Frisbee—There are few simple pleasures in my world better than a game of Catch, whether that is with a Frisbee, a baseball, or a football. It is deeply nostalgic and a wonderful way to connect with someone.
  7. Finger paints—It is good for the soul to dip your fingers into that paint and just let yourself go. The dollar-store paints with the brush are fun, too, but, with perfection not an option, finger paints take the pressure off immediately.
  8. Pogo Stick—It’s exercise, it’s nostalgia, it’s great fun. For more bouncing fun, grab a Hopper (picture an exercise ball with a squishy handle—it’s hilarious). If you don’t like bouncing, go with a Hula Hoop.
  9. Hot Wheels cars and race track—I got one for my son last Christmas, and as soon as we set up the track with the loops and jumps, the adults started wandering over for a try. It is a wonderful escape of the imagination and delivers a bonus adrenaline rush.
  10. Sidewalk chalk—Release your inner artist and cover the most boring part of your yard—the driveway—with color. Or, just make a hopscotch board and start hopping.
  11. Window Crayons—I just learned of these delightful things this year, and now my children have filled each pane of my large picture window in the living room. Creative and fun, and you can change your home décor as often as you like.
  12. Coloring books—As silly as this one sounds, there is something highly therapeutic about coloring in a simple design with some old-fashioned Crayolas. No pressure to create something fabulous, as the drawing is done for you. Just pick some colors and go. It’s like a meditation.
  13. Twister—Sure, it is tougher for adults than kids, but that only makes it more funny for participants and audience alike. Adult beverages recommended (sold separately).
  14. Basketball hoop—Even though I love a driveway game on a regulation hoop, I am talking about indoor hoops here. I actually have two standing hoops in my house about five or six feet each (for the kids, of course!). Old-school Nerf hoops that hang on doors are priceless, too. H-O-R-S-E, anyone?
  15. Rubik’s Cube—Classic.
  16. Inflatable punching toy—Remember these guys with the sand-filled bottom, who pop back up after you hit them? We need stress relievers more than kids do, right?
  17. Remote-controlled cars—Just fun.
  18. Squirt guns—My only warning: know your audience. Otherwise, fire away!
  19. Balloons—A few minutes of Keep-It-Up makes any heart lighter. Beach balls work, too.
  20. Slip-n-Slide—Plastic bliss. It may break in less than an hour, but do not deny yourself this delight at least once before you die.

There you go: your twenty little tickets to Playland. Other than the remote-controlled cars, none of them require batteries, cords, screens, or downloads. Just check your ego and your skepticism at the door—those are useless adult inventions—and play. I am in!

How about you? Do you still have PLAY in your life? Open up your journal and think about how often you allow yourself to create and be silly. Is it often enough? What are your favorite escapes from the binds of adulthood? Do you feel “childish” when you do them? How self-conscious are you about that? Do you only do them alone or in the privacy of your own home, or are you willing to go public with your playing? How ashamed are you not just of playing, but of being silly? What are your most creative activities? Do you enjoy using your imagination? Do you own any “kid toys”? Do you lean more toward creative toys (Etch-A-Sketch, Play Doh, Finger Paints) or active toys (Pogo Stick, Frisbee, Slip-n-Slide)? What else belongs on my list? Leave me a reply and let me know: What toys keep you young?

Your soul is ageless, so act accordingly,

William

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

DSC_0381“Life is more fun if you play games.” —Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald

Hello friend,

Last night, I took my kids to visit some family at a nearby hotel. As we made our way through the labyrinth of hallways, they raced each other to every turn at top speed. At their cousin’s room, they immersed themselves in playing with her and her books, consumed by the novelty of the situation. Then came the main attraction: the swimming pool! They could hardly wait to put their life jackets on so they could cannonball off the side and into the action of beach balls, floaty noodles, and swim races. Oh, and a million more jumps off the side into the water, each one more daring and more exuberant than the previous. In watching them throughout—and of course in participating, because they demand that I be every bit as involved as they are—I couldn’t help but be swept into the conclusion that the whole evening was, for them, simply a celebration of FUN and PLAY.

And then they woke up this morning at home and started that celebration again. “Can we rake up a leaf pile to jump into?” “Watch me do some cartwheels, Dad!” “Race me up the stairs: Ready, Set, GO!!!!” “Watch me be a cheetah!” “Daddy, can you spin us on the tree swing?” “Let’s dino-fight! I’ll be Triceratops, and you be Deinonychus. RAAWWWRRRR!!!” And on and on and on. It is amazing on so many levels. And even though they include me in almost all of their wide wonder, I often find myself wishing I could trade places with them. Of course, I am envious of the sheer volume of energy they have. I think of all that I could accomplish if I could go as hard as they do all day. I would also do anything for their presence. They live completely in the moment. Of course, that makes the day quite a rollercoaster of drama, but it is entirely authentic and marvelous. Within that presence and authenticity is a beautiful open-heartedness. They share themselves and their love freely and completely in a way that we would all do well to learn from.

But the quality that completely captivated me—and stirred my envy up to a frothing boil—was their zest for FUN, their zeal for PLAY. Every game or challenge I joined in—racing them down the hall and down the pool, or throwing them in the water, or playing catch—simply tickled my soul and made me feel so full of Joy. I couldn’t help but think, “Why don’t I do this more often?” I just felt so full of energy and life. So playful. So present. So free. So childlike.

What happens to us adults that we lose this playfulness, this willingness to be free and open-hearted and in-the-moment? At what point does it become uncool? We get so serious as grown-ups, so self-judgmental about allowing ourselves to do things like jumping in the leaves or doing cannonballs into the pool, things that we wholeheartedly sought out and celebrated as kids. It seems that the term “childish” has only a negative connotation. We use it derisively when we talk about people who are acting selfish or petty. It may be derogatory in those contexts, but I don’t think it needs to be that way when it comes to activities, to play.

When I look at the things my kids like to do—playing at the playground, sports of all sorts, riding bikes and scooters, tag, sledding, swimming, building snowmen, running through the sprinkler, the tree swing, creating imaginary stories with their toys, racing each other wherever they go, painting pictures, making bracelets for each other, dressing up as superheroes or princesses and acting out the roles, practicing cartwheels and somersaults, jumping on the trampoline, diving off the dock at the lake, tubing, making leaf piles to dive in, building forts out of sofa cushions, hide-and-seek, piggyback and shoulder rides, trick-or-treating, singing songs, and dancing—they are all born out of a quest for FUN. To quote Shakespeare totally out of context, “The PLAY is the thing….” And it really is.

I could go for just about every single one of those things on that list right now. I am envious of them as I think about it. On the other hand, I am so glad that having these guys gives me the excuse to do this fun stuff, to “act like a kid” again. But why should I need them for the excuse? Why don’t we adults just DO this stuff? Why don’t we just PLAY??? No apologies or excuses required. Play for play’s sake. Just because it is so silly and liberating and creative and energizing and FUN. We need that, don’t we? I know that I do, and the people I meet sure seem like they could use some, too.

Charles Dickens said, “To a young heart everything is fun.” I can testify to that. I see it every day in my children. The challenge I am putting to myself is that, no matter how old my body gets, I will keep my heart young by doing what the kids do: seeking out play. Sure, I know that is going to become more challenging in a few years when the kids are not as young and don’t want to include Dad in the fun anymore. Will I still load up the sled and drive over to the big hill? Will I still get behind the boat on the tube and be whipped around? Will I still do cartwheels on the lawn and run through the sprinkler on a hot day? Will I still build forts out of the sofa cushions and ride my Rip-Stik around the block? Will I still jump in the pile of leaves before I bag them? Or, will I find new ways to play, or focus more on the kinds that don’t require a young body, like singing or making up stories? I sure hope so. All of these things are so much fun, and I am always rejuvenated after I do them. Rejuvenated equals “made young again”. Yeah, that works for me. I am ready to play!

How about you? Do you still play? Get out your journal and think about all of the things you do that are purely for FUN, that make you feel like a kid again. What are they? I have already mentioned dozens of things that my kids get me to do that are deeply rejuvenating for me. Do these things work for you, too? What is different about your list from mine? How self-conscious do you feel when you do these activities? Do you feel like people look at you oddly, as though you are doing something that is only socially acceptable for kids to do? I always get looks when I ride my Rip-Stik or go do down the waterslide at the pool. Are you the parent or adult who takes the kids to the sledding hill—or waterslide or bounce house–and only watches the kids as they have all the fun? Would you—do you–do these things alone, or at least without kids? Maybe it’s time to give yourself permission. On a scale of one to ten, how playful are you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you want to build a snowman? 

Put yourself out there,

William