Tag Archives: Gandhi

What’s Your Sign? Horoscopes, Zodiac, & Other Random Nonsense

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” –William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Hello friend,

I am 44 years old, and right up until this week, I didn’t know who I was. Imagine that: the guy who writes to you every week about improving your self-awareness had no clue about himself! For all of my high-minded prodding to uncover your purpose, to explore your strengths and weaknesses, to march to the beat of your own drummer, and to live your Truth, all along I was just flying blind. Clueless.

Until now.

Now I know.

I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know what kind of career I would excel at. I know how all my relationships will unfold and what has doomed my previous ones. I know who to stay away from and who to get closer to. I even know what my main challenges and breakthroughs will be for today, and even for this week, month, and year. I pretty much have all of the answers figured out now for this little game called LIFE. It should be a walk in the park from here one out.

I guess I was just too stubborn all these years, thinking I would have to carve out my own path through LIFE. I took all of those old adages like “March to the beat of your own drummer” and “Be true to yourself” to heart and figured that since there was only one of me, faith in my heart and mind as my internal compass would have to suffice to carry me through this uncertain world. My intuition would guide me, helping me make the difficult decisions as they arose. I would be unique, and my path would be beautifully my own.

What a fool I was!

I even knew that everyone else was getting the answers to the test for free. They were there all along and I simply refused to acknowledge them, trusting my instincts to get me to my destination instead of using the free map that everyone else was peeking at. It was there everyday in the newspaper.

The Horoscope.

For as long as I can remember, I have been totally repelled by horoscopes and all things Astrology. I saw them there in my local newspaper as a kid and in the magazines. I understood the idea of them—and I even heard from someone that I am a Libra—but I could never quite bring myself to read them. I cannot explain it, because I have always been a curious guy. Maybe the young Catholic in me sensed something forbidden in it, as though merely dabbling in the stars was akin to Devil worship. Maybe the radar in my naturally logical, analytical mind sounded loudly in the presence something so seemingly fanciful. Whatever it was, something in me just wouldn’t go there.

Interestingly (at least to me), I have always wanted to visit a highly-regarded psychic to get a personal reading. Maybe I would think it was hogwash afterward—depending on how much I wanted to agree with what the person said about my future—but I am very open to it in theory. Horoscope stuff, though? Somehow, just no. Never.

But hey, let’s face it: I have been working hard at finding my own way through this Universe for a long time, and it doesn’t feel like I am very far along. I have big stuff I want to accomplish, and frankly, at this point I could use all the help I can get. What’s the old Thomas Jefferson quote? “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Something like that. Anyway, I am overdue to try something new. Horoscope, anyone?

Trying to be open-minded but admittedly cringing a little bit inside, I have spent the last few days as a student of Astrology, scouring the many Internet sites to learn about the twelve signs and how they interact. I certainly am no expert yet, but I have an understanding about my own sign, Libra, and the signs of my family members. I figure I know just enough to decide whether knowing it is going to help me or not.

So what about my Libra self?

Well, for starters, Libra is one of the three “Air” signs—along with Gemini and Aquarius–which means I am generally very social and rational. The 25% of us Air folks would be thought of as thinkers and talkers.

As for the Libra in me specifically, I like things to be fair and harmonious. I can’t stand injustice or cheating of any sort, and my reactions to unfairness might be taken so far to be socially inappropriate. But that is the only time I am unhappy: when I feel like I have been wronged. I like the outdoors and trying new things. I like sharing with people, and I make decisions that benefit the most people, even if it means sacrificing my own benefit. I cannot stand to be alone and must do everything in a partnership or team alliance. I don’t like to be in charge of my team, but I do want my voice to be heard. I have a very sharp mind and get absorbed and inspired by good books and deep conversations with fascinating people. I am gracious and diplomatic, avoiding confrontations, including violence, at almost all costs. And yet, I dislike conformity. I love beautiful things and surround myself with them. I am a hopeless romantic. I tend toward self-pity, can be superficial, and I hold grudges. But my biggest failing is my indecisiveness. This can come off as laziness or absent-mindedness, but it really comes from me weighing all things carefully to achieve balance. In any case, I am very wishy-washy.

As for my current Libra world, the horoscope has told me a few different things this week. Apparently, I have a lot of work to do and should stop resisting change. I have to trim my friend list and do lots of other work on my relationships (because I am so social, remember?). On Thursday, a good friend was supposed to surprise me and teach me a lesson, and I needed more focused energy to get my stuff done. On Friday, I was to have some good career ideas that wouldn’t help my relationships, and I was going to share “TMI” in a social situation (which was a problem on Wednesday, too, believe it or not). I have a lot of relationship stuff happening!

But that’s just how it is for us Libra people. You know us: me, Gandhi, Vladimir, Putin, Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, John Lennon, Jimmy Carter, and Bruno Mars. We can’t help ourselves. The stars made us do it!

Okay, seriously, how accurate was it? How well did Astrology nail my essence? Am I a classic Libra? Did the horoscope ring true with my week?

Not so much. 

Well, to be fair, I thought some of it hit the nail on the head. I really am highly sensitive about issues of injustice, including injustice done to me (for which I do hold grudges!). I do like the outdoors and trying new things. My mind is pretty sharp and inspired by deep-thinking books and people. I am nonviolent and dislike conformity. Those are all very Libra-like. I started thinking that those astrologists might be onto something!

Unfortunately, other Libra characteristics were so very unlike me that my excitement soon waned. The biggest bust was one of the most important Libra traits: their social butterfly personality and distaste for being alone. That could not be further from me! The other major Libra trait that missed was the indecisiveness. I am very clear about what works for me. Several smaller traitscc didn’t seem to fit, either.

Then there were the horoscope predictions. That stuff didn’t resonate with me at all! On a few things, I was like, “Maaaaaybe I could see that.” But mostly, it was, “Hmmmm…… No!”

I perused the zodiac signs of my wife, kids, and parents, too, just to see if perhaps I was an aberration (as I seem to be in many aspects of my world!). My wife’s Taurus description came the closest, though even that one was hit-or-miss with the traits. My children, who are quite different from one another, have the same sign—you know, like me and Kim Kardashian–so I was left to scratch my head there, too.

I checked the other signs as well, just to make sure I hadn’t been misplaced at birth (as has long been rumored in my height-challenged family). I thought that Scorpio or Pisces were probably the best fit, then maybe Gemini, with a bit of Sagittarius and Virgo. But none of them produced the “A-Ha! THAT is me!” reaction I was hoping for.

All in all, I would have to give this experiment a FAIL. I am glad I did it, because it is good to know things. But, I suppose I was right all along in trusting my gut and staying far away from the Horoscope section of the newspaper. I always did have good intuition. Like a true Libra!

Oh, wait, no. Sorry, that’s a Pisces. Moving on!

How about you? How closely do you fit your astrological sign? Open up your journal and your horoscope. What do the stars say about you? Start with your Zodiac sign. Who does it say you are supposed to be? How accurately does that describe you? Which of the sign’s characteristics are a perfect match for you? Does that give you confidence that Astrology might have some answers for you? Which of your sign’s characteristics don’t sound like you at all? What does that tell you? On the whole, does the list of traits for your sign have more that match your personality or more that don’t? How confident are you in Astrology’s ability to be helpful to you? Does it make you immediately suspicious when something tries to pin down the 7 billion people in the world into only twelve different personality groupings? How long have you known about your sign? Do you check in on your daily or weekly horoscope readings? How accurate do they seem to be? Do you think that they make them so vague and general that each one could be a fit for just about anybody? Have you ever sought guidance for a particular question or problem from an astrologer or from your horoscope in a newspaper, magazine, or online? Was it helpful? Have you used the signs to find a love match (it says that my wife and I are a bad match, and my parents, too)? How did that go? Sum it up for me: how much stock do you put in this stuff? Is it a random pool of nonsense and gobbledygook, or is there really something here? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you believe what the stars tell you?  

Believe in yourself,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed today’s interstellar journey, pass it along. Let’s fly together!

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!

My Favorite Quotes: The Words That Remind Me What Matters Most

fontcandy“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

Twenty years ago, when I first opened Thoreau’s Walden, little did I know that my life would never be the same. My mind had just begun to open to new messages, and Thoreau came in and absolutely blew the roof off the place. I had found my soul-mate! I was mesmerized by every last word, reading each passage over before moving on to make sure I absorbed it completely. It was as if he as writing directly to me, or, more accurately, writing right out of my own head. I wanted to highlight every paragraph, to quote every line. Some of my favorites:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”

“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Oh, I could go on and on! That book just melted into my soul. I tingled all over as those magical lines burned themselves into my brain, where I would draw on them many times in all the years that have followed. Beautiful words from beautiful minds have that way about them.

Over the course of my life, the three historical characters that I have gravitated towards most are Thoreau, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. I have been captivated by their writings, their speeches, and the lives they led. When I try to come up with my favorite quotes from them, it is very difficult, as nearly everything on record is compelling to me.

With Gandhi, if you forced me to pick two, I might pick the simplest ones, both of which spoke to the way he led. The first is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second echoes that sentiment. While visiting Bengal, a reporter asked him, “Do you have a message for the people of India?” His response: “My life is my message.” Oh, if we could all live up to that, just imagine our greatness!

With Dr. King, it is perhaps even more difficult to pin down a couple of favorites. One of them that has inspired me often with Journal of You, particularly when I have debated whether to write about a controversial or revealing topic—God, politics, sexuality, to name a few–is this challenge to the soul: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That one slays my fears every time.

A good quotation is unbelievably powerful. It strikes you right at your core, making your hairs stand on end or unleashing sudden tears or smiles or knowing nods. Some of the ones that hit me at my foundation are about simple life lessons that I need to be reminded of:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –Norman Vincent Peale

“You never fail until you stop trying.” –Albert Einstein

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” –Persian saying

“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” –Bill Keane (and others)

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.” –Anonymous

“If not now, when? If not you, who?” –Hillel the Elder 

All of these hit home for me in slightly different ways. They are the little reminders that I need to stay clear about how to navigate this world successfully. They are the random–but pure gold–nuggets of wisdom. I love them individually.

On the other hand, I find that there is one category of quotations that I am drawn to most, one topic from which I can easily churn out a big list of favorites. My soul-stingers are the ones that remind me to seize the day and follow the calling of my heart unflinchingly. They can be summarized by three words from the great Joseph Campbell: “Follow your Bliss.” Here are some of the others in my “Follow your Bliss/This is Not a Dress Rehearsal” category:

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” –Paulo Coelho

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot

“I am here to live out loud.” –Émile Zola

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!” —Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” –A favorite Pinterest meme

“Leap and the net will appear.” –John Burroughs

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it—don’t back down and don’t give up—then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” –Bob Dylan

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

“You know, we can’t get out of life alive! We can either die in the bleachers or die on the field. We might as well come down on the field and go for it!” –Les Brown

“Don’t die with your music still in you.” –Wayne Dyer (A spin on Thoreau’s line from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”)

These are like zingers right into my heart. I get that surge of adrenaline and clarity whenever I read them. I think that says a lot about what drives me, what is in my soul’s code. These words have magical powers. They are the wind that fills my sails. When I read them, I think they were written just for me. That is the essence of a favorite quote. I do love them so.

How about you? What are your favorite quotations? Open up your journal and start your own list. Is there one particular writer or speaker, like my Thoreau, whose phrases are burned upon your heart more than others? I think most of us just know our favorites when we see them, but are there any quotes that you recite frequently from memory? Are your favorites from all over the map, or do they tend to fall into a certain category, such as love, change, happiness, humor, motivation, family, leadership, or success? Why do you think you gravitate toward that topic? When you come across a quotation that strikes you at your core, what do you do about it? Do you see it as a message that was meant for you and allow it to direct your course of action, or do you dismiss it as mere chance and move on? Now that you have been creating your list, do you feel inclined to post it somewhere, or at least keep it in a notebook that you will open occasionally for a positive reminder? Which ones are your absolute favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words are yours to live by?

Do your best today,

William

P.S. If our search for quotes stirred your heart and mind a bit today, share it with your world. We could all use a little stirring!

All In Your Head: Are You Young, Old, or a Little Bit of Both?

DSC_1239“Young. Old. Just words.” –George Burns

Hello friend,

Many years ago, before cancer consumed her body and took her away from me, my Grandma Jeanne told me that, in her mind, she still felt just like she did when she was a kid. Having been close to her since I was born and already a young adult when she told me this, I, of course, thought of her as old. How could she not feel old and slow and behind the times and everything else we associate with aging? The thought of her defying what I believed to be the natural laws really threw me. It seemed so audacious, especially coming from this sweet, soft-spoken angel of a woman. I adored her to no end, but hey, that didn’t stop me from thinking of her as old! But no, she insisted that, on the inside, she didn’t feel it.   Having not spent a lot of time with older people previously, I was shocked by this revelation. But even more than I was shocked, I was tickled.  It was marvelous to me! I loved the idea that aging didn’t have to mean certain decline and decay of all things. I was heartened by the thought that all of these old folks—the ranks of which now include my parents, with me not far behind—were, despite all appearances of slowing down and fading out, definitely alive and kicking in their emotional and spiritual lives.

I loved thinking of my Grandma as young and full of life, imagining how she played as a child and how she fell in love with my Grandpa at an age that I now think of as “still a kid.” Not long after this wonderful revelation, she received a little framed craft that said, “Grandmas are just antique little girls.” And that is how I have thought of her ever since. I cherish that thought more than I can explain.

As my Mom approached her 70th birthday last year, I did a sort of interview/life review with her. She echoed her mother’s thoughts. She said she still feels herself young and full of life. She actually acts that way, too. She is completely hands-on with all of her grandkids, and she thinks nothing of hopping in the car by herself and driving across three states to watch a recital or skating show, then turning around the next day and driving back home. She is a dynamo, so hearing that she still feels herself to be young is no surprise.

But what about everyone else? Are my Mom and Grandma Jeanne the exception, the two Peter Pans amidst a cohort of fossils and curmudgeons? I am asking for selfish reasons, of course. I want to know what to expect! Is my zest for adventure and growth and new knowledge going to wither with the years, as I always imagined to be happening to the old folks I knew? Or, will my characteristic joie de vivre keep my spirit free and fully engaged until my last days?

A couple of months ago, I went out to the street to “check on” my son and the neighbor kid, who were tossing a football around. Soon, there was a field drawn in sidewalk chalk and we were engrossed in a big game. Plays were being called, touchdown dances were being danced, and the trash talk was flying as only three kids under the age of 8 can bring it. I was in my element. The neighbor kid’s mom came out after a while and laughed, “You love this stuff, don’t you? You are just a big kid!” Guilty! I absolutely love that stuff!

For me, this is one of the greatest perks of parenthood: the opportunity to do “kid’s stuff” without reprisal. Nobody wants to go up and down that sledding hill more than I do! Snow forts and snowball fights? “Count me in!” Backflips on the trampoline and cartwheels in the yard? “Yes and yes.” Need an adult to ride with the little kids on the tube behind the boat? “Oh, gosh, I suppose I could.” I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to battle me on the tennis court and throw Frisbees across the yard. Just about the only thing on my Christmas List this year was a beginner snowboard that I could just step into and ride down the sledding hill (I have always wanted to learn). My Mom’s response after an exhaustive search: “They all say they are for people who weigh 95 pounds or less.” Argh! I have the same trouble with Slip-n-Slides. Such is the plight of the adult child. There are not enough people like me demanding such toys, apparently. Yes, when it comes to sports, games, and outdoor fun, it seems I just might hold onto my childish tastes. At least until my body tells me “no más!”

But what about emotionally and spiritually? What does that evolution look like? Currently in The Journal Project, I am reading from the years when I was in my mid-twenties. While wandering around Europe, when someone would ask me what I wanted to do with my life, I would boldly respond, ”I want to save the world!” and a lively discussion would ensue, full of my sweeping ideals and my deep self-confidence that I would be the one to do it. All these years later, I see that my idealism has tempered some, but not my eagerness to be a part of the solution.

I used to believe I would have as big of an impact as my heroes–Gandhi, Dr. King, and Henry Thoreau–had in their lives and beyond. With each year that passes without a notable impact, I feel my expectations lowering. Maybe this is my version of feeling old. Even still, the passion to help people live happier lives and to make the world a better place still rages in me, and my continued willingness to take new strides in that direction makes me feel like I will hold onto some youthful enthusiasm for a long time to come. I hope so.

So, how old do I feel? I am not sure. Intellectually, I still have the curiosity of a young child, and possibly more so. I will take that as a positive. Socially, I think in some ways I have gone inside my shell more as the years have passed, and that has probably aged me more than I would like to admit. Emotionally, although I am fairly immune to the up-and-down daily dramatics at this age—a sign of “maturity,” perhaps—I have definitely held on to my childhood capacity for eagerness and delight. I am still genuinely excited to be alive and am easily thrilled. Spiritually speaking, I guess I am not sure what is young and what is old anymore. I don’t know if kids actually feel a close connection with the Divine—I don’t recall feeling that way—as it is such a big and distant concept, difficult for them to pin down even if they feel it. I do know, however, that in those mid-twenties I mentioned earlier, I was on a spiritual rocket that had me feeling howl-at-the-moon rapture and pure Bliss regularly. My soul was on fire with it! Maybe we can call that youthful. As the years have passed, I have maintained a sense of wonder at the magnificence of this ride that we are on and the Divine force that gives it all Life, but my feeling is more one of settled gratitude and connection rather than the howling rapture that once had me. That was nice; this is nice. If this is what we come to call spiritually old, I am okay with that.

All told, I would say I have a lot of young in me, but definitely some old, too. I would like to keep my vim and vigor, my zest for life and eagerness to play, as well as my awe. And maybe I will even break out of my social shell one of these days, too, and speak with adults the way I do with kids. Will my grandkids one day make me something that says, “Grandpas are just antique little boys”? If the shoe fits…

How about you? How old do you feel? Open up your journal and dive deep into your heart and mind. What do you notice in there? At your core, do you feel the same way you always have? Is the child still in you? The young adult? What types of activities or thoughts bring out the kid in you? What gives you that same type of delight? What is your favorite thing to do? How old do you feel when you are doing that? What effect has your physical health had on how old you feel? Do limitations from weight, illness, injuries, or chronic pain affect the way you think of yourself? Can you separate your physical limitations from who you really are inside and still feel young in spite of them? How intellectually curious are you? Do you enjoy learning new skills or information? Does this make you feel younger? How about emotionally and spiritually? How enthusiastic are you in general? Are you more or less open-minded than before, and how does that play into how old you feel? Is there still awe and wonder in you? Do you think that you sometimes act and feel “old” because you think you are supposed to be getting old? What if we really weren’t supposed to be? What if we got to decide? What would you do differently? Can you do some of that today? Consider your role models: parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. How old do you think they felt? Is my Grandma Jeanne, the “antique little girl,” more the rule or the exception to the rule? Which are you going to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How old do you feel right now, and which direction do you plan to age from here?

 Bloom where you are planted,

William

P.S. I hope that you dove deep on this one, and I hope it helped you to see yourself more clearly. If it did, please share it with friends and have a discussion.

Open Season on the Voiceless: In Search of Compassion in the Age of Disrespect

DSC_0645“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” –Mohandas Gandhi

Hello friend,

My feathers are ruffled this week. I am stirred up. Anger, shame, envy, and simple hurt feelings are forming a combustible mix in my heart. They have been building up lately as I watch more and more of the political coverage on CNN, but what really tripped my storm this week was a simple Facebook post by a friend. It began with the type of snarky meme that I am becoming so accustomed to seeing—this time it was a baby shooting us the skunk-eye with the saying, “Why the heck do I have to press 1 for English? Did America Move?But instead of being accompanied by her commenting something like “Truthor “So sick of this! or some other diatribe against immigrants, my friend went the exact opposite direction. She blasted the people who post this type of meme for their perpetuation of hate and negativity, and implored us to move beyond the hate with some tolerance. She made great points, challenged the readers, and was super-passionate (her flair for the F-bomb is something I can only aspire to!).

“Yes!!!was all I could think to write in the Comments section, because it was exactly what came out of my mouth as I was reading it. Yes Yes YES!!! I was charged up. So many different emotions were swirling. For one, I was really proud of her, specifically for standing up to the ignorance and negativity that is so especially prevalent on the web and Facebook. I was also simply excited that someone was saying something, especially something with so much spirit and intelligence behind it. That also made be extremely envious of her for having the guts to do it. She said something I should have said any number of times when I read mean-spirited and ignorant posts, and I wished it was me with the guts. That made me ashamed of myself, especially as I am keenly aware of my privileged position as a White, heterosexual, middle-class male in America. I have a voice in this society that I didn’t do anything to earn. Nobody stood in the way of me putting my voice out there, and all of the characteristics I just mentioned automatically lend some credence to my opinions that people without those characteristics are denied. They are the voiceless.

I see all of these memes on Facebook—about welfare recipients, Muslims, immigrants and others whose first language is not English, and on and on—that are extremely mean-spirited and narrow-minded. And I understand that some people who create or share these things are trying to be funny—hey, my own humor is also quite sarcastic—but the clever factor in these pieces is far outweighed by the disrespect and complete absence of compassion. They perpetuate so many hateful and factually incorrect stereotypes. And they are EVERYWHERE!

There is a wave of insensitivity sweeping over us. It has become perfectly acceptable to bash anyone and everyone at any time. Perhaps it is the Internet age, where any nutjob—perhaps I am one of them—can get their opinion out to the world, and negativity draws more attention than positivity. But it is not just in crazy, underground blogs. It is in the mainstream media, and no one is safe from it. The Pope is sweeping America this week, mostly drawing positive reviews for the way he seems to galvanize support even while challenging people on both sides of the political spectrum. And yet, there I was watching CNN a few nights ago after stirring speeches to Congress and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the woman representing the Tea Party was completely slamming him in the most petty and mean-spirited tone. Look at the level of disrespect shown to President Obama that goes way beyond simply disagreeing with him; it is off the charts! It is as though we have lost control of our manners. The old, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all,has been replaced by, “If all you have are nice things to say, save your breath! Negativity leads. If you can make your negativity “funny” and add a photo to it, your ideas can reach a lot of people in a short time. Even the Pope and the President aren’t immune to the onslaught of disrespect and disdain. Nothing is sacred.

But the Pope and the President are big boys. They both have lots of privilege and lots of protection. They can handle a skewering on social media, no matter how classless the attacks. They have a loud, public voice to respond. On the contrary, the other groups I mentioned—Muslims, immigrants, welfare recipients—have no accepted voice in this country, no way to inform the conversation. So, they are easy targets for disrespect and inhumane treatment. Bullies pick on the kids who can’t fight back. Unfortunately, it seems we are becoming a society of bullies.

I look at the astounding level of animosity toward Muslims as an example of this bullying. Even though there are millions of Muslims in America—almost all of them peace-loving, hard-working, and tolerant, by the way—they are a voiceless group right now. And because of that lack of a voice, they are being demonized and disrespected at an alarming level. Yesterday I saw a couple of my Facebook “friends” share an anti-Muslim meme, and all of them, I am quite sure, neither know any Muslims nor know anything about the central tenets of mainstream Islam.

I said to my wife the other day, “Muslim is the new Black. I was serious. There was a time not long ago—and stretching back to this country’s beginnings—when you could write or say anything you wanted to say about Black people without fear of backlash. Public figures could call them names and tell racist jokes and chastise them, and nothing would come of it. Black people had no voice. They do now. Sure, all sorts of awful things still happen to them on a daily basis in more covert ways, but a shift has been made in our society. What was once socially acceptable when it comes to Black people in America is no longer. But Muslims? Not at all. You can still say whatever you want without fear of reproach. The meme I mentioned above joked that we have been at peace with Japan since we dropped atomic bombs on them, concluding with, “IT’S TIME WE MADE PEACE WITH ISLAM (you can tell the high intellect of the creator of this one, as it makes perfect sense that we can bomb a religion).

This kind of bigotry and absence of compassion is on display on my nightly peek at the Presidential candidates on CNN. Ben Carson tells us boldly that a Muslim should not be President. Donald Trump fails to correct a man at Trump’s own rally who says that the problem with America is Muslims. These are the two leaders in the race for the Republican nomination right now. Leaders.

Trump says he doesn’t have time to be politically correct. The poll numbers show that a lot of people love that philosophy. Unfortunately, too many are taking that as a license to act like bigots. They are checking their compassion and decency at the door and attacking every voiceless group that comes into their ever-narrowing minds. It is open season. It really saddens me. It frightens me, too.

With all that we know and all that we, as Americans, have been privileged to claim as our own as part of our residence in this great land, how dare we betray our gifts and turn our backs on our responsibility to be a positive example to the rest of the world? We have an amazing amount of privilege. If any of these characteristics describe you—White, American, Christian, male, middle or upper class, employed, English-speaking, heterosexual, healthy—then you have power in this society and a great advantage over many others. It is an advantage that you probably did little or nothing to earn. When we don’t acknowledge our privilege–and especially when we don’t see it as something we didn’t earn—we tend to lack empathy and compassion. Instead of seeing ourselves in the eyes of others, we see our differences. We build walls instead of bridges between us. It becomes easier to dehumanize “them” because they are not “us”. They are different, and as long as we have the power to define the terms, they get defined as less than us. Not as good. Not as human. Not as deserving of respect and compassion. There are very few things in the world as damaging as the absence of empathy and compassion. It saddens me to think we are living in that absence.

When I saw my friend’s post on Facebook with the offensive meme, it triggered that sadness in me. Her passionate response, on the other hand, triggered my belief that we can do better. That excited me. As the guy who is always striving to live his best life and help the world do the same, it made me envious of her for putting herself out there, knowing that she has a powerful voice and could use it for good. It also made me ashamed of myself for not squashing so many other negative and pitiless messages that I have seen and heard. After all, I have a voice. It is to be used. It is to be heard. I must take responsibility for my privilege and use it to not only share my own message of gratitude, positivity, and self-knowledge, but also to give a voice to the voiceless. To make sure they are represented, not misrepresented; that they are respected; and that they are seen as part of the universal “us”, not “them”. I can do that.

How about you? What kinds of messages are you sending with your voice? Open up your journal and think about what role you play in this drama. I mentioned Muslims, immigrants, and welfare recipients; what other groups are out there that catch a lot of negativity and seem to have very little voice to defend themselves with? Go through my list and yours, and with each group, ask yourself what your impression of them is and how that dictates your interactions and your judgments. Are you being fair? Why not? What is it about certain groups that make you separate them into “them” versus “us”? Is it appearance? Religion? Economic class? Who comes to mind when you think about public figures—whether politicians or talk show hosts or religious leaders or celebrities—who deliver a message that really speaks to your heart and mind? What is it about that person’s message that appeals to you? Is it more inclusive or divisive? More positive or negative? How often do you see Facebook posts or shares that run counter to everything you stand for? Do you just fail to “like” it, or do you comment on it or unfriend that person? How do you feel about your track record for standing up for what you believe in, even in the face of hostility? Do you engage in political or social justice issues when you are online? If I were to look at your posts, shares, comments, and likes, how compassionate and positive would I find your message to be? Are you doing enough to fill the world—even just the Internet world—with examples of empathy and inclusion? Do you protect the voiceless, or do you tend to do the bullying? Are you proud of your message? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your voice calling for?  

Be the change,

William

The Legacy of a King

IMG_1669“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” –Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

About 25 years ago, I walked into the library of my high school. Well, walked may not be accurate. I felt like I was pulled in, guided there as if by some magnetic force. I was on a mission. I needed to understand who Martin Luther King was and what he really stood for. And, more importantly, why he seemed to draw me to him even though I knew practically nothing about him. It wasn’t for a class assignment or anything related to school that got me into that library. I just really needed to know. I was compelled. There are some things that are just inside of us; we fall to the Earth this way. I was drawn to Dr. King, even before that library mission, and certainly every day since. Along with a guy you might have heard of by the name of Gandhi, Dr. King is my hero. Perhaps unfortunately for me, however, he is also my measuring stick.

I LOVE books and movies, but I tend to be a bit forgetful of the specifics of the story. I watch intently, and I passionately dissect and discuss them afterward. However, if you ask me, years later, what a particular book or film is about, there is a decent chance that I will have no recollection. But, if you ask me how I felt about it, I will tell you with absolute certainty. It is like that quote about how people don’t remember what you say or do nearly as much as they remember how you made them feel. So, there I sat in the movie theatre last week watching “Selma”, being touched and moved by the experience and by Dr. King’s impact on the United States and on me, when a fact rolled across the screen as the end credits began. It reminded me that he was a mere 39 years of age when he was assassinated in 1968. This fact hit me like a giant club upside the head. Thirty-nine!! And it was four years earlier that he had won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Thirty-five!!!

These numbers had my head spinning. First, it was, “How could they take him so young? Just imagine what he would have achieved with 30 or 40 more years on the planet.” That is mind-boggling. After that thought rattled around my brain for a minute, though, it lead right into a follow-up that got me into a near-panic: “He did all of that by 39—even 35. Shoot! I am running behind! I better get going on changing lives and leaving my mark on the world. NOW!!!” 

Like I said, for me he is not just to marvel at; he is my measuring stick. You are probably thinking to yourself, “Why in the world would you choose one of the most accomplished change agents the world has ever known as your standard to live up to? Why not just take an average person—or even a moderately successful person—and try to do a little better than that?” It is a fair question and quite reasonable, actually. After all, isn’t comparing myself to Martin Luther King a direct path to failure and disappointment for me?

Maybe so. Maybe I am aiming too high. And let’s face it, my track record doesn’t quite shout out, “Hero! Difference-maker! Inspiration! Transformational leader!” I am a 42-year-old guy who has bounced around, taught a few people how to hit tennis balls, and sells shoes when I am not raising my kids. It is not exactly the resumé of Dr. King, who had a Nobel Peace Prize at 35 and was a hero and role model to people in all corners of the world. So, what gives?

Potential. That’s what. I am betting on my potential, on what I think I have in me. I think it is a lot. And I think it is special. Heart-changing. Mind-changing. Maybe even world-changing. I have thought about this concept of potential often. I think that in almost all cases, people overestimate their potential. They think they are capable of doing better—and indeed, fully expect to do better—than they actually are or do. I think it is part of why there are so many deathbed regrets. People think idealistically, especially in their younger adulthood, and dream big dreams for themselves. Unrealistically big, in most cases. (Well, as I write this, my mind changes. It is not our potential that we misread; I think those ideals are possible. We just lose our focus and fail to execute. Hence, the regrets.) I certainly may be in that unrealistic category. I am trying to measure up to Martin Luther King, for goodness sake!   Logic says that I am definitely in that category.

But don’t tell me that. Delusional or not, I am going to believe exactly what my heart and soul are screaming out to me.   They are telling me I am destined for greatness. They are telling me that I will change minds and change lives. Last week, I wrote to you that my Life Purpose Statement reads “I am a catalyst of Self-Awareness and Authenticity.” I believe that I was born with that purpose, that it lives in my soul. With that, I believe I am destined to help people know themselves better and live more authentic lives, honoring their gifts and their purpose. And the kicker is this: I believe I will do all of this on a grand scale, not just in the random few who happen to cross my path. I have a vision of publishing books that help people all over the world, of speaking in front of stadiums full of people, and yes, even of coaching people one-on-one. I want the work I do to touch all levels, from the personal to the global. As Dr. King said, I plan to do “small things in a great way” (as in my private coaching), but I also plan to do “great things”.   I believe that it is all in me.

So, while I am obviously running behind schedule on the standard set by Dr. King, I am still willing to bet on myself in the long run. I am working on my coaching practice every day, beginning to help people to live their best lives. I am writing to you every week, polishing my skills and hoping to make a more grand-scale difference as we go. And I am always, in my head, practicing the speeches I will give to you when we meet in those stadiums on some distant day. The foundation is being laid. I have to think that if I keep plugging away at these missions, constantly trying to serve others, one day my potential will transform into results.   Nothing is guaranteed of course—this is still Life, after all—but, as one of my other great idols, Henry David Thoreau, said, “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I am betting on me. Watch out, Dr. King, I am coming!

How about you? What do you expect from yourself in this lifetime? Open up your journal and write about what you are going to do before you die. What is your potential? Do you have the ambition to match your potential? Are you ready to dig in and do the work that it will take to live up to that? Do you use someone as a benchmark or standard that you feel you should live up to? Is it someone you know, or a celebrity or historical figure? Is it a realistic guide? Do you think people tend to overestimate, underestimate, or be pretty accurate when it comes to assessing their potential? Where do you fit? When it comes to yourself, do you tend to temper your dreams or go wild? How about with others: are you the friend/confidante who tends to suggest “Dream big!” or are you in the “Be realistic” camp? When you get to the end of your days, do you think you will be more satisfied or more disappointed with yourself and your journey? Do you think that setting your sights lower takes the pressure off and leads to greater happiness and fulfillment? Or, perhaps setting high standards and expecting the most of yourself brings out your best self and helps you play a bigger game? Where do you fall on this spectrum of expectations? Are you okay trying to do small things greatly—being a light in your little corner of the world–or do you feel destined for grander things? Leave me a reply and let me know: How big is your life and legacy going to be? 

Carpe diem,

William

Show Us Your Beads!!!

DSC_0224“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” —Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

Wanna make some jewelry with me? Okay, this is what we are going to do. Each of us will make a necklace out of colorful beads and a piece of string. I will give you the string and six Dixie cups full of different beads: white, black, yellow, red, brown, and blue. Next, I will name someone in your life, and you will put a bead onto your necklace corresponding to the race/ethnicity of that person:

  • White Beads = Caucasian/White
  • Black Beads = African American/African/Black Caribbean
  • Yellow Beads = Asian American/Asian/Middle Eastern/Pacific Islander
  • Red Beads = Native American/Indigenous People
  • Brown Beads = Latin American
  • Blue Beads = Multiracial

Make sense? Okay, let’s make a necklace!

Mother, Father, or Caregiver—With my Mom a true Scandinavian and my Dad a mix of German and Irish, I come from one pasty bunch! Two white beads for me.

Three closest friends now—Here I get to add some color to my necklace. My three closest are one guy who is as white as me, one Filipino, and one African-American. Add a white, black, and yellow bead to my string.

Significant other (current or immediate past)—My wonderful wife is African-American, so another black bead for me (I imagine two beautiful blue beads for my kids, too).

Boss/supervisor—Another white bead.

Favorite author—So many to choose from—I LOVE books—but I will go with Henry David Thoreau. White again!

Favorite celebrity/athlete/person in the news—I am wildly unhip when it comes to celebrities, but I definitely follow sports. For the last few months, I have been glued to all things LeBron James. I’ll take another black bead, please.

Musical artist you listen to most on your MP3 player—I have been pretty full of Joshua Radin lately. White bead.

Two TV characters you identify with/want to be friends with—I probably don’t deserve any beads for this category, as I hardly ever watch television shows (I watch sports occasionally). However, the one show I try to keep up on—Parenthood—has mostly White people in the cast. I will take one white bead only (but you should take two if you watch more than I do).

Your doctor—That reminds me, I need to find a doctor! I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I do not have one, but it is the truth. If I want a bead in this category, the best I can do is claim my children’s pediatrician. What the heck! Give me another yellow bead.

Your dentist—While I am pretty much a free agent in this category, the last work I had done gets me another white bead.

Your spiritual leader (i.e. rabbi, minister, etc.)—I do not get a bead in this category, but you probably do.

The person you most admire—I am going to look at this in two ways: all-time historical heroes and people currently alive and in your life. Tough one! My all-timer is Gandhi, and my contemporary is my wife. There is much to admire in each; I am so glad I chose to study one and marry the other. Yellow bead, black bead.

Your three closest co-workers—I am in the palest office you have ever seen! White, white, and more white.

The last person you invited to your home—I have a huge, multi-racial birthday party at my house this weekend—can I get a blue bead boulder for that?—but the last one I had over is my Filipino friend, who brought his White wife and multiracial kids. There are options there, but I think a blue bead is most accurate.

Majority of the people who live in your neighborhood—I live in Minnesota and in the suburbs. Definitely white!

That’s it. We did it! Let us clasp our necklaces and see how they look. The first thing I notice about mine is the absence of brown and red beads. That is fair, though, as I have very few Native American and Latin American people in my life. I also find it interesting that, despite the fact that I have created a multiracial family, I have only one blue bead on my necklace. (This makes me wonder about the accuracy of the exercise in terms of measuring the range of diversity in my little world.) Of the other 19 beads on my string, twelve of them are white, four are black, and three are yellow. That feels like a lot of white, but is it?

While doing this exercise, I felt this odd pressure to produce a perfectly even spectrum of colors. I suppose I hoped it would show that my life is a shining example of diversity and inclusion. When the white beads started piling up, I admit to some gnawing feelings of guilt and shame. Then I started to wonder if I was subconsciously “cheating” to get more non-white beads, having conversations in my head like, “Sure, you have been obsessed with LeBron for the last three months, but over the long haul you are more of a Roger Federer (white) fan.” I had to keep reminding myself that the purpose of this exercise is to gain an AWARENESS of the diversity of my personal social network, not to make a judgment about it. Even so, I occasionally got defensive anyway, and thought things like, “Yeah, but this isn’t accounting for the diverse sexualities and religions of my social group. And what about age and economic class? “ I was reaching. I guess that I have always felt so grateful and enriched every time that I have been exposed to difference of any sort—whether it was traveling internationally or simply befriending someone at a local event and learning all about their life—that I had a hard time keeping myself from thinking, “The more colors, the better!” In the end, my necklace speaks for itself. It is my current reality, so I won’t run from it. I am ready to bare it.

How about you? How does your necklace look? Get out your journal and explore your social network. Does the look of your necklace surprise you at all? What stands out about it? Did you ever feel uncomfortable selecting a bead? Did you—like me—start to feel guilty after picking a lot of the same color, as though you had to justify the result? Although this exercise is to bring awareness to the diversity—or lack of diversity—in your life rather than to make any judgment about it, should we feel some shame if we have a relatively monochromatic necklace? I don’t believe so, but it should certainly make us think. Does your bead string motivate you to actively seek out situations of greater diversity to broaden your worldview and social network? Of all the people representing beads that I mentioned, which of your beads is going to be the next one to change color? Picture your necklace if you did this exercise ten years ago: in what ways is it different from today’s, if at all?   How do you expect it to be different twenty years from now? More colors or fewer? Would you be willing to wear your necklace to a social event and explain it to curious companions? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to show us your beads?

Celebrate you today,

William