Tag Archives: goals

On Whose Time? Take Life As It Comes vs. Force Your Own Agenda

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” –Chinese proverb

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I’ve been doing a little experiment over these last several months since I published my book. You see, up until that point, I religiously published my post once a week, only ever taking a week off when I was traveling. Although I don’t recall ever making a cross-my-heart promise to myself that I would get a new letter to you every week, that was essentially the deal. No excuses. And I kept it. For years.

I can’t adequately express to you how distressing it was to–hundreds of letters later–finally come to the decision last Autumn to put the blog on hold for several weeks in order to get through the very tedious and time-consuming final stages of publishing the book. Despite my certainty that it was the wisest course and that I would get right back to these letters when I finished all I had to do for the book, the decision to pause took me weeks to finally accept and execute. I hated to break the flow and the commitment.

An interesting thing happened when it finally came time to resume my weekly letters. I wrote the first few weeks: no problem. But the next week, when it was time to nail down a topic for the new post, I drew a blank. Nothing came to me. I started to panic. It’s not as though I had never had trouble coming up with a topic before; I definitely had. But through manic brainstorms or scouring of old notebooks or searches of the news, I had always come up with something that inspired/confounded me enough to deem worthy of my consideration and yours. But not that week. Try as I might for several anxious days, it just didn’t’ come.

In a rare moment of self-mercy, I let myself off the hook. I rationalized that after all of the work on the book, my mind must simply be not fully restored to its engaged self. I figured I just wasn’t tapped into the Universe the way I had been, and I decided that it would be very “enlightened” of me to accept that reality and flow with it. I gave myself a break. And let me tell you, that felt incredibly strange! I was almost itchy with dissonance. Something was definitely missing from my week.

But you know what? Even without my writing, my world did not come crashing down. I survived the anxiety and guilt of “not doing my job” of writing to you. Inspiration returned the following week, I wrote a long post, and I figured I was back on track. Trusting the flow of inspiration from the Universe was fine for a week, and I gave myself a little pat on the back for giving it a shot. “But I’m a writer,” I assured myself. “From now on, I write. No excuses!”

But then it happened again. Nothing stirred in my chest and my brain, aching to get out of me. I scanned and scoured, but nothing stuck. I had my panic moment, but eventually I rationalized, “Maybe this is the Universe telling me that I have a new pace. I will trust this one more time.” And I let that week go.

I wrote again the next week, then waited on pins and needles to see what would happen. Again I drew a blank and it slipped by. I scratched my head, eventually forgave myself, and moved on. And so it went for these last few months, alternating between a writing week and a head-scratching week. It is not like I didn’t write anything; I still journaled every day. I just couldn’t muster a post idea, and I accepted that–albeit with some suspicion–as me “staying in the moment” and “trusting the Universe to provide inspiration in its time.”

That, I suppose, became the essence of my struggle: deciding how much to view my lack of inspiration and diminished ambition to create something no matter what as A) me surrendering to the whims of the Universe, rather than as B) me failing at something under my control. I battled myself over and over to grant myself permission to let those uninspired weeks slide by without a product to publish.

My natural instinct was to label this inclination ‘Lazy’ and ‘Weak’ and then prod my myself until I found something to make it work. That has been my way for years: no excuses, act like a professional, get it done.

Produce! Push the envelope! Never settle! Go hard to get to your dreams!

That’s the way the world works, right? Or not?

But what about that seemingly enlightened idea of not “pushing the river” from the Chinese proverb? That sounds pretty darn good to me most mornings when my alarm sounds extra-early so I can squeeze more ambition into my day. It felt like a siren song on those weeks when I didn’t (couldn’t?) publish anything, telling me that it was all okay and even healthy to take a break from the rigors of striving for my dreams. It was downright alluring to believe that inspiration would come in its own time, when the Universe was ready for me to receive it, and that I could relax and enjoy the beautiful moments until The Muse decided to tap me on the shoulder and invite herself back into my soul, allowing me to return to my passion fully-armed.

So alluring that if tried really hard, I could almost believe it.

I tried that on myself last week. The week before had been one of my “off” weeks that I have begun to get accustomed to after a post, so last week I was on the clock. A letter was due. But then I got busy at work for a couple of days, and then my kids got out of school and took over my world, and yada yada yada…..the next thing I knew, I was pretending I had a legitimate excuse for not writing to you that week. I truly put in the effort to snow myself into believing I was just too busy and that “sometimes Life intervenes, the Universe decides it’s not time for that,” despite my best intentions. It made for a stress-free weekend.

But not really. Because, despite my best efforts at pretending that I had given my best efforts toward my writing, deep down the truth was lurking. “Trusting the Universe’s pacing” and “not pushing the river” were fast becoming justifications for my laziness and lack of focus on my passion, and I knew it underneath all of my “enlightened” rationalizations.

Although I am a big believer in intuition and following your gut, by nature I am a driver. My inclination is to look for a way I can make my situation better and then to set out to make that happen. I am stubborn about getting things to go my way. I have been known to “push the river.”

Despite all of that, I like the theory of being at peace with what is and trusting that the Universe has my back no matter how things appear to be going. I like the idea of translating my lack of inspiration as, “It’s just not meant to be today. I’ll check in again tomorrow.” I sometimes admire the people who just chill and don’t mind at all what happens with their situation one way or the other.

But despite the allure of “Whatever,” that just isn’t me.

This reminds me of the other age-old dilemma that I have taken my turn struggling to come to grips with: choosing to be happy with who you are and accepting yourself (your body, your flaws, etc.) completely vs. constantly striving to be better than you are today. Maybe it’s exactly the same issue.

In either case, I always seem to fall back to being bothered by the “Just accept things/Let it be” answer because it feels lazy and complacent. It takes my agency, my responsibility away from me. It coaxes me into helplessness. I despise that condition.

I choose to believe that I have the power to change my situation, whether that relates to an injustice in my country or a lack of inspiration in my mind. I choose to believe that, no matter what forces are working against me that seem to be representing “the Universe wants it this way,” I can take action to steer the situation another way. That action might be a march on Washington, DC, or a volunteer shift at a shelter, but it might also be just showing up at my computer next time I don’t feel “inspired” by any particular topic and start typing anyway, one grinding word at a time. After all, The Muse may or may not be real, but if she is (and I believe she is), I am certain that she only helps the ones who are there doing the work that their soul calls out for them to do. When she stops by my house, I plan to be plugging away at my keyboard.

Maybe this boils down to me saying that I have to act as though the Universe does not have a pace, does not have an agenda. That it’s up to me to create the life I long for, despite the circumstances that sometimes seem to conspire against me. I can’t sit on the sidelines of my own life and take the “It’s in God’s hands” attitude. I think God’s hands are my hands. Yours, too. I must use my hands to the best of my ability to create a life and a world that meets my standards. So that is what I will do.

I am not guaranteeing that you will start seeing a new letter again every week. I am only promising that I won’t blame it on someone or something else when I don’t produce or live up to my expectations. I will not write it off to the whims of the Universe or The Fates not feeling me. I will own what I do and what I fail to do, call myself out when I am being lazy or procrastinating, and take regular stock of myself (usually in my journal).

This morning as I was trying to pull this letter together, I took a break to look at social media. One of the first things to pop up in my newsfeed was a photo of one of those old signs that used to be in front of every convenience store, with the rows for interchangeable block letters that listed the hot deals on cigarettes or jumbo sodas or Slim Jims. This one read: EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. SOMETIMES THE REASON IS YOU’RE STUPID AND MAKE BAD DECISIONS. “Yes! This is what I am trying to say!” I shouted to myself. The Universe may have its own agenda, but we have to take ownership of our little neck of the woods.

My new working theory after processing all of this: Maybe each of us doing our absolute best to ambitiously pursue the life and the world that we dream of is what creates the Universe’s agenda. That is, maybe each of us pushing our little portion of the river is what actually makes it “flow by itself.” Yeah, I like that. It doesn’t make me feel guilty for being ambitious and not settling for the way things are. In fact, it demands that I trust that instinct to push the river and live my dreams. That works for me!

How about you? How do you balance trusting the Universe’s pacing with pushing for things to happen as quickly as your ambition demands? Open up your journal and your engine and try to understand how driven you are and what causes the ebbs and flows in that drive. How ambitious are you in getting what you want, whatever that may be (not necessarily career goals or saving the world–could be anything)? Do you impose your will upon the situation and force things to go your way no matter what the circumstances are? Or, if things do not seem to line up in your favor, do you accept that as a sign that it was not meant to be and let it pass? On a scale of 1 to 100–with 1 being “Whatever” and 100 being stubbornly ambitious–how do rate yourself? Would the people in your life agree with that number? What would they rate you? Speaking of them, how does your number compare to the people in your inner circle? How does it compare to the people you admire most? Are the people we generally see as heroic and worthy of our admiration–the people in our History books–more likely to have high ratings? Does that make stubborn ambition better, or does it just make it unusual? How much do you admire the “Whatever” folks who are just fine with any situation? Do you think those folks are happier than the people like me who are always striving and looking for ways to improve our situation? Does the world need more people on one side of the spectrum than the other? What do you think is the proper dispersal of people along the spectrum? What would happen if we all became stubbornly ambitious in our pursuit of a better life and better world, given that we might not all have the same ideas of what “better” looks like? Could that work? Might it be amazing? Okay, so does the Universe–or God, or Spirit, or The Fates, or whatever–have its own timing? Does It aid or hinder us in our pursuits based on Its own agenda or Its own pacing? If you believe so, how often are you aware of that sensation of things being out of your hands and under control of the Universe? What feelings does that awareness bring up in you? Awe? Calm? Frustration? Helplessness? Gratitude? Does it make you more complacent or lazy to think that something is out of your hands or “just not meant to be?” Do you feel less responsible for your actions in those cases? How do you strike that balance in your life between, on the one side, ambition and personal responsibility, and on the other side, going with the flow and leaving it to Fate? Do you often sway dramatically from one end of the spectrum to the other? Have you found your sweet spot yet, where you feel like you are pushing just enough to bend the Universe to your will but still accepting whatever comes as a result of your pushing? Leave me a reply and let me know: Whose agenda is your life following?

Make Peace with it All,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your social media channels. Together we can create a more self-aware world.

P.P.S. If you are looking for a Summer read (and write), check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

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!

Between Milestones: Where are you on The Map of LIFE?

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

“So, now you can start learning the guitar?”

That was the first thing out of my nine-year-old daughter’s smiling mouth about a month ago when I showed her the proof copy of my book that had just arrived in the mail for final edits. That was how she viewed the culmination of my years of dreaming and hard work: a chance to learn the guitar.

Perspective.

I had told her a while back that I have always wanted to learn to play the guitar and that I even got one–complete with an instruction manual–for Christmas several years ago, that it was right down in the basement in the unopened case waiting for me. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t played it yet. I explained to her that I really wanted to, but I hadn’t made the time yet because my writing was such a huge priority for me. As the reality of the eventual book approached, I told her that as soon as I got it published, I would finally unzip the case to that guitar and begin my education.

And though I wasn’t quite ready when she asked me a month ago–there were final edits to do and some tedious reformatting for e-book conversions–I am ready now.

So, a few nights ago, when I was absolutely sure I had finished by book stuff, I looked at the clock and was astonished to realize that I had an hour to myself without any pressing task that involved my life purpose.

Free time? FREE TIME!!!

It had been years–seriously, years–since I wasn’t pressed (and a little stressed) to get something done in any available moment. It was the strangest feeling! Like cabin fever in my brain. I truly did not know what to do. I had the realization, “So, this is when normal people watch all of these television shows I have read the names of!”

But then I realized: This is my moment! This is what I have waited for! I reached behind the bookshelf and pulled out the dusty case. My heart pounded in my chest as I reached for the zipper. And just like that, there it was. My bucket list item.

So, for the next hour, I put dents in my fingers as I fumbled through the first awkward notes. It was a frustrating and humbling hour, but it was also glorious. I was learning the guitar! After fantasizing about it all of my adult life, I was doing it. I was treating myself, too. Both of those things felt fantastic.

I have done it a couple of times since that night–not for an hour but a more realistic ten or fifteen minutes–and each time I get this weird sensation when I go to pick it up. It is excitement, but it is also guilt. I can’t seem to believe that it’s okay to take this little spot of time just for me. Granted, my daily writing time and my early mornings at the gym are also just for me–I understand that intellectually–but this guitar thing just seems different. Like goofing off. Cheating. Hence, the guilt.

I cannot even begin to count up the number of hours I put into making my book. It was an enormous investment of my mental and emotional energy, too, but tons of time. It was a labor of love, though. A beautiful grind. Whatever energy and time I had left after prioritizing my family first, I gave to the process of the book.

But now the book is done. What the heck do I do now???

Sure, the guitar training was a nice carrot to put out there as reward for finishing–and it is also a bucket list item just like writing a book was–but it is not as though I am going to devote my life to it the way I have with my writing. It’s a few minutes per day, a few times per week.

Maybe I should try to slow down and ease up on the pressure to get so much done, perhaps even try to get a full night of sleep regularly. After all, I have been mostly burning the candle at both ends since I had kids, at first because they were babies and then because I rediscovered my passion for improving people’s lives through my writing. After all of the late nights and bleary eyes, maybe I ought to take this chance to return to sanity and balance for the first time in a decade?

NAH!

I know myself well enough now that if I tried to become a “relax and watch TV” kind of guy, I would go stir crazy. There is just too much I want to accomplish in the rest of my numbered days on this planet. Heck, even after a few days of being free of the book tasks, I am already chomping at the bit.

This is why I am writing this letter to you today. I took some time off from writing the letters in order to make the last big push on the book edits, but in that time I have often felt the tug in my heart that tells me I miss the actual writing and connecting with you. It is why Journal of You began in the first place: I couldn’t wait to get my voice out into the world and to try to make a positive impact on your life. So, this feels good to me right now, like I am finally reconnected again.

But I don’t think this is going to be enough.

That book project was a major deal in my little world. After pushing that big rock up the hill for so long–in addition to my weekly letters to you–I think that once this exhalation feeling wears off (as it seems to be now), I might feel a bit hollow without a new big rock and a new path up the hill. Because, I have to own the fact that, in my vision for my finite life, there wasn’t just one book listed on my Amazon Author Page. There were many, and they tapped into different subjects and different writing styles.

So, while I am purposely trying to give myself a moment to take a breath, to relax, and to appreciate the fact that I just checked my biggest bucket list item off the list, I also get the sense that I need to act on this antsy feeling and just dive into another big project. Because even though I see value in honoring a personal milestone and enjoying the moment for what it means to my life’s journey, I also want to be clear in my mind that this is just one step on that journey and that there are many more to go. I want to act like, “OF COURSE I did this huge-but-no-big-deal thing. There was never a doubt in my mind. So, let’s get on with the next huge-but-no-big-deal thing.”

I guess I want it to be normal in my life to achieve big goals and take on big challenges, to be constantly growing and knocking items off the list. Those milestones should be dropping like flies. Looking at my life so far, I plainly haven’t earned that brand of normalcy yet. It has been a lot of dreaming and experimenting and fantasizing and chipping away, not so much on the milestone-busting. I have been smaller than my expectations.

Does that mean I should accept this slow pace as the Real Me and bask in this one milestone as perhaps the only one I will ever reach? It is tempting (and probably others might say “realistic”). But giving in to that temptation and slipping into laziness and complacency is not me. I know that. I have decided it, and I know that I will keep deciding it as I continue to shape my life and legacy.

I may not have done as much as I had hoped up to this point, but I refuse to settle for one milestone, one check on the bucket list. I have not reached my peak at age 45. There are so many more mountains left to climb.  I better get going now. Onward and upward!

How about you? Where are you in relation to your life goals, and how do you react to hitting a milestone? Open up your journal plot out the map of your life. Have you hit any major milestones or bucket list goals? If so, what was it? A graduation? Promotion? Award? Creation? Opening your own business? Relationship? How did it feel? Were you more thrilled or relieved? Did you take a break afterward, give yourself some time to enjoy the accomplishment and recharge for the next? Or did you, rather, press on full speed ahead, propelled by the momentum of your achievement? Did you feel a letdown after your milestone, feeling that “What now?” of being without the goal to drive you anymore? Did you have a little reward ready for yourself when you hit it, like my guitar? Whether or not you have hit a major life goal yet, are you in hot pursuit of one now? What is it? How close are you to achieving it? Are you moving quickly toward it, or is it a slow grind? Do you get tempted to quit? What keeps you going? How devastated would you be if you didn’t get there? Regarding your big-picture vision for your life, how are you doing relative to your ideal? Are you on pace to get it all done? How realistic are your expectations for yourself? Are you living up to your potential? How does that sit with you? How important is it to have goals or milestones out there to reach for? Do they provide meaning for the struggles of life? Are these big achievements what motivates you, or is it other things, like relationships or simple pleasures or daily contentment? Leave me a reply and let me know: What role do big goals play in your life? 

Shoot for the stars,

William 

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. Let’s grow together!

P.P.S. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, find it on Amazon at www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten I would so appreciate you reading and leaving a review. Cheers!

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

Permission to Fail: Learning to Grow by Taking Risks

DSC_0678“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” –Henry Ford

Hello friend,

I have been faffing all week, and it is beginning to drive me crazy! “What in the world is faffing?” you may be asking. Good question! Well, it is not exactly a word in every dictionary. I think it is British. I heard someone explain it once, though, and I appreciated the concept so much that I have adopted it as a real word (with my own slant). Faffing, at least for me, is when you busy yourself with lots of tasks that, even though they may be somewhat important and productive, aren’t the primary thing you really ought to be doing. While faffing, you may be keeping yourself so busy that you aren’t even fully conscious that you are avoiding the important thing. You have an alibi, an excuse. It is a subtle form of procrastination or stalling, masked in productivity. And if you are not honest with yourself, you can really make a habit of it. Trust me, I know.

What sorts of things have I persuaded myself were important this week? It suddenly became very pressing that I take care of some long-neglected financial stuff. I just had to find out how to unsubscribe from a service that I have been a part of for too long. My desk area needed a re-organization. The old basketball hoop demanded to be disassembled. On and on. You get the idea. I was filling the time with tasks, checking things off the To-Do List. Good, right?

WRONG!

I have been slowly growing more anxious and irritable by the day. I feel like I have cabin fever. I am pent-up, ready to burst. You see, even though all of those things were important tasks that I have been needing to accomplish—I tend to put off all unnecessary tasks in favor of my absolutely most important pursuits, so these things tend to build up—they definitely could have waited for a different day. So, why was I doing them?

I was hiding. Scared.

I have recently made a commitment to myself to write a new book I. I wrote a quick opening last week, and just the feeling of being started was a wonderful relief. But, I also knew that the next phase of the book would be by far the most difficult for me to work on. I had a grind ahead of me. I was feeling insecure about so much of it—how long I should make this part, how much detail was just the right balance between being informative but not boring, whether I was skilled enough to write in a style that I was not accustomed to, how I was going to find the time to sink my teeth into the research—and that insecurity began to freeze me. I was afraid. Afraid that once I dove in, I might not be able to swim as well as I want to believe I can. So, unconsciously at first, I started looking for a way out.

Faffing was my way out. It allowed a psychological warm blanket. After all, I hadn’t quit on the project, so there should be no guilt. I was just too busy to work on it for a few days. That’s fair, right? Life is busy. It’s a great excuse.

I used to be able to faff for long periods of time. Years, even. I am not a good faffer anymore. Thanks to my daily journaling, the persistent call of my soul is too unmistakable now. I cannot shut it out for more than a few days without getting that anxious, pent-up feeling. I am too aware of it, even from the first day. I have, over the years, become an expert at recognizing things that waste my precious time. I cannot stand to waste time.

So why would I allow myself a string of days with no productivity on the thing that my soul is shouting so determinedly in favor of? Fear of failure is a powerful beast.

As I recognize my faffing for what it is, I am starting to see that perhaps the greatest gift I can give myself right now is permission to fail. If I continue to focus on how difficult the task is and how I might not have the tools and talent to pull it off, I will never dig in and try. I will just sit here with my fears and my excuses—always masking as BUSY-NESS—as my prime slips past me and my passion slips away. That sounds like a fate worse than death.

In my case, I think I need to just plow through what writers often refer to as “my crappy first draft” so I can get all of my thoughts out there, however jumbled and unclear. If I can release my fears and insecurities about how bad it could be and who might read it and just write the darn thing, I know that I will be able to see the whole project more clearly and learn what it will take to be better. Then I can set about to actually doing it better in the next draft. By the third one, I should have it.

Better than that, though, is that I will have the confidence of knowing that I stood up and acted in the face of my greatest fears, that I made a bold move on behalf of my dreams. I have to think that can only help me in calling upon my courage the next time. And the next time. And the next time. Exercising those “brave muscles” will make them stronger and more used to working, making it easier and easier to call upon them when the old fears creep back in, as I know they will.

I am bound to fail, of course. I will mess up. This first draft will be horrible. Probably the second draft will, too. Maybe I will even recognize later that it is just not going to be a book that will be as helpful as I had envisioned when I was starting, and I will trash it. Maybe. But even if this one works, my next idea might not. Failure is part of the deal. I like the inventor Thomas Edison’s quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This from the guy who is also known to have claimed, “I failed my way to success.” He sounds like a brave guy to me.

Of course, “failure” is a relative term. There are bound to be bumps in the road, missed marks, and rejections. If I can recognize them as parts of the learning process rather than finalities, I think I can do this thing. Or at least keep trying to. I will try to follow Einstein, who said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” I plan to keep trying—and failing—to make my dreams come true. That is the path for me. No more faffing. I am ready to get back to work!

How about you? What do you aspire to but often wrestle with your insecurities about actually doing? Open up your journal and get real about what holds you back. What do you want most to do that you aren’t currently acting on right now? Think big! What is it? Okay, now write down your list of excuses. What are the things you tell yourself about why you aren’t pursuing that passion? How many of those excuses are based in fear? What would you be risking in taking a shot? Would you look foolish if it didn’t work out? Would it threaten your financial future? How embarrassed would you feel if you failed? How many people know about the thing you want to do? If you could take the risk to try it without anyone else knowing, would that make it easier? How crushed do you think you would be if your first attempt did not work out? Is it important enough to you that you would keep trying anyway? Will you keep trying no matter what happens? If your big thing is too big for you to make a full go at it right now, is there a small step you could take today in the direction of your dream? How tough will it be to give yourself permission to take it? What is the worst that could happen? What is the best that could happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you willing to take a leap today?

Bet on yourself,

William

P.S. If this made you think a little bigger or had you feeling dreamy and tempted, please share it. Let’s build an audacious community!

A New Year’s Question: How Do You Want to FEEL This Year?

DSC_0784“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” –Henry David Thoreau

Hello friend,

Happy New Year! Here we are again. Every year around this time, the millions and millions of people who have set resolutions for the coming year begin their quests to live better. They are going to the gym, quitting sugar or alcohol, looking for a new job, going back to school, reaching out to old friends, starting a journal (right???), or just being more patient. Whatever it is, people are starting something or quitting something in the name of improving themselves and being happier. That is definitely something I can get behind!

So, what about me? What is my big resolution? I am terrible at this! I really am. I have never really made resolutions. The last few years, though, have found me very contemplative around the holidays and looking ahead to the vast potential of the coming calendar cycle. It has been a fertile period for my mind to stew about what needs to be added to my life, how I need to get better, and what habits I need to develop to make my dreams come true. I want to advance the cause, after all, and what better time to check-in and refocus than the start of a new year?

I have come around to the practice of allowing my thoughts about this to radiate around one basic question: How do I want to FEEL this year? I think that for most people, the process of resolution-making at New Year’s begins with thoughts like “What do I want to DO this year?” or “What do I want to STOP DOING this year?” I can see how those thoughts could be effective for the majority of people, but I have found over the years that, as with most things, I don’t seem to fit in with the majority on this one.

When I base my thoughts around the DO THIS or DON”T DO THAT resolutions, they just don’t grow roots in my heart and soul. They don’t resonate. They feel like orders to me, and anyone who knows me knows that I don’t take orders very well! I cannot be put in a box. When I focus on how I want to feel, though, it allows me a range of DOs and DON’Ts that I can flow betwixt and between throughout the year, changing course as my intuition directs me toward the feelings I have deemed most desirable. It also keeps pushing me until the year ends, because as I complete one goal, the feeling I want still demands to be felt. Thus, I must press on to the next thing that will conjure the feeling. It is the right mix of demanding yet still flexible that suits my personality.

So, what do I want to feel this year? Well, the easiest answer for me every year is fit and healthy. I would like to heal up some injuries still lingering from last year and free my body to do all of the activities that free my soul. For the first time ever, feeling fit and healthy this year is also going to include a weight loss component. Although I have some initial plans for how that is going to work involving nutrition and different exercises, I will be open to the ways my body reacts. If I follow the feeling, it will keep me on the right track. The healthy feeling will be an easy one for me to chase and stay honest about.

The other feeling that has been pressing on my mind as I enter the New Year has proven to be tougher to pin down. The part that is clear is its source. Over the past several months, I have been feeling increasingly pent-up regarding my progress toward the life of my dreams. I have not been making it happen, and that drives me nuts. More and more nuts every day. I am trying to be realistic. I don’t expect all of my wildest dreams to come true this year. But I need to know I am taking real, measurable steps toward those dreams. I cannot be stalled. That part, I have found, is key for me. It is not enough to hit one of my goals and then stop for a while to revel in it. That is how I get the pent-up feeling that currently courses through my veins. The drumbeat of my soul’s calling never stops, so I must never stop marching to it.

What is the name of this feeling that I want to keep feeling, though? What do I call this thing that I want my goals and plans to revolve around? Bear with me here, because I know that writing myself through it will help me find clarity (which is exactly why I journal every day).

I want to feel like I am really advancing my dreams, making big progress toward the big rocks that I want/need to move to find any career peace and satisfaction. I want to end this uncertainty about whether I can succeed in making a living doing the things that I love. I know what I want my career to look like; I just have to make the vision a reality. So, there is a lot of doing to do. The excuse-making and procrastination have to be shut down hard. I must make those tangible steps. Things like getting coaching clients, writing jobs, getting through volumes of The Journal Project, and compiling a list of posts for a potential book based on Journal of You.

Okay, so is accomplishment a feeling? Maybe that’s it. I’m just dying to be doing my thing more often and reaching people. I want to feel like I am making a difference. Yes, now that strikes a chord in me! I want to feel like I am making a difference. I want to be making a positive impact on lots of people. Right now, I am not, and that is very discouraging. I want to get in the action! I’m pent-up. I need to get engaged. That would make me feel useful and effective. That would release some of this tension that I’ve been carrying around for too long. It would be a big weight off my shoulders. I would LOVE that! So, maybe that’s it. Maybe, in the end, what I really want to feel this year is relieved.   I want the relief of setting down my burden, a burden that amounts to not living my dream and not living up to my potential. If I could feel the relief of setting that burden down, it would be a wonderful year, indeed!

How about you? What is the feeling that would make this the best year for you? Open up your journal and think about your goals, dreams, plans, hopes, and resolutions for the coming year. Write them all down. Now think about the ways each of these achievements would make you feel. What are the feelings that come up inside you? How much do they change depending upon the plans or resolutions that you are thinking about? Do your biggest dreams elicit completely different emotions than your standard resolutions or plans? Is there anything you want to feel in the coming year that has not been stirred by your current goals and resolutions? Why do you think your plans have left that important feeling out? Is it something you feel to be unworthy of or too much to ask for? What do you think of my method of starting with my desired feelings and setting my plans and goals from there? Would it work for you, too? Do you make New Year’s resolutions every year? Why do you think you do or don’t? Do you make them often at other times of the year as well? How good are you at sticking to your resolutions or goals? Which types of resolutions do you have a good record with? Which type do you bail out of or fail at quickly? What is it about the goals themselves that make you more or less likely to succeed? Is it the feelings they will generate? What is the most important thing you plan to do this year? Leave me a reply and let me know: What will it feel like to live your best year? 

Your life is now,

William

P.S. If this made you consider your journey through Life in a different way, please share it with someone you know.

How to Change and Still Be Yourself

DSC_0405“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

Hello friend,

I have been at war with myself lately. I seem to be constantly wrestling with these questions: “Should I or shouldn’t I???” “Do I dare?” “Is this overkill?” “Am I just being annoying?” “Are my friends and acquaintances losing more respect for me by the day?” You may be wondering what vitally important topic I could be feeling this much angst and drama about. What could be so troubling to my usually-easygoing mind? Is it Love? Money? Freedom? World Peace? No, it’s bigger. It’s much bigger. It’s FACEBOOK!

I have shared with you before that I have been embarking on some pretty major career changes in the past year. My “regular job” has entirely changed fields. In addition, I have embarked on two new career ventures on my own. You see, one of the things I have come to know about myself—it has become crystal clear in the last couple of years—is that I should not have a boss. I do much better working for myself: setting my own standards and not having to answer to anyone or be let down by anyone. I crave independence.

Of course, as much as I want to do my own thing, I also have no real entrepreneurial spirit. PROBLEM! I am not inclined toward sales at all, as I have no interest in making people uncomfortable or telling them how great I am. It just doesn’t feel like my nature. I am inclined to help people, to make their lives better, to give them more choices and more freedom. I am inclined toward partnering with people to reach their highest potential. That really lights me up. That is who I am.

This calling to help people live their best lives provoked me to start Journal of You and these weekly letters to you. It also led directly to my two new businesses. The first one seems an obvious choice for my skills and calling: Life Coaching. The second one takes a little more explaining. I have become an independent consultant for a premium skin care company. The wrinkle here—pardon the pun—is that it involves direct sales. I have to actually put myself out there and tell people about the products and business opportunity if I am going to achieve that financial freedom that I long for. Argh!

It is just SO difficult for me to do that! I do not like salespeople. Not at all, I mean. When I spoke to my brother last month about this job and told him it involved talking to my friends and family about these products, he said, “Whenever a friend of mine approaches me with anything like that, it just makes my skin crawl.” Me, too. I am super cheap. I hate spending money. Thus, it makes me doubly uncomfortable when someone I care about asks me to spend money, because then obligation and guilt enter the equation. It is difficult to say no, but if I don’t, I may resent the entire experience and the friend later. So, I mostly just avoid people selling anything of any kind. And now, that includes me.

It probably sounds like the easy and obvious answer is to just quit this business and focus on the Life Coaching and the writing. And sure, I might be less stressed if I did that. But there is a problem: I actually believe in it. I do. The products work like nothing I have ever seen before, and the way they improve people’s confidence is so uplifting and right up my alley. If it were only for those things, I would definitely still quit the business without a thought. However, there is something much bigger going on with this company. There is a chance to directly help people make astounding shifts in their future by joining as a consultant (a.k.a. salesperson). I have seen a few family members and friends, within a couple years’ time, change their lives to the point of having total time and financial freedom. I have seen others make smaller changes, like going part-time and getting to stay home with their kids, paying for college funds, going on dream vacations, or retiring their spouse. The examples go on, but the key is that this business, like Life Coaching, taps into my calling to help people live their best lives. I truly believe that it is a gift and a way out and up for so many people.

So, I am stuck. I have world’s biggest aversion to selling, and yet I really want to give the people in my circle this amazing opportunity. And frankly, I want to give myself the opportunity. I want to succeed in the way that I have seen others succeed, because I am desperate for that time and financial freedom for me and my family. The way I will get that freedom is by sharing this business with others. It is the beauty of it. It is also the curse of it in my case. Sharing it with others—educating them–is a huge deal, because people need the tools to make an informed decision that could be the key to their family’s future. It is big stuff.

So, on one hand, I have something that feels like it is completely not in my nature. On the other hand, it is exactly who I am. I am torn. This is my own civil war. And this is where Facebook comes in. I have vowed to myself to only ever post things that are authentic to me, that feel like a representation of who I am. The way my skin care business runs is by connecting to my network, most commonly through Facebook. So, I suppose the crux of my war is, “Can I post about my business—i.e. sell—and still be authentic?” This question causes me much stress. I guess that, for me, it represents a much bigger question: How do you “Be Yourself” while trying to grow and change your life? I think of the quote, “If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.” I know I have to go well beyond my comfort zone in order to achieve the goals and lifestyle I am shooting for. My challenge is stay true to my principles and my purpose while taking my activities past my normal limits.

Up until now, I have been very hesitant about posting about my business. Maybe once per week was all I dared to do for fear of feeling like a phony or having my Facebook friends think I was only on there to sell to them. What I am coming to see now, however, is that I have just been playing small. I haven’t been true to myself, because I actually want people to know about this company. I think it would be a great service to them to get involved in it. It could change their lives. Holding back for fear of their opinions of me was just me being weak and inauthentic. So, I am now beginning the process of convincing myself it is okay to share about the company, as long as that is not all I share. I want to put my other passions out there, too: my kids, Journal of You, and maybe even some Life Coaching ideas as my practice develops. As always, I want my posts to share who I am and also offer something that uplifts the people seeing them, whether that is the smiles of my children or an amazing story of transformation on one of my skin care posts. Happiness and positive change are central to who I am, and I am beginning to realize that it is okay for me to share that in whatever form it takes on a given day. In the end, authenticity must captain the ship.

Amidst all of this doubt and insecurity about posting and sharing transformation stories on Facebook, I received a message last week that put the wind back into my sails. It was from an old high school buddy whom I had not heard from in over twenty years. The essence of the message was this: “I noticed your posts and shared them with my wife. It is time for at least one of us to escape the rat race somehow. Do you have time to talk with her?” It blew me away, truly. One of these posts–that I had so tortured myself over–had gotten through to someone! A few days later, she became one of my business partners and was so excited about her future possibilities. I was absolutely thrilled to have had a small part in what will be a huge event in the story of her life. My purpose was being fulfilled! I could feel that. I was finding my bearings just outside my comfort zone. A new normal was being established. I was alive and well—and completely myself—at my growing edge.

How about you? Where is the end of your comfort zone? Open up your journal and think about the purpose of your life and the fears that keep you from living it. What makes up the real you? What do you believe is your life purpose? What is the best version of yourself? What fears or insecurities keep you from living that purpose and that best life? What gives those fears so much power? How much do you fear looking bad (or fake or dishonest or whatever) in the eyes of others? Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it? Name some examples of times when you have stepped out of your fears and into your purpose. How did it feel? Exhilarating? Liberating? How far out of your comfort zone did you have to go to get there? Was it worth the trip? I think it is true that the people who make it their norm to chase their limits and expand their comfort zone are the most vibrant and successful people. Do you agree? If so, why do you think most of us don’t dare go out on that limb very often? Do you? How true to yourself are you? On a scale of one to ten, how authentic are you? Do you think if you faced your fears and stepped out of your comfort zone more often, that your authenticity number would go up? What is one thing you can do today to take on your fears in the service of living your purpose? I dare you to do it! Leave me a reply and let me know: How can you make a big change and still be yourself?  

Be the one and only YOU,

William

What About TODAY?

IMG_1176“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it ‘the present’.”

Hello friend,

I have lately been consumed with laying the foundational pieces for my SOMEDAY. I have been busying myself with business plans, launch events, marketing strategies, and brainstorms for future books. The prize that my eyes have been focused on is the giant impact I want my life to make on this world. My whole, long life. I envision it as a big body of work that, over the long haul, positively impacts lots of people. With that recently-acquired long-haul perspective, my actions have been mostly future-oriented. There is a lot of “this will make the next stuff easier” and “keep my nose to the grindstone until I get established” in my thought patterns. Lots of process.

Of course, I understand that operating with a vision of how I want my future to be is essential to working toward that vision more efficiently. I know that I have to keep my eyes on the prize. Big goals are important motivational tools, and they help to put in perspective why it is worth all the hard work. If I don’t remain clear about my dreams and how much they mean to me, I could start sliding again. I don’t want that. I don’t ever want to live by default again, not questioning what I am doing and why. No, from here on out, I am living by design. That is my plan. Thus, I must keep the grand design front and center. That is how I have been operating lately: big picture, full life, long-range plan. Building the foundation.

I have been commending myself pretty regularly in my daily journal entries for doing a good job of chipping away at these big rocks, grinding to get them rolling toward a brighter future. I have stayed on task quite well. After all, many of the things I have been doing—government paperwork, marketing, and building websites, for example—are not at all the kind of work I love to do or that get me out of bed in the morning. Thus, as I said, I have been trying to applaud myself as often as possible for doing these tedious and uncomfortable tasks for the sake of my SOMEDAY. For the sake of my dreams. For the sake of the big life I am trying to live. It is all about the future. I applaud myself in order to make this grinding phase more palatable, hopeful that it will all pay off and that my SOMEDAY shows up sooner rather than later.

But then today, while writing in my journal, I started thinking about “the precious present” as it relates to enjoying this special time with my kids. I know that they will grow up in the blink of an eye. Rather than lament that fact and try to cling to something that cannot be stopped, the best thing I can do is to live completely in each moment, keeping my heart and mind in the present to soak up as much of this love and innocence as possible. Be present! The kids make that so obvious. It is why kids do life so well. They stay in the moment.

Of course, being present is something I have preached about so many times over the years. In all of my most serious spiritual and philosophical writings, it is plain that I am a big believer in the precious present. There is no greater gift you can give to yourself than to BE HERE NOW. That is why I have long been a big proponent of meditation and yoga, which encourage just that. I have used it countless times on the tennis court in helping students—and myself—handle pressure-packed match situations. I encourage it with my Life Coaching clients. Indeed, it is how I prepare for coaching sessions to serve my clients best: I center myself in the present. It is where Life works best.

And this is the realization that made me stop and think today as I was writing my journal. In writing about the value of the present, it suddenly struck me how many of my recent thoughts and actions have been not about the present, but instead about the future. I have forsaken my todays in favor of that elusive SOMEDAY. How can I justify this? Is it acceptable? Am I being hypocritical? How did I lose my way? How do I find my way back to the present? I need some clarity.

Of course, my first reaction when I am told that I am wrong—even by myself—is defense. My first justification is that at least I am not stuck in the past. I think that is much less healthy than focusing on the future. Next, I fall back on the age-old question: how does one remain present and living for today while also being mindful of building a better life for himself and pursuing his dreams? In other words, how do you balance stopping to smell the roses while planning to till them up to plant cucumbers and carrots? I honestly don’t know the right answer to that question. As I said at the beginning, I think it is important to know where you are trying to go in this life, to understand what your purpose is and how you plan to live out that purpose in a way that fulfills you. You have to look ahead sometimes!

Even with that justification, the thought of being stuck in the too-distant future continued to nag at me. Perhaps I have taken the justification too far lately in my quest to launch my businesses and the future of my dreams. I forgot to keep a balance between making the best of today and planning for that even better tomorrow. So I challenged myself: What is one thing I can do today to make TODAY better? What can I improve on from yesterday, for the sake of TODAY? Sure, it could be good for me tomorrow, too, but the point is to get better for NOW. No groundwork-laying. No SOMEDAY book outline or business plan. What habit could help me today?

After brainstorming my countless faults and shortcomings, I decided that the one thing I am really going to make an effort to do today is to be more friendly and outgoing with strangers. I am terrible at this! I mind my own business and use manners, but I don’t put any of myself out there. When I pass people, I try to look them in the eye and give them the cordial nod, but I have noticed that I keep my lips pursed every time. I don’t start any conversations in the grocery line or at the gym. I don’t give enough people compliments that might just make their day. I just don’t engage. Until now. Yes, I am going to do better with this. Starting now, and for the sake of today. I am going to be more present with everyone. I am going to consciously smile at people—with my teeth—when I pass them on the sidewalk, or when they swipe my card at the store or gym. I am going to wish people a wonderful day—with words, not just in my head. Rather than finding excuses to not bother people, I am going to come up with excuses to give them compliments. I am going to share my light. Today. For today. Not because it is some great plan for the future—though, as I write this, it does sound like a good idea to build upon (and kind of fun!)—but because it will improve my little corner of the world right now. I can move forward on those big dreams of SOMEDAY at the same time, too. But it is time to bring my own gift to the present. Today is my day!

How about you? What can you do today to make your life better? Open up your journal and your mind. Share yourself freely in the pages. You will be rewarded for your honesty. Which tense do you spend most of your thoughts in: past, present, or future? What percentage of time in each? How about your actions? Do you spend most of your time on what it takes to get you through the day, or are you building for the future? Are you living by default—just going through the motions—or living by design? How far ahead do you look when it comes to planning or goal-setting? Do you ever get too stuck in the future that you don’t take care of today? How about the past? How much of that do you carry around every day? When are you going to decide to let it go? What is the one thing you can do today that will improve your life today? How difficult is it to do? Why do you think you have waited this long to do it? Are you committed to it? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How are you going to make a better TODAY?

Choose happiness,

William

New Year’s Excuses

DSC_0891“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bulls@#t story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” –Jordan Belfort

Hello friend,

Happy New Year! It is that time again. Time for the symbolic “do-over” we all receive every January. A chance to start fresh. A chance to do better. A chance to finally do what you—and perhaps your nagging partner—have known that you needed to do for a long time. It is RESOLUTION TIME!!! 

I have never been much for New Year’s resolutions. Up until two years ago, I stubbornly ignored the prospect altogether. I think it is because I always associated it with giving something up, like candy or soda. That didn’t sound like any fun to me. There is also my lifelong aversion to limitations. I cannot stand to be restrained in any way, and my narrow idea of resolutions saw them holding me back. For example, if my New Year’s resolution was to lose ten pounds and I did that by June, what did that leave for the rest of the year? So, I never bothered with a resolution.

As 2013 commenced, I changed my perspective on resolutions a bit and decided it would be good for me to challenge myself. So, I made a Daily To-Do List, which included several items that I wanted to not simply do once and be done with for the year, but to do every day of the year (see my post “Your Everyday To-Do List” from May 2014). I kept that priority list posted on my vanity and desk; it reminded me—or perhaps shamed me, I am not sure which—into acting better. I liked that. Did I get to them all every day, or even most days? Not exactly. Some of them became solid habits and mindsets, but a couple of them just never latched onto my daily routine. Still, that, for me, was a positive spin on resolution-making.

Whenever I think about things like goals, aspirations, agendas, or resolutions, I always find it more helpful to couch the question in terms of how I want to feel rather than what I want to do? I ask myself how I want to feel this year. The answer provides the soil for my seeds of resolution. This year, I want to feel impassioned, healthy & energized, challenged, of service, creative, impactful, at peace, nurturing, clear, and like I am growing. With those things clear in my heart and mind, I can then ask the follow-up question: “What can I DO to help me feel the way I want to feel?” The answer to this question is crucial. It is the packet of seeds to plant in the well-prepared soil. When the two are mixed and carefully tended, how can I possibly go wrong? I am sure to flourish this year. Right?

Well, maybe there is more to it. Gardens tend to grow weeds, too, and those weeds can suffocate even the most beautiful flowers. In the garden of resolutions, the weeds are excuses. Born from self-doubt, excuses suffocate us in two treacherous ways. First, they strike down our visions for a better life. Before we even make our list of goals or resolutions, they tell us why we have no business dreaming so big, that we should set our sights on something lower and more “realistic”, and that our past is a perfect indication of the limits of our future. “Think small, dream small, and you won’t be so disappointed,” they say. Second, excuses offer us a crutch for the goals or resolutions we don’t achieve. They make it someone else’s fault. They allow us to accept less because, after all, it is out of our hands. They give us a pass and don’t ask us to look in the mirror to make sure we really challenged ourselves, really did all we could, and really didn’t accept less than our very best. Then that general, Self-doubt, and its infantry of Excuses really muddy the waters by mixing the lowered expectations with a free pass for not meeting them. In the end, we are left with low self-esteem and the visual evidence for why it should be that way. It is a cancerous environment. Weeds!

I have felt the poison of self-doubt and excuses creep into my own process this year. As the New Year has crept closer, I have been pondering the way I want to feel and thus the way I want to live and the things I want to accomplish. It is ambitious stuff, no doubt. I set my sights high in many areas that matter most to me, such as quality time spent with my family, career transitions and aspirations, writing projects, personal enrichment challenges, and finally, health and fitness. And while I have felt the self-doubt and excuses rise up to challenge me on all fronts, I have been especially aware of them in the health and fitness category this year.

Feeling—and, I admit, looking—healthy, lean, and energetic have always been very important to me. I think I came to Earth with this drive, the same way others arrive with an innate drive to cook, race things, or heal people. Most years, I have not even been aware of my drive for fitness and how much I value it, as it has come relatively easily. I have been reasonably fit all my life, and when I am not able to exercise, or if I feel like I am losing the look or feel of an athletic body, I become quite frustrated and disappointed with myself. So, as I have been envisioning a lean, vibrant, and athletic body carrying me through the coming year, I have been extremely aware of an unusually strong barrage of self-doubt-driven excuses hurling themselves at me. I am now questioning what I once took for granted.

Over the past couple of years—my 40s, argh–I have become increasingly aware of belly fat. Maybe it was there before and I was just better at denial, but these days it seems I am painfully aware of its presence. I know that it is winning the war over my mind when I start to think that maybe I won’t ever lose it, that it is part of me, not just something a few weeks of running will take care of.   (Cue the depressing music) 

That running speaks to my second big doubt/excuse. This Fall, for the first time in ages, I did not have a gym membership and thus took up running outdoors for my cardiovascular fitness. I was doing weights at home and figured I could be fitter than ever with a few times per week of running. Heck, I was even preparing my mind to become a Winter runner, braving the frigid cold and wind for the sake of my health. I was committed! Then, just a few weeks into my routine and getting hooked (and fit), I pulled my calf muscle. It was devastating and frustrating simultaneously. Those feelings were multiplied in the weeks and months that followed, as each time I gave it a few weeks to heal and then tried to run again, the muscle popped.   Over and over. Then, on my first full run with it feeling solid, the other leg did the same thing. Pop! “#@$&!!!!” So the process started over. Over and over again. My wife has said numerous times, “It is your body telling you that you can’t run anymore. Ever.” I really don’t want to believe that, but somehow my self-doubt has latched onto that comment and ridden it all the way into my psyche.   (Cue the extra-depressing music) 

With my ever-softening belly and my useless legs as background, I entered this little break for the holidays still doing my best to keep the excuses for an unhealthy, low-energy year at bay. I planned to get a little exercise while on vacation and build some momentum heading into the New Year. Then I proceeded to catch a bug that laid me out for my entire vacation. I was feverish, weak, and in pain. And, oh yeah, very frustrated. It felt like one last joke my body was playing on me for the year, just so I don’t get my hopes up and generate some real aspirations for next year.

It was lots of ammunition against my ambitions for a healthy, fit, and active body. My excuses are right there for me. I am getting old, maybe too old to stop the slide. My muscles can no longer hold up to vigorous exercise. And any little microorganism can knock me out for a week, further diminishing my muscle tone and lung capacity. I am a wreck!   A wreck with excuses.

But stronger than any excuse is the choice to NOT use it. Those all seem like pretty good excuses for me to give myself a pass on getting back to fitness this year. But I choose to reject them. I am going to choose a different attitude, one that will make it easier to choose action steps that work for my values. I am going to choose to get back on the weights, figure out a cardiovascular option that works for me and my injuries, implement yoga, and eat better than I have before. I love The Gift of Choice! Instead of choosing excuses for the New Year, I am choosing ME.

How about you? What are your excuses for the coming year? Open up your journal and write out all of the things you think are holding you back from living your best life this year. What does your best life look like? What do you see yourself doing? What new habits would you like to add to your lifestyle and schedule? What things are dragging you down and need to be reduced or eliminated from your life? Who do you want to spend more time with? Less time with? How do you want to BE? What activities make you feel the way you want to feel? Can you see yourself really living the life you imagine? Okay, so what is keeping you from taking the steps to live that life? What stories are you telling yourself about why you can’t have that life? How long have you been telling yourself these stories? How is that working for you so far? Maybe it is time to tell yourself a new story. One with more dreams and fewer excuses, more passion and less self-doubt. I would love to hear that story. Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your New Year’s story?

The best time is now,

William

Your Everyday To-Do List

IMG_0930“Good resolutions are like babies crying in church. They should be carried out immediately.” –Charles M. Sheldon

Hello friend,

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know what it is about them that repels me. Every time December 31st rolls around, everyone seems to be talking about their resolutions, so I give it a quick thought: “Should I be making resolutions this year?” Invariably, I decide against it.

As I think about it now, I see that it must be my lifelong aversion to limits. I cannot stand to be contained in any way. I need a big bed, loose-fitting clothes, open roads, very few rules, no supervision, and no numerical goals. That last one might seem odd to you, but that is how my mind works. When I talk to people about weight-lifting, they say they need to state exactly how many repetitions they hope to do—e.g. twelve bench presses—to push themselves to that number, otherwise they would do fewer. I am the opposite. If you told me my goal was 12 reps, I would immediately feel constrained by the number, as though it was holding me back from doing more. So it is with resolutions and me. If I give myself a resolution and a year to do it—quit chocolate or join a gym class or lose five pounds or read War and Peace or whatever—I would feel hemmed in by it, wondering what I was going to do when February came around and I had already achieved my goal for the year. Alas, resolutions and I have never quite come to terms.

Still, there I sat on the eve of 2013, wondering how I could be doing better at life. Would a resolution help? I tried to think of the one thing that I could do by the time 2014 rolled around that would make me a better, more fulfilled person. But every attempt at finding that one thing only annoyed me more, made me feel limited by it. In that annoyance, I realized that for me, I didn’t need one thing to do once and be done with it, resolution completed. No, I needed multiple assignments, and I needed to do them every day. That was it! I didn’t need a resolution. I needed HABITS.

What a realization! It brought both relief and inspiration. Immediately I set to work on my list of action items. I had a lot of ideas buzzing through my mind on ways to improve myself, as always, so the trick was finding habits that really spoke to my highest priorities, that would produce wonderful results in many different facets of my life, and that would be a huge challenge to fit into each day of the year. I turned on my computer and typed “2013 Daily To-Do List”, and under that I named seven simple tasks:

  1. Be fully in the moment. This has been a long-time priority of mine: presence. And while I knew I had it while I was with my kids—there are no better examples in all the world of being totally present than children, better than any yogi or healer I know—I had been feeling it slipping in other moments. I noticed myself lost in thought and looking at the sidewalk on my way into work rather than appreciating the sun on my face and the fresh air in my lungs. That was not okay with me. My excuse of being completely exhausted from sleep deprivation since the kids were born was wearing thin, and I knew a change was in order.
  2. The Journal Project. By that point in time, I was a few months into my enormous project, and I knew it would take several years for just the first phase if I kept on the pace I was going. It was time to turn it up a few notches. Daily action was necessary, no matter what.
  3. Meditate. I had meditated in short and infrequent spurts over the years, but each time I did it, I was reminded of its unlimited value. I wanted it on my docket.
  4. Act like my wife’s best friend & biggest fan. This had become a frequent topic in my internal conversations of late. I was thinking of how forgiving and supportive I am toward my buddies, but how I was seemingly giving the one I had pledged my life to the least amount of leeway and applause. That was unacceptable to me.
  5. Improve efficiency/Waste no time. I am extremely ambitious when it comes to the very tiny window of time I have when I am not either at work or playing with my kids. I want to read every book in the world, do The Journal Project, write a blog, teach myself the guitar and piano, get fit, keep up the house and yard, get another degree, write a book, and on and on and on. All after 8:30 P.M.!
  6. Reduce sugar intake. I am, and always have been, addicted to sugar. I had been reading more about nutrition and the detrimental effects of sugar, and I was determined to take steps to get my addiction under control.
  7. Stretch/Yoga. This one, like meditation, is a practice that I had been recommending to anyone and everyone ever since I found yoga when I was around 24. Unfortunately for me, I had become completely out of the habit, another casualty of becoming “busy” and losing sight of my priorities. I wanted it back.

That was my list. The seven things I wanted to keep front-and-center every day of the 2013. I printed two copies and taped one to my bathroom mirror and one to my desk. You may be wondering why “Write in my journal” is not there. The answer is simple.   I only wanted items on the list that were not already firmly entrenched into my day. Thus, “Write in my journal” and “Spend every possible moment absorbed in my kids” had no use on the list; they were coming along anyway. As you can see, some of the items required no extra time commitment, which, I suppose, means they should have been easiest to execute. The others were certainly achievable daily actions. Even from this distance, it looks like a pretty practical list.

So, how did I do? Hmmm. Not as well as I had hoped, but there were some positives. I was more present, which proved to be a good stress-reducer. My work on The Journal Project, which went hand-in-hand with improving efficiency/wasting no time, turned out to be the task I did far better than the rest.   I started writing it in my schedule, which really cemented the commitment. I made tremendous progress, which was extremely satisfying, both in terms of the simple joy of progress and also in the blissful pursuit of my dreams. Everything about it felt good. All the while I was cutting almost all unnecessary activities—television being the biggest—out of my day. Improve efficiency/waste no time became ingrained enough that I probably didn’t’ even need the reminder anymore. The other one I did okay with was being more supportive and forgiving of my wife. Simply having it on the list in front of me made me more mindful of our relationship and being a better friend and fan. I saw her more clearly.

I wish I could say I checked everything off my “2013 Daily To-Do List” every day, but alas, I wasn’t up to the task. I started off right with meditation, creating a dedicated space in my basement for it and allotting a meager twelve minutes per night to start. I loved it, too, but somehow it became quick to go when I got busy, and the almost-habit fizzled to nothing. The stretching/yoga went the same way. I struggled with reducing my sugar intake, too, though I definitely became much more aware of when I was eating it. Needless to say, there were definitely some “fails” on my list.

Nevertheless, when it came time to re-evaluate the list for a 2014 version, I decided to keep it exactly the same. I wanted to keep going with the good things, and I still valued my failed items enough to keep them on my daily task list for another year. Sadly, valuing them has not translated into doing them. I have yet to resume the meditation or yoga. I have actually done a tiny bit better with my sugar habit. Unfortunately, The Journal Project has fallen off my daily schedule, being replaced by its partner, “Journal of You”, which you are reading now. Though I totally love the blog-writing and see its value and place in my greater mission, it pains me that I have not kept up on The Journal Project.

What I am seeing now is that I need a new, revised “2014 Daily To-Do List” that still reflects my ambition but has some grounding in the reality of my schedule. So, starting today, here goes:

      1. Be fully in the moment.
      2. Act like my wife’s best friend & biggest fan.
      3. Reduce sugar intake.
      4. The Journal Project/Journal of You—at least one, not always the same one. 

How about you? Are you ready to create your own “2014 Daily To-Do List”? Open your journal and start jotting ideas. Are your tasks things that you currently do sometimes but not every day? Are they things that are going to take time and require you to schedule them (e.g. my Journal Project), or are they things that require only a psychological or philosophical shift (e.g. being fully present)? Is it time to add something totally new to your life, like learning an instrument or a new language? Try to find a balance of ambition and reality; make the list a challenge but not so hard that you are dooming yourself to failure. Just make sure the list speaks to who you want to be, the version of you that you know is in there ready to come out. Leave me a reply and tell me who that person is. I want to know: what’s on your everyday to-do list?

You will come alive just past your comfort zone,

William