Tag Archives: Guilt

Hurricanes & Health Care, Russians & Racists: How do you deal with it all?

“Perhaps there could be no joy on this planet without an equal weight of pain to balance it out on some unknown scale.” –Stephenie Meyer, The Host

Hello friend,

I got a big jolt on Monday night right before I fell asleep. I was in bed doing a very quick perusal of the day’s news on my tablet before I was to begin my usual book reading that always knocks me out. I popped on the ESPN app and noticed a picture of the Dallas Cowboys kneeling in a national anthem-themed protest, the last of many that seemed to gobble up all of the oxygen over the weekend. Then I flipped over to Facebook, and one of the first things that came up on my Newsfeed was a post from Dan Rather, who was sharing his thoughts and a photo slideshow about the devastation in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. His thoughts are always poignant, and they led me to click on the link to the slideshow. What I saw was absolutely heartbreaking, an island decimated by the storm and so many of my fellow Americans without power, water, or help from a country that had just spent the last couple of weeks falling over itself to help the people and communities ravaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

It was quite a jolt, as I said. It was bedtime, though, so I forced myself to let it go and get to sleep. The jolt came right back to me the next morning, though, as I began my breakfast. My first, almost-panicked thought was, “Did I forget to share that slideshow??? People need to know!!” So I opened up Facebook on my phone, found it again, and shared it.

As the day went on, I was increasingly fascinated by my intense reaction to the images from Puerto Rico. Not my sadness or my empathy—that part was totally normal for me. The part that intrigued me was the terror I felt at missing this important news while it was happening. I realized that my panic at not absorbing the full extent of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on my fellow human beings was borne out of one thing: GUILT.

How could I have given those poor folks in Texas my emotional investment one week during Harvey, and those poor folks in Florida my emotional investment the next week during Irma, but then hardly notice when these poor folks in Puerto Rico were in even worse condition last week?  

I was very disturbed by this. My conscience was definitely eating at me. I felt like I had failed my moral obligation by not paying closer attention and lending my positive thoughts and my voice through my writing and social media posts, if not through direct monetary donations to the cause. I try to give voice when people are in need, to raise awareness and empathy, hopefully leading to both emotional and monetary resources being lent. But I had definitely let this one slip past me.

I started questioning my focus, looking for reasons why I had let my guard down and missed lending a voice to people who clearly needed all the help they could get. Maybe I was just looking for a good excuse. If I couldn’t get relief for my guilty conscience, I at least wanted an explanation to settle my mind.

I didn’t have to look far. It was right there in my journal entries and my social media posts and shares. I had spent the last several days deeply embedded in the controversy around the national anthem protests. This has actually been a pet project in my head for the last year, but it seemed to overtake the nation last week in the wake of the President’s incendiary comments and the reactions by football teams. It was a firestorm, at least in the view of the media that ultimately decides which topics will gain the most buzz and largest viewing audience.

I, of course, got into it. As I said, I latched onto this topic with Colin Kaepernick a year ago and have become increasingly invested, so I have read a lot about it, from both the historical and factual side of it as well as the many opinions swirling about. So, even though I think that much of the reaction from NFL teams was hypocritical and more of a response to the attack by the President rather than actual concern for injustice against people of color, I took advantage of the attention the topic was getting again and shared what I thought were some solid, helpful articles on social media. My attention and emotions were definitely on the topic, anyway. And since they were there, they were NOT in Puerto Rico. So, I missed it (or nearly so).

By way of excuse-making, though, it was totally obvious that nearly everyone missed it. The coverage on all of the networks and news outlets seemed as focused as I was on the national anthem and NFL’s response to the President. It was the media-driven firestorm that distracted us from the real storm in Puerto Rico and the desperate American citizens trying to survive in its wake.

I am definitely not trying to blame this on the media. They have taken more than their share of criticism this year, much of it unfair. Still, it is fascinating to me how completely dialed into the coverage of the previous hurricanes in Texas and Florida they were and then how clearly NOT dialed into this one they were.

I have no doubt that the NFL’s battle with the President over the national anthem is more sensational for the media to cover than the third consecutive week of hurricane coverage—is “hurricane fatigue” a real phenomenon?—but this situation in Puerto Rico is beyond tragic. I know that by the middle of this week it finally gathered some traction in the news, but we were all about a week late on this one. And when you are dealing with the health and welfare of fellow human beings—not to mention fellow Americans—that is a full week too long.

I know my guilty conscience was earned, but I think I am not the only one who should be feeling those pangs.

My point here is not to wallow in that guilt or to make you wallow in it—really, it’s not–but really to wonder about our responsibility toward the events of the world around us and how spread out our emotional energy amongst the wide array of issues.

Living in America in 2017 with the President that we have, it feels like one crisis or drama after another. We don’t need actual hurricanes to stir up our fears and our outrage or engender empathy toward people getting a bad deal; we have human-driven storms already (dozens of them) for that. We are living a storm! At least that is how it feels to me.

So, after I have used my journal or my wife or Facebook or whatever as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on for things like anti-Muslim travel bans, threats of the loss of health care, Nazis and White supremacists marching in our streets, Russian corruption of our government, the killing of another unarmed Black person by police, or the White House denying climate change, it is hard work to then add forest fires (the thing that no one paid attention to before they weren’t paying attention to Puerto Rico) and three consecutive hurricanes to the emotional load I am carrying.

I know some of those are things to be outraged about and some of them are things to feel empathy about—and some are definitely both—but what if my outrage and my empathy get emptied from the same barrel? It feels like I only have so much emotional energy to give these dramas, and whether it is my heart breaking for the people in Puerto Rico or my outrage at the government’s slow response to it, I feel like it is all draining that barrel.

I just don’t know what to do about it. I want to be here for my world, an active participant in fighting injustice and helping those in need. But, just like last week, I feel like if I keep my eye on one ball, the others all fall out of the sky. I hate the helplessness and guilt I feel when that happens. I just don’t know how to spread it out the right way.

How about you? How do you spread your emotional energy around in these turbulent times? Open up your journal and write about the issues that move your needle and your process for balancing them in your head and heart. What types of things in the world get you stirred up? Presidential tweets and character issues? Racial injustice? Health care? Humanitarian crises? Forest fires? Religious persecution? Terrorism? National anthem protests? White House firings? Hurricane damage? Congressional ineptitude? Climate change denial? Taxes? Potential wars? White supremacists? Are your hot button topics more things that make you feel sad and empathetic, or things that make you feel outraged? Do you think that these things draw from the same well of energy? That is, does depleting your supply of one leave less of the other, at least at the temporarily? Do you ever feel bad that you emptied your barrel on “outrage issues” rather than “empathy issues” or vice versa? How big is your capacity to spread yourself amongst all of the issues that seem to run roughshod over our world today? Are you able to stay updated and also engage with them all emotionally? If not—and you are human, so I am guessing you cannot—how do you manage your attention and distribute your emotions according to your priorities? Are there certain issues (e.g. politics) that you just avoid altogether? Do you take “timeout” periods when you basically bury your head in the sand to replenish your heart and mind for the inevitable next round of drama? Do you “tagteam” the issues with friends or family members so that you can share the burden and use each other for emotional support? Do you feel guilty for “missing” an issue—like my lateness to Hurricane Maria—or do you see that as necessary for survival? Are most of these issues as big as we make them out to be, or are we overblowing them? Has the news media gotten us all hooked in their web by making so many things seem so urgent and necessary for us to attend to (then immediately moving on to something else)? I would love to hear how you spread yourself out, because obviously I am struggling with it? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distribute your empathy and outrage in these emotional times?

Be Peace first,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it with others. Let’s support one another!

Becoming Okay With BUSY

DSC_0235“I don’t envy ‘busy’. Busy means having a schedule, not living life. What I really covet is leisure and peace of mind. Those who have both, have it all.” –Donna Lynn Hope

Hello friend,

Being busy is becoming like being a slave to your smartphone and disconnected from real interactions with humans. These are supposedly the defining characteristics of we Westerners in the modern age. This is what the older generations shake their heads at us about. This is what yoga teachers, preachers, and bloggers try to cure us of. We are overscheduled, they say. We don’t take time to stop and smell the roses, much less to plant and tend them as they grow. They say we are buried in our screens and always on the go-go-go because we have lost the ability to make essential human connections, especially within ourselves. We go because, they say, we fear what we would find in the stillness of leisure and quietude. We are made to feel guilty for our busy lifestyles.

I admit it: I have bought into all of the guilt-mongering. I feel bad for how busy I am. I arrive at the end of each day and the end of each week feeling as though I have somehow failed in my duties as a human being because I didn’t build some leisure into the schedule, some time to completely shut off my brain and relax. I see all the posts on Facebook about the many great TV series that everyone else seems to be binge-watching. I hear about sitting around after work having a glass of wine. My brother-in-law takes long naps almost every day. When these tales of leisure arrive at my brain, it simply does not know how to process them. It is like a foreign language to me. Having that kind of time available to burn on casual pastimes just doesn’t compute. Idleness truly blows my mind.

It is not as though I feel any disdain for all of the people who are incorporating idle leisure into their daily routine—not at all—but rather that I am in awe of them. I am inevitably left asking myself, “How do you do that???” I just cannot comprehend how there is time available for that when I seem to be rushing from one task to the next from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I start drifting off at my desk and have to lug myself up the stairs to bed to prepare for the next day’s gauntlet. I suppose I am a bit jealous of the television watchers, wine drinkers, and nappers—leisure sounds quite lovely, actually—but I am more dumbfounded than anything else.

It is not just the question of, “Where does the time come from?” Even amidst people’s busy lives, for most it seems there are hours before or after work when the magic happens. I guess it is more about, “How does your conscience allow you to take that time for leisure, for idleness?” As I write that, I can see that this is truly the rub for me. The conscience. That little character on my shoulder—I can’t tell if he has a pitchfork or a halo—must have killed his counterpart, because I only seem to be receiving one impulse. That is, to keep plugging away. Do the next thing on the list. Become more efficient. Don’t waste time. Learn. Grow. Improve yourself. Do it. Do it! DO IT!!! The message is relentless. That little guy sure is persistent!

So I go, and I go, and I go some more. All day. Every day.

Don’t mistake me: I don’t want to make it seem as though it is a miserable slog to get through. It isn’t as though I am not doing things just for me or taking care of myself. I really am. I get some exercise. I write in my journal every day. I write this weekly letter to you. I spend a ton of time with my kids, whom I adore. And even though my occupation is not exactly my dream job—I am working on that, too, of course—it works great with my kids’ schedules and gives me the opportunity to fill the rest of my day with so many other things that are important to me. I am quite spoiled, frankly.

But still, each one of my many wonderful things must be done. I must get the exercise; it is non-negotiable. I must have all of that time with my kids until they fall asleep at night. And then, I must write in my journal. I must keep plugging away at starting my new businesses. I must get some pages read before I fall asleep. I must write this letter to you on time every week without fail. These things are all very difficult to squeeze into each day, and I inevitably fail and feel guilty for that failure. It is an endless cycle.

And then there is the long list of things I really, really want to get onto the Must-Do List. These are things that I truly believe are important enough that I should do every day—call it the Should-Do List–but that I cannot seem to make onto the Must-Do List, and because that list is already overfull, these items never seem to make it onto the day’s docket. Meditation, which I find to be extremely important, is on the Should list. There are a million books on this list, including the hundreds on my shelves. I have always longed to learn the guitar, and I even have the instrument and instruction manual in my office. That should be done, even just a few minutes a day. I should make much more time for Life Coaching sessions. I definitely should enroll in some new classes. I should hang out with my wife more. The list goes on and on. And, oh yeah, I should build in some time for leisure.

Ah, leisure. There it is again. As part of my Life Coach training, I had to receive coaching from my peers. The only topic that I could ever think of was, “How do I maintain my ambition for self-improvement but also build leisure into my schedule to achieve some sort of life balance?” The only allowance I ever seemed willing to grant myself was to carve out one night per week to hang out with my wife after the kids went to bed, to watch a movie or play a board game or whatever. I figured that would kill the two proverbial birds with one stone by combining the marriage time and the leisure time, thereby eliminating this built-up guilt from living an unbalanced life. It worked! For about two weeks. Then I drifted back into my usual busy-ness and imbalance. And then the guilt about the busy and imbalance.

What can I say? I think that what I am coming to, though, is letting go of the guilt for being busy. I mean, it is not as though my kids are overscheduled and going like crazy every day. And it’s not as though I am busy with useless things. I am busy doing the things that I love (minus the day job, maybe). I am in constant pursuit of my dreams and self-improvement. That can’t be the worst thing in the world, right? Yes, I know I have to do better about getting more of those Should-Dos—which includes some pretty leisurely things, like the guitar and the meditationonto the Done list. I know I have to make that time with my wife. But I also have to make peace with the idea that I will never stop trying to learn, grow, and improve. I will be busy until the day I die in the feverish pursuit of my dreams. I realize more and more every day—with so much help from my journal—that I am just hooked up this way. I landed on this Earth hard-wired for ambition and personal growth; it is not something I can undo. So what if it keeps me feeling more busy than everybody else? I am learning to live with that. What I want is to feel authentic, true to myself and my purpose. I could try sitting around this evening drinking chardonnay and watching “Orange Is The New Black” or “Game of Thrones”, but I know that no matter how great those things are, I would find myself stressing about wasting my time and how many other things I am missing out on that are more important to me. In the end, I have to be me, even if Me is a guy whose daily To-Do List is longer than the day itself.

How about you? How busy are you? Open up your journal and think about the role of dreams and ambition in your life. How ambitious are you? Are you constantly striving to improve your life, or are you pretty content where you are now? Of your non-working “spare” time, how much of it do you spend on personal growth versus leisure activities? What are your favorite ways to pass the time? As someone who knows none of the current television shows or movies, do you have any recommendations to me that I could make my one guilty pleasure each week? How much do you wrestle with yourself about the way you spend your time? Are you ever bored or can’t think of anything to do? Of course, my first impulse is to ask “What is that like?” because I simply cannot imagine it. Even if you don’t have the same constant force nagging at you that I do, does it seem like it would be a blessing or a curse? I sometimes wonder. What is on your daily Must-Do List? How about your Should-Do List? How often do you get to your Shoulds? Does it annoy you that you don’t, or are you good at letting it go? I am terrible at letting it go. How driven are you to do more? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is what you do enough for you?

Be relentlessly YOU,

William

Taking a Moment to Say “Thanks!” Instead of “Please???”

IMG_2404“We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.” –Neal A. Maxwell

Hello friend,

“DEAR GOD, I WANNA TAKE A MINUTE, NOT TO ASK FOR ANYTHING FROM YOU, BUT SIMPLY TO SAY THANK YOU FOR ALL I HAVE. –SHARE IF YOU ARE THANKFUL”

This was the first meme that popped up on my Facebook Home page this morning when I was laying in bed. For whatever reason, I instantly felt guilty. I suppose I am no different than most folks who have grown up with the concept—whether through our parents and grandparents, or, more likely, just too much television and movies—of God as wish-granter. We pray for our team to win, for our friends to travel safely, for our child to make the team, and for ourselves to get that new job. We ask our Higher Power for that stuff. We usually ask nicely, too, starting most requests with “Please God….” Even if we didn’t grow up in a very religious family, the God-as-wish-granter theme permeates our culture. If we really, really want something, we ask God. We call it prayer. 

I don’t pray a lot. Well, not in the traditional, down-on-my-knees-at-bedtime kind of praying. It is probably because my concept of God is a little different than the usual one (see my post “Who Is God?” from December 2015). I believe deeply in God as All There Is, including you and me. I believe that all of the Universe is Divine. This doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to pray; it just changes the context of the conversation a bit. You might even say it makes a prayer out of everything I think, say, or do. When I have my occasional direct words aimed at God as seemingly something outside of me—what most folks would recognize as my nearest thing to traditional prayer—it definitely is all about gratitude. I don’t make direct requests. I give direct thanks, usually for a simple but beautiful moment where the Divine just seems to permeate every bit of the moment. More often than not, it is when I am either observing Nature’s beauty or watching my kids be the miraculous little creatures that they are. Sometimes it simply overwhelms my heart, and I just whisper, “Thanks, God.” Those are my conversations with God.

Even though traditional prayer is a rarity for me, because of my worldview that holds everything as fully God, it may be reasonable to conclude from that that all of my thoughts, words, and deeds are a form of communication with God. When I hear of a religious extremist’s story of withholding medical treatment from their suffering child, preferring instead to “leave it in God’s hands,” I usually find myself shouting at the screen, “But YOU are God, and so is the DOCTOR and the MEDICINE! Please pray, of course, but DO SOMETHING! To not try to save your child is actually taking it out of God’s hands, not the other way around! Your hands are God’s hands!!!” I know that is not how everyone sees things, but my view shapes my perceptions.

With that said, and if my thoughts and actions are my form of communication with God, then I am totally guilty of making my prayers into Wish Lists rather than Thank You Notes. Almost always I am in STRIVING mode. I am thinking about or doing something that is about me striving for something else. Something more. Something better. I am trying to get out of this situation and into one that speaks more truly to who I am and what my dreams are. I can be pretty single-minded about it, too. The translation of this—given my concept of God—is essentially that I am not grateful for where I am and I want to get out of here. In regular prayer terms: “Please God, rescue me and bring me the type of success I desire!”

That is the source of the quick jolt of guilt I received when I read that Facebook post this morning. It hits me on a parallel to the way it hits other people, even though we pray differently. I am just as guilty as making my prayer a request rather than a “Thank You.” Seeing that more clearly now is a great reminder for me to become more about the NOW. It means that I can, even in the midst of my striving for better and more, become more fully present and aware of all the wonderful gifts in my life as I now know it. I think of the health of my family, which has been really, amazingly good throughout my life (knocking on my desk right now!). I think of my convenient work schedule and the corresponding opportunity to spend so much time with my kids. I think of my ability to share my words with you and others all over the world. I think of all the freedoms I have because I live in America, and all the comforts I enjoy—clean water, safety, a warm home of my own, to name a few—as a middle-class member of this society. These are all things well worthy of my deep and abiding gratitude, and not just once in a while. To fail to become more aware of these fabulous gifts—and thus more consistently grateful—would be a show of immense disrespect to my beautiful life and the magnificence of the God I believe in.

It doesn’t have to mean that I must stop striving to improve my life and the world around me, however. Even in my haste to improve myself and my station, I can still acknowledge and honor the wonder of the gifts I am presently living with. The concepts of Striving and Gratitude do not have to be mutually exclusive. They don’t have to compete with each other. So, I can take time to step out of my actions—the bulk of which are Striving things—to say “THANK YOU,” which is a Being thing. I can be both grateful and ambitious. I can say prayers of thanks and do acts of ambition. Oh yeah, and I should probably take a few moments to just sit and BE. To stop thinking and striving. To just ENJOY. That sounds like it would be okay, too. I am pretty sure God is in that silence, too. I will meet Her there.

How about you? How do you pray? Open up your journal and think about your relationship with your Higher Power. What is the tone of most of your communication? Are you usually there to ask or to thank? What do you ask for? Big, general things, like world peace or an end to hunger? Or smaller, specific things, like your blind date to go well or the weather to be nice? Do you feel guilty asking for things for yourself? If everything you do is actually a prayer about how you want your world to be, what is your lifestyle saying about what you desire the most? Are your actions more grounded in the present, or are you like me and often focused on building your someday? How often do you consciously thank your Higher Power, for either your life in general or a specific stroke of good fortune? Do you believe in a God that picks and chooses which prayers to answer, which wishes to grant? Do you think that showing more gratitude would make God more likely to answer your prayers? On a spectrum from All Requests to All Thanks, where do you land regarding your conversations with God? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you grateful for today?  

Personify abundance in all you do,

William

If Money Was Not An Issue…

DSC_1066“Making money isn’t hard in itself… What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.” –Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind 

Hello friend,

My life coaching classes have really gotten me thinking lately. Stirred up might be more accurate. You see, one of a coach’s best tools is a powerful question. A powerful question can make you see things in a totally new way, a way that might suddenly provide wonderful clarity on a topic that you have long been struggling with. Often, a coach’s questions cause you to look more deeply into your heart and mind to figure out what really makes you tick and what you really want to do with this wonderful gift called Life. What I have recently discovered is that the question that best grabs me by the collar and throws me up against the wall in its demand to be addressed is, “If money was not an issue, what career would you pursue?”

Of course, it is easy for my mind to run wild upon hearing this question. I mean, “If money was not an issue…” can easily translate into fantasies of living on the beach in Aruba. Who needs a career if money is not an issue, right? So, I must clarify the question. “If you were to make AS MUCH AS YOU DO NOW DOING ANYTHING….” or “If you made ENOUGH TO BE COMFORTABLE-BUT-NOT-WEALTHY DOING ANYTHING…” seem to put it in better perspective for me. The other way that helps me—the husband and parent part of me–get to my most pure answer is, “If you had no wife or children that you felt compelled to provide time, energy, and money for, what career would you pursue?” That one really helps me crystallize the issue, because I wasn’t much bothered by being broke as a single person, but I don’t want that for my wife and kids.

In any case, all of these versions of this question, at their core, simply ask, “WHAT IS YOUR BLISS?” What is your dream? What career thought absolutely lights you up inside? What is your calling? What job will most help you give your unique gift to the world? This topic—following your dreams–is probably my most favorite one in the entire universe. I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame, completely compelled by it. I feel so passionate about it for myself and for others. I could certainly write a post to you every week on this topic. I know it is why I have been drawn to life coaching as well. I just really want to see people living in the light of their own Truth by listening to their soul’s calling and following their Bliss. That is the key to living authentically, and I am nothing if not a fan of authentic living.

For me, then, the trouble with this supremely important question—What does your Bliss look like? (and no excuses allowed)–is that it is a trap. It compels me to live out my answer or else feel like a fraud, an untruthful version of me. I just find it so necessary to follow whatever my answer to this question is, because that seems to be the only way to live truthfully to my calling and purpose. After all, I know what my values are. To maintain my integrity, I must be able to answer to the man in the mirror. Living my Truth is the only way I can look that guy in the eye for any sustained period. Thus, I feel even more emboldened to follow my Bliss and live out my dreams. I start plotting my future as a writer, speaker, and coach as though it is the most natural and obvious thing to do–starting immediately, of course!

But then guilt or humility or the voice of Society smacks me back with a “Who are YOU to get do whatever you dream?” and a “Be realistic!” I start to wonder if I am just being a selfish, spoiled guy—which I am, of course—expecting everyone else to make allowances for me to live my dreams. I wonder if my sense of entitlement—the “How could I NOT get to chase my calling? How DARE you stand in my way?” feeling—is justified. Because, really, who else is following their Bliss? Is there really anyone else out there who has not been forced to settle for less in order to keep the lights on or the spouse satisfied? Why should I be so lucky?

But then the relentlessness of my Truth comes roaring back. Along with it comes my dogged determination to not settle for less in my life, to never give up on my endless quest to learn more, grow more, BE MORE, and in that, to be completely and truly ME. This feeling—and indeed, even the logic behind it—wins me over every time I ask myself this most powerful of questions.

I understand that it may seem selfish. Believe me, I have felt the guilt from that jab from my conscience. But I really do think—in theory—that people should be following their Bliss, going after what lights them up inside. It just so happens that it is a lot more convenient to do that when either A) no one else is counting on you for food and shelter, or B) your partner is not simultaneously taking the same kind of risks. I truly want my wife to be happy and fulfilled and following her Bliss. But I secretly hope that her current, stable, insurance-granting job makes her feel that way so that I can continue on my uncertain, not-yet-profitable pursuit of my own dreams. Oh, the ways my mind has to twist things in order to live as though money is not an issue!

How about you? How well are you doing at chasing your dreams? Open up your journal and answer the question for yourself. What do you most want to do with the rest of your work life? Are you doing it now? Are you even in the ballpark? If not, what are the main factors keeping you from following your Bliss? I know that, for me, Time and Money are my biggest, most overused excuses (Time being my favorite crutch), but get creative and specific with your challenges. What is really holding you back? Once you have identified your calling, how patient are you in needing to see results? How do you manage expectations? I really battle myself about this. While in my most generous moments, I appreciate that I write to you every week and that I am taking classes for coaching and thus am working toward my goals, most of the time I am kicking myself for not being “successful” yet and wondering why I can’t just drop my other work to devote all of my time to what I am most passionate about. How entitled to your calling and the pursuit of it do you feel? Which of your current responsibilities or commitments would it be reasonable to let go of to give yourself more time to pursue your dreams? Do you dare announce your dreams to the people around you? Most of us are too afraid to tell others what we really want to be, because revealing that leaves us open to judgment, both about our dreams themselves and about not living them. How much do you share? Are your loved ones supportive of your pursuit? In H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s book P.S. I Love You, he says, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I bet that something—some long-buried dream–jumps into your mind when you read that. Don’t ignore it. Honor it. Consider it.   Then leave me a reply and let me know: If money was not an issue, what would you be doing? 

You are worthy of a big dream,

William

Show Us Your Beads!!!

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boss/supervisor—Another white bead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate you today,

William