Tag Archives: Henry David Thoreau

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!

What Has The World Done To Us?

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” –Oscar Wilde

“Just read a great quote and thought of you.” There is no better way to grab my attention than to start off a message with that line. Of course, I love a good quotation. And I always appreciate when someone not only thinks of me but also makes the effort to let me know. So it warmed my heart earlier this week when that text arrived from my brother, whom I hardly ever hear from. In those milliseconds between sentences, I was already on pins and needles to read the words that brought me to his mind. Here they were:

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”

Those words are the opening line of a book called “The Beast God Forgot to Invent” by Jim Harrison, the guy who wrote the more famous “Legends of the Fall” in the days when Brad Pitt was big.

Let his words sink in.

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”  

When I read those words, something in a deep-down place went, “DING!” Maybe it is because I exaggerate the importance of my brother’s thoughts. Maybe it is the particular place where I am in my life’s journey right now. Or maybe it is because I have always been suspicious of this bargain that our ancestors began and that we have all willingly (and probably unconsciously) joined in. Whether it was one of these reasons or some combination, that quote really resonated with me.

It is a huge, can-of-worms kind of thought, I know, and I am sure you and I could write dozens of letters back and forth to try to unpack the multitude of directions in which it could explode. Difficult ideas like this are the easiest ones to give up on. But, as much as I have tried to ignore this thought over the past few days, it won’t give up. It gnaws at me.

I suppose it is best to flesh out what aspect of “civilization” seems to be weighing on me and why I feel like my existence is threatened with oblivion if I keep buying what the world is selling. The answer is, of course, murky and complex, but if I could pull out a couple of aspects, I would say they are 1) Increasing Busy-ness, and 2) Decreasing Depth of Connections. Both of these point to a shallow form of existence, perpetually chasing the next shiny object. Or, as Harrison says, pissing away our lives on nonsense.

As for the Busy-ness, this seems to permeate all that we do and only seems to be increasing as we get more “civilized”.   When we adults get together, we have boasting contests about how many hours we worked in the last week, as though being consumed by a job and kept away from family and other pursuits were a badge of honor. I see the kids in my neighborhood—including my own—too busy running from one scheduled activity to the next that they cannot find time to just hangout and play.

And what are we so busy chasing? What is so darn important at our jobs and in our cars and at our events?

I am not suggesting that earning money to feed our families is not extremely valuable and necessary, but what I wonder about are the methods we choose and how much more time and energy we give them than they are worthy of.

And I am not suggesting that it is unhealthy to expose our children to lots of different new skills and sports in the hopes that they will stay healthy and find something they are passionate about, but what I wonder is, How much is too much? And also, How much of it is just doing it because everyone else seems to be doing it?

Our current version of civilization is shoving us along at a breakneck pace and seeing to it that we check all the boxes—make money, mind your status, have your kids signed up for every activity, dress right, do it all—for a life that can be deemed acceptable. But just because civilization gives its stamp of approval does not automatically make one’s life fulfilling. Does working all those hours to get rich actually make your life rich? I wonder…..

Don’t get me wrong. I know that working a ton at something that lights you up inside can be totally fulfilling (and sometimes it can even make you a lot of money). I am just wondering if that is the case for most people who are trying to do what the world tells them to do.

For me, I have been in Job Search Mode lately, and I really want to get it right this time and not hate my work. I am having an awful time finding a job description that excites me, even if civilization might have my resumé flying out left and right and taking anything that pays enough to check all of those boxes. I know I am picky, and I know I want it all—no compromises—but this is testing me.

I am beginning to think I don’t fit very well in this civilization. Oh wait, I have always thought that. Carry on!

As for the Decreasing Depth of Connections, I probably don’t need to regurgitate here all of the arguments about how this age of social media has created a world of people who “share” a lot but still don’t know how to actually talk with one another or make a genuine, thick-or-thin commitment. While our screens seem to allow us to reach more people, which I love—it lets me write to you—I also sense that these screens do more to insulate us from each other than they do to connect us with each other.

I also see that in the way we “civilized” people tend to gather in cities. Larger metropolitan areas have so much to offer—a variety of ways to find that career passion I mentioned above, greater diversity, tons of new experiences—making it seem obvious why we have become increasingly centralized throughout history. And yet, I can’t help but notice in my own journey—as a smallish-town kid who has lived in our nation’s biggest cities and is now a suburbanite—that the larger the population center, the more anonymous and disconnected the inhabitants seem to be.

I hope I am just projecting from my own experiences, but it feels like we are getting poorer and poorer at deep, meaningful connection and relationships of quality and substance. Between our electronic insulation and our population-density anonymity, civilization seems to be pointing us that way. Add that to the busy-ness of a life spent chasing through the traffic—vehicular and electronic—in our rush to get to our next event or next “must-see” post or Netflix series or gym class or job opportunity. Before we know it, we will have frenzied ourselves all the way to the end of our lives.

And what will it all look like from that angle? Will all of these shiny objects, these must-see, must-have experiences still look so valuable, so necessary? Or rather, will they look simply like a lot of unfulfilling filler, a lot of “nonsense”?

Maybe all of this doubt and suspicion is just part of my existential crisis stemming from my search for my Next Big Thing. But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a question I only dare allow into my consciousness every several years because I cannot bear to face the inevitable answer.

I just want what Henry David Thoreau wanted when he built his cabin in the woods near Walden Pond: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life.”

Most days, I feel like to do that is to buck all that civilization is requesting of me.

How about you? Is this thing called Civilization helping or hurting your efforts at making a meaningful, fulfilling life? Open up your journal and see where this gigantic topic leads you. If you are like me, you probably won’t be able to tie a neat bow on this one but will turn over all sorts of new stones in your mind while trying. Let your mind and your pen wander. You can write for days on this one. Go back to the Jim Harrison quote: “The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.” What is your immediate, gut-level response to that thought? Is it at all accurate for the population in general? What about for the people in your circle? How about for yourself? To what degree are you “pissing away your life on nonsense”? Does your busy-ness match your fulfillment? How many deep, meaningful relationships do you have that truly make your life worthwhile? What types of things qualify as “nonsense” in your mind? How much of your assessment of this whole idea comes down to something like, “Well, people should just personally choose to live better—pick more noble pursuits, build deeper bonds with others. Civilization has nothing to do with it.”? Which way does civilization lead us? Is our world, our civilization, just a load of empty promises, perpetually selling the glitter of greater busy-ness and broader brushstrokes but really just delivering a shallow existence, devoid of both quality time and meaningful connections? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are we wasting Humanity on nonsense?

Give yourself the gift of Truth,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to examine this thing we have going on here.

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do your best today,

William

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

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.

Sleepwalking Through Life, or Sucking the Marrow Out of It: What Will You Regret?

DSC_0148“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.–Henry David Thoreau

Hello friend,

Isn’t it amazing how differently we see the other ages of our life when we get some years away from them? I think it is safe to say that we all look back at our high school years—the continuous flow of earth-shaking drama weaving its way through every day and every interaction—and think of how silly and insignificant it all was in the grand scheme of things. Most of us—myself definitely included—look at our old girlfriends and boyfriends and laugh at how wrong we were for each other, even though it seemed so right at the time. The years of separation provide fascinating insights (and hopefully some good laughs to go with the invaluable lessons).

I find myself now at a unique junction in the story of my life. The different chapters from past and future are converging in my mind. It is a perfect storm. For one, in The Journal Project, I am studying my daily journals from 1997, which was a truly revolutionary and magical time in my mind and, thus, my life. My foundation of deep and lasting happiness was being built in those days, and reading back through them is again making a deep impact on my current perspective.   The bar was set high.

The second thing brewing is that I am at a crossroads with the different jobs that make up the “career” portion of my little world. Even though it has been a year since I left my original career as a tennis coach, the job I transitioned to has been something of a holding pattern, meant not to fulfill my biggest career aspirations but instead to fulfill my parenting aspiration to give my kids the most of my time and energy. It has worked wonderfully for that, and I am so glad I made the move when I did. However, it is coming to the end of its run, forcing me to take a long look at what I have done and what I could do in the future. I am in one of those moments that will shape the long course of my existence. I want to do it right. I don’t want any regrets.

Needless to say, I have a lot swirling around in my mind these days. I think back to a time almost fourteen years ago when I had to make—and make quickly—a career move. I had just quit graduate school–deciding that it wasn’t the life for me–and needed to figure out what was next. I needed not just a job but something that might be a career. In brainstorming the options, I allowed myself a momentary fantasy of working as a writer, sharing my message with the world and making the kind of difference I hoped I was capable of. Fear and uncertainty squashed that fantasy in a hurry. I knew nothing about how to get into it, and I didn’t believe enough in my talent to bet my future on it. Instead, I turned to my first love and something I had always enjoyed (even though I had never considered it as a possible career): teaching tennis.

I loved it. I had always felt completely in my element when teaching others, and getting to be involved in the best part of someone’s day while sharing my love of the game was immensely gratifying. It was work I could see myself doing for a long time. And I did.

About eleven years down the road, though, my mind began to change. My love for tennis and teaching didn’t diminish, and I was still deeply happy in my life (which, by then, included a wife and two kids). But something that had been dormant was awakening inside me. A giant was stirring. Questions began arising: What is your Bliss? Are you giving your Gift? Are you doing the work you feel called to do? What would you do if money was not an issue? What would you do if you weren’t scared? What is your soul telling you? Soon these questions were all that I could hear? The sleeping giant had awoken. I had to face him.

I started by admitting that even though I enjoyed and appreciated my work as a coach, it wasn’t my true calling. It was a shadow career, something that fills many of the requirements of a calling but is not it. I also had to come to grips with the fact that happiness was not enough for me. I figured happiness was an achievement of the mind and that I was blessed with the ability to be happy in any circumstance. I wanted not just happiness; I wanted fulfillment, too.

I vowed then to listen to my heart. If something made my heart sing, I would follow it. I began The Journal Project with no idea where it would lead me. I just knew I loved it and that it resonated deep down in that place where the giant had been sleeping. And as I read through the daily entries from all of the years of my adulthood, I saw all of these signs that told me—sometimes in the plainest English—that writing and sharing my message was my dream job. I wanted to help people to grow and be their best, happiest selves. I was doing a version of that in my coaching career, but not as fully and directly as I envisioned it when the writing aspect was added to it.

The ship has been slow to turn. It turns out that rediscovering my Bliss did not necessarily make it much easier to follow. I still had two little kids and a job to put food on the table. Time was short, and though I worked hard at it, progress was slow. In trying to keep with my plan of changing lives in a bigger way, I started Life Coach training, which was right up my alley. Then I added the skin care business, hoping this would eventually lead me to more time and financial freedom to pursue my writing. All of this was happening while I transitioned out of tennis and into my current job around my kids’ schedule.   Hence, the slow-turning ship.

And now I arrive at this perfect storm of circumstances: lots of reflection about my past combining with my current job nearing its end. There are large decisions to be made, and uncertainty about the future is rampant. My biggest takeaway from all of this journal-reading is that when I had that moment fourteen years ago to make a career move and chose the more certain route—totally bowing to the fear and self-doubt around my writing prospects—I went into what I can now see was a long period of sleepwalking. Happy sleepwalking, but still sleepwalking. Only when I started questioning myself and the giant awoke did I start to listen to my soul and return to my passion. With The Journal Project and Journal of You, I am getting to the juicy, fulfilling stuff. I hear my friend Thoreau clearly: “It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.

So, can I really do it? Could I achieve the magic double of making a real paycheck AND fulfilling my deepest passions simultaneously? If I let go of my other business ventures and gave all of the available time and energy to the writing, I am quite sure of the fulfillment part. The uncertainty is in the paycheck part. Do I dare bet on myself if my family’s financial stability is the cost? If I don’t bet on myself by doggedly pursuing my purpose, can I live with the alternative? And, perhaps equally important, if I cannot afford to go all-in on the dream, can I keep enough of it alive that I don’t spend the next dozen years sleepwalking? I don’t think I could bear the regret if I re-awoke to this same feeling at age 55. I must get to the marrow!

How about you? How awake are you as you pass through your life? Open up your journal and explore your relationship with your Bliss. What is your Bliss? What lights up your heart and makes your soul sing? What role does your Bliss play in your everyday life? Are you doing it all day in your job or just squeezing it into your spare time as a hobby? It is in there somewhere, right? Whatever your current level of engagement with your dreams and your purpose, how can you make it greater? What kinds of things can you do to make sure it is included in your regular schedule? Is it enough for you to follow your Bliss as a hobby—e.g. writing a blog or volunteering with children on the weekends—or do you feel it is essential that you incorporate that calling into your primary pursuit or career? How big of a leap would it take to turn your passion into your profession? Which is bigger: the psychological risk, or the financial risk? Is simply “being happy” enough for you as a goal for life? And finally, how aware of your dreams and your calling are you on a daily basis? As you can tell, this occupies a lot of space in my thoughts—at least it has for the past few years since I woke up—but I don’t know how it is for everyone else. So leave me a reply and let me know: How conscious are you of your passion and purpose, and how well are you living it?

 This life is your big chance,

William

P.S. If this speaks to you, perhaps it would speak to your loved ones. Share freely.

What Choice Do I Have?

DSC_0893“We are the choices we make.” —Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Hello friend,

When I was a kid, I heard the same thing you did: “You can be anything you want to be.” But, as my youth passed and young adulthood emerged, it seemed that everything was preordained, that I was powerless to Destiny. I would go to college, just like they always said. I would become a doctor, just like they always said. And that’s pretty much how the rest of my life would go. How much of a choice is that, really, when everybody said I was going to do it since elementary school? At 21, I felt like I was stuck in a trap that had been set before I had even hit puberty. My life was on rails going only one way.

And then, I jumped off the track. The straight-A, destined-for-doctorhood guy quit school altogether. It felt like the first time I had ever made a real choice in my life. It scared the heck out of me! It shocked everyone—including me, frankly—and I don’t pretend that I wasn’t a big disappointment to those I loved the most, especially my parents. And yet, as outcast and alone as I felt after making that fateful decision, it was also strangely liberating. There was a freedom in finally ignoring the “shoulds” of all of them—whoever “they” are—and taking the reins of my own life. Yes, in the midst of all of that fear and anxiety about how I could succeed while going against the grain in this world, I felt powerful. I had given myself the greatest gift I had ever known: CHOICE.

That gift emboldened me, and after that I spent a good number of years marching to the beat of my own drummer, choosing a path rich in experience and enrichment. I was floating, really, quite blissful in my empowered state. Years later, I fell in love and found myself feeling enormously conflicted about what to do with that. I feared that making the big commitment to a life partnership would once again trap me into being a giant expectation and that I would spend the rest of my life “shoulding” all over myself. Eventually, I made my peace with the idea, and I instead found some freedom within the form that is Love. It was a good choice.

However, the next phase of adulthood showed me the other way people get out-of-choice in life and get lost. I became sucked into working way too many hours and exhausting myself. My other passions went completely out the door, and the years passed by in a mindless fog. I was well on my way to being one of those guys who was going to blink and be 65, wondering where my life went (if I hadn’t already had a heart attack). I was on autopilot. I was living by default, not by design.

I am so thankful to my daughter for bringing me back to life. Her birth was my re-birth; she woke me up. I got my priorities straight. Work became secondary, mostly just a means to take care of my family. My time and energy suddenly felt very valuable. I wanted to give it all to her. And for the most part, I did. I cut down my work hours drastically, and all other outside interests as well. I was family only. Everything else went to the back burner.

And so, the pendulum swung back the other way. Any foray into marriage or parenthood brings its own set of shoulds, and one’s dreams for himself can become tempered by the dreams of others, or for others. Sometimes you willingly give away your choices. The big decisions to enter these relationships become obligations that both fulfill you and bind you at the same time. I would not go back and choose anything different on the family front, but it certainly has changed the arc of my pursuit of my dreams.

I was really at peace with that trade—some might say “sacrifice”—at least until a couple of years ago. Turning 40 very much changed my perspective and got me back into the mindset of my dreams and my purpose. It literally “re-minded” me. And now I continue to make the choice to put my kids and family first—they are, after all, deeply entrenched with my purpose here on Earth—but I don’t do it mindlessly. I don’t just drift into it without thought. It is also not because of someone else’s “should”. I choose it because I want it. But I am simultaneously aware of what I am giving up in order to prioritize these people so highly.

My other dreams—to be a writer, speaker, and coach—are not allotted much time in my day. That is difficult for me to swallow, I admit. But it is still a choice. And that is also why I choose to drive so hard when I am not doing family stuff. I have chosen to give up most leisure activities and social engagements in order to use what little “spare time” there is to press on with my mission, to follow my Bliss. So, I write my journal every day to know myself better so that I can be more grateful and thus more happy. And I write this letter to you every week, because it means a great deal to me to help you know yourself better and feel more grateful and happy, too. And I take my coaching classes and do my homework to prepare myself even more to help people.

I do all of that so that one day, instead of trying to squeeze my dreams into a couple of hours of spare time to the exclusion of other things that might help me lead a more balanced life, I will actually have a profession of these passions that I can do during the normal work day, leaving the “spare time” for such bucket list items as teaching myself the guitar or creating movies of my kids’ lives. Or, maybe I would just let myself dive into leisure, such as my beloved books or movies. Leisure. Yes, I like the sound of that. That would be a nice reward for some good choices made and executed. Some day.

That is my vision. That is what has driven my recent choices, including the big-picture moves—job changes and a return to school—and the daily choices to fill my schedule and go hard at my passions. I am trying to ignore the shoulds of other people’s plans and expectations for me, trying to listen to the drum that is beating inside of me (in the back of my mind, I always hear my old pal Thoreau saying, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”). I hope I am choosing wisely. I am heartened by the fact that if I fail today, I can wake up tomorrow and choose again. Life is beautifully generous that way. The challenge for me is to accept the offer. Every. Single. Time. That is the best choice I can make.

How about you? Are you living your life by choice? Open up your journal and think about why you do what you do. How much do the expectations of others and obligations—“the shoulds”—play a role in your life? Is it only in certain areas—your career or where you live, for instance—or does it go across the board? How different do you think your life would look without those shoulds? A lot or a little? Do you see marriage and parenthood more as chains that bind people and limit their future choices, or rather as choices they make to express their love and their passions more freely? How much is on each side of that spectrum? To what extent is your life just a mindless routine that you go through the motions of without really making choices anymore? This numbing is, I think, at least partially what Thoreau is referring to when he says, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Does that resonate with you? Are you living by default, or by design? If you woke up tomorrow and decided to design your life from now on, what would be the first choices you would make to be more authentic and purposeful? Are you ready to commit to that? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What choice do YOU have? 

Your life is now,

William

Re-Writing Your Story

IMG_1212Hello friend,

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”  —Henry David Thoreau

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the name “Nobel”? If you are like me, it is the Nobel Peace Prize, won by such notables as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Flashback to the 1880s: if I had asked the people of the world the same question, the answer would have been entirely different. TRUE STORY: Alfred Nobel had the unique experience of reading his own obituary in the newspaper, and it changed the rest of his life and his legacy. It sounds like a great premise for a movie, right? Farfetched, but intriguing. And in this case, true. Nobel, who was a scientist from Sweden, had earned a vast fortune for inventing, among other explosives, dynamite, earning the nickname “The Merchant of Death” for his efforts. He was traveling in France in 1888 when his brother, Ludvig, died. When the French newspapers heard that Nobel died, they assumed it was Alfred and headlined his obituary with “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. It went on to say “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”   When he read his own obituary, Nobel experienced a wake-up call regarding the path he had chosen and the legacy he would rather leave to the world upon his actual death. Apparently, the message was received. In short order, he devoted the bulk of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature. The rest is history. I bet when I asked you what comes to your mind when I say “Nobel”, you did not say “dynamite”.

I have lately been pondering the idea of my own obituary, or at least of my eulogy and the things people who know me would say if I died tomorrow. These eulogy thoughts have stemmed from my recent obsession with identifying my core values and life purpose. After naming my core values—personal growth, self-knowledge, spirituality, family, service, purpose, teaching, and authenticity—I tried to nail down my Life Purpose Statement: “I am a catalyst of Growth, Self-Awareness, and Authenticity.” With those in place, it seemed the natural next step to put them to the test by asking if I was really living in line with my core values and life purpose. Part of that asking involved a sort of inventory of my life. I went through the main areas on the “Wheel of Life”–Career, Family & Friends, Finances, Romance/Intimacy, Health & Self-Care, Social & Fun, Personal & Spiritual Development, and Physical Environment—and wondered how well I was incorporating my core values and life purpose in each.

The answers were revealing and helpful, of course, but nowhere near as helpful as when I began to question the potential content of my eulogy. I wanted to compare what I think people would say if I died tomorrow with what I would want them to say. I also considered what people who knew me best would say versus those who only knew me a little. I wasn’t really concerned about whether I was going to be found to be well-liked or not, but rather about whether or not I made a positive impact. These are some of the things I thought and hoped people would say:

  • “He was an awesome Dad.”
  • “He was always trying to be better, to keep growing.”
  • “He reminded me of my magnificence.”
  • “He was the happiest person I ever met.”
  • “He was intensely curious, always wanting to learn more about everything.”
  • “He wanted people to be their best, and to be happy.”
  • “He challenged you when he thought you were sliding or settling.”
  • “He was honest, but he delivered his honesty with love.”
  • “He was always positive, always optimistic.”
  • “He dared me to disregard opinions and be exactly my Truth.”
  • “He wasn’t afraid to try new things or make mistakes.”
  • “He inspired me to play a bigger game in life and kept me on it.”
  • “He shared his love relentlessly.”
  • “He knew exactly who he was and owned that completely.”
  • “He desperately wanted to make the world a better place to live.”
  • “His family meant everything to him.”
  • “Even as he tried to improve everything, he was so grateful for his life.”

As I write these things, it strikes me that maybe this isn’t what other people would say about me. Maybe it is only what I would say about me. I realize that I probably don’t do a good enough job of communicating who I really am to most people. Even though I want to get out and change the world and change lives one by one, I am an introvert, and sometimes I shy away from sharing my passion for life and for helping people. I tend to lock myself down, to hide my light. Because of this, I know a lot of people who know me would probably say that they had no idea that I had all of these thoughts in me and no idea of who I wanted to be to the world.

For all of my talk of authenticity in my purpose, I surely do my share of hiding myself. I am not faking anything or saying that I am things that I am not. I am just not showing up all the way for most people. It is like the old “Lies of Commission vs. Lies of Omission” issue. I have definitely been clear in my head and heart about who I am and what I am passionate about. In private, I have acted it out. I have made the big decisions and life moves in complete personal integrity, fully aware of my motives, strengths, and weaknesses. I go through my day full of passion for my dreams and projects, such as writing these letters to you every week. But in public, I have generally clammed up. I have not, in my everyday interactions, named and claimed the messages that I am driven to share with the world. In that way, I have fallen out of integrity and authenticity. I have been acting in some situations unlike the person that I know I am inside.

I can see from this that if I am to leave the legacy that speaks truthfully to who I am at my core, I must put myself out there more. I must learn to manage my introversion and recognize that if I truly do think my message is important for the people of the world to receive, it is worth me being a little uncomfortable in order to deliver it. I need to make myself less of the “Oh, I didn’t know that about him” and more of the “Yes, I knew that from the first time I met him” kind of guy. Basically, I need to stop hiding my light. I need to not just know who I am, but also to show who I am. Putting myself and my purpose out into the Universe will draw the right people and circumstances to me, and our lives will change because of it. In that way, I can leave a different legacy and be the author my own obituary and eulogy. I can re-write my story. A better story.

How about you? What is the legacy you want to leave? Get out your journal and think about the impression you have left on your little corner of the world. Whose lives have you impacted most? How much of that impact is positive? What would those people say about you? How different is that than what you would like them to say? Is there something you could do in your remaining time on the planet that could bridge that gap, that could cause them to put new words to your eulogy? How would you change your ways to change your obituary? Would it help you to read your obituary or hear your eulogy now, in the way it helped Alfred Nobel? Consider the things you regret most from your life, or the people you may have impacted negatively. How many of these are wrongs that cannot be made right? If there is still an opportunity to make something right–or even just better–are you willing to do what it takes? In the end, does it really matter to you what other people are going to say or feel about you, or does it only matter how you feel you did? Or perhaps how your God judges you? Which matters most? If you could write a eulogy or obituary about your own life and legacy as it stands now, what would it say? What if I guaranteed you twenty more years here to make a new one with the way you live those years—how would that change it? Leave me a reply and let me know, How would you re-write your story? 

Live the way you want to be remembered,

William

The Legacy of a King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe diem,

William

Show Us Your Beads!!!

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boss/supervisor—Another white bead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate you today,

William