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The Happy Place: Where are your fondest memories?

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” –John Banville, The Sea

Hello friend,

Have you ever had that day when your whole system is simply flooded with memories? You know the day: when every turn of your head reveals yet another precious ghost from a golden time in your life. Have you had that day? I had it just last week.   I think I am still floating there.

My Dad’s birthday was coming, and it just happened to coincide with my kids having a couple of days off of school. So, my siblings and I decided to make the most and venture back to our hometown and the house where we all grew up to celebrate my old man and bask in that rare and precious gift that is time together.

After school on Wednesday, my kids and I loaded up the car and headed across the endless prairie, finally turning into the old cul-de-sac in the midnight hour. We awoke in the morning to the sun shining and the sound of my nieces and nephew playing. It was going to be that kind of a day.

Amidst the morning hum of excitement of all the little ones being together, my sister was the one who instigated the nostalgia-filled day by plopping down on the floor in the middle of the great room with several boxes of old pictures from our own childhood days, when we were the age that our kids are now. Of course, I was sucked in immediately.

The first thing that jumped out at me from the photos was all of the physical things—the changes to my house, my neighborhood, and the people in the photos.

I marveled at the vegetation! When we built the house when I was three, the neighborhood was new and bordered farmland. We had a big yard with a wide parkland behind it between us and the next “addition” of our neighborhood, with a series of ponds connected by a stream splitting the grassy expanse. We had so much space to play! One year we turned the parkland into a multi-hole golf course. The photos showed me why: it was so bare and treeless when I was a kid, both my yard and the park. The pond directly behind my backyard was wide open for us to swim or skate, depending upon the season. Now it is socked in with cattails and lined with trees on one side. Our long, flat yard was the home of most neighborhood games, and the football endzones were between two trees on one end (a bird bath and a tree at the other). Now those trees span the entire width, leaving no room to throw the ball through. Those photos brought it all back, though: the golf, the swimming, the skating, the daily games of football or Capture the Flag or Kick the Can, and the view across the park to my buddy Red’s house, just a quick run across the old red bridge that no longer exists. So many vivid images, so many smiles.

I had a good laugh at how my house—I still call it my house—has changed through the years of photos, too. The linoleum floor made to look like bricks in the kitchen. The spectacular red carpets and wallpaper (so much wallpaper!). The gold sofa that lived for generations in different rooms. The original microwave (which we saved and actually had to use on this trip when the modern one broke!).

Of course, all of the changes in the people and the blasts from the past kept a grin plastered across my face the entire time. There was “the ugly phase” that we all took a turn at, usually in early adolescence. There were the mullets, the wonky glasses, the splendidly awful fashion choices. We did it all!   And there were all of the old friends and cousins, most of whom I have not seen in decades but all whose photos made me smile and laugh. You know, like the shots of my birthday parties, where we would always have the challenge to eat all of our cake—angel food with raspberry sauce–and ice cream without hands.

I messaged a couple of the photos to a few of the old friends, but mostly I lamented that I have lost touch with almost everyone. Still, I was reminded of what a glorious childhood I had, filled with amazing friends and so much family. There in the house that I grew up in—the center of the Universe, it seemed as a kid—those photos had nostalgia coursing through my veins by mid-morning.

I got up from the photos to venture out to the yard to enjoy the children. They had already hooked up with the kids next door—nieces to the very kids I grew up with—and were playing kickball in the yard where I played so many neighborhood baseball games when I was their age. I grabbed my daughter and walked her over to show her the dry stream bed that I crossed every Summer day to get to the tennis courts that were always my happy place. I was a little emotional sharing the memory with her. How do you adequately convey to someone that they are walking right in the footprints of your happiness?

After lunch, we all walked on the road over to those tennis courts. On the way, my sister and I marveled at “the big hill” of our neighborhood, the one that was so big and daunting that we dreaded the thought of climbing it and usually ended up pushing our bikes up. It reminded me of the time when a neighbor kid and I sat sideways on our skateboards with our feet on the other guy’s board and rode down that hill in what I was sure would be the most dangerous feat of my lifetime. My sister and I laughed at how tame that little rise looks now. Perspective.

We arrived at the tennis courts, the site of so many memories and countless hours. Each Summer day, my brothers, neighbor boys, and I would cross the stream and play for hours and hours. I remember nights playing until it was so dark that we couldn’t see the ball until it almost hit us in the face. I thought of all the battles we had. I thought of old Mrs. Wade, who lived across from the courts, hanging out in her garden just in case anyone swore. I laughed at the thought of the Ovind boys, a couple of older, hockey-playing brothers from the other side of the neighborhood who would show up once in a while with their racquets and shout swear words and insults at each other all the way through their grudge match, drawing the ire of old Mrs. Wade. Ha!

I remember meeting another little kid from the other side of the neighborhood there one day. He had called me to arrange a match, and when he showed up, he had the fanciest racquets I had ever seen. I was in awe, as I had just graduated from my wooden racquet to my Mom’s metal one, and his were “boron” (the equivalent of gold, as far as I knew). He talked like he was a pro, too, since he played in real tournaments already. I was completely intimidated by his wealth and experience. Still, I kicked his butt, and he acted like a spoiled brat the whole time, throwing his racquets and screaming enough to get Mrs. Wade outside for a warning glare. I would never have believed that that same punk, about a dozen years later, would become my best friend for life. Life is so weird! Beautiful, but so very weird.

That tennis court is grown over with weeds now, and the neighborhood has built a playground on half of it. Still, the fences are there, and as I sat there on the bench looking out across the old court (and on to Mrs. Wade’s house—she is still there!), I was nearly overwhelmed by all that was flooding my heart and mind. How does a kid from frigid, windswept North Dakota find his home on a tennis court? Sitting there last week, I was so wildly grateful that I did. I was on the verge of tears, but for some reason I laughed instead. Happy tears.

Though it was late in Autumn, the day was unusually warm, giving me the rare gift of a flood of Summertime memories. I don’t get back to my hometown in the Summer anymore—usually just Christmas—so perhaps the avalanche of memories was due to a backlog of Summer images just waiting to be released. Whatever the case, I loved it.

We picked some apples at an old family friend’s house by the tennis courts, then walked home and played basketball in the cul-de-sac where I learned to ride a bike (and later broke my arm falling off a bike while trying a foolish trick).

It was still a balmy, glorious late afternoon when I escaped the crowd and set up my portable hammock in the corner of the backyard, hitched to the tree that marked a corner of the old endzone, the spot of my very first career dreams: the future John Stallworth or Lynn Swann for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I lay there and tried to write in my journal, I kept being distracted by my surroundings. Literally everywhere I turned, a new wellspring of memories flooded my system. I could name who once lived in every house across the park, all the games I had played in the backyard, all the times I had thud-thudded across that old red bridge with my sleeping bag under my arm on the way to Red’s house for a sleepover.

Everything. I remembered it all.

“I have so many emotions swimming around inside of me,” I wrote that afternoon. “It feels that way, too, like my stomach is being used as a pool and the memories and emotions are literally swimming around in there. It is all a lot to process. It knocks me off-center a bit.”

I suppose it is good to be shaken in that way from time to time. As often as I dispense advice about being present and living in the moment, I realize that some of best present moments involve looking back at past moments and having a good belly laugh or a contented grin. Maybe even a good cry.

So I let myself swim. I admit: I am hopelessly nostalgic when the moment sneaks up on me. Often, the memories come to me unbidden, usually when something in a journal entry sparks a happy thought. What I learned last week, though, was that to get the full effect, to be truly flooded with the memory, I need to go to the source. I am just grateful I still have a room there!

How about you? Which places in your world spark the fondest memories? Open up your journal and wander through the settings of your life story. Which spots hold the most memories for you? Your childhood home? A grandparent’s house? Your school? A Summer camp or lake cabin? A park or sports field or theatre where you spent lots of time? A workplace? A vacation spot? A whole town? What about those places draws out so many memories? Is it just that you spent a lot of time there, or was it something special that you did there or the special people attached to the memories? Do your best memories come from the place you spent the most time? Who are the people in your favorite memories? Are they still in your life or just in your memory? How about the place itself? Is the place of your favorite memories a place that you can still return to? When was the last time you were there? When you are there, do the memories come flooding back to you in an overwhelming way? Do you try to take it all in and let it affect you? How nostalgic are you? How much effort do you make to visit places that hold good memories for you? Is there one place in particular that you have never been back to that you would most like to visit again simply for the rekindling of memories? Are you good at going places in your mind and feeling the full effect, or do you need to really be there to relive your best memories well? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where is the place of your favorite memories?

Light up the place where you are,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. And share your memories. Tell your story. It is the best way I know to build bridges across difference.

Growing Pains: Saying Goodbye to the Place You Grew Up

“There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” –Shannon L. Alder

Hello friend,

Last week, my kids and I had our annual “Favorite Week of the Year” trip to the lake to hang out with my wonderful family. It was fantastic, as always, but this time I definitely felt traces of sadness and loss coloring my usual lake-week serenity and happiness. These uninvited feelings came from a prospect that I have been denying for years and years: that we may have finally reached the end of our days at the family cabin.

When I was a kid, two of my great-uncles and aunts had cabins on the clearest, most magnificent lake I knew. It was a lake big enough to get lost on, but small enough to be found again. I would visit them every Summer and have a blast: swimming, waterskiing, fishing for “sunnies,” tubing, and riding a little motorbike in the forest land across the road. It was heavenly. Then, one year in elementary school, in a move that would come to shape my family’s history in so many happy ways, my Grandma and Grandpa bought an empty lot on the same lake, uniting my sweet Grandma with her two sisters.

My Grandpa, a carpenter by trade, did the most amazing thing that Summer: he had all of his grandkids help him build the little garage/cabin that would forever be the home base of the place, remaining an essential structure even as a bigger “real house” was added some years later. We all had hammers and nails and followed my Grandpa’s designs, building walls and rafters where there had been nothing. We slept in tents and campers until we got the roof done, and we used the neighbor’s outhouse until we got plumbing. When it got too hot, we dove off the little dock and had a swim, then got back to work.

What made this such a cool thing that my Grandpa did was not his ingenious use of child labor at the mere cost of a few cans of Mello Yello, but rather that we all grew up to believe that we had a stake in the place. It was ours. We built it.

There is no better way to build a sense of ownership in a place than to build it yourself. I feel it these days with my vegetable garden: I till the soil, plant the seeds, water, and weed, so that when it is time to harvest, I feel a genuine pride in it. It’s my space.

I remember the first place I ever felt belonged to me: it was my house that I grew up in.

We moved to town the Summer before I turned four and rented a place while ours was being built. I didn’t get to hammer any nails in the original building, but I remember being in it before the carpet and paint and fixtures were installed, when it was just bare wood and concrete. I remember riding on the back of our three-wheeler dragging a grate all around the property to remove the rocks from the dirt so we could plant grass. I remember planting the gardens, mowing the grass when it came up, and building a fort under the tree-house my Dad made for us. Inside, I remember owning every nook and cranny of that place when it was finished. That sense of HOME has never left me there, even after 41 years. Every visit rekindles it.

So it is with the family lake cabin, the second place that felt like home to me. Those nails and boards that I pounded made it so, and each Summer affirms it. Home is where the heart is, and mine is certainly there. Looking back at my journal entries there—both from this past week and from all of the other weeks I have spent there over the years—it is plain how much peace and contentment I feel there. How truly home I feel.

This is exactly why it was so unusual to have my normal flow of serene gratitude tinged with a sense of sadness and loss during last week’s visit.

As I was unpacking my bags from the car and loading up the refrigerator for the week, my Mom started talking about how her brother and his wife were interested in selling their share of the cabin (my Grandpa died a few years ago, moving ownership down a generation to my Mom and her brother). She mentioned how none of the “kids” in my generation—my siblings and cousins—were likely to ever be able or willing to own the cabin outright and that now might be the best time to sell it and buy a place of her own with my Dad.

As if my mind wasn’t reeling enough from this news, she even floated the idea that my Dad could even consider selling my childhood home and moving out of my hometown. Nothing definitive, but just the possibility of these developments suddenly loosed the ideas out into the world and sent them rampaging through my heart and mind. It was A LOT to process.

I have told you before that I am deeply nostalgic. While my mind normally is present-focused and also tends to be get quite excited about all of the wonderful things that are upcoming for me, there is also something I just love about memories. Looking at old photos, reading old journals, chatting with friends or siblings about the old days—these things are truly delightful to me. I have never been hung up in the past and or one to hold onto a lot of regret, but I dearly love to reminisce.

My past means a lot to me. That is why I love the old photos and journals. It is also why I so cherish my visits to the lake cabin and the home that I grew up in. So, while I was basking in the peaceful beauty and family fun of the lake last week, in my quiet moments, I couldn’t help but mull the prospect of it being the last time. Maybe I wouldn’t be back to the cabin next Summer. Maybe I wouldn’t be going back to my childhood home at Christmas. Or ever.

It is hard to imagine, actually. These places have always been with me, always been a part of me. They are central characters in my life story. It is hard to see how the story goes without them in it. It makes me sad to try.

What I realize, though, is that this is simply How Life Goes. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t always seem fair. It’s messier than you want it to be. It breaks your heart sometimes. That is all part of the deal. The longer I live, the more I understand that. I am still working on accepting it, but I am at least starting to understand it. It’s called “growing up”, I suppose.

And though the kid in me wants these safe havens to remain frozen in time and available to me for visits forever and ever—just like it wants my parents to be around and healthy forever and ever—the grown-up in me knows that it cannot be so. He even knows that it should not be so. The grown-up knows that it is time for my parents to get a cabin that suits them—not one that suited my Grandpa—if they want a cabin, and to sell my childhood home when they decide they don’t want to be there anymore, regardless of how many memories they (or I) have there. The grown-up knows how to do what is necessary, even when it isn’t easy.

I suppose what I am learning in this little attempt to be an adult is that the better your life has been and the fonder the memories, the tougher it is going to be to let it all go as the years require. The people, the places, the hobbies, the adventures, the passions. The best that I can hope is that whenever I am forced to say goodbye to one, there is a good alternative waiting for me.

It makes me cry a little bit now, though, thinking of all those difficult decisions and moments of surrender ahead of me. Growing up is hard! Necessary, I suppose, but hard. I think the way to go, though, is to live a rich, love-filled life so that every last one of these necessary goodbyes is a tough one, even when you are moving onto something that will in time become amazing.   That is how I plan to do my growing up.

How about you? What things have been most difficult for you to let go of as you have aged? Open up your journal and take a mental walk through your transitions away from things that have always been there for you. How do you handle letting go and moving on? Which things have you definitely said goodbye to so far, whether by force or by choice? Who are the people you have intentionally moved on from? How difficult was that? Who are the people who have been taken from you along the way? How accepting have you been with that? Do you still hold onto bitterness about the unfairness of any of those losses? Do you have passions or enjoyments that you have had to let go of? How about the places that always felt like home to you? Do you have some, like my cabin and childhood home, that you have counted on since you were a kid? Which homes have you had to let go of? Did you get to choose, or was it forced upon you by circumstance? How have you handled it? Did you ever go back to see it, even though it wasn’t “yours” anymore? If my parents ever sell their house—my childhood home—I don’t foresee a reason that I would ever return to my hometown, even though I would miss the house terribly. Would you? What is the one place in your life right now that you will most struggle with letting go of when the time comes? What is so special about it? What are your favorite memories from that place? Are you good at holding them in your heart? Is that enough? I hope you will tell me that it is, because I know I will struggle with the losses that are in my future. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which losses make growing up the hardest?

Maximize the Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please take the time to share it. I think more people need to be reminded to cherish their little corners of the world.

Energy Shots: The Little Things That Make Your Life Better

DSC_0381“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Hello friend,

It seems to me that the recurring theme of my mind, and therefore my life, is “How can I make this better?” I am constantly digging into all of the different ways I spend my time—at home, at work, at play—wondering what I can do to improve the situation and make my life the best it can possibly be. I do it with my thought processes, too. It is nonstop. How can I be more efficient with this? Is this serving my greater purpose? Could I be helping more people? Does this reflect who I want to be? How can I make this more fun? What can I do to reduce the stressful parts of this? Have I seen all sides of the issue? What is it about this that doesn’t feel quite right to me? What is the lesson here? Does this make my heart sing?

As a part of this routine of self-improvement, I find myself spending much of my focus on eliminating energy drainers from my life. I try to clean up all the little things that weigh on me and distract me from the things that matter most. I am trying to clear the path so that it is easier to deliver on my potential, to be my very best. These energy drainers take many forms. At work, it can be my psychological discomfort from not being in command of a certain system, technology issues, stress from being late on a project, an unorganized filing system, or a co-worker’s attitude. At home it can be things like my messy office, a family member’s negative attitude, my children’s maddeningly slow pace in just about every activity (it is the slow eating drives me the most crazy, I have to admit), lack of sleep, difficulty finding time in the schedule for my priorities, and so many more. In every area, it is often about a way of thinking that is not working for me: fear, a negative attitude about something or someone, self-doubt, envy, looking too far ahead, or a simple lack of focus and presence.

Most are little gnats. A few are closer to miseries on some days. But always there seems to be something to tidy up in my physical or mental space. The bottom line: there is certainly no shortage of energy drainers to address. And because I am so determined to clear my path to greatness, I seem to devote the bulk of my time and energy to defeating these drainers.

And then I was sorting through some notes a few days ago, and I came upon a page with some lists on it. These were lists I had made for a personal inventory exercise some months ago but had completely forgotten about. The top half of the page dealt with energy drainers, most of which I have spelled out for you above. My answers were all too familiar, and I kind of rolled my eyes at how I have not solved most of my issues in all this time. Just as I was chastising myself for my ineptitude at cleansing my life of these drainers, my eyes drifted to the bottom half of the page. What I saw there stopped me in my tracks.

There were two columns filled with my handwriting. The first was “Energy Gainers at Work.” The second: “Energy Gainers at Home.” The instructions were as follows: Now list the things that impact your life in a positive way (include activities, people, physical aspects of your environment). Before I even started reading through my lists, the impact had already been made. It was a total “A-Ha!” moment for me: “Of course! Energy GAINERS! Why have I been so focused on the Drainers?” It was like both of my eyes were finally open. I could see the full picture so much more clearly.

Yes, of course it is important to identify the areas of my life that suck my energy unnecessarily so I can try to minimize or eliminate those factors. That is still very important. But it is only half of the picture. And the dreary half at that! It is high time I turned my eyes toward the sunny side of my world.

So, I peeked down those lists of energy gainers and got a real boost. I realized that everything on those lists still exist in my life, and more. So much about my little world is conspiring to lift me up, to give me joy, to free me to be who I want to be!

In my working world, I am blessed with the opportunity to help people on their path to a healthier lifestyle, and I get a real kick out of that. It absolutely puts wind in my sails to watch someone walk away happy and excited to become better. I also have some time to work totally alone, and, as someone who skews toward the introverted side, that time also charges my battery. My schedule is amazingly family-friendly, too, so even on the days when crazy things happen, I never resent the job for the things it robs me of. That is important to me. Finally, and something that I have become more and more invested in, I get to use my skills to help my friends pursue their passion. Doing something for a cause adds life to it, and I feel that. For all of the little drainers that show up there, it is nice to remind myself that the tide is mostly rising.

Of course, life is so much more than work, and my world outside of work is, when I really look at it, a beautiful landscape dotted with springs of joy and inspiration. I am allowed—thanks again to my work—an abundance of time with my kids. When they are not at school, I get to be with them, and this means the entire world to me. They are the essence of the term “energy gainer.” But I have other delights, too, that I revel in when the kids sleep. Creating these letters to you each week in hopes of helping you to be your best—and getting responses from you—absolutely invigorates me. Working on my other writing–whether it is my daily journal entries or my larger work, The Journal Project—is like a meditation for me, putting my mind in exactly the right place of peace. And even though it comes in the wee hours of morning when sleeping would still be fantastic, I am revitalized by my daily exercise as well. Even the physical space of my home, especially having my own dedicated work space with lots of books nearby, is an energy boost for me. A few minutes of meditation work, too.  When all else fails, just going outside and being in the fresh air is an automatic revitalizer. I love that!

I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I write about these energy gainers. They are giving me life just thinking about them! The great realization is that they are here every single day, permeating my little corner of the world. How cool is that!

So, it seems the Universe is not, after all, conspiring against my progress with all of those little gnats that I see as perpetually slowing me down and weighing me down. There are, as it turns out, weights on the positive side of the scale, too. Big ones, and lots of them. My life is full of LIFE!

My task, as I can see more clearly now, is to keep those energy boosters front and center. I must be better at giving them my attention, at extracting all of the joy and inspiration I can from them. I must shine that light more brightly on them than on the energy drainers. And finally, I must be more grateful for them and for the way they allow me to be the very best me that I can be.

How about you? What are your energy gainers? Open up your journal and your mind, and shine a light on the aspects of your life that make your load a little easier to carry. Who are the people in your life that give you a boost just by being in their presence or trading messages with them? Do you spend more of your time with those people or with the people who drag you down? What can you do to spend more time around the lights? Okay, now look at your work situation. Which aspects of your job are meaningful to you and make you feel better? Is it your co-workers, the services you provide, seeing the difference you make, your schedule, or something else? Is it just your paycheck? With all of these things considered, is your work as a whole an energy gainer for you? Now think outside of work, to your home and hobbies. Is your actual space a positive one for you? Do you have a particular room or outside space that energizes you? Which activities make you feel better? Does exercise work for you? Being in nature? Do you do anything artistic? Does socializing energize you or deplete you, or some of each? Is there a musical artist or genre that makes you smile? An author? Where do the people in your home fit into the equation? Are you good at recognizing when you need a little pick-me-up? If so, what is your go-to energizer? Are you good at focusing on the positive aspects of your life, or do you spend most of your time and energy dealing with the negatives? All things considered, is your life well-stocked with energy gainers? More positive than negative? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where do you get your energy shots?

Find the good everywhere,

William

P.S. If this helped you see your life in a different light or reminded you of something you had forgotten, pass it along. Let’s help each other find the bright spots!

What Would It Take To Get You To Move?

DSC_0390“I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question.” –Harun Yahya

Hello friend,

My wife came home from work a couple of days ago looking like she was deep in thought. I said hello, and she said—to me, but also seemingly to herself—“What would it take to get you to move away from here?” I could tell she had been pondering this all the way home on her long commute and was struggling for an answer. Silence ensued as I tried to think of some decent responses. The only two that jumped to mind immediately were the lottery and the super-duper dream job. As I was searching for something more reasonable, she said, “I just happened to hear about an opening for a job like mine, and it got me thinking about why people really leave one place for another and how often they regret it.” She mentioned some friends who had left for a few years and then came back, not aware at the time how much they would miss it and how the grass is not always greener on the other side. My mind was definitely churning for answers by that point, as she had hit a sensitive spot with me.

Her question made me think of my interview I did with my Mom last week in anticipation of her 70th birthday. We were doing a life review and talking about lessons she learned, things she was proud of, and things she would regret. In the middle of it, she casually mentioned—in a way that suggested that I have always known this—that she never really liked the town that she has lived in for the last 40 years (my hometown). My jaw dropped. HUH???? I was blown away. I never knew! In her casualness about it, she added, “But I can’t think of any other place I’d want to be, either.” She rattled off a few of the contenders in the area but none were appealing enough to make a change. Much like my wife’s question this week, I was really left wondering about my choice of town, the one that my kids will always know as their hometown. Just how great is this place? But, more specifically, how tied am I to it? How likely am I to leave in the next 20 or 30 years? What would it take to make me go? Hmmmm…..

When I was young, I moved all the time. I thought nothing of it. Between my 21st and 22nd birthdays, I lived—my definition of “living somewhere” is that I bought mustard at the grocery store there, a sign that I was somewhat settled in and not at a hotel—in five different cities: Grand Forks, ND; Minneapolis; Chicago; Washington, DC; and New York City. Shortly after that, I finally settled in Los Angeles and thought I was done.   A few years later, it turned out I was not done. Cities were then like jobs have always been for me: as soon as my heart wasn’t in it anymore, I had to move on. I moved a couple other times before finally settling here, where I have been—albeit in a few different houses—for the last 13 years. When we bought our current house almost five years ago, we thought of it as our forever house. And, despite the fact that my wife was looking on a real estate website today—old habits die hard–I think we both believe we are here for the long haul.

Or are we? Her question this week—and my Mom’s revelation last week—have me wondering why we are here and just what it would take to get me to leave.

I have never loved it here. I haven’t hated it, either. I just haven’t loved it. There is nothing particular about it that especially appeals to me, nothing that demands to be called Home. I live in a pleasant suburb of a fairly large city that has lots to do. However, I just don’t value the size, and I don’t take advantage of all the cool things about big city life. I can’t stand traffic; it seems like a waste of time to me. And Winter is very long here. It is gorgeous in the Summer—by far my favorite time of the year–but there is so little of it and so much nasty Winter.

In theory, I prefer to be in a relatively small town. I would like to know and trust more of the people around me, the way it seemed my parents did when I was a kid in my hometown of around 35,000 people. I would also, in theory at least, prefer to live either in the mountains or on the ocean, and somewhere with mild to warm temperatures most of the year. So, a smallish city on the beach or in the mountains with lots of active, outdoor options and open spaces. None of those qualities are even remotely close to my current situation! What the heck have I done?

The options certainly change when you get other people involved in the decision. Suffice it to say that I would probably not be living here right now if it weren’t for my wife and kids. And I DEFINITELY would not be living here right now if it were not for our extended families. They have shaped everything.

Living in a city this size is one of my wife’s ideals. Part of that is something we both desire, which is racial and ethnic diversity. We are a multi-racial family, and it is important to us to at least be in the same town as people whose ancestors do not all hail from Northern Europe. In most cases, with size comes diversity. So, here we are in the city! The reason it is this city, though, instead of one in a warmer climate or on an ocean—or even a more diverse one—is the reason that seems to trump all of the others: FAMILY. The proximity to both sides of our family and the ability to see them all frequently is the reason we came here, and it is the reason we have stayed. It means so, so much to me to be within a day’s drive of my parents and siblings, including both my childhood home and the lake cabin/family gathering place. I love that my kids’ favorite times of the year are when they gather with their cousins, and I so appreciate how well they know their grandparents. We just couldn’t pull off this combination anywhere else.

So, what would it take to get me to leave? Any old job opportunity wouldn’t do. It would have to be an absolute dream job—like writing or public speaking on topics of my choice—that also came with an obscene amount of money and time freedom to allow us to come back this way frequently to visit our families. Or, if my wife got a job that paid so well that I could work only on my passions at home and, again, we could easily and frequently visit family. Or, yes, the lottery would still be nice, I admit! All of the possibilities seem to involve 1) a dream job opportunity, 2) lots of money, and 3) the necessity of easy access to family. Short of that, I think I am a lifer. For better or for worse!

How about you? How tied are you to the place where you live? Open up your journal and share what it means to you to live where you do. What brought you there in the first place? How much choice did you have in the matter? What were the things that appealed to you when you first arrived? How have those things changed, and do you still value them the same way? What are the things about your home that you see as positives now that you didn’t think about when you first moved there? How much does proximity to family play a part in your choice of location? Is just knowing they are around enough, or do you really make the effort to see them often? If you took family out of the equation, what kinds of qualities matter most to you when you consider your ideal hometown? What kind of climate would you prefer? How about the landscape? Population? Diversity? Proximity to “culture”? Which of these carries the most weight? How long do you think you will live where you do now? Forever? Can you name one place in the world right now that you would definitely move to, even if it involved a very similar lifestyle to the one you lead now? What is it about that place? Why haven’t you gone there already? Leave me a reply and let me know, “What would it take to get you to move?”

Dream big,

William