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When 50 Years Is Forever But No Time At All

“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” –Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

Hello friend,

All week long I have been ruminating on the life of Martin Luther King. Well, I suppose it is more like 30 years that I have been ruminating on him. Ever since that day I walked into the library of my high school bent on satisfying the intense curiosity I felt about this man, a fascination that none of my teachers and textbooks had quenched. I read and read, and as I did, the feeling grew that I had found my soulmate across the ages. We were connected somehow, like cosmic brothers. Timelessly so.

My hero was murdered 50 years ago.

FIFTY YEARS!!! That feels like an eternity to me! But even for someone as resonant and consistently present in my life as Dr. King has been, “his time” still feels so long ago and so much before mine. In so many ways, I cannot believe it was only 50 years ago that he died!

I think of all those images in still photographs and grainy video. The fire hoses and dogs, the lunch counters and sidewalk beatings, the policemen’s billy-clubs, the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, the many sermons in churches across the South, and the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall for the “I Have A Dream” speech. I always see the Civil Rights Movement in black-and-white. Some time long before me, just like the Great Depression and World War II and Charlie Chaplin. Ancient history.

But the truth is that Dr. King was right before me, and his time bumped right up to my time. He was murdered in April of 1968. My sister was born the very next month. My goodness, I have never realized that! It shocks me now that I do. Even though I can see the dates in my head and I understand it to be true, somehow my mind just won’t absorb the concept.

I nearly shared an era with Martin Luther King.

I am so stricken by that realization just now. In my mind, it was such a stretch to connect us, at least from a practical standpoint; I felt him in my heart, of course, but he was always a character from such a completely different time, as much as my other major influences: Gandhi, Buddha, Henry Thoreau, and Jesus of Nazareth. Fifty years could have just as well have been 500! It always seemed so far before me.

Everything about the 1960s has felt that way for me: Woodstock, JFK, the moon landing, even Vietnam, which went into the 70s. I see now that everything before me feels like ancient history.

And just the concept of FIFTY YEARS seems like forever. It’s so big!

I guess that I fail to realize that I am 45 years old. That is nearly half a century itself. Maybe the fact that I cannot imagine myself as being 50 sheds some light on why I see Martin Luther King as nowhere near my time.

I think this type of view changes with age. At least it has for me. I know that I have made an effort in my adult years to expand my range on this, to make more real the idea that 100 years and 200 years and things like slavery, the extermination of the Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, and the right of women to vote, that none of that was actually very long ago. I have done it intentionally so that I can keep my empathy and be on the alert for narrow-mindedness and entitlement. It is a process that I have mixed results with, occasionally grasping the close proximity of these events to me, but usually not. I take a lot for granted.

The fluctuating nature of my grasp on this concept of Time seems directly proportional to the level of wisdom that I operate with from day to day. When I am clear how near all of this stuff is to today–a blink of an eye, historically–then I am more aware of how important it is for me to use my voice and my life for good and to speak up immediately and passionately against ignorance and injustice, as those things can quickly gain a foothold and wreak havoc on a generation of unsuspecting souls.

I feel like I owe it to my children and future grandchildren to take the long view and realize just how brief a half-century is, how near we are to the previous one, and how quickly the next one will pass. It pushes me to take ownership of my era, to try to leave a better legacy than my generation seems to be allowing to transpire right under our noses.

I don’t want my future grandchildren to look back at this time–my time–and think, “What fools and cowards those people were in that age! How badly they behaved toward one another and toward the planet! They nearly destroyed everything, and barely anyone spoke up on the side of right. How short-sighted they were. Thanks goodness we know better!” I hope that we can see and confront the error of our ways in the present and leave a better legacy than we are on track to.

Fifty years goes by in a blink. That’s what my mother tells me. We can do a lot of good or a lot of bad in that amount of time. When I think about those black-and-white images from the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s death–and when I remind myself that that was only one blink ago–I understand the kind of seismic shift we can make in the next blink, one way or the other. Dr. King and every other brave person who spoke, marched, and bled for civil rights in the 1960s made all our lives immeasurably better. But our potential for greater things is limitless. There will not come an era when it will be acceptable to say, “Okay, we have done enough to improve the world for ourselves, for humankind, and for our planet.” The time will always, as Dr. King says, “be ripe to do right.”

If you are reading these words, you are in the midst of one of those 50-year blinks. Someone is going to look back in wonder 50 short years from now–it might be you, it might be your grandkids, it might be the History books–at the time in which we are living. They will see the images we daily create: school shootings, climate events, cowardly displays of greed and short-sightedness from our elected leaders, showdowns over nuclear weapons, killings of unarmed Black men by the police, and lots of people taking selfies as the rest of the list goes on in the background? Will they be impressed or aghast at us?   Will they find any heroes in their review of our time, anyone like Martin Luther King?

These questions haunt me now in this rare moment of clarity about how quickly time flies by. At least for this moment, before something distracts me and clouds my vision, I want to make a bigger commitment to make this historical blink–our blink–a more positive one. A time for growth and for progress. I want this blink to be characterized by an increase in EMPATHY and a corresponding natural boost in Social Justice and Peace. I want it to be characterized by an awakening in our hearts and minds about the disastrous effects of our actions (and those of our ancestors) on each other and on our planet, and with that awakening a newfound conviction to live bigger and better than we ever have before.

I sincerely hope that with that awakening and conviction come heroes. It would be a shame to be a party to an era that leaves behind no heroes for the next era. It reminds me of the John Mayer lyric from his song “Speak For Me”: You can tell that something isn’t right when all your heroes are in black-and-white. I hope that for the sake of the coming generations, we can leave behind a legacy of moral progress and broadminded vision, and some genuine heroes, too.

Dr. King died 50 years ago this week. Perhaps the more staggering fact is that he was alive for only 39 years. If History blinked, it would have missed him. That’s how fast it goes. But if you do it well, as Dr. King showed us, your blink can shine forever. I want my blink–our blink–to be better. The thought of my hero inspires me to rise up and do my part to make it so.

How about you? Do you realize how quickly your era is passing and the impressions it is leaving in the greater evolutionary journey of our species? Open up your journal and contemplate this infinite topic. What is your sense of the magnitude of 50 years? Does it seem like forever to you–taking you to some foreign territory like a black-and-white film that you can’t make real in your colorful mind–or does it feel like just a little while ago? Do you think this is entirely dependent upon your age–i.e. 50 years seems like nothing for people older than 50 but feels like forever to people younger than 50–or are some people just better at comprehending our tiny spot on the vastness of History’s timeline? As a 45-year old, I grew up with color TV shows but also some after-school re-runs in black-and-white (e.g “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Three Stooges”) that I always had trouble connecting with. Do you think the switch from black-and-white to color images in photos, TV, and movies will change what seems “contemporary” to this and future generations, or will our color images seem old and unrelatable to them, too? Are your heroes from your lifetime? Has the past 50 years–the time since Dr. King–produced a proportionate number of heroes to the other historical eras? If not, what is it about our era that is lacking such that we have not produced the kind of people who are worthy of our idolatry over the long haul? It seems reasonable that with social media and the Internet, this era’s potential paragons of virtue would be easily visible and widely accessible to a broad audience, making it seem likely that we would produce an exponentially greater number of heroic figures than previous eras. Are we? What will be the legacy of our era–this blink–when people look back at it 50 years from now? Will it be all of the negative stuff we see on the news everyday–the corruption and cowardice in Washington, the shootings, the climate change–or is there something greater at play that we are missing amidst all of this narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness? Or is that very pettiness and folly going to be our legacy, the thing that sticks out to the writers of the History books? Perhaps. Now switch gears: what would you like the legacy of this era to be? How different is that than where it appears to be heading now? What could we start doing differently to get it going in the direction you want it to go? Is it a reasonable ask, or are your hope and our reality a bridge too far to cross? What can you personally do to make our era more like the one you would like it to be remembered as? Is that something you can begin today? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What lasting impression will this historical blink of an eye leave upon History?

Be your biggest,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I hope you will share it on your social media. We need to grow the conversations that make us better. Thank you!

P.S.S. If you haven’t read the Journal of YOU book yet, you can find it on Amazon or any of your other favorite online booksellers. Please leave a review if you have. Thanks!

Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Hello friend,

The year 2017, as told through the screens on my phone, tablet, computer, and television, was just about the most absurd, infuriating, and demoralizing year imaginable. I had the feeling so often this year that, if we were being studied from afar by alien scientists, they would report that we are clearly devolving as a species, degenerating into a lower state of intellectual and moral being. I suppose there are plenty of “Year in Review” types of shows airing this week, but I don’t even dare to watch. I don’t much care to relive anything that people were talking about this year. It was pretty darn awful out there. I fear that if I admit to just how awful or try to delve into it, I will make for a most depressing companion at the New Year’s festivities. No, I think I will pass on assessing the great big world this year.

But how about my personal year in my little corner of the world?

That doesn’t seem nearly as depressing or daunting a task. After all, as I sit here in these final moments of the year, I still have a smile on my face and a mind eager enough to learn and grow from the lessons this year has provided. It helps, I know, that I process it every day in my journal, so I have some sense of how my report card will come out–I guess I can sense it was not all rainbows and butterflies, but I know it was one I would not trade, either–but I am open to being surprised by my assessment of the various aspects of my existence and how they were shaped by the events of 2017.

Hindsight has a way of casting a new light on things, dusting off some of the emotions and baggage of the moment and revealing its true essence and its value in the grand scheme of our lives. I think I am due for some of that clarity after what has been a most unusual year in the History of Me.

So, how did I do?

Well, maybe it is healthy to admit to a failure right from the start. I know I deserve an “F” in the Finances/Career departments. I was horrible at that from start to finish, truly. Starting the year out having just lost my job last Christmas was certainly a harbinger of things to come. I struggled to find my way all year into something that both paid the bills and met my family’s other needs. Though I have tried to maintain my general positivity and my big picture perspective through it all, I admit to falling into moments of shame, frustration, and disillusionment regarding my aspirations and failings on this front as the year passed. I have chastised myself for both my failings as a breadwinner and my weakness in allowing those failings too much control over my emotions. So, definitely an “F” here.

Another thing I did not do very well with is my Friendships. It is true that as an unsocial and introverted cat, this has never been my strong suit. So, it isn’t as though I had a very high standard from which to judge myself. However, I found myself thinking more and more as the year went on that this is an area I want to do better with: both in making new friends and in staying well-connected with my old friends. Truth: I didn’t do very well with either. I am most disappointed in myself for doing a poor job of keeping up with my best friends, letting too long pass between visits and calls. Maybe a “D” here. Not good.

Okay, this report card is not looking so good at this point! I must have done something well….

How about Family? Yes, the family stuff was quite good this year on the whole. Though I again did poorly with calling my siblings and parents, I made a bigger effort to travel to spend time with them. That was immensely rewarding, both for me and for the children. Speaking of the children, the one thing I think I do consistently well is fatherhood. That was the case this year; we have had a great time, and my relationship with each kid is strong and loving. I wish I could say I did as well as a spouse, but I consistently fail to live up to my expectations there. Still, I have had fun with my wife and have tried to be supportive while enjoying watching her grow and blossom in her new endeavors. All in all, a good score here (let’s say “B+”).

As for my Health, I am grateful to say that I would give that a “B”. There are reminders everywhere of how dramatically one’s quality of life diminishes when health problems arise, so I feel quite blessed that my issues this year have been small. I have had little nagging injuries that have kept me from some activities, but no injury has shut me down entirely. As a guy who needs to be active to remain sane, I will take that as a blessing.

Looking back, I realize that I did not do quite as well as usual with my Spirituality, which also dictates my Psychology. I seemed to be less mindful during the day, less aware of the beauty and wonder of the Divine all around me. With that, I was somewhat less grateful than normal, having fewer of those bowled-over-and-humbled-by-the-absolute-magnificence-of-the-Universe moments than I am accustomed to. I have long believed that Gratitude is the mother of Happiness, so maybe I was a bit less happy this year than my usual state of Bliss. I can make lots of excuses for this distraction from my spiritual home base–joblessness, financial strain, self-induced pressure to finish my book, etc.–but the fact is that it is under my control, and I did not live up to my high standards this year. I would say “B-“.

As someone who spent all of his school years as a “Straight-A” kind of guy, these grades for 2017 are not looking very good to me. There is a ton of room for improvement! And though I am definitely disappointed in myself on multiple fronts, there is something that sneaked into the picture late in the year that softens the blow and even puts a smile on my face.

Is there a spot on the report card for “Fulfilled a Lifelong Dream”? If so, I want to give myself an “A” there. While I had worked on it for years, it was only in this year when I truly devoted my focus to not just working on the book but finishing it. It had been my biggest goal when 2017 started, and I felt the weight of that as Autumn came. The clock ticked loudly every day, and fears and doubts screamed at equal volume. But I reminded myself that, coming into the year, the way I said I wanted to feel all year was BRAVE. On I went. Then, finally, it was done.

Of course, there was relief for being finally finished, and there was excitement about seeing my creation out in the world. But the best part was the feeling it gave me way down deep inside, in a place that I would venture to call my soul. I guess I would describe it as feeling “solid” there, like a deep confidence at having done something substantial toward my life purpose. My foundation was cemented. That is quite a feeling. I hope that you will feel it one day if you have not yet. It will change your world.

I know that this effort and its incalculable reward came at the cost of some of those low grades in the other categories. And though I certainly wish they weren’t so low–I like to have my cake and eat it, too–I have to admit that, in the end, doing the work of my soul and cementing a foundation piece of my purpose made all the sacrifices worth it.

2017 was obviously not the year in which I sparkled across the board. It was, however, the year that I built a lighthouse, one that will keep on shining, providing me with a guide during the many storms that the coming years are sure to bring. I am at peace with the sacrifice and grateful for the light. Bring on 2018!

How about you? How would you grade your 2017? Open up your journal and ponder all of the various aspects of your life over the last year. Even before you dissect each one, how do you feel, generally speaking, as you sit here at the end of your year? Satisfied? Relieved? Stressed? Elated? Indifferent? If you had to describe your year in a word, what would it be? Okay, now look at the different areas of your life and build your report card. You can just go category by category, or you can start with all the good or all the bad. How was 2017 for your job and career path? Closely related to that, how was it for your finances? Better or worse than your expectations? Why? Did it have more to do with things under your control or out of your control? Did you remember that you are in charge of your attitude no matter what the circumstances were? How well did you choose that attitude? Okay, how about your friendships? Were you as good a friend as you want to be? Where can you do better? How about family? How happy were you with your relatives this year? Did you strike the right balance of time with them: enough to deepen your bonds, not so much to drive yourself crazy? How was your health and fitness this year? Did your body hold you back from doing things that you wanted to do? What grade would you give your spiritual life this year? How about your psychological state? Were you grateful? Did you feel connected? How much awe did you experience? Okay, big picture: how does your report card look? Do your scores in those main categories make it seem like a good year, or not so much? Now consider this: was there something else–some bigger event or accomplishment–that overshadowed the main categories and colored your view of the year, either for the good or the bad? Perhaps it was a major personal achievement that brightens the rest–like me with my book–or perhaps it is something like the death of a loved one, which darkens the rest. Now that you have considered the categories and graded your year in each, what grade would you give the year as a whole? Was it twelve months that you would gladly relive, or are you eager to move on? Leave me a reply and let me know: How does your report card for 2017 look?

Make each moment count,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s make LIFE together!

P.P.S. You can find my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten and many of your other favorite booksellers, including barnesandnoble.com and iBooks.

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!

The Best Present I Ever Got

“A gift consists of not what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.” –Seneca, Moral Essays: Volume III

Hello friend,

I wasn’t always so sure about my purpose in this world. I didn’t always know how best to be who I really am. I definitely didn’t always know what I wanted to do with myself, what kinds of actions I needed to take to fulfill my potential. It is only in the last handful of years that it has become so clear to me that I am a writer.

Sometimes in this life, you get a gut feeling about what is right or what you must do. You get a tingle in your spine or your heart skips a beat when you think about a new direction for your career or your spare time. That burst of adrenaline, the one that feels like candy in your brain, that’s a message from your soul. If followed, it can lead you to the life you were born to live.

Seven years ago, I was just beginning to have those magical butterfly feelings. I was getting the jolts of electricity, goosebumps, and songs in my heart. My soul was catching fire. The idea that had begun to circulate in my brain and cause shockwaves through the rest of my system went something like this: I think I want to be a professional writer. The kind with real books and readers. I don’t know for sure what all the books will say; I only know I want to write and improve people’s lives.  

I had always known I was here to be of service to my fellow human beings, to help lift them up to become as magnificent as they were created to be. I just didn’t know how I was supposed to do that. Until then. It struck me one day with a thought. Then the thought came again. And again. Whenever it came up, those tingles came with it. I finally felt it enough times that I told a close friend about it. I mentioned that I had started a fund for a laptop and had a few hundred bucks in it already. The beginnings of a dream were forming.

Not long after, that friend stopped over and, with an “Aw shucks, this is nothing” look, handed me a white box with the picture of an apple on it. A brand new laptop. His humble explanation: “My Grandma gave me this, but I don’t need it.”

Needless to say, I was absolutely floored. I tried to say I couldn’t accept it, but he wasn’t budging. He wouldn’t even take the money I had in my laptop fund. All of a sudden, my dreams were right there in front of me, literally at my fingertips. I was totally humbled by the gift, and speechless. I knew immediately that it was the most meaningful present anyone had ever given me.

That night in my journal, I wrote, “This is a great jumping-off point for me. In giving me this gift, he also really challenged me to get to work on a book idea…I need to break out the ideas and start jotting everything down in this computer. I can do this thing. Dreams will come true.”

A few days later, after I had started outlining some potential book ideas on the computer, I wrote in my journal, “It is very exciting. I am actually on my way to something! In 20 years, I could be a professional writer who is reminiscing upon these first days of book design. In any case, it is a real rush to dream. My mind and heart are stirred up, and I love that feeling. I am a deeply grateful man tonight….I promise to chip away at this stuff, promise to stay on it and try to remain stirred up. What a wonderful ride! I am so happy and invigorated; gosh, that feels great! Life is so very beautiful.” 

From where I am today, those words sound amazingly prescient. Even though it has all taken me much longer than I had hoped, I have certainly remained stirred up about writing. I have continued the dream and continued to chip away at the work. Next week, Journal of You will be three years old. I am also just finishing my first book and preparing to market it to agents and publishers. It is an exciting moment in my writing career—the culmination of years of hard work and resolve–but this also feels like only the beginning.

Really, though, I know where it started. It started with that simple white box.

Sometimes in life, no matter how independent and self-motivated you think you are, what you really need is someone to stand up for you. You need someone to be your witness, to be the one–maybe the only one–who says, “I believe in you.” That simple white box was my friend telling me loud and clear—and in a way that he probably didn’t have the words for—“I believe in you.” That was the nudge I needed. That was the permission—even more, it was the gauntlet thrown down in front of me—to live my dreams. My course has been set in that direction ever since.

And that is how I know that that simple white box—and the belief it represented—was the greatest gift I have ever received.

How about you? What is your best present ever? Open up your journal and think about what you value and how someone connected you to that value. I excluded gifts from my parents and my wife from consideration, but you can decide how you want to do it. It is probably easiest to begin with a rough list of favorites that jump out at you immediately. Though mine did not come from a birthday or Christmas, those are good places to start the search through your memories. Obviously, it is easiest to name the biggest, most expensive gifts you ever received, and that can be a good launching pad. In my case, part of why some of those big-ticket items are so meaningful to me is the sacrifice of money on the person who gave them to me, especially if they went out of their budget because they knew how much I would appreciate the gift (I think of the time my wife got me a really nice camera that really changed my life and the way I observe my world). However, I challenge you to move beyond the obvious. Are there special gifts that cost the giver little, if any, money but that came from the heart and are thus priceless? Maybe it is something they made for you. Maybe it is a letter. Or the gift of their time. What else, from any price range? What makes the gift so meaningful to you? Is it about who it comes from? Is it because it connects you to your passion or your dreams, like my computer? Is it because it signifies a show of love and support from the giver? Does it say something in a way the giver was never able to say in words? Have you ever given a gift that could be the best that person ever received? What do you think made it so? What does it have in common with your favorite? Has this exercise made you think differently about how you might give in the future? Has it made you more clear about what is truly valuable to you? What is it? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the best gift you ever received? 

Be a gift to your world,

William

P.S. If this letter reminded you to be grateful, pass it on. Make it a small gift to a loved one. Blessed be.

Who Do You Wish To Be, Part 2: The DOING Part

IMG_2404“What we do comes out of who we believe we are.” –Rob Bell

Hello friend,

Last week, I wrote to you and asked, Who do you wish to be? It was a general question about the type of person you were striving to become, your vision for your best self. It was about the character traits you want to exemplify and the impact you want to have on the world in the rest of your numbered days. I asked you to keep it about who you wanted to be, to not get bogged down by needing to know exactly what you wanted to do. The being and the doing are hard to separate, of course. I tried, and here again is what I came up with for my best version of me:

I wish to be a person who inspires others. I wish to be an example of how sincere self-reflection and an open mind can allow you to know who you are and what your purpose is. I want to be an example of how that self-knowledge, far from being something to fear and find shame in, is something that can grant you the deepest peace and gratitude, basking in the beauty that is your Truth. I wish to share the stories of people who are doing the daily work of lifting others up, providing the rest of us with living examples of empathy, courage, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and social justice. I wish to be a person who brings people together to learn from each other, help each other, and enjoy each other. I wish to expose injustices where I find them, to give a voice to the voiceless. I wish to enlighten the most powerful among us in hopes that they will use their power for good. I wish to be an example of loving kindness for everyone I meet. I wish to be an example for my children of integrity and authenticity. I wish to show my loved ones how valuable they are to me. I wish to embody Gratitude every day. I wish to be relentless in the pursuit of my dreams. I wish to be unapologetically me, all the time. I wish to be Peace. I wish to always be mindful of the Divine in me, and the unity of us All.  

Okay. A week later, that still sounds about right for me. As I read through it, I keep nodding my head in agreement and feeling my heart rise up in me. That tells me my vision rings true for me. It resonates. So, what now? I can see how I want to be and the impact I want to make, but how do I do that? Just sitting here thinking good thoughts is nice, but it isn’t going to amount to anything if I am content with that. I need to take some action!

But what? What kinds of things will get me from here to there? Probably it is better to pretend for the moment that excuses don’t exist, that there is nothing holding me back from doing the things that will make me feel like the person I want to be. All of those things I habitually tell myself—there is no time, no money, I can wait until the kids grow up, I need more practice, I’m not good enough, I don’t know the right people, etc.—need to get checked at the door if we are going to do this the right way. Because we are talking about our own happiness and fulfillment here, friends! And we are talking about our ONE lifetime with these gifts and these opportunities. This isn’t a dress rehearsal here! The clock is ticking, so let’s—at least for now—pretend those obstacles don’t exist.

Imagine it: a clear path to the You of your dreams. All you have to do is take the actions to get from here to there….

This is tough! I am feeling the pressure. Okay, clear action items…. As I re-read that vision a few more times (am I stalling?), the concepts that jump out at me are 1) Be an example; 2) Share the best examples with others; 3) Speak up, on behalf of others and because there is light that needs sharing; and 4) Be grateful, mindful, and unabashedly me. Okay, that helps. I can see my best self more clearly in action now. So, here goes! These are some things, if I had no excuses, my best self would be doing:

I would volunteer more for causes that would help people who need a hand up. Homeless shelters, food shelves, family crisis centers, that sort of thing. I am so, so blessed, and frankly, it feels wrong to not do more for others than I am doing now. I am embarrassed by this.

I would write a book about how regular folks like you and me can do simple things in our everyday lives that will help make our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and our entire country places of greater compassion, kindness, inclusiveness, courage, justice, and joy. I am actually in the early phases of that project right now, and it definitely feels like the right thing to be doing. It checks all of those four boxes I just mentioned, so I am doing a little cheer inside as I realize that. Go, Me!

I would put myself out there more, really engage the people I come across, and act as insatiably curious as I really am inside. I am horribly unsocial, so I tend to keep to myself even in obvious social situations, and then later I wish I had dug a lot deeper, found out what someone is passionate about, and made a true connection. I have a long way to go on this one.

I would write Journal of You. Even on the days I am feeling sorry for myself about how few people actually read these posts—bless you, my dear reader—I know that this is the right thing for me to do. It is a labor of love.

I would write more about social justice issues. Though I know they stir stuff up—and probably contribute to my small audience—I can tell by how I feel when I am writing them that it puts wind in my sails. I definitely fits that third box of speaking up on behalf of others. I need to be more brave here.

I would create a media outlet—web-based newspaper, YouTube channel, social media—that would tell the stories of all of the people doing great things in my community. I mean people who are living examples of generosity, compassion, inclusivity, forgiveness, open-mindedness, peace, and justice. I would tell their stories and let you know how you can connect with them, perhaps contribute your gifts to their work. I would make a calendar of local events that bring people together across difference so that they might get to know each other, learn from each other, and ENJOY each other. It would be a clearinghouse—a one-stop shop–for all that is positive in my area. And I would make it reproducible, so that the same format could be used in other cities. Anywhere in the country, you could know where there are good things happening, where you could be helped, where you could shine your light, and where you might find your tribe. This is a recent vision I have been brainstorming, and I love it! It is enormous, though, so I am definitely in the mode of making excuses and letting in lots of limiting beliefs. Pray for me!

I would make all of these things happen and find a way to make them my full-time lifestyle, something I could earn a living at and not just squeeze tiny bits of them in here and there. I feel like I owe that to myself, and I owe that example to my kids. I tell them how important it is to serve others. They see me trying to write while at their swimming lessons or soccer practices, but they know I work a regular job during the day. They hear me tell them to speak up for others, to ask questions, and to fully engage the people they meet. And while I know that it is important for them to learn that striving to act well and striving toward one’s dreams are part of the bigger process, I desperately want to be the guy who is exemplifying a lifestyle of acting well and living out one’s dreams. I want to show them that following their passions is both expected and rewarded.

I guess I want it all!

How about you? If you were being your absolute best self, what would you be doing? Open up your journal and let your mind run. As I mentioned, I think it is best to not be so “realistic,” that is, to not allow yourself too many excuses based on your current time constraints and responsibilities. However, when you finish with the exercise, I do think it is helpful to name all of those excuses and do your best to dismiss them as quickly as possible. So, let’s get to your best version of you. If you didn’t write it down last week, write that out first—the general picture of the character traits you would like to exemplify and the type of impact you would like to have. With that vision of who you wish to be clearly in your mind, start filling in the picture with actions, things you would be doing while being your ideal You. In what ways would you treat people? How would you spend your spare time? What would your career be? How different are these actions of your ideal self from the things you do now? What are some things you do now that you wouldn’t change, that speak to your highest self? In what area of your life are you closest to your best? In what area do you have the furthest to go? On your list of things your best self would do, is there something that you can get started on today? No matter how small, I bet your soul would appreciate the doing. How confident are you that you will live out your vision? Is the striving toward it reward enough? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would the best version of You be doing?

You can have it all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you imagine a life that made you smile, I hope you will share it with someone. We all have greatness in us. Share yours!

Troll Power!!! When Did It Become So Normal To Be Negative?

DSC_0784“Bad stuff happens, people are mean, there are no steps you can take to ensure the world leaves you alone. All you can do is try not to be one of those people who contributes to the bad.” –Holly Bourne, Am I Normal Yet? 

Hello friend,

Amidst what we would expect to be a shower of glory and accolades from winning an Olympic gold medal last week, American gymnast Gabby Douglas instead found herself in a hurricane of negativity. The trolls of social media came out in full force to disparage everything from her appearance to her love of the country she has spent the last several years proudly representing. They told her she had bad hair. They told her she wasn’t cheering hard enough for her teammates. They absolutely ripped her patriotism when, during the playing of our national anthem after she and her teammates won the gold medal, she elected to stand at attention with her hand at her side rather than over her heart. She actually felt compelled between events to apologize if she offended anyone by standing that way (never mind that if you look around before a game at a big stadium, hands to the sides during the anthem is completely common). By the time she got to her final press conference of The Games, the vilified Douglas could barely get through it without tears. Apart from not performing as well as she had hoped, she talked of all of the social media haters and how “hurtful” it all was. She walked down the hallway alone and broke down.

That is a two-time Olympian and multiple gold medal winner. And that is what passes for normal on social media these days.

Last weekend, my wife was explaining a project she was working on at her job, creating a public service video designed to bring awareness to sexual violence prevention and how we should all empower ourselves to stop it. She pulled up a YouTube video for me as an example of what they wanted to do, this one done by celebrities. It was well done and well-intentioned, and of course, its message is extremely important. Just as the video was ending, though, she quickly warned me to NOT look at the comments below the video. “All it is down there is nastiness. Just mean-spirited stuff.” So, I didn’t look. For days, I didn’t look, disciplined in my philosophy that my mind shouldn’t go wandering in the mud unless necessary.

But then, my curiosity got the best of me. I mean, how could you possibly be nasty about a public service announcement against rape? Right? It didn’t make sense to me. So, literally just now, I looked.

Holy Hannah!!!

I don’t think of myself as a prude at all, and I like to think I am aware of what is out there in the world. But, oh my goodness, I am beyond disturbed by what I just read! Beyond!

I guess I am not shocked that some people think these awful, mean-spirited things. But this painful, dark sensation in my heart right now—honestly, I am a bit crushed and totally stunned by this experience—seems to be from the sheer volume of people spewing this hate and negativity. It is endless! I couldn’t believe the first few comments I saw, so, like a fool, I kept looking. It was an endless onslaught of vulgarity that ran the gamut of topics, all equally disturbing. In the end, I guess that is what I feel most right now, in the immediate aftermath: DISTURBED.

The questions come racing to the front of my mind. How could someone have that much hate in them? How could SO MANY people have that much hate in them? How could an innocent public service announcement stir all of that up? If there are this many people commenting with hate on something as innocuous as a PSA for sexual violence prevention, do I dare even imagine how many and how negative the comments are for more normal pop culture things, like celebrities or politics or athletes? Who ARE these hateful people? How did we get to this point where this level of negativity is so common that it feels normal, like just part of the deal? 

As these questions relate to the real purpose of Journal of You, they lead me to wonder not just about our society in general but about my personal inventory. That is where it all starts. The issue that keeps spilling out of my churning mind is, “When did it become so easy and acceptable to be so negative?”

I know that for myself, because of my interest in politics and my natural leanings to one of the far ends of the spectrum, it can be easy to dismiss or rail against people on the other end of that spectrum. I think that is especially true in the company of other people who think like I do. One of the things I have done lately to check that tendency, though, is to institute a personal “No Negatives” policy on social media posts. So, even if I come across a meme about Donald Trump that I find hilarious, I am not going to share it. If I find an article about something that I despise, I am not going to share it with my comments about “I hate it when…..” or “This lady is a piece of….. .” Even in response to other people’s posts, I am not going to go down the road of telling them how awful the idea or person they believe in is. I have watched how those interactions spiral, and it is just not productive.

I will, however, on my own page, post about issues that I believe are important or stances that I support. Basically, I want the pattern of my pages to say, “I feel positively about this, and I support that,” rather than “I feel negatively about this, and it is stupid to support that.” (It reminds me of my years of coaching sports, and the important lesson it took me a long time to learn: Better to show and explain to the student what you DO want them to do, rather than keep saying, “Stop doing this” and “Don’t do that.”) 

It will probably always be a mystery to me why someone would spend their time and energy to go on social media to disparage an Olympian’s hair or rail about her lack of patriotism (as she wins gold medals for my country while I sit here on my sofa eating ice cream). And I will certainly never understand why someone would search YouTube for public service announcements about preventing sexual violence so he can comment about how “rape is natural” and “they deserve it” and all sorts of other bigoted swill.

What I can understand, though, is the power of a voice. (After centuries where so few people had a voice that could reach an audience out of earshot, today anyone with a keyboard might reach millions immediately. Maybe that newfound power is what we are all fumbling with now, trying to figure out how to best harness it.) My promise to myself is to be aware of my voice, to understand that it is my choice which way I go with it, and to use it for good. I am going positive.

How about you? Which way do you go with your voice? Open up your journal and get clear on what your vibe is. How easily do you slip into negativity? How would you categorize your most frequent negativity? Are you inclined to rip on people, such as Gabby Douglas, for their appearance or perceived personality traits? Do you share snarky memes about people (e.g. politicians) that you disagree with? Do you find yourself writing or saying stuff like “I hate….” or “You know what really makes me mad? …..”? Would people who talked to you or followed you on social media tend to think you were more optimistic or pessimistic? Open-minded or narrow-minded? Friendly or mean-spirited? In which forum do you let your negativity out? Do you save it for only someone closest to you (e.g. spouses who rip on everyone else, but only to each other—a partner in mockery)? Do you save your more negative commentary for people in the room with you, i.e. in the form of conversations? How much do you put your feelings out on social media? Are you willing to comment on other people’s posts with negative reaction to what they are in support of? Are the things you post or share on your own Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat page more “This is what I believe in…” or more “This is what I can’t stand…”? Have you ever been the person in the Comments section of an online article, video, or chat room who uses the space to be mean to people (either the creators or the other commenters)? Does the anonymity and invisibility of the Internet allow you let your negativity to flow more freely? On the whole, are we more negative these days, or are there just more ways to spread our negativity than before? What is behind this willingness to go so negative? Is it the impersonal nature of the Internet and social media, where we can hide behind our screens and mine from the very worst of our character traits with impunity? Is it the general decline in respect for authority figures? Is it the increasing distance we keep from other people, which lessens our feelings of empathy? With zero being very negative and ten being very positive, how would you rate yourself in terms of the way you are using your voice? Are you willing to do better? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How can you speak more from the positive in you? 

It costs nothing,

William

P.S. If this letter made you check yourself a bit and consider a different way, please pass it on. Let’s build this thing together!

A Day in the Life: one simple journal entry

DSC_0680“Every great thinker keeps a journal, you know.” –Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

Hello friend,

The date of my very first journal entry was March 12, 1994. I didn’t quite know what to think about the blank page in front of me, and the thought of all those blank pages that followed was even more daunting. I had all kinds of reservations: What am I supposed to say? Are there rules? But I don’t have an exciting life to gush about! I made a tentative entry, just feeling out what it was like to write my thoughts to no audience. It was several days before I would open the book up again–and sometimes several months between entries over the next few years–but something always drew me back in. The more I opened up, the more I learned about myself, and the happier I became. It became increasingly addictive. After those first few years of random entries—and without ever making a conscious decision about it—I began to write at least one entry every day.

When people learn of this daily habit of mine, I get a lot of interesting reactions. From some, I get the look that screams, “You are strange!” followed by a quick change of subject. From others, I get a more respectfully curious look, kind of like, “That is weird, but it is also interesting.” For those who are interested enough to continue the conversation, invariably the question arises: “What do you say??? I can’t imagine what I would write about!” 

Honestly, a daily journal entry—for me, at least—usually looks like a pretty boring piece of writing. There are a lot of “This is what I did today…” type of entries. Sure, sometimes, I have a hot topic on my mind that I need to unpack with my pen and paper, but most of the time I start my entry with no agenda at all and just let the words flow out of the pen. I am not trying to create great art or something that would be fun for another person to read. I am simply trying to empty my mind and see if there are connections to be made that will help me to understand myself better so I can live more authentically (and, by extension, more happily).

With that said, I thought I would use today’s letter to show you what an ordinary entry from my personal journal looks like. I picked another March 20 for symmetry. I hope this demystifies the process a bit for you and shows you how simple it really is to start your own journaling practice. Here you go:

22:15 Saturday March 20, 1999 Minot, ND USA

It is a banner night right now. I have just come in from outside feeling a grand high. The old man mentioned a cheap golf club at Wal-Mart earlier today. A short while ago, my curiosity got the best of me and I ventured over there. There it was: an oversized driver with graphite modulus shaft and a seventeen-dollar price tag. The old man had spotted me a twenty before I left, so I was sold. There is this clearance aisle hiding near the pets, and it was full of treasures. When I saw footballs for five bucks, I couldn’t pass it up. Then I found a window-scraper for a quarter. I almost bought some head-covers for my woods for four bucks, but I was already over my budget and still needing to get contact supplies. So I just brought it home. I had to get outside and take a few swings. I ran out the screen porch and looked into the night. The sky took my breath away. All of the stars are shining gloriously, as is the crescent moon in the low western sky. I love skies like that. They make me think of nights in faraway lands. I started taking a few swings, but I was distracted by a sound. Flowing water. The stream in the back is still at it. Today it rose higher than it has in several years. I think the culverts are a bit blocked, because it seemed to grow and grow. It was whitewater under our bridge. I was absolutely thrilled. My heart was racing at the sight of it. Dick, Mother, and I stood out on the deck in the sunshine and marveled at it. I was only in tee shirt and shorts, but the forty degrees didn’t seem so bad. Oh, how I wish it would flow like that all year. Or flow at all. I love flowing water, as does Mother. The sound of it is so invigorating. And the look of any water is tantalizing and soothing to me in a grand way. So a few moments ago, when I heard the sound of the stream still running, I ran down to the edge to marvel at it. It had receded since the afternoon but was still such that walking to the bridge was not possible. It flowed both under the bridge and around it on this side. All of the grass crackled under each step. It was still warm out there. I felt like wading in the water, as though it was summertime at a mountain stream. It was all so very magical: nighttime by a running stream under the stars, with the silver moon in the distance and a new driver in my hands. I was on top of the world. My heart is still pumping pixie dust. I am alive and well on this grand night. I may just go out there again to watch the water flow and feel the gaze of a thousand stars upon me. Nights like this are eternal. They remain within me forever. Nighttime is the right time. Saturate me, oh starry night.

 That’s my entry. How about yours? Are you journaling yet? How often? Open up your journal—especially if you haven’t already—and spill the beans. Perhaps your first entry can be themed, “Why I never write in my journal.” If you are already writing, I think it is still a good exercise to consider what you write about and why. Do you write only when you have no other outlet for your thoughts, no one to share with? Do you write only when you have some very important issue to address? Do you write to free your mind of the random thoughts floating around in there? I have many times said that I always wrote at the end of the night so I wouldn’t have those strange ideas entering my dream life as I slept. Do you find it easier to write if I give you a specific topic and an example—as I do every week with my usual letter to you—or do you prefer the “Just tell me about your day and see where it leads” prompting? Do you feel obligated to say something profound—or to get artistic and be a “real” writer—in your entries? That seems like way too much pressure for me! I just want the outlet for my thoughts and the chance to clarify my relationship to all of the elements in my world. Why do you want to journal? What are the biggest things that keep you from doing it, or doing it as often as you would like? Does seeing how simple and boring my entry is make you more or less likely to give it a shot today? This is my challenge for you: Write about this day in your life.

 Free your mind,

William

P.S. If this letter nudged you at all, pass it on. We are all due a little nudge from time to time (or all the time)!

What Will You Regret?

DSC_0963“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.” –Jonathan Safran Foer

Hello friend,

Almost 20 years ago, my soul was on fire. I was in the midst of a spiritual revolution, and out of it came so many passionate ideas and opinions about how I could save the world. My heart and mind literally felt like they were bubbling over—sometimes even exploding—every day. I was a force! Thankfully, this surge of idealistic passion came at the very same time I became a daily journal writer.

I had owned a journal for a few years, but entries came only very sporadically, sometimes with many months in between. Finally, though, it became obvious to me how much the journaling helped me to process all of the mind-blowing shifts that were happening inside of me. So, I made it a part of my daily routine. It wasn’t long before it became the most important part.

The journal was essential to me, because it acted as a depository for all of these new fantasies I had about making the world a drastically better place. I wanted to show everyone how to see their lives and their Universe with a new set of eyes. I knew that if I could just get them to see what I saw, to feel the way I felt, then everything—everything—would change in an instant. I was absolutely sure of it. All I needed was the means to share my vision. That is also where my discovery of the journal became crucial to my plan.

In my continuous flow of passion, I was filling up pages and pages in my journal every day, so much so that I needed a new blank book every handful of weeks. I was, as I said, totally on fire. The unexpected result of all of this writing was that it gave me the first notion, the first glimpse of belief, that I had a book inside of me that needed to be written. All of the journaling was also giving me a little boost of confidence that perhaps I could string a thought together with words and that I might be able to put enough words together to make a real book. I was mostly a science guy in school—never English or the arts–so getting myself to even consider the idea of writing a book was the result of quite an internal revolution.

Despite my initial shock at the presence of these new thoughts, I could not deny how exciting the prospect of being a world-changer was. The thought of sharing my ideas with the people of the world and opening their minds to the beauty and grace of our Universe absolutely thrilled me. I was giddy about it. Looking back through all of my old journals from those years, I see not only those impassioned ideas but also the occasional fantasies about writing books. Although I still really wasn’t clear about “what I was doing with my life” at that point, from this perspective all these years later, it seems obvious that I was headed toward becoming a writer. Still, I never came out and said to myself, “I am a writer. Period. Now let’s write that first book!”

 No, despite being aware of my desire to get this message out and start changing the world, I held back. Sure, some of that stemmed from my lack of complete belief that I was a real writer, but I think my hesitation had much more to do with my belief that I needed to learn more about what I wanted to say before I could say it with enough conviction that people would take it to heart. I wanted to be legitimate before embarking on my authorial debut. My entries from that period are littered with mentions of me needing to read this book or that book on a certain topic so I could gain more expertise. My required reading list was hundreds of books long, and though I was cruising through them at a torrid pace, each one always seemed to suggest even more books that I should read to become completely prepared. The translation in my head was basically this: “I’m not ready yet. Just a little while longer.”

 But during all of that waiting and preparing, LIFE happened. I started back with some more formal education, which helped my preparation in some ways but ended up distracting me from the passion and purpose that had been my True North for so long. I was not reading and writing for myself any more, but rather for professors. Then, into the mix came the woman of my dreams (read: MORE DISTRACTION). Before I knew it, the window of time that had been strictly designated for my personal improvement—my beloved “Season of Enrichment”—had closed entirely and left me with the ordinary life of everyone else I knew: the job, the relationship, the complacency.

Years later, here I am, trying to dig back into my dreams. My purpose seems clear again, which is amazing, but carving out the time to make it happen is increasingly difficult around the obligations that have become essential components of my journey. The specifics of my world-saving passions that would have filled a few books in my twenties have morphed into new and different ideas at this age.

My philosophy of action has changed, too. At that age and with perfectionist tendencies, I kept telling myself I needed to learn more before I was prepared to write for others. I needed to be sure I was ready. You can see where that got me! Today, I remind myself often: “Start before you are ready!” Journal of You was started long before I was ready. I thought the posts would be just old journal entries of mine, fodder for you to realize how simple it is to get in the journaling habit. I was wrong, and I am glad I was wrong. But if I had waited until I was sure about the format, confident in my writing ability, and certain that I had enough hours and energy to write this frequently, I would still be waiting today and you would not be reading these words.

I regret not writing a book when my soul was on fire.

Regret it horribly, I mean. No, I don’t allow myself much time linger on the topic—I have too many things to do today to worry about yesterday—and I don’t let the regret consume me, as I know it has the power to do. But if you force me think about, if you make me answer the question, “What will you regret?” you can bet those impassioned days in my twenties and the absence of a book to show for them will come instantly to my mind. I believe I delayed my calling by two decades because of it—which I find personally tragic–and denied the world of an important piece of work that could have done a lot of good. Frankly, this really stinks to think about.

On the other hand, my regret can be even more motivation to seize the day—this day–to do the things that stir my soul when I think about them. I never seem to regret the things that I do, the risks that I take, even when I fail. No, I regret the things I don’t do, the chances I haven’t taken, the moments I have not seized, and the Truth I have not told. I have regretted waiting until I am ready. And I have regretted not being exactly who I know myself to be.

But that is what TODAY is for. TODAY I get to start over. TODAY I get to choose again. TODAY I get to honor my purpose and my vision for my life, no matter what I chose before. I will never get my yesterdays back—though I really would love to read that book by the 26-year-old me—and I know that tomorrow is never guaranteed. But I get TODAY. That is all, and that is enough. I am going to seize it this time!

How about you? When you look back on your life, what do you wish you had done differently? Open up your journal and your soul. You might have to open up some old scabs and scars for this one, too, but there are lessons to learn from each. Do you have a flood of different regrets, or mainly just one big one? Is it an entire period (e.g. a few months or years) that you wish you could have back, or was it a single moment? What is it about that moment or period that makes you want to do it differently? Is it regrettable only because of what followed, or would you do it differently no matter what was to come? If someone had pulled you aside in the midst of that moment or period and said, “What would your bravest, best self do right now?” do you think that would have changed your decision? What else might have changed your decision? Imagine how differently your life would have gone had you acted differently in that moment. Write out a new autobiography for yourself, starting in that moment and going forward to now, based on how you wish you would have acted in that situation (my vision involves lots of writing, speaking to large crowds, and changing lives for the better—it’s a beautiful thought). Does your vision for the way your life has gone differ widely from your actual history? Is the change more in your outer circumstances, or is it more about who you are as a person and how you feel about yourself? Do you dwell in your regret, allowing it to eat at you, or do you leave it all behind? Is there anything you can do today to “fix” your old regret in any way (e.g. an apology, a reconciliation, etc.)? Is regret a good motivator for you? What is one thing in your life right now that you know you need to do but that scares you, but, if you don’t do it, you know you will regret later? Have you fully committed to doing it? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What will you regret?

No day but today,

William

P.S. If you are so moved, I would greatly appreciate you sharing this letter with friends and family. We could all stand to be our best today. Cheers!

Plan A, Plan B, and the Truth: What Are You Really Doing With Your Life?

DSC_0548“Don’t have a Plan B, get rid of it, throw it away, toss it aside…Plan B is a dream killer, Go all in on Plan A and don’t look back.” –Mastin Kipp

Hello friend,

I am officially a student again! After nearly a year of uncertainty, busy-ness, and self-doubt about what lies ahead for me in the mysterious waters of Life, I finally plunged back in.

A few years ago, when I started my re-awakening to my dreams and my deeper purpose, I got into The Journal Project and was reconnected to my passion for connecting with people through words—theirs and mine—in order to help them know themselves better and live their happiest, best lives. Journal of You was spawned from that period, as was the realization—the remembrance, really, because I once knew this important truth about myself—that I am a writer.

You see, in my mid-twenties, I had come to admit to myself that my deepest, most closely protected dreams involved me being an agent of positive change. I believed I was meant to be a transformative teacher, using the tools of writing, speaking, and counseling to spread my messages of self-knowledge, gratitude, and Love to the world.

But then I forgot. I got busy with school, then transitioned headlong into a career that, while it involved teaching and being a positive influence, did not make full use of the qualities that meant the most to me. It didn’t tap all the way into the depths of my soul, didn’t mine my finest gifts, the ones my soul secretly longed to give. I lived this way—“sleepwalking” is how I think of it now—for many, many years. I was happy, but not fulfilled.

So, when I began to awaken a few years ago, my greatest dreams began to seem clear to me again. They were the same as they had been all those years before, so I knew they had a timeless, authentic quality. They were absolutely me. When you have a realization like that—as though God has personally delivered a message to you—how can you turn your back on it? Not twice!

With that awakening, I began a slow but certain return to my Plan A, at least in my mind. It was such a slow turn, of course, because my “real life” was going on all around me. All that time that I had been sleepwalking, I was also taking on responsibilities—you know, little things like a spouse, children, a mortgage—that dictated how much of my time and energy was to be spent. It wasn’t like the old days when I first became clear about my purpose, my Plan A. In those days, I was allowed to become a penniless hermit or wander around the globe with a backpack full of journals or hole up in my parents’ basement to study and write. It was easy to devote myself to my Plan A. It’s no wonder my soul was on fire then, and that I have never before or since felt so tapped into what I am supposed to be doing.

As I mentioned, when I awoke again a few years ago, my first baby steps back toward myself were The Journal Project and then Journal of You. Recognizing that neither of these was going to make me any money in the near future, I started thinking about how I could keep my purpose front and center, but make a living at the same time. I knew that no matter how many nights I could sneak downstairs for a little writing after the kids finally went to bed, I was never going to get very far if that was all the time and energy I could give it. It struck me that the only way I would eventually be satisfied—fulfilled—is if I was spending all day on my greatest passions.

That moment of clarity triggered a lot of pain in me, actually, because I was fully aware for the first time of just how much of my life I was wasting by not acting directly on what I knew to be my purpose. Truth be told, it still hurts me greatly and daily, as I have become extremely sensitive to anything and everything that wastes my time. I have become very protective of my moments, knowing how fleeting they are and how many I have already wasted doing things that don’t speak directly to who I am and what makes my heart sing.

With that motivation, I started my education to become a Life Coach. While it wasn’t writing, it was helping people to find their own clarity of purpose and use their time more wisely on things that speak to their soul (the irony is not lost on me that I am here to teach what I most need to learn). It was going to be my new, fulfilling day job while I worked hard on my writing, which would eventually supplement my Life Coaching income and then finally become my primary income source. I knew it would all take a while to happen—years, really—but I was into it. However, when my first round of classes ended after several months, I told myself I was too busy to register for more at the moment. I would come back to it in a few months, I told myself. With that, I totally put the Coaching on the back burner. There it stared at me with quiet disappointment every single day.

Well, a few months turned into several. I was writing more, which was great, but I still felt guilty about my Coaching education and business start-up, which I had left in the lurch. As Autumn deepened and Winter loomed, I knew I had to make some sort of move toward not just my Plan A, but toward a Plan A with an income source. When I forced myself to name the one thing I most wanted to do if all the money was equal, the answer was easy: writing. Life Coaching was fun for me and very, very meaningful, but writing was still better.

My problem was that once I started talking about the concept from the quote at the top—basically, think only of Plan A, throw out Plan B entirely—I translated that simplistically and figured I must throw all my efforts into finding writing jobs (that will pay me, of course!). As I started spending hours researching the market for writing, the thoughts of Life Coaching continued to enter my mind, though. In my greed, I want to do everything I am passionate about, not just one thing. Still, I was clinging to this single-minded approach, seeing the Coaching as the forbidden Plan B. Eventually, though, and with the great help of my journal, I remembered that old vision I had for myself, the one that still rings true: Writer-Speaker-Coach. The people who are role models to me—such as the quoted Mastin Kipp—are occupying all of those roles simultaneously. They aren’t compartmentalizing them, because that would exclude essential parts of themselves unnecessarily.

That “a-ha! moment” was such a relief, and it is exactly why I am back in Life Coaching classes again. I am not selling out to my Plan B; I am just opening my eyes to the broad beauty of my Plan A and giving the whole picture my attention, not just the brushstrokes in the center of the frame.

Of course, I still have the job and the family to squeeze it in around, and I know that doing the classes will mean I have less time to write. I hate that! But I also feel that much more committed to keeping my biggest dreams—my Plan A—front and center in the midst of this life of bills and obligations. It will be a struggle, but I cannot return to sleepwalking again. I am only my true self when I am wide awake to my dreams.

How about you? What is your Plan A? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your heart. What are your biggest dreams? Does one jump out at you immediately? Do you have more than one really big passion? If so, do they complement each other and work together–like my writing and coaching–or are they completely distinct from each other? How hard is it for you to admit to yourself what you really want most from this life? I am guessing that for most people—myself included—the real circumstances of their lives probably don’t closely resemble the life they have been dreaming about. That has to be hard to admit, right? Or doesn’t it? My thinking is that if we are not living what we believe to be our purpose—especially if we aren’t even making an effort to pursue it—we are in some way admitting that we are giving up on ourselves, settling. That seems like a bitter pill to swallow. What do you think? Are you living your Plan A now? If not, are you in hot pursuit? I think you can count yourself as lucky if you can answer “Yes” to either of those questions. How clear is your Plan A to you right now? As I said, when I went from my mid-twenties and being clear about my biggest dream, to my long sleepwalking phase, I was simply not aware of how plainly I had dropped the ball on that dream. Has that ever happened to you? Might it be happening now? It is my theory that I blinded myself to the harsh realization that I had given up on my Plan A, my big dream, during that sleepwalking phase in order to protect my ego. It was self-preservation by denial. After all, as I said, once you feel you have received this clear message from your soul or your God about who you really are and what you are meant to do here, how can you turn your back on it and maintain a clear conscience? Denial might be all you have left. Where are you in that process? Do you think you know what you are here to do? Do you know what makes your heart sing? Have you ever known? Have you always known? How loyal to it have you been? Are you all-in, or have you allowed Plans B and C and D to distract you from your purpose? Leave me a reply and let me know: How committed are you to your Plan A? 

Do what you LOVE,

William

P.S. If you know someone who should hear this message, pass it along. Let’s support each other!

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.