Tag Archives: Kids

The Inspiration List: What Motivates You To Be Better

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

This week, I was fascinated to read about James Shaw Jr., the man who, during the “Waffle House Shooting” in Tennessee two weeks ago, wrestled the killer’s AR-15 assault rifle away and forced the shooter to flee, saving numerous lives in the process.

I admit that I purposefully avoided the entire Waffle House story when the tragedy first occurred. I felt like my system was just not ready to take on the emotional toll of another mass shooting. I saw the typical headlines on the television at the gym and in my Newsfeed–the young white male, the assault rifle, the victims–and figured that I knew the story all too well and could save on my mental health by avoiding this one and taking on next week’s shooting instead. It was all too depressing and too numbingly “normal.” I kept my distance. I wanted that sinking darkness to pass me by this once.

What finally drew me to learn the full story, however, was a piece on James Shaw Jr. and his humble generosity. I had seen Mr. Shaw’s picture after the shooting–a photo of his arm that had been grazed by a bullet in the attack–and knew that he had stopped the shooter, but what I learned this week is what truly captured me. You see, he not only saved all these lives, but he also then started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for the families of the victims who died in the shooting. His original goal was to raise $15,000. Well, word got out, and as of the last time I checked, he had raised an amazing $225,966.

When I read that story and researched the number on the GoFundMe page, all I could think was, “Now THAT is how to do it! THAT is a light that brightens us all! Bless you, sir!”

James Shaw Jr. is an inspiration to me. He has filled my heart with hope and made me want to be a better human.  

The whole situation of the awful-yet-familiar tragedy at the Waffle House and my accidental discovery of a new source of inspiration this week has caused me to pause and ponder about Inspiration itself and where I can find more of it in this world where conflict, corruption, and calamity that grab the headlines.

I am tired of being weighed down, tired of examples of our failings and our helplessness at the hands of the dark, cold world. I want to feel lifted. I want to feel awe and hope. I want to be reminded that I am magnificent and that I am part of something even more magnificent. I want to believe in a bigger, better me.

In short, I want to be inspired.

So today, I am making an Inspiration List. On my list will be anything and everything that makes me feel all those ways I just described. You know, inspired.

With that, here goes one beautiful brainstorm:

  • The sun, moon, and stars. Everything that goes on out there in space–and just thinking of the unfathomably large magnitude of the Universe–electrifies my spirit, but I am extra moved by those celestial bodies that are part of my daily consciousness. I love driving to the gym in the pre-dawn darkness and having my breath taken away at my first sight of the full moon, then watching the magical light show of sunrise on my way home. And nothing beats a night under the stars to remind me that I am part of something truly awesome. It is in these moments of looking past our Earth that I am most convinced that there is a God.
  • Jimmy Carter. This guy is building houses for the homeless in his 90s. Enough said.
  • My kids. Everything about parenthood is being my best and giving my best. When you realize that every moment of your life is an example for both how they ought to behave immediately and how they will remember you eventually, you better step up. My kids have raised the bar for me in every way imaginable.
  • Water.  In all its forms, water is a true wonder for me. The ocean all by itself is enough to leave me in amazement every time I lay eyes on it, or better yet, swim in it. The amount of life there, the power of it, the enormity. It boggles my mind in the best of ways and leaves me in a state of Peace I can find nowhere else. It is that Peace that I love best about water. Streams, lakes, even puddles. I am drawn there and revitalized upon my arrival. I have always been mesmerized the fact that the percentage of the Earth covered by water is almost the exact percentage of water that makes up the human heart and brain. That connection inspires me.
  • Libraries and bookstores. It is the artists who wrote the words and the sacrifices they made to get the books published. It is the knowledge and wisdom contained in those books. It is the words themselves. Being surrounded by books gives me the good goosebumps.
  • Protest marches and marchers. I have been deeply moved by the marches of this era–the Women’s March, the #RedForEd teachers marching for funding, the Science March, Black Lives Matter, etc.–in their attempts to create awareness and change. It lifts me up to see regular citizens rising to the challenges that their “leaders” have failed them in meeting.
  • Quotes.  People from all walks of life across human history have said and written the most beautiful words. I read them and rise.
  • Quantum Physics. I love how something seemingly way over our heads can deliver us the most simple and powerful Truth: We are ALL connected to ALL THAT IS.
  • The teachers where I work. I am in an elementary school five days a week, and every day I am impressed and humbled by the way the teachers (and aids) navigate the minefield of our children and guide them toward a better future. It is so hard to be good at that.
  • My Facebook friend Josie. I have never even met this woman, but even electronically she oozes optimism, kindness, and authenticity. She posts several uplifting memes every day–I steal most of them for my Journal of You page–and shares all kinds of personal stories and photos from her view of the world. She is my example of how to change the world with your being and your little actions. The image of her in my mind literally glows.
  • Glacier National Park. I can hardly think about this place without getting misty. It is my symbol for the natural beauty of this Earth and the gifts we earthlings have been granted in being born here. It is why we need to do better with what we have.
  • Leonardo da Vinci. This guy was absolutely amazing! Of course, genius is always amazing in its way, but I so admire the tremendous breadth of this man’s explorations of his talents. When you are known as “The Father of…” multiple scientific disciplines and one of the best painters of all time, you are awe-worthy in my book. When people wonder why I write about so many different things instead of finding a niche, I think of Leonardo.
  • The Parkland kids. I take so much encouragement from these young people whose friends were murdered while at school and then had the gumption to use their moment to push for a positive change, proving to us all that you are never too young to use your voice.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama. This is not political. This is about character in the face of antagonism, cruelty, and outright bigotry. When I think of the Obamas, the two words that come to my mind are Class and Grace. And I also think of Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high.” I aspire to that.
  • The idea of a Divine Creator. I won’t try to tell you that I am certain that there is a God and that this God has a plan and created all of this beauty and magnificence for us to play in. However, I am attracted enough to those ideas to let it sway my soul into being inspired by it. As I have alluded to earlier, I am deeply moved by both the magnitude of the Universe itself and by the natural beauty and power of the “Nature” found on this planet, including the oceans, the mountains, the plants, and the animals (including us!). The idea that there was an intelligent Designer gives it all that much more Life and meaning.
  • Michelangelo’s The Pietá and David. When I first happened upon The Pietá in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I was struck motionless by it. My eyes welled up. I was absolutely spellbound. By the time I saw the David in Florence, I had seen so many replicas and pictures of it that I wasn’t anticipating much. Still, I could not take my eyes off of it. Michelangelo is an artist perhaps without parallel in history, and these sculptures are just two reasons why. I am inspired by his genius.
  • The nonviolence and strength of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These two great men top the list for me when it comes to heroes. Both fought unceasingly against injustice–both ultimately being murdered as a result–and yet both did so without the violence that their oppressors used and that so many around them called for.
  • Teaching. At various points in my life, I have stood in front of college kids to teach them Philosophy, elementary and middle school kids to teach them World Religions, and everyone from ages 3 to 93 to teach them Tennis. And every time, my heart has been filled by the teaching, the love of the subject matter, and my immense joy at helping to expand the world of my fellow beings. Teaching gives me life!
  • My cousin Heide. She died of cancer several years ago, a beloved teacher, wife, and mother of two little girls. Her death at such a young age–and how she left behind a life quite similar to mine–has served as a constant reminder to make the most of the time that I have, as more is not guaranteed.
  • The books of Steven Pressfield. He writes in more than one genre, but the two books of his that I tell myself that I should read every year are The War of Art and Turning Pro. As a writer, these books remind me to dig in and work at my craft, to sit down every day and put words onto paper, no matter how difficult the process or how awful the result, because the world needs my gifts. I need to hear that.
  • Music.  Whether live in concert, through the speakers filling up the house, or coming to me personally through my big headphones, there is nothing like music to fill up a soul. When the first notes come through to me–whether it is the dramatic organ and monologue of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the tinkling keys of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the unmistakable beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or the dramatic violins of Beethoven’s 5th symphony–my spirit soars.
  • Dan Rather. Growing up, we were more of an NBC household, so my news came from Tom Brokaw. But this late chapter of Rather’s life, where I have come to know him as a passionate social commentator on Facebook and a brilliant writer and patriot in his new book What Unites Us, has brought me to a man who has done and seen just about everything in his lifetime and has come away more empathetic and grateful for the process. His thoughts give me necessary, humble reminders and also great hope. So does his life.
  • Publishing my work. I will never forget the feelings of exhilaration that came when I put my very first blog post out into the world on this site. It was my reach-out to you, and hitting that “Publish” button felt like exactly what I was meant to do. I still get a charge every time I hit that “Publish” button in the early hours of Sunday morning, releasing my heart out into the world in hopes it makes someone else’s life better. Publishing my book was that way, too, only with a lot more relief after the many painstaking hours that project required. The feeling of sharing my Truth in the service of making others’ journeys more rich and full is enough to propel me to do it again and better. After all of the ways we beat ourselves up in life, it is a priceless treasure to occasionally be our own inspiration.
  • Science.  I absolutely LOVE to learn new things and get a little closer to the truth of how this Universe operates, so Science is my friend. One of my favorite things is the Ted-Ed Facebook page–I highly recommend following it–where they regularly produce these amazing little 5-minute videos, usually with animation, teaching us all about our world. Recent topics: “What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?,” “How do touchscreens work?,” “The evolution of teeth,” “What happens during a stroke?,” “Why can’t you divide by zero?” Learning this stuff excites me, but what excites me even more is that every day scientists are discovering new things about how our world works, how we can better operate in it, and how we might eventually have to save it. That lifts me up.

That’s my Inspiration List! My spirits are lifted just by writing it all down and thinking about these wonderful gifts. The list has become the final item on the list! It reminds me of Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List when he says, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life.” It certainly feels that way for me.

How about you? What’s on your Inspiration List? Open up your journal and think about what lifts you up, excites you about life, and moves you to be a better person. Write down that list. What comes immediately to your mind? Who are the people on your list? Are they more people that you know–family and friends–or famous people? Are the famous ones from the present day or are they historical figures? Are your categories more general–like movies or music or books–or is your list full of specific songs, movies, and book titles? Which places are on your list? Are they places you have been or places you dream about going? Is there a spot on your list for spiritual practices? Are YOU on your list? How does it make you feel to make the list? Does your list inspire you? I hope so! What have I missed in my list–what do you recommend? Leave me a reply and let me know: What fills up your Inspiration List?

Do great things,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I would appreciate if you would share it on your social media. And if you are comfortable sharing your list, even better!

P.S.S. Dive deeper into your whole life–past, present, and future–with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. Available at your favorite online retailer.

Other People’s Children (And Other Things I Can’t Stand)

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” –Roald Dahl, Matilda 

Hello friend,

It is VERY easy for me to see why people who don’t have kids look at the other schmucks, like me, parenting and think how unappealing (maybe even awful) it seems.

You know what I mean? Say you don’t have kids, and you get together with these family folks occasionally. The only time you might notice the kids (unless you are really into kids) is when they are getting scolded or needing their diaper changed or spilling on your clothes or breaking your electronics or screaming or crying or swallowing your loose change and trinkets. And you think to yourself, “That looks like CONSTANT WORK! And NOT fun. And these poor suckers are stuck with these kids for like 20 YEARS!” And it all just seems so other-focused. Your “own time” falls away, and you can’t do whatever you want all the time.

I can see how this looks like a bad gig. The truth, however—and this is something you only learn by having them—is that the appearances were almost completely wrong.

Sure, parenting is totally exhausting and often frustrating, but it is also infinitely rewarding, soul-stirring, and heart-filling. And once you have your own kids, you are thinking, “This feels like CONSTANT LOVE! And SO fun. And I get them FOREVER!” 

It actually comes to be seen by the parent as a rather one-sided trade: “All I had to give up was some ‘freedom’ (which I wasn’t actually using very well) for a lifetime of love and connection, of family. That’s a steal!” 

At least that is sort of how it worked for me. Sort of.

I never wanted kids. Though I always liked hanging out with the kids rather than the parents at family gatherings and other social events, I never imagined having any of my own. I think it was because I never imagined myself “settling down” and getting married. If I wasn’t ever getting married, I surely was not ever having kids.

I never really had the “Those poor suckers…” thoughts about parents, though. I guess I never realized how challenging it is, so I never felt bad for them. The parents I knew seemed happy to be doing it, but like I said, I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. The path I imagined for myself was much, much different.

Of course, you know how that turned out! It’s amazing what meeting an amazing woman can do to shake up a world and a plan. Once I finally surrendered to the idea of becoming a husband, it was a given that I was also going to be a father. It was a bargain I understood going in, and once I agreed, I was all-in. I knew my limit for kids was two, and that was not negotiable. But I was going to give those two kids every bit of my love, my time, and my patience.

And I have. It has been rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined and beyond anything I have the words to describe to you.

I know it sounds so condescending to people without kids—and I apologize for that–but I really think it is one of those things you cannot understand unless you go though it. Unless you have waited for that child to come into your life. Unless you have rocked that sick baby to sleep and fed her on your chest. Unless you have encouraged those first steps and held onto that bicycle seat until you knew he was ready for you to let go. Unless you have shared your ice cream cone and held her hand on her first steps into the ocean. Unless you have been the only one who can make him feel better when he gets hurt on the playground or scared by a nightmare. Unless you have heard those joyful squeals and seen those eyes filled with sheer delight as they run to you upon hearing you come through the door.

Without the accumulation of these moments and a million more just like them, I think it is difficult to understand. But that doesn’t matter. My point is the same: in return for making the difficult decision to give up my single and childless life, I got this little window with these few people to make an unfathomably beautiful brand of magic. And though I admit to occasional wistful thoughts about the old days of blissful solitude, I would not trade this beautiful window for anything.

Including more of it.

Earlier this year, I came home one day and my wife asked me if I was willing to adopt an orphaned baby whom she had heard about that day. “Not in a million years!” was my automatic reply. It took no thought, and even when I did think about it, my sentiment was exactly the same. No chance.

Then last week, I got two babies dumped on my doorstep along with all of the paraphernalia to raise them for a few days. I had known it was coming for a while, and “dread” is not too strong of a word to describe my anticipation of the weekend. The kids belonged to my brother-in-law: one was seven months old, the other two-and-a-half years. An infant and a toddler. Oi!

I could not begin to imagine what was inside my wife’s head when she agreed to babysit for multiple nights for such creatures. Whatever it was—saintliness or insanity–I was buried in babies for the duration of their stay. It was exhausting! Even though my kids are only a handful of years past that stage, how quickly I had forgotten how absolutely NONSTOP it is with babies and toddlers. Constant vigilance. Constant play. Constant laundry. Messes everywhere. It is a crazy lifestyle.

And even though I grumbled in my head about being volunteered for this duty, I had vowed to myself that I would not take that out on the children. I would be present and joyful and engaged. I was, too. We all had a good time.

But. (There just had to be a “but”.) But I could only stomach it knowing that it was all going to end in a couple of days. I can’t imagine actually parenting like that, half the time thinking two major thoughts: “I am too old for this!” and “When are they leaving?”

I thought about my brother-in-law, who had two kids when he was in his twenties with his first wife, raised them to teenagehood and certainly figured he was done, then divorced, married a younger woman, and now has a second pair of babies in his mid-forties. Is he not constantly muttering, “I am too old for this stuff!”? He is not the only person I know who has had two distinct rounds of kids, either married to the same spouse or a different one. I have seen some who seem to resent the younger ones—or at least resent the grind of raising them–and are less engaged than they could be because, in their heads, they were done with their duties after the first round of kids. That’s not good for anyone involved.

I guess you have to decide on your limit and your window for having kids, then dive in head-first and enjoy the exhausting-but-wildly-rewarding ride, and then just chill until grandparenthood comes along. Have you noticed how people love grandparenthood? I am quite sure I will be ready by that time to go all-in on my grandkids, if I am so blessed.

But babysitting? Especially multi-day babysitting? At this point, I am just not there. I have no patience for their demands, quirks, and messes, even if they are just a different version of my kids’ issues. Play dates are the same, and now especially that my daughter has begun sleepovers. It is just not in me. Grrr.

Maybe it is because I had to initially grapple with the idea of having my own kids in the first place before finally embracing the plan fully, but it feels like by going completely all-in with them, I have somehow reduced my tolerance for the challenges of other people’s children. I have to smile through my grinding teeth during certain play dates when the other kid is acting up, and I would be quick to pass on any babysitting opportunity. At the same time, I am still completely patient and engaged with my own kids’ development, including when they are acting up.

It’s like my window for all of this stuff was only so big, and I have already squeezed every inch of my kid tolerance into it with my own pair of rugrats. As I wrote into my journal on the final afternoon of babysitting, “Two days is about 1 ½ days too many.”

I hope my brother-in-law is thrilled with his life choice. It is plainly not for me, though. I will gleefully pilot my two kids all the way to adulthood, but there is definitely no Round Two in my future. See you in grandparenthood, friend! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

How about you? How tolerant are you of other people’s children? Open up your journal and take yourself through your recent experiences with kids. How would you categorize your patience level with them? How closely related to you were they? Is your tolerance level directly proportional to how closely related you are to the children (or at least how much you care for their parents)? If you have kids of your own, do you find yourself to be pretty accepting of their quirks and issues? How much different is it with other kids? Are you more or less tolerant with other kids? In your most private moments, do you wish you had fewer kids than you do? More? If you could give your younger self advice on how many children to have in order to achieve the right balance for your personality, what is that number? How much does that number differ from your significant other’s number? Who compromised the most? Do the effects of that compromise ever show themselves –e.g. lack of patience—in interactions with the kids? Do you like babysitting? How open would you be to my situation of taking on an infant and a toddler for a few days? Could a child’s story be told to you that would be compelling enough to adopt a child(ren) or become a foster parent? Are there other things in life that you sign on for, accept all of the frustrations and issues that come with it, but have no tolerance for beyond what you signed up for? Pets? Yard work? I used to deal with tons of financial figures at an old job to the point that I could not so much as open a bill at home. Similarly, I worked for years in service industries and had to not only tolerate but smile through just about every level of human nonsense imaginable, and I think I hit my quota and have lost my lifetime’s allocation of tolerance for pettiness, narrow-mindedness, and superficiality. How is your tolerance for those? I just had a revelation! I think this is the foundation of me as a grumpy old man. In recent years I have come to much greater understanding about what I love and what serves my soul and my greater good. Along with that comes clarity about what doesn’t. I have no time and patience for those things anymore, and I imagine my impatience for them will only grow as I age and refine my tastes. Thus, the grumpy old man. What do you think? Do you tolerate less and less as you age? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the limits of your patience?

Smile at Life,

William

P.S. If something in today’s letter hits home with you, I hope you will share it. Peace to you.

What Are You Willing To Struggle & Suffer For?

dsc_0435“You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

I was talking recently with an entrepreneurial friend of mine whose new business is failing. She was wrestling with different options for how she might save it, or whether just letting it go was the best choice. It is a horrible spot to be in, to have to consider giving up on something you believed in and very much wanted to succeed.

I am not very good at advice—I tend to think people are the experts on their own lives–so I don’t give it often. Instead, I usually just ask them questions. My hope is that my questions will help them think more clearly about their situation so they can come up with the answer on their own that feels right with both their brain and their gut. I think that when you make your own decision rather than just doing what someone told you to do, you are more likely to take responsibility for the result. There is no one else to blame.

So, when she asked me what I thought she should do, I had no sure-thing strategy or any story about the times when I have had to make a similar decision. The only thing I had was a question.

Is it something you are willing to struggle and suffer for?

In other words, is it so important that this dream succeeds that you are willing to make big sacrifices—your time, money, emotions, etc.—to see it succeed?

Let’s face it, we all want our stuff to succeed. You want your new business to flourish. You want your relationship to be healthy, happy, and lasting. You want to make more money. You want to go on vacation next year. You want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You want to be fit and healthy. You want to be self-aware. Right?

But which of those things are you ready to truly sacrifice for? The proof is almost always in the pudding.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to begin the transition out of my career coaching tennis. I knew that if I had a gun to my head, my answer for what I really wanted to do was be a writer. However, my confidence for achieving tangible success (i.e. a regular paycheck) doing that was low, so I was open to other avenues. But those avenues had to work around my kids, because giving my time and energy to them was my true top priority. I started taking classes to become a Life Coach, which sounded like a career right up my alley: fulfilling and flexible. I took a job out of tennis that wasn’t fulfilling but kept money coming in while meshing perfectly with my kids’ schedule. And I kept writing.

While in pursuit of the coaching avenue, a business opportunity doing something I wasn’t interested in was basically handed to me. I made a deal with myself to give it the minimal amount of time and effort to see if it would “magically” produce clients and dollars, crossing my fingers and hoping to strike it rich, at least until it no longer made financial sense to keep the experiment going. And I kept writing.

So, basically I had a job and three things I wanted to work out (under the condition that they let me be with my kids most of the time). That’s not asking for much, right?

What happened? Well, it was pretty straightforward. With the business that I didn’t care about, as soon as it looked like I had to work and get uncomfortable to turn a profit, I pulled the plug. Because I knew my conditions for that one going in, I was at peace. The next one to fall was the Life Coaching training. That one was much more painful to let go of, because it really would be both fulfilling and convenient as a career for me. And I loved it. But it would be a lot of work. More classes, trying to scrounge up clients from scratch, marketing, etc. Struggling, scraping, sacrificing, and suffering. If it was the only horse in the race, I would have kept at it.

But there was the writing thing. That was the longest shot of all of them, the one with the most uncertainty, most likely to fail, most difficult to gain steady employment, and generally most tormenting of all (as creative ventures are prone to be). I would have jettisoned all thoughts of a writing career, except for one small detail: my heart was set on it.

I knew with what little time I have when I am not at my regular job or busy with the kids, I simply could not attempt to press on with the Life Coach training and the writing simultaneously. Push had finally come to shove, and, as I said, the proof is in the pudding. The writing is all that remains. It is the only career-related enterprise I seem willing to struggle and suffer for.

There are bigger tests to pass with it, though, as it won’t be long before I will have to challenge myself to replace my safe day job with some form of actually being paid to write. It remains to be seen how much I will be willing to sacrifice, how much I will compromise, and how stubbornly I will take a stand for “writing or starvation,” as it is much tougher to be principled when there are other mouths to feed.

Will I truly be willing to suffer for my writing, or will time bear out that I only really like the idea of being a writer but not the actual writer’s life and work? Inevitably, the proof will be in the pudding.

The only other area of my life that I have shown the willingness to make sacrifices to make it work is mentioned above: that demand to spend my children’s childhood with them rather than consumed by work. Before my daughter was born, I was in a position of some authority and made a comfortable amount of money. But I worked a ton. If I had kept that schedule, I would have hardly seen her or her future brother. So, I stepped down, taking a lower position and a much lower paycheck. But I staked a claim to my schedule. I have hardly compromised it in the eight years since.

And yes, I have wanted to make more money in those eight years. And I have wanted to go on vacation. But I haven’t been willing to do the necessary struggle and sacrifice for the money or the vacation, because that would mean compromising the time with the kids. The proof in the pudding, see?

So, I guess I have two stories for myself. I would say I am passing the test on the kids priority, not just saying I want the time but actually struggling to protect it. But I am willing to say that the jury is still out on the writing priority. I want to think that it is a done deal, that I will make all necessary sufferings and sacrifices for it and will go down swinging rather than compromise again, but that test has not been completed. I feel it coming to a head very soon and am gathering my strength and resolve for it.

But I also have the sneaking suspicion that these tests are never completely passed, that we have to step up to them and stake our claim over and over again as we continually define who we are in this life. I think sometimes we ignore them, though, and go sleepwalking through our little worlds for a while. But other times, the battle lines are crystal clear: you know the very value of your life is on the line, how hard it will be live it the way your heart knows you should, and that this is the moment of truth. I feel one of those crystalline moments approaching in my life. It is scary yet exhilarating, this opportunity to define myself by laying claim to what I value. I go willingly into the struggles. En garde! 

How about you? What in your life is so important that you are willing to suffer and struggle and sacrifice for? Open up your journal take a look at the pudding. What does the way you live your life say about the things you value most? First, it might be more helpful to begin with a rundown of the things you think you value or say you value. What are they? Now take a look at your history. What are the things, at different points in your life, that you have genuinely struggled for? As you look back now, how did those struggles shape you? Do you still value those things that you once struggled so hard for? What about now? Is there anything in your life right now that you are making the big sacrifices for, grinding so hard in the service of something you value so highly? What are the sacrifices and struggles and sufferings? How sure are you that it is worth it? Is it worth so much to you because of the struggle or in spite of the struggle? Okay, so now compare what you said you value with the things you are actually sacrificing for, if there are any? Do your mouth and your actions tell us different stories? Are you prepared to do something to correct that? Is there something in your life—a long-held dream, perhaps—that you want badly but have simply not had the courage to pursue because of all of the struggle and sacrifice involved? What small step can you take today in the direction of that desire? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you willing to struggle and suffer for?

Let your life be your message,

William

P.S. I hope you really climbed inside yourself on this topic, as I know that for me, that good, hard look in the mirror is so helpful, even if difficult. If it helped you, I hope you will share today’s letter with your world. Go and grow!

Think Happy Thoughts!! What makes you SMILE every time?

DSC_0372“All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile.” —Chris Hart

Hello friend,

Digging through a pile of junk on my shelf this week, I uncovered an old phone and its charger. Curiosity got the best of me, so I plugged it in and fired it up. The only thing of value that I could find—apart from a still-working version of Angry Birds—was the photo gallery. I took a sweet stroll down Memory Lane, to the days of my daughter’s first swimming lessons and my son’s toddlerhood. It was all very dreamy, and I am sure I had a little grin on my face the entire time. But it was when I came across an image that turned out to be a video that the experience transformed from a nice little moment to the gleeful highlight of the day.

Picture the scene: I am shooting the video from the middle of the street at the bottom of our sloped driveway on a chilly day in late Spring. My daughter is at the top of the driveway doing sidewalk chalk, but this video is all about the little guy next to her, who is about to take off on his Big Wheel. Not even three years old at that time, his bright yellow, sheep-covered helmet dominates his head and barely rises into view above the handlebars. As he pushes off the ground with his feet and raises them high and wide into the air as though in invisible stirrups, I start commentary as though he is Lightning McQueen from the “Cars” movie. Then as he gathers speed down the hill, he lays his head all the way back and looks up to the sky. Immediately he begins to careen off-course, and I holler, “AAAARRRGH! WATCH OUT, BUDDY!!!” Then it is laughter as he turns at the last possible second and empties out into the street by me and sets down his feet for brakes. With a look of sheer delight on his face, he looks up at me and shouts in this squeaky-yet-hoarse toddler voice, “DID YOU SEE ME, DADDY? DID YOU SEE ME? Hee hee! I’m do it again!” And the video ends with him climbing off the Big Wheel and beginning to turn it around for another plunge.

Eighteen seconds. That’s all it was. And while I was no doubt beaming the whole time I watched, near the end, when I heard that little voice—that little, squeaky voice that I had totally forgotten and that sounds nothing like his 6-year-old, big boy voice—my joy totally overflowed. It floated me through the day. Even just thinking about that sound now has me grinning ear-to-ear. About a month ago, my wife found an even older video of my daughter at that age, “helping” my then-infant son to eat some baby food. I can still hear her little, high-pitched voice—again, totally forgotten until the video surfaced, because it is nothing like today’s 8-year-old voice—saying, “Do you LIKE it? Is it GOOOOOD?” There is something about seeing them at that age and hearing those squeaky little voices that triggers an instant and unstoppable smile on my face. It’s like magic. Bottled JOY.

With those squeaky voices and free smiles fresh in my mind, I started thinking: How can I get some more of that? What else in my life—whether from an experience I need to seek out or simply from the memory of past experiences—is an automatic smile-maker? What thoughts, tastes, sights, smells, people, places, and memories are that powerful? I am not talking about things that are great about my life or that I should be grateful for—a fulfilling career or awesome family or wonderful health or financial security, stuff like that—but rather things that tickle me, that probably make me giggle a little bit when I smile, that totally lighten my load in an instant. It’s a high standard.

Okay, so here we go for my first crack at my personal Insta-Smile List:

  • My son’s eyes. He has a magical mix of wild glee with a bit of mischief that gets me almost every time (I have to be Serious Dad when the mischief part goes too far). He cannot keep a straight face for anything, and I can’t either when I look at him.
  • A tennis court lit up at night in a park. Always a romantic image in my mind. I can’t explain it.
  • A picture of my Grandma Jeanne. The sweetness in her eyes. 
  • The mention of my Grandpa Hermie. Legend. 
  • The sound of my daughter playing piano in our play room. It isn’t even that she is any good at it yet, but I just love the sound of someone playing the piano in my house. I smile every time! 
  • Watching my kids run across the street to get the neighbor kids to play. This is so nostalgic for me. I had thought that this went out of style in this modern age when everyone is so wary of other people and less social. But lately my kids have done this more and more. I can’t refuse—or stop grinning—when my son says, “Can I go knock on Caleb’s door?” Something about watching them walk over there just pulls me back to the joy of my youth. It fills me.
  • The smell of banana bread. 
  • Little kids talking to themselves. I am telling you, take any chance you can get to do some close-up surveillance on a toddler playing alone with toys. Not only are they just irresistibly adorable, but the dialogue between all of the imaginary characters is absolutely hilarious. I wish I had shot a lot more video of my kids playing like this when they were younger, because it would surely keep me giggling through my old age. Being with my three-year-old niece last weekend, I could have just followed her around all weekend and smiled continuously while listening to her commentary.
  • Watching kids jump off the dock into the lake. Pure joy, for them and for me.
  • Watching people dancing. 
  • Dancing.
  • Swimming underwater with goggles. It’s a challenge for me to keep water out of my mouth because my natural reaction is to smile when I am down there. The most peaceful place on Earth. 
  • The thought of my old friend Jon. Even 25 years later, I can’t think of him without a laugh and a smile.
  • Sledding. I challenge you to keep from smiling!
  • Skiing fast down a long, groomed run. Ditto.
  • The sound of a stranger farting in a public place. Sorry, I really am a child. 
  • The first piano notes of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” If you have ever seen the movie “Almost Famous,” you will remember the scene on the bus with this song. It is a beautiful piece of filmmaking in one of my all-time favorite movies. Really, there are so many moments in this movie that are automatic smiles for me. It is one of the rare ones that basically tickles me all the way through.
  • Robert Downey Jr. Honestly, I can’t look at this guy without a little giggle. He got me started in “Johnny Be Good” about 30 years ago, then absolutely killed it in “Home for the Holidays,” another one of my favorites. He just has that look in his eye that he is about to say or do something that will make himself laugh. Come to think of it, this is what it is about looking into my son’s eyes. It is irresistibly goofy.

Okay, so that’s my list! For now. It has been so much fun to think about, I will probably linger on the topic for a few more days, see if I can double my list. It is like smile therapy, truly. I can’t explain how uplifting this has been to work on. It has reminded me how important it is to not only revisit my most ticklish subjects, but to carry with me the kind of spirit that will let me make new ones. Smiles and laughs, I am open for business!

How about you? What in your world guarantees to draw a big, toothy grin out of you? Open up your journal and start your Insta-Smile List. I know I ask you every week to make the effort to write this stuff down, but I really, really mean it this week. This topic was a total delight to work on, and my cheeks are getting sore from smiling so much. Do yourself a big favor and make the time to really dig out a full list for yourself. You will not regret it. Which ones come immediately to mind? Why do you think they are so obvious? Does it happen frequently with these short-listers, or just memorably? Are the things on your list more memories, sensory experiences (e.g. the smell of banana bread, the sight of a lit tennis court), or things you need to experience in real time (e.g. sledding, dancing, swimming underwater)? Which of your happy thoughts are tied to nostalgia, whether directly from joyful memories or indirectly from sensory cues (maybe banana bread is tied to Grandma) or things that you still like that you liked as a kid? Who are the people in your life that trigger a laugh and a smile even just thinking about them? Does identifying them make you want to spend more time with them or make you think they are extra-special, or are they just a different kind of special but not any more valuable? What could you do differently in your life to have more of the experiences on your list? What could you do differently to create more new Insta-Smile experiences? This is a fun exercise, right? Which ones on your list are your most favorite? Which are you going to do today? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes you smile every time? 

Shine on,

William

P.S. If this lightened your load a little, please share it. A smile is a gift worth giving. Cheers!

A Bridge Between Generations: The Beauty of Connecting Human Life

IMG_1325“What we pass on moves forward to future generations. Never let anything important slip through the cracks.” –Elizabeth B. Knaus

Hello friend,

My parents stopped by this week and spent an evening at my house on their way back from a Winter in the warmth. We hadn’t seen them since Christmas, so my kids were absolutely thrilled when they heard their Nana and Pop would be coming the next day to spend the night. They jumped off the school bus that afternoon demanding, “Where are they? How come they aren’t here yet?” When my parents finally arrived, a light and energy came over my kids and stayed until they left the next morning. I noticed it immediately and watched it with great fascination. It was like watching someone in love: a different aura swirling about. It was beautiful to see. Interestingly, it seemed to flow from both sides. The light in my parents’ eyes while talking and playing with their grandkids was brilliant. There was a genuine glow of delight there that sticks in my mind even now.

We went out for dinner at a restaurant that was raising money for my kids’ school that night, and the entertainment in watching them interact was nonstop and priceless. The shine of mischief and amusement in my old man’s eyes as he teased my 5-year-old son about the girls from his kindergarten class at the next table was a sight I won’t soon forget. And of course, my gullible-yet-animated son kept going right along with the act. “What the HECK?!?!” “Are you serious, Pop?” “I DON’T have a girlfriend!!!” On and on. I didn’t say a word, just watched their comedy act and giggled along, so grateful that they could form this wonderful bond and rapport despite seeing each other only a few times a year (and Pop not necessarily being the easiest guy to get chummy with).

It struck me how different this relationship was compared to the ones my kids share with my Mom, their Nana. That one is a much more tender bond, built with time, intimacy, and the deep care that characterizes my Mother’s relationships with her kids and grandkids. She is the one who will talk on the phone or Facetime with them, the one who might snuggle up to read them a bedtime book, the one who patiently teaches them to play a song on the piano. She gets right down and plays with them at their level. Both my son and daughter adore her and have that close bond that she magically engenders in each one of her grandkids. She would do anything for them, and they deeply love her for it.

As I watched these amusing and sincere interactions between the four of them through the evening, I realized that I was doing just that: watching. I was simply a spectator for this fantastic connection that was happening. I was just the conduit, the agent that brings these beautiful people together to spin their magical relationships across generations.

Here were these two boys and two girls, one pair born in an era without televisions and the other in the age of a zillion screens, blending beautifully. Two worlds united. I cannot begin to describe the delight in my heart that I got to be a fly on the wall for that experience. Even better, though, was the realization that I am the lucky connection between the two. In the thousands of years of my family’s lineage, I drew the assignment of linking these two generations—these four special people–together. What great fortune!

In the days that have passed since this visit, I have been pondering this luck of mine, as well as this role of connecting generations and sharing one with another. When you think about it, it may be the most basic and essential task we have as human beings. Evolutionarily, we are here to keep the species going. We don’t do that simply by reproducing—that is the easy part—but by actually using the lessons learned by previous generations to make a good life for the next generation. Of course, it is a delicious bonus, as I experienced this week, to literally bring the generation before us and the generation after us together, and I think it is important to find ways to do that more frequently in this world where the older generations tend to be cast off and disregarded like last season’s iPhone.

But bringing children and grandparents together is not the only way to fill our evolutionary role as links in the human chain. You don’t need to be someone’s parent—or to still have parents yourselves—to do that. We connect the generations—and connect the world—just by sharing ourselves wholly, by being a participating member of the human race. Whenever you share yourself, you give your worldview and your wisdom gained from a life here on Earth, a life that was brought to you by the generations that came before you. As long as you are engaging, you cannot help but pass on what your ancestors gave you. That gift will be passed on to the next generation, either directly from you or indirectly via the people you share your world with.

Of course, I highly encourage you to hook up with a different generation—whether older or younger—and swap some knowledge and some love. From my experience, that is completely reinvigorating. I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to have spent so many years of my career working at least part of the time with children of many ages. In theory, you are supposed to teach them, but really they end up teaching you, and delightfully so. Now, with my own kids, I am more keenly aware of the importance of passing down age-old wisdom on the living of this life. And, because of my own fascination with storytelling and chronicling our lives, I find myself always trying to connect their experiences with stories of their ancestors, even if it is just tales of my youth with my siblings.

It really stirs my heart the most, though, when I can find someone from the older generations who will share their stories and their accumulated wisdom with me. Even better when I can hear those stories in the company of my children, achieving the multigenerational exchange instantaneously. I have a very special uncle who is so wonderful about doing that when I bring my children by for our annual visit. Whenever we leave his house, I feel as though something beautiful and important has been passed down.

As part of my soul’s code, I have this unquenchable thirst to learn all that I am “supposed to” learn about the best, most authentic way to live this life. I need those previous generations for that. The other aspect of my soul’s code, though, is the unquenchable thirst to share all that I know about living your best, most authentic life with others. And whether it goes to them directly from me or from the other people I connect with—You, for example—I need the next generation to fulfill my mission.

So you see, it is hardwired in me—maybe in all of us—to link up with people from different eras. It is in my code to connect, both by learning and by teaching. It seems to be the only way that I can find fulfillment on this journey. And sometimes, like this week when my parents came to play with my kids, I get to witness magic happening. The old, the young, and me—we were all just One. Our little section of the chain was connected, and with it, I felt connected. It all just felt so right. Whenever I get that feeling, I think it is the Universe’s way of letting me know that I am on the right track. I find it telling that I often get that feeling when my family is all gathered together in multiple generations, and also when I am teaching. It seems that when I allow myself to be a part of this grand and beautiful chain that connects and transcends across time, all is right in my world.

How about you? What is your connection to the older and younger generations? Open up your journal and explore the ways that you connect the chain. Do you have more contact with people who are of the previous generation or the next generation? Is that by choice or by chance? Which generation do you prefer to spend time with? When you are with people of different generations, do you consciously seek out opportunities to either learn or teach? Which are you more comfortable with? Do you feel any sort of obligation to learn your family history in order to share it with future generations? Whether or not you have your own children or even want to have kids in the future, what level of pressure have you felt to have them in order to keep your family’s heritage going? Is that pressure from society, your family, or yourself? In a society that increasingly disregards the past—whether it is last year’s technology or the generation that invented it—how would you rate yourself on how well you value the people who paved your path? How do you show that evaluation? In what areas of your life could you seek out more and deeper connections with either the older or the younger generations? Is that a priority for you? Who are your role models? For whom are you a role model? How seriously do take that role? Do you feel a special kind of joy—like I do—when you connect your favorites from the different generations? Leave me a reply and let me know: What role do you play in linking the past with the future?

Be your best today,

William

P.S. If this made you take a new or different look at your role in the greater human experience, pass it on. Let’s celebrate our interconnectedness!

This Life & The Afterlife: Torn Between The Two

IMG_2404To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, For in this sleep of death what dreams may come….” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hello friend,

Here’s the deal: I am so desperately eager to get to the next life, but I also simply cannot let go of this one any time soon. Huh? How can I reconcile that? Allow me to explain.

I believe that the state of being that comes after this life is going to be absolutely amazing. Not just amazing, though; because we throw around the term “amazing” all the time about pretty much anything we like: a gym class, our new yogurt, shoes, etc. What comes after our physical death, I believe, will be beyond amazing. Indescribably peaceful, blissful, and aware of our complete oneness with the Divine Source.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t claim to know what exactly comes next (and I am suspicious of anyone who does). I believe that we are all completely divine, that we existed prior to our appearance in this human form, and that we will continue to exist in another form(s?) when we are done with these bodies. I am attracted to many of the ideas of Buddhism, and reincarnation is one that I have played with. I am open to that possibility but not necessarily sold on it. I also don’t really buy the traditional vision of a Heaven with pearly gates and all of our friends and relatives who look exactly like they do now, a view that I think is common. I definitely don’t believe in any sort of Hell in the afterlife. But I definitely do believe in continuous existence, that we are not just going to cease entirely when our hearts stop beating.

I guess if you pinned me down and made me pick a description using our limited human ideas, I would say that I believe that when we die, we become fully aware of our pure divinity again. We lift the veil that we wear throughout our human journey, the one that allows us to believe that we are somehow separate from God and separate from each other. Unbound by our physical form, we join the stream of pure consciousness of All That Is. We are pure Love, and, more importantly, we know it. To me, that is who we are now, but we simply don’t recognize it, aren’t aware of it, and so we continue to act out of ignorance throughout our time on Earth.

You could probably say that is the foundation of my spiritual beliefs: that we are all One—all God, if you like—and thus, the end is not in doubt.

So, needless to say, I am pretty darn excited to get to the end of this ignorance and onto that plane of Bliss and Conscious Union with The All. {I don’t mind if you translate that to “Heaven” and “God” as long as you feel what I mean.} Indeed, I would love to be there now. I can’t wait!!!

BUT…..

You cannot take me now! No way, I need to be here forever! Well, not exactly forever. Just until I reach a wise, old age when my kids have successfully navigated their way into middle adulthood (and hey, grandkids would be cool, too!). I need to be here for them. I guess it is two reasons, really. First, I want them to have their Dad to help shepherd and support them through the trials of this world. I wish that for any kid, and certainly for my own. And secondly/selfishly, I simply don’t want to miss a thing! Seriously. These kids have completely rocked my world, and I am addicted to my life with them. I sometimes have daydreams about being diagnosed with a terminal illness with only a short time to go, and I get to the point of actually sobbing when I think about saying goodbye to them and how many things I would miss out on. It crushes me. I have gotten to the point where I am absolutely clinging to this earthly existence.

I was never this way before I started this family way of life. In fact, before my wife and kids came along, when I lived a solitary (by choice) life, focused intensely on my spirituality and connectedness to the Divine, I felt both blissful and completely ready for death. Eager, even. Often, in my happiest, most fulfilled moments—on the top of a mountain or in the middle of a clear stream—I would hear myself saying aloud, “You can have me any time, God!” I absolutely meant it.

But a funny thing happens when you get invested in particular Earthlings. Suddenly, you don’t want to leave this place anymore. Like the Hollywood stories of people who had given up on life until they meet someone to love, my wife and kids somehow made me want to stay here (a lot!). They didn’t’ make me happier or more at peace. No, they just made me feel responsible and desirous (desperate?) of squeezing out every possible moment with them. They took me out of the next world that I was reaching for and grounded me fully in this one. They made me think Heaven can wait.

So, what gives? Was I crazy then to want so much to move on to the afterlife, or is my mind warped now in thinking that something from this life—even my darling little angels—could be worthy of making me prefer this life to the next one? I don’t know if there is a right answer to this.

I guess the way I am approaching it, I see myself as an infinite being, so the next life is always out there and won’t be any shorter for my stay on this floating rock called Earth. So, despite its uncertainties and cruelties, I am going to take this portion of the ride for as long as it will have me. I know I am wearing the veil of ignorance and disconnect while here, and while that is frustrating at times, I just need to return to my foundational belief occasionally to remind myself: We are all One, and thus, the end is not in doubt. So, I will make the best of this veiled part of the journey, soaking up the magical moments with my family on this beautiful planet. And then, when my day comes—though they may have to drag me kicking and screaming—I will remove the veil and float blissfully away, fully aware of my divine and infinite nature. One moment at a time….

How about you? Are you more clinging to this life or longing for the next one, or, like me, a little bit of both? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your beliefs about God and the nature of reality. I must admit, I found it quite challenging but wonderfully invigorating to try to put into words how I envision the afterlife. So please, make the effort on this one. I suppose the underlying question with this topic is: do you believe in a Higher Power? What do you call it? Is that Higher Power judging how you are doing in this lifetime in order to give you a sentence for the afterlife? Do you believe there is some sort of afterlife? How would you describe what you think happens to us after we die? Is it different for everyone? What do you think of concepts like Hell or Purgatory or Limbo? How about reincarnation? Pearly gates? Choirs of angels? Do you think you get to “meet” a personal God? A life review? Judgment? Is what comes next dependent upon what happens here in this existence? Do you think that what you get then depends upon what you believe now (i.e. different results for Atheists, Hindus, Christians, etc.)? How much of your view of the afterlife is dictated by a religion? Were you born into that religion, or did you adopt it when you were old enough to decide for yourself, or somewhere in between? How sure are you that your belief in the afterlife is correct? Does your belief make you want to get to the next world as soon as possible, or would you prefer to stick around here for as long as you are able? What are the things in this world that make you want to stay? Do we owe it to ourselves/our loved ones/our Higher Power to stay here as long as we can? Is that just part of the deal of being born? To what degree are you clinging to this world? Is that more due to what you have here—loved ones, etc.—or more due to your uncertainty about what awaits you when you die? Is it normal to not want to die but also to very much want what comes after death? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which life do you want more: this one or the next one?

Embrace it All,

William

P.S. If this one made you dig into your core beliefs and your psyche the way it did for me—I found this topic highly engaging—pass it on. Self-awareness is a gift!

Presents vs. Presence: What is the Best Gift on Your List?

DSC_0405“Together is the best place to be.” —Words painted on the wall at my family’s cabin

Hello friend,

I LOVE Christmas presents! I know that, at this age, I am supposed to be embarrassed to admit that, but it is so true. Even as my hair gets more gray every year, that is one part of being a kid that has never left me. I still get downright squirrely the moment I wake up on Christmas morning, eager to skip the breakfast formalities and get right to the gifts. It is all I can do to keep from shoving everyone—my wife, kids, siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and my parents–down the stairs to their spots on the sofas and chairs so we can start distributing the mountains of gifts piled under and around the tree.

Christmas—and my giddiness about the presents—has always been this way at my house. I had a few friends growing up who got cool stuff at random times all through the year, and Christmas was no big deal to them. They got a few presents, just like any other week out shopping with their parents. Ho hum. We were NOT that family! My parents pinched pennies all year long—“Better ask for it for your birthday,and “Put it on your Christmas List were familiar refrainsbut they went all-out on those two special days. Tons of presents and a real effort to make it a special day. And it was!

My anticipation for Christmas was feverish. The day before was always a rollercoaster of emotions: a kind of ecstatic elation about its nearness mixed with the absolute torment of waiting. Like rabid dogs, my siblings and I would crawl through the piles around the tree and oh-so-carefully slide underneath it, squeezing and shaking each gift, guessing at the contents of each and, of course, making a tally of how many each kid was getting. Finally, in the evening, after hours of begging, we were allowed to open one present—ONE—always the one from my cousins. It was a momentary thrill, but hardly enough to assuage my wild urges to tear through the wrappings under the tree to see if my guesses were correct. I salivated over the thought of new toys. The frenzy in my mind made for a tough time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve, and from the moment I woke up on Christmas morning, I was like a maniac, just DYING to get to the presents.

The years have passed, and though the extremes of my torment and elation have been tamed a bit, I still get giddy in anticipation of diving into the presents. It is a unique delight to tear open that wrapping paper on Christmas morning to discover the new treats that will sparkle up my life in the coming year. I guess that is the one way that I am a classic American: I love more stuff! I often feel a bit guilty about how much I enjoy it. But, since the guilt hasn’t made the feeling go away, I have decided to claim it. I am a materialist. 

A funny thing has happened on the way to my middle adulthood, though. As much as I appreciate the spine-tingling anticipation and excitement for the presents, as the years pass by, I recognize more and more that what I mostly love is the time with my family. It is true that I have always loved it this way—indeed, I have never missed a Christmas at my childhood home with my family, even when I had to quit my job to be there—but only in recent years have I been so keenly aware of its value to me. It was always there, quietly wallpapering the scene of those Christmas Eve games and those wild Christmas morning gift-a-paloozas, but I couldn’t recognize it as such in my greedy haze. I feel it now, and I acknowledge and honor the feeling.

I guess I have come to the point where I can see that the real point of the holiday—or at least the thing I value the most (by far)—is the fellowship, the love for the people I am gathered with (and the ones in my heart) rather than all of the presents that seem to dominate the months of lead-up. Think about this, friend: we have a whole season of shopping and then a whole day of togetherness. I really wish that could be reversed.

I am so glad that I have come to this awareness, this realization, before it is too late. No one has died and left me wishing I had truly cherished the time we had. My family seems to be—knock on wood—in its prime. My parents and siblings are all healthy and enjoy spending time together. We look forward to our Christmas all year as that time to be together under one roof with no agenda. It is simply about being together. And it is the best.   I am beyond grateful for that.

What warms my heart even more, however, is that my kids love it just as much as I do. Their two favorite weeks of the year are the Christmas week with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and then, of course, their week at the family lake cabin in the Summer, where the very same crew is assembled. All year long they talk about how they can’t wait to go back to both places. Not coincidentally, those are my two favorite weeks, too. Birds of a feather, we surely are. I am grateful for everything about our life together. The very best part, though, is that it is just that: TOGETHER.

I guess that is why my grown-up self loves Christmas so much. It is the chance to reclaim with my family of origin what I get with my own little gang everyday: togetherness. The fact that I get them both simultaneously—and that my little birds also appreciate them so much—well, that makes the whole deal simply perfect. That togetherness, that presence, is all the gift I need. It is, indeed, a merry, happy, and most grateful Christmas for me!

How about you? What do you value most about the holidays? Open up your journal and think about what makes you giddy and what warms your heart. How excited do the presents make you? How has that changed as you have aged? Do you make a big Wish List? Is there anything you are on pins and needles about this year, something you are really hoping for? Overall, what is the level of importance placed on the “gift” aspect of the holidays in your family? Would you prefer it be more or less important? What about the “togetherness” part? Is the fellowship with your loved ones a big part of your holiday gatherings? How much do you look forward to the time? Is this the one time of the year you gather with these people? Do you do it out of tradition, obligation, pure desire, or some mix of those? Which one is the strongest factor? Has the togetherness aspect become more or less important as you have aged? If you had 100 percentage points to divide between them to show the value you place on Togetherness vs. Gifts, how many points would each get? Are there other things that deserve points on your scale, such as religion or food? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes your holiday happiest? 

May your days be merry,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, cry, or wonder a little bit, feel free to share it with a friend who could use some of that today.  Namaste.

The TIME of My Life

DSC_0756“You may delay, but time will not.” –Benjamin Franklin

Hello friend,

It is Birthday Week at my house! My son turned five a couple of days ago, and this week my daughter will turn seven. They are super-excited, of course. They have been talking about this week for months and months. “How old am I now, Daddy???” “You are four and one-fourth.” “How old am I NOW, Daddy???” “You are four and one-third.” On and on we go, all through the year. Because to them, a month is like a year, and a year is like FOREVER. They cannot wrap their beautiful little minds around having to wait a whole year for something. It sounds like torture! So, I started thinking the other day—you know, when my son was four and three hundred sixty-four three hundred sixty-fifths–how differently we view Time as we progress through it.

Kids have an amazing connection to the Now. If you never mentioned to them the idea of something occurring tomorrow or next year or when they are grown-up, they would never bother fretting about the future the way we adults do. They would just stay happily in the moment and flow with it. They stay totally connected with their current process, and then they shift gears immediately if someone suggests something more appealing. They don’t battle with Time like the adults around them. They live in the precious present. If you jar them with the prospect of doing something “later”—especially a whole year later—they cannot stand it.

We adults laugh at their anguish at the mere thought of holding out for a year, as we know how quickly Time marches on in our lives. We seem to blink and five years have passed. But think about it: relative to the total length of our lives, Time should be perceived differently. I have lived more than EIGHT TIMES as long as my son. One year is 20% of his life! Telling him he has to wait another year to go to the lake cabin with his cousins—his favorite event of the year—is the equivalent of telling me I have to wait 8 ½ years to go. That really is torture! I see now why they cannot fathom the idea of waiting until Christmas to get that forgotten item from the birthday list. That is FIVE MONTHS away after all, or 3 ½ years in my world. This new calculus for the perceived length of Time’s passage is totally enlightening to me. I am actually starting to feel pretty bad about not getting him that other birthday gift now!

I look at adults—myself included—and see how our time slips by. I don’t know if it is because of this calculus and the stretching of time as we age, or perhaps it is laziness and apathy, but whatever it is, we certainly have a tendency to watch it slide by. In some situations, the speed of Time passing is just what it is: it roars by even when we are savoring it to the fullest. In this vein, I think most specifically about raising kids. Every parent of older kids I have ever talked to tells me how unbelievably fast their children’s youth flew by. They say this whether they took it all in or not. I already feel that with my own kids. I like to think it is just a case of “Time flies when you are having fun.”

In other ways, though, I feel like we adults are guilty of letting our time slip by, of allowing the years to get away from us. I think particularly of people I know who are in jobs that are neither enjoyable nor fulfilling, and yet they have been doing the same job seemingly forever. Maybe the paycheck and security for the family seem more important than fulfillment. And hey, maybe those things are more important for a while. But then the kids are gone and nothing changes. They poke their head out one day and realize that they buried themselves years ago and have been going along unconsciously ever since. This seems more like, “Time flies when you numb yourself to the pain of boredom and emptiness.” I don’t want that for myself. I want to be engaged with my life.

I know Time is flying. I know it is. Still, I don’t want to be the guy who wakes up and says, “How in the world did I just turn 70??? I haven’t even done anything with my life yet! I didn’t follow my Bliss. I didn’t chase my dream. Now it seems too late.” I don’t ever want it to feel too late. I think I have started to do better with this in the last few years. I have to admit that the prospect of turning forty really scared me straight. It was around that time that I began gravitating more toward the idea of living my best, most authentic life, of making sure that my dreams were not being neglected. With this theme as my driving force, I began work on my personal labor of love: The Journal Project. Eventually, that led to the start of this little project in front of you called Journal of You. It also led to my Life Coach training and a much more focused schedule to maximize my efficiency and contribution to this world. Now every day is packed to the gills with things that are important to me, and I am becoming highly sensitive to activities that may be a waste of my time. I am determined that my time on this Earth will be meaningful and fulfilling, and I want to know, in the end, that I have been of service. I am on my way, one blessed day at a time.

How about you? What is your relationship with TIME? Open up your journal and take an honest look at the way your sands flow through the hourglass. How quickly is your life passing? Does it seem to pass more quickly each year, more slowly, or about the same? Do you ever feel like life is passing you by? Are you following your Bliss? Are you on a path toward the life of your dreams? If you are on that path, how long have you been on it? If you are off the path, how long have you been off? Do you seem to jump on and off frequently? Can you find your way back soon? Does it feel too late for you to be who you really want to be? How well do you stay in the Now? Do you know anyone who is on that unconscious slide through their years, just seeming to be paying the bills until it is time to die? Are you one of those people? When you leave the present, is your mind more likely to visit the past or the future? What do you think that says about you? Is that a good thing? When the day is over, how often do you feel like you have wasted it? When you get to the end of your days of Earth, do you think you will feel like it all went by too fast? Do you think you will be content with the way you lived? Would you like to go back and be a kid again? At what age do you feel like you were living your best life? What about it made that so? Can you capture that feeling today? Are you willing to do what it takes? Leave me a reply and let me know: How will you make TODAY the best Time of your life?

Lead with Love,

William

A Front Row Seat to a Magic Show

IMG_2888“The miracle of children is that we just don’t know how they will change or who they will become.” –Eileen Kennedy-Moore

Hello friend,

Yesterday I went to my first track meet since I was a kid. It was quite a show! My soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter was finishing her week of “Track Camp”, a serious-sounding name for a week of playing Tag and Ships Across The Ocean, mixed with a few laps around the track. Thus, I wasn’t exactly expecting her to be pole vaulting and throwing discus, but I actually did hold out some secret hopes for her running and jumping prowess. Of course I am heavily biased, but I have seen her go. She outruns me around the house, and she is sporting some pretty good muscles (you know, as six-year-olds go!). So I kind of thought the track meet might be a coming-out party for her, a discovery of something she would excel at and take confidence from.

Well, not so much. She wasn’t bad. She just wasn’t a hero. And the funny thing was this: it didn’t seem to matter at all to her whether she won or lost. Unlike her fairly competitive parents, she just isn’t very into that side of sports. As a result, she doesn’t seem to either gain or lose confidence from the results. As baffling and uncommon as that is, I find it totally refreshing. After all, isn’t that what the coaches and sports psychologists of professional athletes are trying to instill in them? A kind of independence from circumstance, not affected by luck or momentum.

It is how she is in school, too, according to her teachers. At conferences, they tell us she plays with every kid openly and patiently, even the boys who have just been totally obnoxious and rude. When I asked her this year if she knew why she went to the Gifted & Talented teacher’s room almost every day of the week, she had no idea other than “to work on math” or “to work on reading” or whatever. When I explained that she was blessed by being more intelligent than most kids, it didn’t phase her at all, and she never spoke of it again. She somehow just absorbs her situation and finds joy there, no matter who else is there. After the first day of Summer camp, our conversation went like this: “Did you meet any new friends?” “No.” “You didn’t talk to anyone?” “Nope.” “Was it fun?” “Yes!!!” Same thing the next day. On the third day, she met some new friends. “Fun?” “Yes!!!” It just doesn’t matter to her. She hasn’t had a bad day at camp all Summer. We should all be so lucky.

Her little brother, meanwhile, had his own fun at the track meet. Even though he was too young for camp—still four for a couple more weeks–and just a spectator, he was more busy than all of the competitors. He explored, as he always does, every nook and cranny of the new space with the specific intent of discovering all the ways he could turn it into a funhouse. He loves making his sister his partner in this adventure, as they are quite a pair in a new place. The novelty completely stirs them, and I am completely amazed by the variety of ways they can find to create fun and excitement out of thin air. I am so envious of their creativity and zest for amusement.

I am also envious of my son’s demand to be heard and be a part of the action. After all of the big kids finished their runs, he demanded a turn to run around the track. Captivated by his spirit, I, of course, conceded to his order. He coaxed my daughter into a 400 meter race—in his Crocs, no less—and joyously crossed the finish line in victory. Then, “I wanna do it again!” His spirit is relentless.

He seems to have staked a claim to his right to pursue Joy in whatever way he sees fit. So he goes after it with fervor, whatever it is. In one moment, he will demand that I play along with one of his jokes to make his Mom and sister laugh. In the next, he might order me away for a few minutes so he can have some time with his “imaginations”. But mostly, he is ordering me from one amusement to the next in his never-ending search to find and provide greater enjoyment in this wonderful game called LIFE. He is a born performer and makes friends wherever he goes. In most cases, you would say his confidence is through the roof. But then it’s not. I have to twist his arm to go to the child center at the gym or any new thing without his big sister. Suddenly, I have this uncertain little boy on my hands that needs lots of hugs and reassurance. Forty-five minutes later, when I come to pick him up, he practically owns the place. It is such a high-wire act. I so admire the way he conquers his insecurities and completely flourishes, never allowing his spirit to be held down.

What are they going to be when they grow up? Who knows! When my daughter first started day care at six months old, she brought us home some awful germs. On my very first day home alone with her, I was as sick as could be, totally vomiting and unable to get off the sofa when I was not in the bathroom. Amidst my misery, I was completely in awe of her as she just sat in her swing across the room, staring at me with the sweetest, most empathetic eyes. I swore right then that she was destined to become a healer of some sort. When she graduated pre-school, she said she wanted to be a teacher. I don’t know anymore. What I do know is that the world will be better for having her in it. As for my son, I have always guessed he would be some sort of entertainer. Even before he could speak, he would work hard to find ways to coax a laugh and a smile out of people, then give a look of satisfaction when it was achieved. No matter what he chooses, it seems clear that making people smile will come along with the package.

They take you on a ride, these kids. You simply don’t know which way they will turn their lives from one moment to the next. The only way to stay with them is to live in the moment. Living in the moment. It is just about the most important lesson any of us can learn in life, and kids teach it best. The other lesson they teach me so beautifully is to be authentic. Live your Truth. Just be yourself. Relentlessly yourself. Don’t bother with what the crowd is doing or what it means to someone else to be cool. Just do the thing that makes you feel like you. Following them around every day is the best education I have ever had. I feel so incredibly blessed that they take me along for the ride that is their lives. Whatever twists and turns they take, it never fails to feel beautiful and magical to me.

How about you? Who in your life brings you that sense of awe and amazement? Open up your journal and your heart. Are there children in your life? How much do they mean to you? Do they take you to that place of wonder and fascination? Why do we not allow our grown-up selves to be experienced this way? Can we take the edge off our jadedness and begin to see our peers as the amazing creatures that we all truly are, and can we let down our guards enough to let ourselves be seen as the unique, beautiful creatures that we have been since we were babies? Has the premium on fitting in caused us all to lose our shine in the hopes of not sticking out? Is the magic still there under all our self-censorship?   I hope it is. I hope we are not naturally less fascinating and less divine as we age. Even if I am my only audience, I want to still be magnificent and awe-inspiring. I want to be what my kids are to me. Do grandparents still see that in their adult children, or do they just rev it up again with their grandchildren only? How will I observe these two magicians when they are my current age? I guess I have to wait and see. I have a feeling it will be a fun wait, though. I am already grateful for all that is to come. Are you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who keeps the magic and the moment in your life? 

Just be you,

William

Kids Are The Best Teachers

DSC_1239“I wish friends held hands more often, like the children I see on the streets sometimes. I’m not sure why we have to grow up and get embarrassed about it.” –Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

Hello friend,

I just spent a weekend with my kids and their little cousins. A few times, while sitting in their midst as they played, I was able to sort of rise above the chaos and just take them in for the marvel that they all are, individually and collectively. I was completely tickled by it. Certain qualities stood out so clearly in their interactions with one another: excitement, playfulness, honesty, activity, generosity, forgiveness, and authenticity. It was quite amazing to sit back and take in these beautiful characteristics that these kids seem to employ so naturally, so effortlessly. The magic just seems to ooze from them.

In one of my appreciative moments, I was struck by a strange, intrusive thought: What would this gathering be like without the children??? It is really an unusual question coming from me, as I do basically everything with my kids. Still, there it was in my mind, this query begging for a response. Really, what qualities would a fly on the wall—or someone stepping outside of the moment like I did—notice distinctly from this hypothetical gathering of adults only? Let’s be clear: this is not just a random assortment of strangers. It was me, my sisters, and their husbands. I love these people. I even like them and admire them. So, how would the situation look to the objective viewer? What would stand out for them about us and our interactions? What is common to most friendly adult gatherings?

As with the kids and their interactions, I hope that the love would be clear, the enjoyment in each other’s company. I think you would see generosity. I am not sure what else would be clear, though. The activity would be absent. There would be very little play, less sharing, less forgiveness, and, perhaps most tragic in my eyes, less authenticity. Mostly, I think the adults-only gathering reveals just a dimmer expression of the joys of life and the range of human expression.

Adults, when denied the influence of children and left to their own devices, tend to play their interactions—and often the entire game of Life–so close to the vest, not wanting to ruffle any feathers or be uncool. Much gets repressed. The unfortunate result of this self-censorship is that it leads people to be inauthentic. They are not expressing their Truth. It is not done in an intentionally devious way, but still it is an assault on Truth. Whether it stems from wanting to fit in, wanting people to like you, or just not wanting to create a stir, this lack of authentic expression and interaction leads to a real dulling of the scene. The fullness of human spirit and emotional range is stifled. The adult-only landscape runs the risk of being both false and boring.

I admit it, though: I am heavily biased. I have always much preferred the company of children. Through every phase of my life, if I have been forced—and yes, I need to be forced—to attend a large social gathering, you can bet you will find me hanging out with the kids rather than the adults (I love that, now that I am a parent, I have an excuse to “just be in here to keep an eye on the kids” at such events.). Sure, some of it is just my natural introversion, but there is no doubt that I just prefer the way kids interact. I am drawn to their authenticity. I love how they tell their Truth. Not just verbally—though that can be absolutely hilarious—but with all of their being. As I said, it simply oozes from their pores. They come by their Truth naturally and haven’t been trained enough to filter it. It is pure and beautiful to me.

Kids not only display the whole range of human spirit and emotions; if you are deeply connected to them, they take you through it, too! But as taxing, frustrating, heartbreaking, and downright exhausting as that is, it is somehow one hundred times more exhilarating, uplifting, rewarding, joyous, and downright soul-stirring. 

I don’t know how to explain it. If you surveyed folks on individual factors such as stress, self-care, frustration, and exhaustion, I am certain that parents and caregivers would score highly on incidences of these negative factors, possibly much higher than non-kid people. They would probably also score high on the positive end of the spectrum, such as tender, loving moments, or moments that they feel immense pride. If you weigh out all of the factors on paper, it may look like the kid people come out only even at best, and perhaps much worse off than the non-kid crowd. But then ask just about any parent, teacher, coach, or caregiver if they would prefer to be without those stress-inducing kids. Heck no! That theory on paper goes right out the window.

Seriously, I remember so many nights at journal-writing time, when my little ones were just babies and I was totally wiped out from some string of parenting ordeals that day, and I caught myself writing how fantastic it was to spend the day with my angels and how wildly grateful I was feeling. I would try a reality check and ask myself, “Weren’t you the one who got up at four o’clock this morning and hasn’t been back to sleep; who has been peed on, pooped on, and vomited on; who almost went out of your mind because she wouldn’t stop crying; who got so mad when he threw his plate of food on the floor for the seventeenth time; who just about worried yourself to death when his temperature spiked; and who cried with her when she fell and hurt her head? You have NO CAUSE to think this day was so awesome or that you are so blessed to get to spend it here with them rather than at work! There is no logic in it!” Still, there it was. Logic and surveys cannot explain it. I wouldn’t trade any of those days for anything, and I still look back on that time as blissful. Insane, perhaps, but still blissful.

So, this afternoon, with this topic on my mind, I took my kids to the local YMCA for swimming lessons. I was in the process of thinking how narrow-minded I might sound by writing something like this letter I am writing to you now. After all, people who don’t have kids and don’t interact with kids are still happy and fulfilled and wonderful, too. I worried that I may end up writing something that made it sound like if you aren’t a parent, then your life just isn’t very full and worthwhile. So, I took a few minutes and, instead of watching my own kids in their lessons, I turned my eyes to the “play pool” and watched other people’s children. They were dragging each other around on pool noodles, splashing, sometimes fighting, most of the time giggling. They were just generally being silly, playful, dramatic, and completely authentic. It might have been more emotional watching my own kids do this stuff, but even watching complete strangers, I found it tremendously comical, fascinating, and thoroughly moving. It is raw LIFE on display. I highly recommend finding ways to get involved with it (even if people think you are that creepy guy at the playground or pool who just likes to watch the kids play!).

Kids—yours, mine, or someone else’s—are absolutely magical. They can be all four seasons in one day. But even as they take us on this rollercoaster ride, they teach us a million different lessons. My biggest takeaway from this weekend with children—my lesson learned—is to be myself.  To tell my Truth, no matter how many emotions that stirs. To just be me, boldly and unapologetically. And, oh yeah, to have a little fun along the way!

How about you? What do the children in your life teach you? Open up your journal and get real. How much are children a part of your everyday world? Do you wish that amount were more or less? How are you going to go about making the adjustment to your preferred amount? What do you like to do with children—teach them things, just chat, or play whatever they are playing? How different are your interactions with kids than with adults? How much more do you smile? How much more imagination do you use? How much more engaged are you? How different are the feelings you are left with afterwards? As I write those questions, I am picturing one of my best friend’s faces when he is with my kids—he is childless–and how it so totally seems to make his heart sing. This otherwise quiet, unassuming guy just completely lights up. Is that you, or don’t kids really do that much for you? Whether or not you have kids of your own, do you think that raising children generally leads to a more happy and fulfilling life than remaining childless and pursuing one’s other passions more fully? What is the single greatest lesson you can learn from being around children? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do kids teach you?

Be you,

William