Tag Archives: optimism

What A Difference 10 Years Makes! Revisiting Life A Decade Ago

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” –Robert Frost

I have been fighting off a lot of yucky feelings and negative self-talk this week. You know those feelings. They are always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce when your defenses go down. I usually have mine up. My defenses are 1) my attitude of gratitude, 2) my optimistic view of the future, and 3) my big dreams. When these things are intact, all is well in my world. I am sunshine and happiness. That is my normal mode.

This week, though, I have been dealt a few blows that have threatened my usual sunny outlook. Things just haven’t been going my way. My car needed a major repair. Then the furnace went down and needed to be replaced. The taxes brought their annual drama. Amidst all of this extra financial pressure, I have been beating my head against a wall trying to get my dreams going and figuring out the next source of income for my family. The weight on my shoulders feels like it has suddenly multiplied.

These simultaneous setbacks and struggles have created a storm inside my head. I have been all sorts of things I don’t want to be. Worried. Confused. Self-pitying. Stressed. Unsure. Pessimistic. Fearful. Doubtful. Disappointed. Defeated.

Yes, it seems I allowed my circumstances to ignite a pity party in my mind, and then I realized that the party had gotten a bit loud and out of control.   I needed an intervention.

One of the strategies that the self-help gurus often suggest for people facing some kind of drama or dilemma is to ask yourself, “Will this even matter in X number of years?” (you fill in the X: five years, ten years, twenty). Supposedly, that helps to put the problem in perspective, perhaps revealing that it is really no big deal at all.

So, I wondered: Would this little moment I am having now—this crisis of dreams, career, and finances—even matter ten years from now? Will I remember it? Or will it be just a minor blip on the radar?

Maybe Life is just a constant flow of these moments, some just less stormy than others, but all of them basically just blips, not so much blow-ups. Or maybe not.

I decided that I needed some perspective. Luckily for me, I have a few big storage tubs full of perspective in my storage closet. My journals. They are all there: keys to the past just waiting to be turned. I searched through the stacks to find the one that contained my daily entries from ten years ago at this time—Volume 36—to see what I was up to, how stressful and dramatic it was, and if it all even mattered in the end.

What did I find? Stress. Drama. Exhaustion. Happiness.

Ten years ago this week, I was in the middle of making a big decision about which of two job offers to accept at the company where I worked. I was also studying and taking some important exams for my career. There was also a lot of political drama going on at work that I was forced into the middle of. And in the background of all of that was a very real struggle to become a parent (which all by itself would have been stressful and dramatic enough). In between lots of visits to doctors’ offices in our quest to become pregnant, my wife and I were also interviewing to adopt a child.

Some excerpts from those days in late April of 2007:

Is my body supposed to be this sore so early in the week? My goodness!……I am wiped!….It is coming down to it on the job thing……There is so much to do every day. No wonder lifetimes just zip by and roll together. I will blink and be 50. It is crazy. I am happy, though, always happy. It is good to be me. La vita é bella.

 After all of this rollercoaster nonsense, I am actually pretty excited about it. I hope that it goes well and that I can report some good news in my next entry. I am optimistic. Come what may, I will be happy.

I accepted the job tonight. ….So, on we go. I hope it is tons of fun. I am excited about it. New challenges. It will be that. This week has tapped me. …It is a mad, mad world. The beat goes on. I am so very blessed. Life is beautiful.

Who ever thought there would be so much to do in this world? I really do not like being crazy busy, but it has certainly been that way in the last several years. …The extremes are there. I would love to get some balance. Some day. I am alright. I am Love. I am Joy. I am Peace. Life is beautiful.  

I am no fan of these political battles… I am optimistic. ….I am excited for the challenge. They never seem to be in short supply. …Let’s cross our fingers. Good things will come.

It is a busy time in the world. … What an adventure lies before me!. ….I am always optimistic. Good things are coming our way. Blessings abound. Life is beautiful. 

Whew! I really was running around like a crazy man in those days! Working long hours, and every day of the week. Stressing hard about my job. Basically, I was a workaholic. Thank goodness for a supportive and understanding wife! The only other saving grace was my attitude and worldview. Despite my circumstances—which I would not recommend to anyone—I remained so grateful and optimistic. So happy. I am pretty impressed by that (if I do say so myself!).

What can I learn from those days that will help me now? Is there really a gift of perspective?

On the one hand, I made it through that drama, which should give me hope that I will make it through my current crisis. On the other hand, that moment was not nothing. Those decisions and actions were important and had long-lasting effects.

Of course I survived, and I would have survived whatever came. But things could have gone in different directions had I acted differently, and especially if my attitude had been different. I could have let the pressure and the exhaustion get to me. I could have been less diplomatic at work and ruined my opportunities. I could have let the pregnancy/adoption stress drive a wedge between me and my wife. I could have given up on lots of things when it got so hard. I could have failed to enjoy it and be grateful for it all. I definitely could have made it worse.

So, is this current dramatic moment something? Or is it nothing? It certainly feels like something to me. It feels like there is a lot riding on the coming days. It feels like much could change in my story and the story of my family depending upon the way this all shakes out.

Does that give me any specific direction on my next action? No, not really. But what it does give me is a reminder of the importance of my attitude and outlook. I need to take a lesson from that guy I was ten years ago. No matter how uncertain or contentious things get, I need to be grateful for the wonderful blessings all around me. And I need to be optimistic and excited about what the future holds. I know that will help to guide my decisions to the outcomes that are best for me.

Ten years from now, I hope to look back at this moment with complete gratitude and wonder at what a magnificent life was brewing in the middle of this divine storm. I hope I will be proud of the way I rose to the challenge and acted with courage, kindness, and integrity. The lesson, after all, will be decades in the making.

How about you? What did your life look like ten years ago? Open up your journal and your memory. What was going on with you a decade ago? How old were you? Who were the most important people in your life? What kind of work were you doing? Were you heavily involved and connected with your job? Too much so? Where were you in relation to your dreams? How would you describe the state of your spirituality? How tired were you? What were the biggest issues you were facing? Did it feel like a lot of drama or crisis at that time, or were things flowing smoothly? How happy were you? Describe your attitude at that time. Were you grateful? How optimistic were you? Looking from today’s eyes, what can you learn from you and your life of a decade ago? What were the things you did then that have carried over and shaped your life today, for better or worse? Now answer all of the questions above as they relate to your life today. Do you prefer today’s version of you and your world, or would you take yourself back a decade if you could? Which parts would you do just the same again from that time? What would you change then to shape a better today? What is your biggest regret from that time? What was the best thing you did for yourself ten years ago? What can you do for yourself now that you will thank yourself for in ten more years? Leave me a reply and let me know: What can you learn from a look back at yourself in 2007?

Enjoy the ride,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please pass it on. We are here to teach each other.

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!

But What Can Little Old Me Do? A Question for Our Troubling Times

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” –Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror

DSC_0015Hello friend,

I have a Facebook friend, someone a year older than me from high school, who I knew just enough to know I liked him. It is plain from his posts that he has a tough life. He is saddled with debilitating mental illness and is in the darkest depths of depression much of the time. My image of his existence is one of extreme isolation: living alone, unable to work, and whose only interactions with the outside world come via Facebook.

Having lost nearly everything from his promising young life to his mental illness, you would expect his Facebook persona to be bitter, angry, hurtful, and pessimistic, right? Wrong! While he shares openly about the depth of his pain—which, frankly, sounds unbearable to me and thus makes me admire him even more—he mostly seems to be sharing educational, thought-provoking pieces, songs that make him feel better, and respectful political items (I admit to being partial to his liberal leanings, but the respect with which he delivers his points and his comments on other posts are my focus here). Much more than that, though, he comments so authentically and kindly to people who respond to what he shares. He has responded with great heart a few times to things I have shared. It felt genuine, and I always appreciated that. I appreciate it from anyone, but given that the cards Life has dealt him would seem to provide reason for him to be the guy spewing negativity and narrow-mindedness, I put even greater value on his kindness and generosity of spirit.

When I think of this guy, I think this: He makes as big of a positive impact as he can. You won’t catch him at a party or a community event. He is not going to be talking to people at the grocery store. It’s just not in him. His brain chemistry won’t allow it. But he has a computer. He has a Facebook account. And he uses it well. His sphere of influence is limited, but he maximizes it.

 That, to me, is helping our world climb toward the sun when the days are darkest.

I have another Facebook friend, someone I was much closer to when I was young than the first guy but whom I have mostly fallen out of contact with except for the occasional Facebook comment. The three of us—me, him, and the first guy–were all in different grades but from the same town, and they are also friends on Facebook. We share many ‘friends’ in common, so I am able to see their comments on other people’s posts, and they sometimes both comment on the same items. This second guy’s outward circumstances appear to be much different than the mentally ill hermit. The second one has a big job, wife, kids, lots of big social events, the whole deal. American dream type of stuff.

What do I notice on his Facebook comments and posts? He strikes me as the guy that the most fear-mongering of our politicians have connected with. Lots of anti-immigrant sentiment. Anger at the President. Snarky memes of opposing candidates. Global warming is a scam. On and on. Lots of negative. It’s true that there are family photos, concerts, and sports mixed in, but there is a pervasive feeling one gets going through his stuff. I see it in his comments on other people’s posts, too. People supporting liberal ideas or politicians draw angry retorts from him.

When I think of this second, seemingly more blessed guy—beyond my many fond memories of our old days together—I think this: He puts a lot of negativity out into the world. When it comes to public issues, he seems to share only what makes him mad and who he dislikes. He discourages discussion. He just seems bitter and angry at a lot of things. And he seems to have a broad sphere of influence. He has a big job and seems to be out in the community at lots of big events and gatherings. He must have the chance to reach a lot of people.

 Bummer!

In light of the recent tragedies and racial tension in our country, on my own Facebook page I have shared some educational articles about white privilege, dealing with racism, and understanding the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of the articles I post are pretty long—including these weekly letters to you (thank you if you are still with me!)—and I certainly don’t expect many people to even open them much less get through them. But one piece this week actually brought a brief convergence of the three of us old guys from the same high school.

Only five people total even gave the post a “Like,” but the first guy (the positive recluse) was one of them. I appreciated that, guessing (and hoping) that he took the time to read the very informative article. But then I got a comment from the second guy (the negative yet sociable one). To paraphrase: “Unfortunately, in today’s America, attempts at intelligent dialogue end in verbal and physical threats and being labeled as a ‘racist’ or ‘bigot.’ That shuts down the conversation and any potential connection. We will never have a mutual understanding without getting back together, and there is no chance of that happening with either Hillary or Trump.”

 Of course, I am not good at accepting a defeatist verdict as the last word on anything. And since I appreciated him reading the article and because it was something that I shared that drew the comment, I felt compelled to respond to my old friend:

“I feel you, buddy. I think the getting-on-the-same-page thing has to happen one person at a time. Looking for the President to change our dialogues is granting that office too much power and robs us of our agency in the matter. It is up to each of us to look into the mirror—consider your recent conversations with friends or colleagues, the Facebook or Twitter comments you make or posts you share, your interactions with people different from yourself—and decide to do better, be bigger. I think when we start with ourselves and work outward as far as our influence stretches, that is our best hope to make the kind of connection and progress you mentioned. It’s easy to be negative or disgusted or isolate yourself from others. The hard (but necessary) work comes in doing the opposite.”

I guess that mostly sums up how I think about solving the enormous issues we are all faced with right now, a scab that seemingly gets ripped off every week when another unarmed black man gets shot by police or another police officer gets shot in a centuries-growing revenge rage. I see a few professional athletes now standing up saying, “We can’t go on like this. We have to do something!” Many of the rest of us are saying some version of the same thing. Unfortunately, what usually follows goes something like, “Uhh………..but what do we do?”

 Sure, you can write your Senators, Representatives, Mayors, and City Council. You can absolutely use your voice at the ballot box. But, as I said in my response to my pessimistic friend, you must then own your own stuff. Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for what we put out into the world. Our words, our gestures, our social media comments and shares, our actions in the world.

We all have a sphere of influence. Not all of us are celebrities that can get meetings with the leaders of government and business. But each of us crosses paths with people every day. It may be in the grocery store, the chat room, or your living room. We all have access to others, usually far more than we realize. It is up to each of us to do something positive with that access. Teach. Learn. Encourage. Comfort. Be comforted. Empathize. Appreciate. Share. Carry. Unburden. Enlighten. Listen. Pray. Love. Connect.

You have the power to help the cause. Claim that power. Own it. Don’t give it away to “the government,” “American culture,” “the President,” “people,” or especially “them,” whoever they are. Giving it away is playing small. You are bigger than that. Act like it! Work your sphere every chance you get. Be a light to every person you touch. That’s what you can do!

Our world needs you and I to accept that responsibility. I choose to accept.

How about you? Do you choose to accept your share of the responsibility for building this bridge? Open up your journal and figure out how big of an impact you can make. I think the first step is to get an understanding of your sphere of influence. Who are the people you interact with every day—physically or virtually–even in the smallest ways? Family members, co-workers, neighbors, clerks, baristas, friends, Facebook community members, Twitter and Instagram followers, you name it. Who do you touch even occasionally or indirectly? Families of employees, friends of friends, recipients of your donations of time and/or money, members of your faith community, distant relatives, comment-readers from blogs or Facebook communities that you subscribe to, your political party, the police in your town, townsfolk who attend the same games and concerts that you do, others who share the same interest as you do (e.g., hikers, bikers, sports fans). Who else fits in your biggest sphere? Is it apparent to you that you have some influence over all of these people, even if indirectly? Do you only feel your inner sphere—family and close friends—and ignore the impact you have on the rest? I think it can be very easy to ignore our influence over those we don’t talk to directly about specific issues. How seriously do you take your responsibility to bring your very best self to those closest to you? I think that in our very closest relationships—e.g. spouses or best friends—because we give ourselves permission to put down our façade more, we sometimes devolve into bringing out our most negative, pessimistic side, emptying our frustrations from the world onto those we love the most. Do you see that in any of your relationships? Is there a more productive way? Social media gives every person’s voice a power and reach that was not fathomed in previous generations. What percentage of people, from your view, use their public voice for the benefit of humankind, and what percentage use it to spew more negative energy than positive? How about you? Speaking just in terms of your public image via social media and social interactions, do you think people perceive you more the way I perceive the first friend I spoke of, or more of the second? Obviously no one is entirely angelic or evil here, but you know what it is to get a vibe from someone’s posts. What kind of energy are you spreading? How can you make your overall message more positive and beneficial? Can you argue more respectfully? Post more about the good things in the world and in your life rather than all of the things you don’t like? Talk about ideas rather than people? Are you doing anything to broaden your sphere and diversify it? Are you working to understand people who don’t look like you and don’t live like you? Are you helping others to better understand your world? I think the two things we can all agree on is that making things better is not going to happen in one magic moment, and it is not going to be easy. That is why I think it takes each of us—including you and me—working intentionally and positively, one interaction at a time. Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to step up and do your part?

Own your sphere,

William

P.S. If this got you wondering about your influence and how you use it, please share it with those who might find it useful. Though this is about individual choices, it works best as a movement. Together we rise!

AAAAAAAAARRRGGHH!!!!!! What Stresses You Out?

DSC_0036“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” –Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer

Hello friend,

I had a major personal victory this week. I had an important morning work meeting in a distant part of town, and I had to drop my daughter off at camp on the way. She is in a very close race with her brother for the title of “World’s Biggest Slowpoke,” so I was fairly relieved to turn on the car and see that we were only a few minutes behind the time I planned to leave. I figured that if traffic were at all reasonable, I would make my meeting on-time. On-time is very important to me, as I cannot stand to waste other people’s time or disrupt the flow of an event that started without me. I find tardiness not only unprofessional but also rude, and I do NOT want to be that guy.

Anyway, there we were, making pretty good time as we pulled into the parking lot at camp and started getting out of the car. “Where’s your backpack?” I asked. “Er….,” she mumbled as her eyes scanned the car. “Oops,” she said apologetically as my heart sank. Immediately after the sinking, the same heart exploded with adrenaline upon my realization that I was going to be late for my meeting.

Here was my moment of truth. Was I going to go my usual route and have a near-heart attack for the next 30-45 minutes as I allowed my lateness to consume me, panicking right up to the moment I arrived at my meeting and affected by it long after? Or, was this time going to be different?

I won’t bore you with the details, but I am so pleased—and surprised, frankly—to report that I did not let the stress win this time. For whatever reason, I accepted the circumstances and simply did my best. I was magnificently calm, and wow, what a difference! It was amazing. And totally new.

Lateness is one of the few things that consistently stresses me out. What else does? Money does—or rather the spending of money—which is why I try to not think about it (or spend it) very often. Uncertainty about my future employment and how I will make that all work around caring for my kids is another thing that brings me stress when I think about it. That’s another one that, most of the time anyway, I just have to choose to not think about.

I can thankfully say that I am not a big worrier and am quite optimistic about the future. It is only if you shove a situation in my face—like being late or an unforeseen major expense, such as a car or appliance breakdown (or last year’s garage door adventure)—that I stress about the present circumstances. If you make me think about my next job, you can stress me. But I generally have control over that.

Basically, if I stay present, I am mostly cool. It is only since I have taken on a family that I have taken on the financial stress, though admittedly I have never liked to spend money. Same with the stress about the future: I never had it until I had others that I was responsible for.

Lateness stress? Well, I think maybe I am just hardwired for that. I remember one day in seventh grade when my Dad was driving me and my brother to school across town. When we were most of the way there, my brother remembered that he had forgotten something at home. The moment my old man turned the car around, my heart began pounding out of my chest. We were guaranteed to be late. I was completely stressed out, trying to calculate in my racing brain how many miles per hour we were averaging to figure out what time we would make it. My blood pressure was off the charts!

When I think about it now, though, I don’t know if that was my aversion to disrespecting someone’s time—as it is today—as much as it was a fear of getting into trouble, which is another way to stress me out, it now occurs to me. I was always so tense around authority figures—school principals, police officers, etc.—when I was a kid, sure that they were about to bust me (even though I was very much a rule-follower). I think I am past that now, though I suppose that was the origin of my stress around tardiness.

Whether that remains or not, or if it is just about courtesy and respect, it still tenses me into a ball to be running late. Of course, having children—particularly my two slowpokes and their many scheduled activities—is a wonderful test of that quality! That is plenty for me. Working with someone who is tense all the time has shown me how miserable it would be to carry around that much stress.

I am going to do my best to keep my mind right and deal peacefully with what arises. I am so grateful to have my journal to help me to work through my stressors and find my way to clarity and serenity. It has helped me this week as I have processed my own thoughts about stress for this letter, as well as the actual stress of the deadline to get it to the screen in front of you now.

One of the issues that has arisen for me in thinking about stress is whether I am simply in denial about some important issues, burying my head in the sand in order to maintain a peace that would be better off being shaken up by addressing these issues. As I mentioned, I stress about money and the future if you make me think about it. If you don’t, I don’t. Is that a healthy or unhealthy denial? Of course, I want to say it is healthy. In this light, stress management is simply a matter of what you focus on.

The more I stew on it, though (as I write these words), the more I am coming to believe that managing my stress and eliminating stressors from my mind is about embracing what I can control and not giving my energy to the things I cannot.

At the moment, the amount of money that comes into my house and what will happen in my future career are not really in my hands—out of my control. So, although I can take steps to work toward a bigger bank account or better career opportunities, to actually spend energy on worrying about them beyond that is pure folly, not to mention the recipe for stress. (A-HA Moment: Maybe what I thought was denial is really a natural wisdom I didn’t know I possessed.)  

The same applies for my “Lateness Stress.” When I am already late, what can I really do about it? Nothing! So, to panic about it all the way there is a giant waste of my energy. I learned that this week when I talked myself into a peaceful drive to a meeting I would arrive late to. Instead of being miserable for 40 minutes from the moment the writing was on the wall, I chose to focus on the moment and what I could control. It became a truly enjoyable and relaxing drive, windows open with the Summer wind caressing my skin and me enjoying a rare drive in solitude. All because I let go of what I could no longer control. Imagine that!

Can I do it again? Can I make it a habit? Well, that remains to be seen. But I have a model now. There is proof that it is possible! And it felt so good, so it seems like a worthwhile endeavor. I sure could use less stress in my world.

How about you? What are you stressing about? Open up your journal and explore the things that weigh you down. What are your biggest burdens? Are you one of the lucky ones who don’t fret about money, whether you have it or not? How much stress do you feel at work? Is it just the nature of your profession, or is there something about your particular workplace (or yourself) that makes it that way? Do you carry work stress home with you? Do you need to? Do you stress about your future, whether it is related to career, health, relationships, or something else? Are these things you have some control over right now? Are you doing something about them? How much does your standard level of Optimism/Pessimism dictate your stress level? Would you like to be more optimistic? Which things that you stress about would you be better off simply ignoring? Do you seem to like having something to worry about? Do you know anyone who is consumed by stress? Do you enjoy their company? When interacting with them, do you find yourself becoming more stressed (or more negative), too? Which of your stressors have you always had and seem to come by naturally? Which have you developed more recently? How much of your stress is controllable? Is stress just a matter of what you give your energy to? Is it more about the Serenity Prayer idea: focusing only on what you can control? How complicated is this riddle? Leave me a reply and let me know: What stresses you out?

I wish you peace,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to look at your life and your point-of-view in a new way, pass it on. Let’s help others to lighten their loads. Peace is a gift to be shared.

Happy Gratitude Day!

DSC_0127“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” —Meister Eckhart

Hello friend,

I had a birthday this week. Birthdays seem to be received in such a wide variety of ways as people move deeper into adulthood. I know people who will simply not acknowledge that it is their birthday. They bristle at any greetings or gifts from loved ones, sometimes even going so far as to question the intelligence of the well-wishers, as there is simply NOT a birthday occurring on this day. I know others who somewhat-begrudgingly acknowledge their day and humbly accept their gifts and greetings, but they don’t want to talk about how old they are or dive into any deep sentiment about the passage of time and the life they have lived. They will be pleased to have the day move into tomorrow, just another day. Still others I know are more than happy to use the occasion as an excuse to have a party, eat some yummy stuff, and misbehave a bit. It is another Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day for them.

For me, though, Birthday Mode is something different. I have never been much for wild celebrations, so it is always very low-key. I enjoy the cake, of course, and hanging out with my wife and kids. I like hearing from my parents and siblings, and birthdays and holidays tend to provide us with the excuse to finally make the connection. Other than the cake and a few extra phone calls, though, the day tends to look—on the outside, anyway–like most of the others.

On the inside, though, the concept of my birthday has changed. This year I was keenly aware all day that I have come to see it asGratitude Day,” a day to be reminded of all of the amazing gifts in my life, which are too many to count but can definitely be felt. So, while the day seemed to go on fairly normally on the outside, I was doing an internal meditation on these innumerable blessings and just how thankful I am for them.

Of course, I thought about the many wonderful people in my life. My wife and kids–with whom I shared the cake and the laughs that day–are the very best that I could imagine, so it was cool just to bask in that kind of gratitude that comes from being up close and personal with its source. My parents and siblings are such admirable people in so many ways, and so I found myself truly absorbing and appreciating each call, FaceTime, and voicemail. These are conversations that I cherish. And while I don’t have many close friends, I was well reminded of them and how interconnected they are with the story of my life. Without them, there is not me, and it was nice to take some time to ruminate on that idea.

The group of people that surprised me most in my level of gratitude for them was the Facebook crowd. Seriously! This is the first year I have been on Facebook—yes, I am a little slow to join the new millennium—and one of the people closest to me said that I should make open to the public as little about me as possible. She said she doesn’t list her birthday because she doesn’t want people who barely know her wishing her a Happy Birthday. I didn’t listen, of course, so how pleasantly surprised I was to get a little shout-out from dozens and dozens of folks, mostly old high school mates and distant relations. Though I would probably not recognize all of their faces if I saw them today, I was somehow very touched and appreciative of the little moment it took them to just type “Happy BDay” or the like. It reminded me of where I came from and also of the importance of small gestures and how I need to do better with them, as I was certainly grateful to every one of those folks who took that little moment. People are good!

Already in the gratitude flow, I found myself really aware of the little things that I generally take for granted. As a middle-class American suburbanite in the 21st century, I live so amazingly comfortably compared to most anyone in the history of the world. There is a fridge full of food and money to buy more. I know I will be warm through a Minnesota Winter. Everyone in my family is healthy, and we can see a doctor any time that changes. My bookshelves are full, and the library is nearby in a pinch. And I have the privilege of not having to think about this stuff everyday, leaving me free to do things like studying life coaching and writing this letter to you. It is definitely a good gig, this one of mine.

Finally, I took a page from The Secret and expressed my gratitude for all of the magnificence to come. Actually, I find myself doing this almost every day in my journal entries. I am in the habit of sharing my thanks in advance for the many wonderful blessings that are surely on the way (it helps that I see everything as a blessing in my philosophy). For me, this helps me to walk each day in gratitude and to maintain my unbridled optimism for the future. In that vein, this is how I closed my journal entry on my birthday afternoon:

I am going to have a very good 43rd year. I can feel that. There is so much growth out there for me, and I am wildly grateful for that. Lots of change, lots of growth, lots of Love, lots of fun, lots of memories. I am really, really excited for what is coming. I am about to jump out of my skin as I think about it right now. The Universe and I will be sharing our gifts with one another. I am SO excited. It truly is a happy Happy Birthday and Gratitude Day that I am basking in right now. God permeates. I am oozing Peace. Life is beautiful.

How about you? What are you grateful for today? Open up your journal and remind yourself why it is good to be alive and be you. What are the circumstances you are most thankful for? Do you have food and shelter? Do you have enough money to pay for those things? Do you feel safe where you live? Are you reading this on a computer or smartphone? Are you allowed to freely express yourself? Do you have the chance to pursue your dreams? Are you educated? If you answered “yes” to any of those things, you are off to a good start. If “yes” to all, how blessed you are! How about the people in your life? Think about all of your friends and family members who make your little corner of the world a place you appreciate. Which ones would you not trade for a million dollars? How many people would take that moment out of their day to send you a Facebook birthday wish? Would that moment make you smile the way it made me smile? Are you grateful for that moment? What about the coming moments? Do you allow yourself to be grateful in anticipation of good things to come? Is your level of optimism about the future reflected in the level of anticipatory gratitude you feel toward it, or do you keep these things separate? How do you treat your birthday? Do you deny it or embrace it? Do you celebrate big? Does it draw you into deep thought about your life and its many blessings? If you are like me, your birthday has become a lot like what the other big holidays have become: a chance to give thanks for this beautiful Life. Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you celebrate Gratitude Day?

Let your light shine,

William

LIFE, Served Sunny-Side Up

DSC_1153“Every moment is golden for him who has the vision to realize it as such.” –Henry Miller 

Hello friend,

Each morning when I creep into my children’s rooms to wake them from their sweet slumber, I crawl into their beds and whisper into their waking ears to ease them into the new day. Some days they are quick to rise, and other days it takes some coaxing, but in that moment, I always try to make sure that they hear two phrases clearly: 1) “I love you” and 2) “It’s going to be a great day!”

I sincerely believe both of those statements every morning. The first one probably seems obvious—everyone loves their kids—but perhaps not the second. But it’s true for me. I really do expect my days to be great ones. I am an optimist. I expect the best possible outcomes—both in specific situations and in Life in general—and focus on the most hopeful aspects of a given circumstance. Oh sure, I have my moments of doubt and uncertainty, but for the most part, I am probably that annoying guy who tries to make you look on the bright side when you are in your moment of doom and gloom. Sunshine Willy!

I sometimes consciously try to temper my optimism with a little dose of the practical reality that most people live with. I have to remind myself of the odds against me. For example, I am applying for a very competitive fellowship to help pay for some educational expenses.   The part of my mind that speaks up first is so sure that I am going to win the fellowship and that my life will change dramatically for the better. Then that extreme confidence creates a little tension inside me. Not wanting to go overboard, I try to temper that wild optimism by reminding myself how few winners there are and thus how unlikely it is that I will be one of them.

But then an even greater tension arises, because I really don’t want that negativity—disguised as a “reality check”—to be part of my mindset. I want to set my intentions and announce them to the Universe, then not put out any energy that conflicts with my true intentions. I want that fellowship, and I must think and act accordingly. I suppose that in the long course of it, the key for me is to be aware of all the possible outcomes and not in denial of the odds, but still to choose the positive one and act as though I am expecting the best. I simply don’t have the time and energy available to dwell on the rest.

Speaking of dwelling on the negative possibilities, it will probably come as no surprise to you to learn that one of the few habits of other people that tends to drive me batty is worrying. I have a few people close to me who are in the Worry Hall of Fame. I find myself often shaking my head as I listen to them carry on. What makes me crazy is how much of a waste of energy it seems to be, always imagining and fretting about the worst possible outcomes, outcomes that they don’t want and aren’t even likely to come true. It reminds me of this great Winston Churchill quote: “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” What a waste! It just seems like there are better uses for our energy.

I am a fan of The Law of Attraction—“like attracts like,” or, more practically speaking, “what you focus on, you create more of”—and I just don’t see the logic in obsessing about outcomes that are the complete opposite of what you really want. In the end, maybe that is why I am an optimist: it makes sense to me. It seems logical to focus on what I want to happen and how I hope the world will show up for me today. I believe that we see in the world what we expect to see, that your world is just a reflection of your mind. If I expect events to fall my way, they tend to.

I think that life is much less about your circumstances than it is about the meaning you apply to them. There are a million different possible translations of the events of my day. If I am expecting the world to help me out, I am highly likely to translate my experiences—my circumstances—in a positive, helpful way. Let’s use an example to illustrate the range of possible translations of an event and how our attitudes dictate our reactions.

An optimist and a pessimist are in separate parking lots. In turn, each puts her car in Reverse and begins to back up, nearly hitting a pedestrian pushing his shopping cart. The man gets angry and flips the middle finger. The pessimist, having already been expecting the day to go badly and the people she meets to be rude, gets upset at the gesture and stews about it, confirming to herself that this just isn’t going to be her day. When the man flips the bird to the optimist, however, she feels grateful that she did not hit him and decides that it must be her lucky day to avoid such a calamity. She wishes the man well and is also thankful that she must have a happier life than someone who would flip her off in a parking lot. One circumstance, two totally different realities.

Life just shows up. You get to spin it any way you want to. I think I will keep looking on the sunny side. I feel better there.

How about you? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Open up your journal and write honestly. On a scale of 0 to 10—with 0 being a complete Negative Nancy pessimist and 10 being a Zippity-Doo-Da optimist–where would you rank yourself? Does that rating change widely for different areas of your life (e.g. very negative regarding your career outlook but positive about your family’s prospects), or are you pretty consistent across the board? How do you think tomorrow will go? When you imagine your long-term future, do you like what you see? Do you think you are fun to spend time with? Would you go on a roadtrip with you? What type of people do you seem to attract the most in your life: optimists or pessimists? How tolerant are you of negative people? There are some people that, whenever they are around, I find myself doing much more complaining and fault-finding than usual in our general conversations. Whenever I recognize it, I know I am keeping the wrong company. Are there some people in your life so negative that you would be better served by cutting ties with them? If so, are you ready to do that today? How much do you worry? Do you recognize it as a waste of energy, or do you find it productive? Do you think you can worry less? If you were the driver in the example, and someone flipped you the middle finger, how do you think you would react? Be honest! Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to look on the sunny side of Life?

Embrace the gift of choice,

William

Not Ready To Let Go

DSC_0232“Death, the one appointment we all must keep, and for which no time is set.” –Charlie Chan 

Yesterday I got to hang out with my Mom on her 69th birthday. Just like every year, I felt blessed to be with her on her special day, and even more grateful that she is alive and kicking. Just a week ago, after all, she had paid me a surprise visit, as she had to drive her brother to town for an emergency open-heart surgery. I was reminded that, even though 69 is not exactly ancient, something—like an emergency heart surgery—could happen at any time. Obviously, none of us is ever promised another breath—we could all go at any moment—but, just as obviously, the odds go up with each passing year.

My father had a major heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery nineteen years ago, on the night of my Mom’s 50th birthday. Even though I wouldn’t have categorized our relationship as “close,” this incident shook me to my core. I remember sitting alone in the hallway outside of the Intensive Care Unit, sobbing like a baby. I had never lost a family member or close friend, and I was clearly not prepared to do so. Not much has changed on that front in the ensuing nineteen years. My grandparents and two cousins have died, yes, but those happened at times that were expected given their circumstances, and I had thus built up my emotional mattress on which to land comfortably enough. But, I am grateful to report that no one in my immediate family or closest friend group has died. I have to cross my fingers and knock on wood as I type this, because I am well aware that I have been extremely lucky on this front and that my number is bound to come up soon.

My parents are now 72 and 69, and, in terms of generations at least, they are next in line to go. That was the one realization that hit me the hardest when my Mom’s father—and my last remaining grandparent—died two years ago: how awful it would feel to not have (living) parents anymore. That would seemingly be soon mixed with the other potentially troubling pill to swallow: that you are the next in line to go. While most of us can go through most of our lives in complete denial of death’s inevitability, I am guessing that is not an easy trick to pull off when there is no generation older than you at the family reunion.

With the birth of my children, I definitely became more invested in extending my stay on the planet (see my “Clinging to Life on Earth” from May 30, 2014). But in general, I have a much easier time with the idea of my own death than that of someone near and dear to me. I don’t know exactly what it is. I don’t think it is about leaving things unsaid, as I have done fairly well in letting people know how I feel about them. I had the chance this weekend to visit my great-uncle–closing in on 90–and I told him that he is the most kind-hearted man I had ever known. I had long wanted him to know that, so it felt good to get off my chest. If I don’t see him again, I am glad I left it that way. I think I am fairly solid in that department with most of my loved ones. I am also quite clear that it is not about uncertainty or fear regarding what comes after life on Earth; I have no problems with that. I don’t dread what comes next, for me or anyone else. So what is it? Why am I so unwilling to let people die?

I think that it must be rooted in the potential richness of future experiences. I am so deeply and unapologetically about living life to its fullest and “not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived,” as Thoreau said. With that, I think I have an unrealistic need for the winds of Fate to blow just the right way for me, for everything to come up aces. My vision of The Best Life for William has all of my loved ones in it and thriving for a very long time, and my children getting to know their grandparents the way I knew mine. As a constant chronicler of my world—both through my journals and photographs—I adore looking back on the pages and pictures to find images of a life blessed with a happy, healthy family and good friends. It pains me greatly to even imagine these days and years passing without a key ingredient in this idyllic scene that is my life. It would just seem so much LESS to visit my Mom on her birthday and have Dad not be there, or to walk my kids through this world without my wife’s hand holding up the other end of our chain. LESS. Less rich. Less joyous. Less unstoppably beautiful as I believe Life to be. I don’t want Less. I reject it for my world.

I can see as I write this that I am in for a mighty fall some day. Neither Fate nor I have equipped me very well to deal with a loss like this, and I seem destined to crumble like a house of cards. Probably I should begin to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, but I don’t want to diminish any of the richness of these wonderful moments in the process. My parents have aged pretty well. I don’t expect something bad to happen to them any day now—I save that for the decade of their 80s—but I suppose I have begun to become a bit leery of these years. As my 64-year-old uncle’s surprise heart surgery reminded me last week, something could happen at any time. My Dad had a major heart attack nineteen years ago, so I suppose I have been on borrowed time with him for a while now. Am I just a fool in denial for not expecting the other shoe to fall at any moment? Probably so, but it is not in me to live expecting the worst. I will cling to my unbridled, irrational optimism of long and prosperous years to come, and I will savor every happy, healthy moment of our togetherness. It feels better to me this way.

How about you? How prepared are you for the death of a loved one? Open up your journal, and write yourself to clarity. Have you had a member of your inner circle die? How have you handled death up to this point? Have your coping skills changed as you have aged and moved closer to the front of the line? How does your view of “the afterlife” affect this process for you? After a loved one has passed, does it make the occasion more sad when the rest of your gang gathers together, or do you feel more of an obligation to each other to make each moment together as rich and joyous as possible? Which person’s death in your inner circle are you best equipped to handle, and why? Which one’s passing would devastate you the most? How well do the people you love know how you feel about them? Do you still have things you need to say so that you can live without regret if they died tomorrow? Maybe today is a good day to share. Are you like me, living mostly in denial of the inevitable loss of your loved ones? Is that okay? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to let go?

Live out loud today,

William