Tag Archives: regret

Maximizing the Summer of Life: Are Your Aspirations Happening?

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” –Salvador Dalí

Hello friend,

Today marks the beginning of the end of my favorite time of the year. I know I am not supposed to be sad on the day of my children’s birthday parties, but I can’t help it. This big, celebratory day for our family is invariably tinged with a sense of loss for me. With one child born in late July and the other in early August, party day just happens to mean that Summer–my glorious, holy, magnificent, all-things-good Summer–is starting to wind down. And that always sends me reeling between sorrow and panic as I fully realize for the first time what I will miss about my season (EVERYTHING) and what I haven’t checked off my To-Do List (SO MUCH).

This year, like all the others, I came into Summer with an ambitious list of all the things I wanted to do before school started up again and Autumn signaled its inevitable return. But this year was even bigger than all those other Summers, too. It was to be the first Summer since my kids were born that I was “off” with them, the happy consequence of working in the school system. So, as we rolled into June, I was aiming high, imagining the biggest kinds of fun and adventures (despite the smallest kind of budget). It would be grand, and we would come away with memories to last a lifetime. I was glowing in anticipation of my season. My Summer.

What was I going to do? Lots!!!

I was going to be the king of day trips! The kids and I–and occasionally my wife–would escape the house in the morning before the heat of the day was upon us and drive out to an area lake or waterfall or forest for a hike and possibly a swim. We would get to know all of these places that we have heard friends and neighbors talk about for years, gems within an hour or two of our house that we never seemed to have time for in years past. We would go at least a couple of times per week and knock one cool spot after another off the list. It was going to be fantastic!

We were also going to do a lot of extended trips to visit family at the lakes for long weekends on the water and around the campfire. The kids would bond with their cousins the way I did with mine as a child, making the kinds of memories that still leave me with the warmest feelings for those people I no longer see very often. Memories like fireworks, sleeping outside, Capture the Flag, tubing, building forts, and telling ghost stories. As I would be tickled by the children’s shared joy and bonding, I would also be fortifying my own connections with my siblings and parents. And of course, simply basking in life by the water. The best!

In addition to these short and medium trips, we were finally going to take a real family road trip. My long-awaited, much-anticipated return to the mountains of Montana was at last going to materialize. This time, instead of me hiking solo up the trails and tenting in the backcountry, I would be showing my kiddos around and introducing them to the magic of mountain lakes and endless sky, waterfalls and bighorn sheep. It would be everything I have been dreaming about in the nearly-two decades since I made the last of my many visits to my favorite land. A reconnection of my heart, mind, and soul. Everything.

Along with the many adventures big and small, this was also to be the Summer when I reconnected with my first love, Tennis. It was a given that I would teach my kids to play, as I do every Summer. But I also would make a habit of getting my own practice in, returning to that place of purity in the joy I feel when the ball strikes the strings and the exhilaration of chasing after the next ball, relishing the challenge of synchronizing my body perfectly to the rhythm of this violent-yet-fluid dance. I was going to be a player again!

These were the dreams of my Summer just two months ago. The mere thought made me happy. Taken together, they seemed ambitious but still realistic. I could do it!

But did I???

I am disappointed to report that, as with most of my ambitions, while I have occasionally hit the mark, on the whole I have not done very well.

On the Tennis front, I have mostly failed. The children, I am pleased to say, are becoming players. They have had lots of time on the court, and it tickles me to see them enjoying the process, challenging as it is. Score! On the other hand, their old man has been a major disappointment. I have sneaked out and found a wall to hit against a couple of times–reminding myself, happily, of the way I passed most of the Summers of my youth–but have not been ambitious enough to find people to play with regularly. I remain a rusty, has-been/wannabe tennis player. Bummer!

On the adventuring front, I wish I had tons of scintillating tales to share from locales across my state and all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Alas, I do not. We have been to the lake cabin to visit family a couple of times–one weekend and one week–which was wonderful (though admittedly not as often as I had envisioned). The local day tripping, however, has been a resounding FAIL. It seems like there is always one little errand or item on the schedule that has kept me from being ambitious enough to do the required research and commit to taking the trips to the waterfalls and forests. The truth is that it is simple laziness on my part, a laziness that I now plainly regret.

I have, in the place of those deeper adventures, found something to soothe my conscience a bit, or at least distract me from my guilt: library events. Yes, I said library events! At the start of Summer, I found a big, magazine-like brochure published by the county library, advertising all of the events hosted by the several branches in our system. I sat down and spent what felt like the entire day loading them into the calendar on my phone, feeling unusually like a responsible parent as I did so. Anyway, we have played with Legos, made bookmarks, seen magic and comedy shows, and created all sorts of other arts and crafts. And we always come home with even more library books, which assuages my guilt from not being outside adventuring, which is, of course, where I ought to be.

Speaking of adventuring, the biggest disappointment from my Summer ambitions has been my failure to execute the dream road trip to Montana. It pains me to even write about it now, knowing both that it hasn’t happened and, more importantly, that it won’t happen. Not this year, anyway. As painful as it is, though, for this disappointment I feel I have some excuse. We were in the midst of a lot of job uncertainty and transition this Summer, and the financial strain that comes along with that. So, despite my fantasies, the big Montana trip turned out to be not exactly realistic. Not this year. Next year, though…..

All of this both bums me out and freaks me out. I hate the feeling that I am not meeting my Summer aspirations with actions and that I am running out of time on my season. I am creased.

Worse, though, is that my fragile psyche then doubles down on the sorrow/panic carousel when, in my ponderings and journal entries of the week, I realize how this annual ritual is a microcosm of my feelings about my existence as a whole and my place in the great Cycle of Life. I see that this whole emotional swirl around “Oh, how I have loved this beautiful, blessed life of mine!” and “Oh crap, I am running out of time to pack more dreams of adventure and accomplishment, service and impact into my fleeting little life!” is just me with Summer, every year. Just substitute “Summer” in for “Life” and you have a pretty accurate picture of me today. It’s just a thumbnail representation of me at this point in my own journey.

Loving its gifts, already lamenting its passing, and panicked that I need to maximize the joy and opportunity in every remaining moment. That is me in Life. That is me at the end of July.

How about you? Where are you with respect to your ambitions, both for the Summer and for your life? Open up your journal and give an accounting of your inner and outer worlds. Start with the Summer itself. What aspirations did you hold for the season when it began? Was it more about revving up your life with some new adventures or toning it down with some serious relaxation and self-care? Were you hoping to travel? Were there books you wanted to read (or write)? Who were you hoping to spend more time with? What were you going to do with your fitness? Were you going to work less or more? Were you hoping to reduce your stress level? How would you be of service? Was there something–some hobby or passion or joy–that you had gotten away from in recent years that you were going to get reconnected with? In what area was your life going to improve the most? Were you hoping to be happier this Summer? At two-thirds of the way through, how are you doing? Are there plenty of items on your To-Do List checked off already, or are you like me and needing to cram a lot into the final month of Summer in order to feel satisfied? For which type of ambitions have you been most successful? Fitness? Travel? Self-care? Career? In what areas have you clearly fallen short to this point? Is there time left in the season to make up for those shortcomings and create a success story? What type of actions will that require? Are you still invested in making it happen? Now pull back and ask yourself all of these same questions about your life in general and where you are on your journey toward the end? Is your reality matching up to your aspirations? How far off are you? Are you willing to take the necessary actions to raise yourself up to your ambitions, or have you resigned yourself that it is too late to be who you once believed yourself to be? When you look at your current spot on what you believe to be your path through LIFE, what do you feel? Panic? Satisfaction? Sorrow? Peace? Resignation? Gratitude? Bitterness? Relief? Apathy? Excitement? Disappointment? Fulfillment? Regret? Acceptance? Does your feeling about your Summer to this point match your feeling about your life to this point? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well are you maximizing your season?

Seize it all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your circle. Together, we can rise to our greatest ambitions!

P.P.S. If this type of thinking appeals to you, I encourage you to check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

Friendly Warning: Do Not Sleep Through Summer (Again)!

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” –Jean de La Bruyére, Les Caractéres

Hello friend,

I remember last year at Labor Day. I was returning from the lake with my kids. I am always very contemplative when I am driving home from a trip. The kids sit in back and watch a movie, and I am left alone to take stock of my life and re-orient my mind to the real world. On that particular drive, I was feeling the sadness that every Labor Day brings, fully aware that Summer was officially over and that there would be no more weekends at the lake until the next Summer, which felt a million years away.

It wasn’t just my characteristic Labor Day sadness that sticks out from that drive, though. It was the regret. It was the disappointment.

I had not done enough with the Summer. I had not capitalized on all of the opportunities of my season. There were so many more Summery things that I wanted to do, that I had told myself I would do before the season had started.

More beach writings. More trail runs. More bike rides. More campfires. More s’mores. More photos. More nature walks. More kayaking.   More tennis. More driveway basketball. More stargazing. More playgrounds. More hammock time. More roadtrips. More boat rides.

That is the stuff of Summer for me. And in that car on the way home last Labor Day, I knew that I hadn’t done enough of it. I had gotten too busy and too lazy. I had let my little windows of alone time slip by. It was too easy to choose to write on the sofa versus loading my backpack and biking down to the beach to write. The gym was easier than gearing up for a kayak ride or trail run. Weekends away and staying up late by the fire seemed like too much hassle. The hammock and the nature walks didn’t feel productive enough.

I am the first to admit that I am generally (and unhealthily) obsessed with being productive and always having something to show for my time (e.g. so many words written, pages read, or tasks knocked off the To-Do List). But, really, is your ideal Summer supposed to be described as “productive”? To me, that sounds like a good word for the other seasons. You know, the ones that have cold in them.

Maybe all along I should have been aiming for different adjectives to describe how my favorite season would be. How about fun? Adventurous? Soul-stirring? Enriching? Invigorating? Inspiring? Liberating? Enchanting? Yes, these all sound wonderful. But just plain old fun is perfect. “How was your Summer?” you ask. “It was nonstop fun!” That is exactly how I wish my response had been last Labor Day.

So, of course, on that contemplative drive home—and on almost every day after until June rolled around—I vowed that I would redeem myself this Summer. I would engage all of these beautiful, inviting days and live them fully. I would absolutely suck the marrow out of Summer this time!

I even had a list going in my head, the things that I would definitely do to make me feel satisfied when the next Labor Day rolls around. These are just some of the items on my Satisfying Summer Checklist for this year:

  • Take my kayak out at least three times
  • Become a regular outdoor journal writer
  • Find several new spots to try out my portable hammock
  • Take my kids to our local beach regularly
  • Get my ancient mountain bike fixed and ride the area trails
  • Roadtrip to the family lake cabin at least three times
  • Roadtrip to visit my sister and her family
  • Play tennis several times with other adults
  • Teach my kids tennis at least once per week
  • Do several trail runs
  • Use the neighborhood fire pit and roast marshmallows with my kids
  • A few daytrips to regional parks for hiking with my wife and kids
  • Make a habit of taking my daughter to the local lakes on early weekend mornings for father-daughter bonding time
  • Play a lot of driveway basketball with my son
  • Take lots of photos of the whole wild ride

That was a start, anyway. My mind seems to add new To-Do items every day, and the Wish List grows. But that stuff marked the basics for my Satisfying Summer Checklist.

Well, I just looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway to Labor Day. Gosh, that sneaks up, doesn’t it?!? So, how am I doing with my list?

Well………

Okay, there are some positives. I am about to take the second roadtrip to the family lake cabin for what has become my and my children’s favorite week of the year (score!), so only one more to go on that one. I did get the mountain bike fixed, but I have only been out in the dirt with it once so far. I have been writing most of my journal entries outdoors, though usually it is just on my deck (but at least it is usually in a hammock!). I have done pretty well getting the kids to the tennis court, not as well getting my own practice in. I have taken my kayak out (once). I have done a couple of trail runs. The driveway basketball is happening. I have not made the roadtrip to my sister’s place, but my intentions are still there. The portable hammock has been used (but not enough). We have not done the fire and s’mores (well, we microwaved them once!). We have only done the local beach once. We have failed completely on the regional parks and hiking. The discovered gem in the lot has been the father-daughter bonding time early Sunday mornings at the local lakes—absolutely priceless. And there have been some good photos of the ride.

If I had to give myself a grade so far, I would say maybe a C-. I have definitely done some small portion of many of my items, which is good. But there is much more than half left to do in this final half of Summer in order to achieve Satisfying Summer status.

I better get busy being NOT BUSY. I must get more ambitious about my leisure, more serious about my fun. I need to buckle down, because now that the Fourth of July is over, you know what the next holiday is, right?

Labor Day.

It won’t be long before I am taking that long, contemplative drive back home from the lake on that final day of Summer. Though I am guaranteed to feel a bit sad that day at the passing of my favorite season, my hope is that I will have done enough in the second half so that I don’t have to mix regret and disappointment with my sadness.

I needed this check-in to get real with myself about my laziness and excuses. It’s half over, friend. We have now been warned! I am planning to heed it this year. Carpe Summer!!!

How about you? Are you making the most of this precious and fleeting gift called Summer? Open up your journal and go through your own checklist? Are you satisfied with how you have been using your time lately? Start with how you want to feel this Summer and how you want to describe your Summer when it ends. What words would you choose? Is “FUN” one of them? Regardless of your adjectives, what activities are on your Satisfying Summer Checklist? Are they things that are quite unique to the season or things that you carry along all year? In either case, how are you doing for the first half of the season? Have you gotten most items on your list started at least? How many items are finished? How many have you not even touched yet? What kind of grade would you give yourself so far? Now, knowing that you still have plenty of time to make necessary changes and do great things, how confident are you that you will improve your grade by the time Labor Day rolls around? Which items will you prioritize? Are there any items that you will get rid of? Any new ones to add? Does making a To-Do List and scoring your progress take some of the fun out of it and kind of defeat the purpose of making it fun and stress-free, or do you appreciate that it keeps your priorities straight? For me, I need the reminder from time to time. Keeping fresh air and fun in the forefront of my mind is crucial for me. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you need to do to finish this Summer right?

Adventure is out there,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Make the most of your days!

Can You Be Present With Your Mind On The Future?

dsc_0457“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” —Mother Teresa

Hello friend,

I recently finished a book in the Motivational/Self-Help genre. I liked it. All along, the author talked about how great I was going to be and how that greatness was going to come about. I was going to keep my focus on my goals and not lose sight of what I knew in my heart that I would become. I was going to do everything in my power to make that future of my dreams happen. It was a good (and necessary) kick-in-the-pants kind of reminder to keep planning and taking action toward my biggest dreams.

So, the book had me totally looking forward to my best self living my best life and generally nailing my future. I was excited! Then, near the very end of the book, I got thrown for a loop. The author was into the major instructions portion, where she lays out the exact habits and attitudes required to take those crucial steps forward to the life of my dreams. I was chomping at the bit, ready to soak up the wisdom. And there it was….

Just stay in the moment. Be present.  

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Not that vexing answer! My brain began having flashbacks to this issue that I have, in all of my years and efforts to read and understand different spiritual and psychological perspectives, never quite been able to unravel the mystery of. That is, How can you keep your mind totally in the present—live a brand of “walking meditation” continually—but at the same time plan for the future and dream?  

I am a big believer in meditation and the growth that can come from simply quieting the mind and controlling the breath. And I am all in favor of stopping to smell the roses while they bloom. My kids have taught me the beauty of living in the moment.

But aren’t I supposed to be planning to improve myself and make positive change in my world? To grow, to challenge myself and others, to dream big, to plan for greatness, and to seek out the best course of action? My gut tells me that is the right thing to do. But isn’t that stuff, by definition, in the future? And isn’t the future, by definition, not the present? I am vexed!

How do I reconcile these two wonderful philosophies of life? I see the value in both, but I am just not sure they mesh as easily as the author of my recent book let on. In fact, she didn’t explain it at all. She just plopped this brilliant “stay in the moment” suggestion, which is a staple of human growth, smack in the middle of all of this talk of forward thinking, then kept right on going, expecting me not to notice the dissonance my brain started feeling immediately. Well, I noticed! And now, as Fate would have it, I really need an answer.

The owners of my day job just announced this week that we are going out of business. A few short weeks from now, I will no longer have a job. Yikes!

Amazingly, in the days since the announcement, I have not totally freaked out. I have not succumbed to the worry/fear/dread combo that I know are one of one of my options in this situation. I am pretty proud of myself for that, actually.

What has been my reaction? Basically, I have started a mad dash to get a book project and other writing stuff done as fast as possible, hoping to produce something for submission by the time I am out of work. Instead of getting bogged down by what has happened to my job or dealing directly with my shock and sadness over it, I am flinging myself headlong into the future.

But what about the present? 

That is the question that keeps haunting me. As I zip through my plans, hopes, dreams, and visualizations, I sometimes catch myself and give myself a little scolding for getting out of the present moment. That’s what the meditation and self-help books would say, right? “Just be in the moment. The precious present. There is nowhere else to be.”

But don’t they see I need a new career? In the near future! I have to plan, don’t I?

I think maybe I am trying to be too literal with the “Stay in the moment” instructions? I mean, I understand the general gist of the instruction. I have read enough books on the topic and can easily regurgitate quotes like “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it ‘the present.’” The idea is not to dwell on the sorrows and regrets from your past, because you can’t do anything about the past anymore (I am pretty good with that side of it), and not to live in worry and fear for your future, because most of what we worry about is out of our hands (and often doesn’t happen anyway). Basically, regrets and fears are a waste of time and energy, and they distract you from the beauty that is right in front of you in this moment, which is the only one that exists.

So, stay present! Be here now. I get it.

I am, by nature, a rule follower. This is especially so when I agree with the rules. And I love this rule! I have reaped the benefits of it. As I said, I see the beauty of it in my children. I am a huge believer in presence and the magnificent gift that it is, both to ourselves and to the people around us. So, I try really hard to color inside the lines on this one.

This is exactly why I am so torn right now over my inclination to plan ahead for my future of joblessness. I want to follow the rule. I want to put my intentions out into the Universe and then just be present, trusting that the right thing will come my way. No worry, no fear.

Ahhhh. That is so calming even just writing the words. Present moment, wonderful moment. Om…….

But darn it, I am about to lose my job! I need income for my family! In the present moment, I have to think about my future and make plans for what comes next. I need to think about who I want to be and what I want my life to look like, specifically how my next job will mesh with my vision. My present has to be about my future! Is there a loophole for that? {That reminds me of my kids’ movie “Inside Out,” when the Sadness character glumly says about Joy’s plan, “You’ll get lost in there.” Joy responds, “C’Mon! Think positive!” Sadness, totally authentically, replies, “Okay…. I’m positive you’ll get lost in there.” The loophole!}

Seriously, in all of my years of studying personal growth, this is the one bee still in my bonnet. How do you reconcile these two animals: 1) remaining in the precious present, and 2) striving for new, better, and more in the future? I want both!

As I am writing this, I am beginning to see that maybe what my tension around this issue is, more than anything else, is that I want permission to have both. I want some expert to tell me it’s okay, that I have, indeed, discovered the loophole. I want the guru to say, “Sure, as long as your time and energy spent focusing on the future involve planning and striving for positive things rather than worrying and fearing about what will come, go for it!” Yes, I think that is it (see what journaling can do!). I guess I just need to get over my need for permission, trust my instincts, and go out and stake my claim on the future. (And then maybe meditate for balance!)

How about you? Which tense do you live in: past, present, or future? Open up your journal and take a journey in your mind. Where do you find yourself? How much time do you spend in your past? Are your thoughts of the past positive ones—which, I suppose, is the corresponding loophole for that tense—or are they full of regret and shame? Are even happy memories just crutches we should mostly let go of in favor of the present? How about the future? How much time do you spend looking forward? Is it more about dreaming, planning, or fearing? Are you a worrier? What is there to gain from worrying? After your thoughts of past and future, how much time is left for the present moment? How good are you about staying focused on the now? Do you have any practices or tricks—meditation, yoga, deep breathing—that help you to be more present? What works best? How aware are you of the workings of your mind and which tense you are in? Are you like me and get annoyed at yourself when you recognize your thoughts have wandered too far off, especially into fears of the future or regrets from the past? Am I crazy to need a loophole in the “rule” about presence to give myself permission to plan ahead or dream of what I wish to become? What is the right balance of tenses? What works best for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is there such a thing as dreaming while being present?  

You are bigger than you imagine,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you understand your mind better, please share it. We are complex characters who could all use a little help. Blessed be.

What Will You Regret?

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No day but today,

William

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

This is NOT a Dress Rehearsal!!!

DSC_1094“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” –William G.T. Shedd

Hello friend,

At my Grandpa Mel’s funeral a few years ago, my siblings and I each took a turn at the microphone to talk about the wonderful memories we had of a wonderful man. There were tales of picking berries in his garden or building ships out of wood in his workshop. When my brother got up to speak, though, he told us about an occasion that was not from our idyllic childhood, but, rather, something that had just happened a month before. My brother had volunteered to drive Grandpa Mel into town from the lake cabin where we were all gathered for the weekend. Grandpa was in an assisted living facility at the time, and his mind was beginning to lose its grip on this world. Still, he had lucid moments, and the two of these admirable men shared one in the car that Summer day. They had gone to visit Grandma Jeanne’s grave at the cemetery where Grandpa Mel would soon join her. In a thoughtful moment, my brother asked him what, as he looked back on his long life, he would have done differently if he could do it all again. Grandpa said, “I wish I had taken more risks. I wish I would have branched out on my own in business sooner. I just wish I would have taken more chances.”

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been weeping through the entire evening, but now there was a whole new depth and message to the occasion. It wasn’t just about grieving and appreciating my Grandpa; there was a lesson, too. Don’t squander your days following the herd and playing it safe. Find what makes your heart sing and go after it! Take a risk and follow your dream. Take a chance on yourself!

Of course I had heard this lesson before. It is abound in books and movies. There is that emotional scene where the parent or grandparent teaches the lesson to the protagonist—either directly with their words or by dying and thereby making it clear that life is too short not to go after what you love—who is then spurred to glorious action. We’ve all seen it before. But this was different. This was no book. This was no movie, no fairy tale. This was Grandpa Mel. The guy who taught me how to hammer a nail as soon as I could walk and let me build a house with him before I was out of elementary school. The guy who took me golfing and played catch with me in the yard. My Grandpa.

He had always seemed like the perfectly contented family man. He managed a lumber yard until he retired, and then went on to take charge of building homes for Habitat for Humanity, building his local church, and leading his grandkids in the building of the lake house that continues to be the hub of our family gatherings. He loved these projects, and he was in his element leading the crews. He found something in retirement—after tending to the needs of my Mom and my uncle and then securing a comfortable nest-egg for he and my Grandma to retire with—that he had not dared to search for while in the workforce. He found his passion. He never talked about it. Never complained about his lot. Never was bitter toward his family that ensuring a comfortable life for them had kept him from opening up his own business. He was a good father, a good husband, a good man. It was a good life.

Still, there it was. At the end of his days—in his ninth decade on Earth—he was clear about one thing: “I just wish I had taken more chances.”

I have so many fond memories of my Grandpa, and I know that he has rubbed off on me in ways both clear and subtle. From his life, the lesson I learned was the supreme importance of family. I am so glad that he modeled that every day; it never needed to be spoken about. But it was the lesson I learned in his death that was more poignant than anything I ever learned in books or movies. Don’t wait until you are retired to do what you love. Take a risk in order to live your dreams. 

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Helen Keller, The Open Door

Over the last few years since his death, I have distilled this lesson learned at my Grandpa’s funeral into a phrase that really resonates with me: This is NOT a dress rehearsal!!! You don’t get a “do-over” for all of this stuff. You don’t get to have that moment with the potential love of your life again, that chance to say what is in your heart. You don’t get a chance to raise your kids again: to go to their games and push them on the swings and kiss them goodnight. And you don’t get the chance at the end to find your passion and your purpose, and to live accordingly. This is not a dress rehearsal. This IS the show! You have to do it now!!!

I feel like that concept has been chasing me pretty hard the last couple of years. Perhaps “chasing” doesn’t adequately describe it; maybe “stalking” is better. “Haunting” is accurate. It permeates my every day: This is NOT a dress rehearsal!!! I have watched my mindset and my entire way of life change since this thought took hold of me. I had been of the attitude that, with my kids so young and me so busy, there was no way I could find the time or energy to pursue my other passions. I was sliding by, skating. I was certainly happy, but there was also something missing. That is when, a few years ago, the haunting started. My first move was to get going on The Journal Project, which was an enormous undertaking. As I worked into the wee hours of each night after the kids went to bed, I realized how important it was to me to get my voice out there. I didn’t want to wait years to get my book published. So, “Journal of You” was born. It has been a true labor of love to write to you every week. But even that was not enough to quell the inner chorus chanting “This is not a dress rehearsal!” So, I went back to school for Life Coaching to pursue another passion. And on and on it has gone: writing, school, coaching, consulting–constantly trying to tap into ways that I can be of service in the spirit of my Life Purpose.

I hear my Grandpa’s message trailing me every day, guiding me and motivating me to stay on the task of living a life filled with passion and fulfillment. I know that requires me to take some risks, to get out of my comfort zone, to stop sliding through life. It pushes me to my own greatness, though. It moves me to measure myself by the standard I want my future 90-year-old self to be proud of, to have no regrets about. I am pretty sure that no matter how bold and authentic that I choose to be from here on out, I will probably wish, at the end of my days, that I had done better. That is just how I am. Still, even though I am today nowhere near to having set up the lifestyle and schedule of my dreams, I take heart in the fact that I am working toward it every day. It is on the front burner. I am trying to become the very best version of me that I can be. I hear the voice of Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” reminding me: “Carpe diem. Make your lives extraordinary.” And I feel Grandpa Mel, too, his spirit reminding me that today is my day to claim myself and my dreams, once and for all. No day but today.

How about you? Have you taken enough risk to live the life of your dreams? Open up your journal and be honest with yourself. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you feel about the way you have lived your life? Do you have regrets about how safely you have played it? How closely have you followed the herd rather than your own inner voice? How willing have you been to step out on that limb and have that uncomfortable conversation? How often have you struck out on your own against the expectations of the people around you, simply because you were hearing a different drummer? How many times have you risked “failure” in the service of your dreams or of happiness? What are your excuses? Financial security? Family obligations? Fear of failure or rejection? I like the quote by Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Do you think that by playing it safe now and not taking risks to pursue your passions, that you are actually risking a lot of regret and unhappiness later in life? Which risk is greater to you: the risk to follow your bliss now or the risk of regret later? Leave me a reply and let me know: What force is driving your life? 

Make your life extraordinarily yours,

William

Challengers of Change

DSC_0904“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.” –Joan Wallach Scott

Change is tough stuff. It is so necessary for growth and vitality, but still so very difficult and stressful. Relocations. Career changes. Relationship beginnings and endings. Births. Deaths. Heck, even your favorite TV show getting moved to another night! This stuff is no picnic, even when the changes are ones we have looked forward to. We always hear people say “Change is good!” while we are gritting our teeth about something changing in our lives. It seems no accident that the word “CHANGE” can be extracted from the letters of “CHALLENGE,” as the former never seems to come without the latter hanging all over it like a wet jacket. When it comes to making a major move in our own life—especially an effort to improve ourselves or our station in the world—the haters seem to come out of the woodwork to let their feelings be known.

Unfortunately, the first person we usually have to battle in this process of change-for-growth is ourselves. We put up a mighty challenge, too. When I think of big moves I have made in my adult life—quitting school (a couple of times!), moving to New York and Los Angeles, leaving LA, giving up single life, going to graduate school, leaving management, even starting “Journal of You”—there wasn’t a single one that didn’t involve a full-scale war against my own fear and self-doubt. So many of those changes involved facing The Great Unknown—which I think is the biggest fear for most of us—and others involved jumping into things that seemed known but still terrifying to me. When I look at that list, I can clearly recall that I was achingly close to not pulling the trigger on every one of those moves. I was my own biggest challenger.

I may have been my biggest challenger, but I was certainly not my only one. I think most people who make big moves in their lives find the same thing. When we finally push back our demons, face our fears, and claim the move, we feel a huge relief. The weight is off our shoulders. We think we are in the clear. Only then, however—when the news gets out—do we get the multitude of challengers and haters bringing their own issues to us. Our life changes trigger a lot of issues inside of the people around us.

Jealousy is a big one. Disappointment. Anger. There is a “Who moved my cheese?” element to it, as your friends, family, and even acquaintances can no longer take your role in their lives and in their minds for granted. You have become a wildcard, a rogue player. You must be assessed in a totally different way. That uncertainty is highly uncomfortable for most people, and especially so if your life change involves you—at least in their eyes—“rising above” the status you shared with them. There are a lot of psychological forces at play.

In most of our stations in life, we don’t like to admit—to ourselves or to others—that we don’t want to be what or where we are. So, we keep the “getting out” or “rising above” discussions away. But then someone in our station, out of nowhere, announces that they are making the move, getting out. And for the rest of us, our very first reflex thought is, “Oh, you lucky son-of-a-gun!” Whether what follows are well-wishes or resentment depends on the emotional maturity of the onlooker.

I see exactly this in the world of Tennis teachers, my field of work. We are all just a freak injury away from being out of a career, so we would be fools to not have at least considered a back-up plan, no matter how much we love our work. Yet no one ever talks about it. EVER! It is like some silent code that we have agreed to. Then one day—it happened last week in my office, actually–one of our co-workers announces he is getting out, becoming a civilian, and here comes the silent chorus of “Lucky son-of-a-gun!” thoughts from the rest of us. It is a fascinating relationship we all have with denial.

It often takes someone moving the cheese to release what lies beneath. That is when the challengers of change reveal themselves, both inside ourselves and in the form of the people in our lives. We must be armed and ready to take on all challengers. I think I am about due for some change, so I suppose it is time to strap on the armor. I love the quote from an unknown author, “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” I feel like flying. So, bring it on, world! I am grateful and ready to begin anew. I accept the challenge.

How about you? How well do you deal with change? Open up your journal, heart, and mind, and let it all flow out. Make a list of some of the big moves you have made in your life. How scared were you? Were you more scared of the change itself, or of announcing your move to the world and dealing with everyone’s reaction? Which of your moves represented an attempt on your part to “move up” in the world, to change your station or follow your dreams in a new way? Were those the scariest? How did the people in your life react to those announcements? Were you supported? Did you lose any relationships over any of these changes? Thinking back over your lifetime, which potential moves did you not make because of fear (of the unknown, of letting people down, of failure, etc.)? Do you regret that now? What would you like your next big move to be? Moving away? Job change? Going back to school? Having a child? Ending a relationship? How much of your own internal resistance will you have to overcome to make this big change? How much resistance will you get from your acquaintances, friends, and family? Whose disapproval do you fear the most? Are you ready to make the move anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you up to the challenge of change? 

Be boldly YOU today,

William

A Lifelong Love Letter

DSC_0880 2“Say what you want to say, And let the words fall out honestly.  I want to see you be brave”             –Sara Bareilles, Brave

Hello friend,

There is something so nostalgic and heart-tugging for me about reading a letter. Not a text or an email, but a real letter on actual paper. It is somehow more romantic if written in ink rather than typed, but as long as the signature is hand-written, it has my heart. I love to dig through old piles of random life stuff and come across a letter from long ago. It doesn’t matter who it is from—childhood friend, sibling, lost love–it suddenly takes on enormous emotional power. Maybe it is because I love to write, maybe because I really want to share my Truth with those I love, and maybe just because I often have a tough time saying just what I want to say in person. But whatever the reason, I have always been captivated by letters.

I don’t write them often enough. It always seems like such a great idea in theory, yet I never seem to make the time (I am beginning to think this is the story of my life—ugh!). So the people who have meant so much to me have not always been aware of their impact and my gratitude. I have a lot of regret about that. I have, however, developed one redeeming habit that I hope to never break. Ever since my daughter turned one—she will be six this week—I have written my children a letter on their birthdays. I just spill out what they have been up to and how I feel about them. At some undetermined point in the future—maybe when they turn 20 or 25 or when they get married or have their own child—I will give them the letters. It may sound small and silly, but gosh, what I wouldn’t give to read something like this from my own parents! I am a nostalgic guy and a natural chronicler of events. If my kids are anything like me, maybe they will appreciate what their old man was thinking about them as they moved along their journey through this wonderland called Life. So, here is what I wrote to my son last week on his big day:

30 July 2014

To my Isaiah on his 4th Birthday,

Happy Birthday, Best Man! My Prince is four years old! I suppose I am supposed to say, “Where did the time go?” But it really feels like you have been with me forever, so thinking of my baby as a 4-year-old doesn’t make the old parent in me feel sad or like I am losing time. I think what makes that the case is that you and I squeeze the most out of every day together. And we spend SO MUCH TIME TOGETHER. We are pretty much stuck together like glue—you and I—and that suits me just fine. I cherish every moment with you.

Someone once asked me if I could name the characteristic that really stands out in your personality. I told her, “He is the funniest and most fun-loving person I have ever met.” That is totally true. Once you get past your crusty-crabby state right when you wake up in the morning—you are no fun at that hour—you are the most fun-seeking, fun-having person in the world, always trying to find something to amuse yourself and anyone else who is around. That gets you into just about everything, of course. It is tough to get mad at you even when you are causing trouble, though, as I know your underlying intention is good (just sometimes misdirected!). And when I am giving you the angry Daddy look for being a little rascal, neither one of us can keep a straight face for long, because you shoot me that little glance that says, “Yeah, I am just playing the little menace role right now, but I am really just messing with you, Dad!” Then we both giggle and move on, as neither of us wants to miss the fun stuff in the next moment.

And what fun we have! One of your favorite games is “Shoot the Ball at Somebody!!!” which involves you and I getting out all of our million balls in the playroom and then throwing them at each other over and over(and, of course, laughing all the way). You also love “Dino-Fighting” which is basically just you and I pretending to be dinosaurs and wrestling each other in the yard. I may be bigger than you, but you make up for that by never getting tired. You also love to have bike races up and down the street (and yes, you beat me in that every time, too). Almost every time we go out to ride, you are totally unwilling to go back inside until you have taken at least one ride to the end of the street and back in each of your favorite vehicles: bike, Big Wheel, balance bike, and scooter. The neighbors all know to drive slowly, because you drive amazingly fast but don’t always look where you are going! It is so fun to do all this stuff with you.

You were busy away from the house this year, too. You love playing with your cousins, at Minot for Christmas but especially at Pelican Lake in the Summer. You all play together so well and have the best time in the lake and on the trampoline. Those are my favorite times of the year, when I get to bring you to a place that has always been special to me and see you love it as much as I always did when I was a kid. When you are not terrorizing your sister, you are glued to her and think she is the coolest thing ever. The zoo is another one of your favorite spots, as you are a great explorer. This Winter, you got into your first class ever: Swimming! After spending the entire first class period being held by the teacher while screaming for me—one of my toughest half-hours ever–you were a champion the rest of the way. It is such a treat to watch you enjoy the water. Just last week, you and I were the only ones in the outdoor pool at the gym right when it opened, the only two foolish enough to be out there on a gray, 65-degree morning. We had a blast, though, as always! Just a couple of weeks ago, you also got to start Soccer. And while you haven’t gotten into a Tennis class yet, you and I have spent a lot of time on the court together (most days you don’t want to hit anything but overhead smashes, which is how I know you are my kid!). It is such a treat to be your best buddy for all this.

The one hobby that I wish you did less of—but that totally mesmerizes you—is watching television and movies (your big favorites this year have been “Monsters Inc.,” “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “The Incredibles, to name just a few). What amazes me always is how perfectly you memorize all of the scenes. And because you are a born actor, you entertain us nonstop with performances of the scenes the rest of the day, or you just throw movie lines into your regular conversation. It is genius and completely hilarious. Since just before your last birthday, you have been into superheroes. You were Superman for Halloween last year and are already trying to decide who to be this year. Superheroes, balls, dinosaurs, cars & trucks, wrestling—yeah, you kind of seem like a stereotypical boy in a lot of ways.

But you are also so unique and extraordinary. You are amazingly intelligent and so sweet, and somehow you manage to balance all of that with your superhuman energy and joy of life. I am in awe of how you can contain all of this in one little four-year-old body. It is a testament to the power of your spirit. You are surely destined for magnificent things. I can’t wait to cheer you on every step of the way. I am so, so proud of you and so wildly grateful that I get to be your Dad. I couldn’t imagine a better son, and I thank you for sharing your magic with me every single day. These are the best of times. Happy 4th Birthday! I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

Always, Dad

What about you? Is there anyone you want to write a letter to? What do you want to say? If you feel a little weird about it–or scared or whatever–sometimes the best place to start is in your journal. Open it up and just start writing to the person from your heart. Don’t judge it; just say what you want to say. If you think they don’t know how you really feel about them—most people don’t, precisely because we don’t tell them—then really lay it out there. Say what you have always wanted to say, what you have always really wished they would know about you and what they mean to you. Who in your life do you need to deliver this letter to? A parent? Sibling? Childhood friend? Teacher? Hero? The one that got away? The one who doesn’t know they are the one? How about someone right under your roof who you have been unable to get on track with for awhile, e.g. a child or spouse? Maybe the letter you need to write is to someone no longer living, someone you never got to say all you wanted to say to. That is a wonderful letter, a healing letter. What about my habit of the annual letter to someone, whether you save it for later or deliver it each year? Is there someone you might get in that habit with?

In the end, it makes me feel better about myself—more honest and more fully who I am—when my Truth is out there and my loved ones know where they stand with me. I can feel how it deepens the relationship. Actually, that is how journaling has made me feel about me. I am authentic because of it. I know myself, warts and all. Telling on yourself—whether to yourself or to others—is the best way to rob shame of its power. Then you can just be you. Authentic, beautiful you. So, write to someone! Expose yourself and experience how liberating that is. And please, write in your journal. Give yourself the gift of a lifelong love letter. 

You are worth it,

William

Have You Gone Dark?

DSC_1061“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” –A.A. Milne, from Winnie-The-Pooh

Hello friend,

Yesterday, I had a total “Blast-From-The-Past” moment. I got a Friend Request on Facebook from an old, dear friend whom I haven’t heard from in over 15 years. It felt like it arrived from another planet! Memories flooded my mind and my heart, and I wanted to see her—or at least give her a call–right then and there. I have thought of her so often over the years and silently wished her all the best. Silently. So what did I do? Nothing. I told myself I would send her a message right then, but something came up—as it always seems to—and the moment passed. Somehow hitting “Accept Request” was not nearly as satisfying as a phone call or an embrace. Bummer. Welcome to my world!

That old friend’s face is sticking with me, though. Eating at me, really. I recently read an article about the most frequent regrets of people on their deathbeds. The one that really struck a chord in my soul was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Actually, it wasn’t just that it struck a chord; no, it was more that it stuck a knife in my heart. I have been really feeling that lately, and the article was a bold reminder.

It made me think of a group of guys that I went to high school with, guys that I liked a lot but weren’t necessarily in my innermost circle of friends. I often hear about these guys still finding a way to get together a couple of times per year despite living all over the country, and still communicating often. I think that is so cool. I am envious of not just their friendship with each other, but their persistence in keeping it close and frequent. They have done the right work, because good friendships are worth it. Those guys will be tight until the day they die.

So, what about me? Have I kept a group like that? And beyond the group, have I even kept individual friends that close? I just now made a list on a full sheet of paper of all the friends who have been nearest and dearest to me on all of the stops on my journey. I started with my friends from childhood and high school; that is where the biggest group came from, and really the people I still consider my dearest friends. Next came the other stops where I stayed long enough or exposed enough of myself to build relationships: college, Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, college again, graduate school, and then finally my pre-children life here. There are over 30 names on the list, and they are all people I would love to happen upon in a quiet space, so that I could give them a big hug and enjoy a wonderful conversation. Friends only, no acquaintances.

It is certainly bittersweet to look at this list. It is sweet, of course, because I truly love these people, and it does the heart good to think of those I love. But the bitter part is aimed at my own role in the next column of the list. That is where I noted how much communication I have with each person. Sadly, next to almost every single name on my list, it says “None”. None! My favorite people in all the world—outside of my family, of course—don’t hear from me at all. That is both disappointing and embarrassing. I cannot stop looking at this list! It is haunting, really. These tremendous people and the relationships that I had with them are now like ghosts to me.

How did I get to this point of having created these ghosts? Of course it is easy to claim lack of time. That is our world, isn’t it? But, even if that can explain it, it doesn’t satisfy me. There is the issue of the increasing awkwardness that goes with increasing time between correspondences. I wonder if it would be weird to call someone out of the blue—would I be inconveniencing them?—so I hesitate. That hesitation continues to the point that I wonder if I even matter to them the way they still matter to me. So I go dark, sitting silently and wishing them well.

Then I think about how to transition the relationship from a catch-up conversation (e.g. “What do you do, in general?” or “How have you passed the years?”) to a regular conversation (e.g. “What did you do today?” or “What do you think about Issue X”). The whole process paralyzes me, gets in my head and keeps me from doing what my heart knows it should do, which is reach out. Make that call. Send that letter or email or Friend Request. But since I haven’t, and because I don’t really seek out new relationships, I have a pretty tiny social circle. Even living in this city the last dozen years, there are only a couple of people I make it a point to see occasionally. This seems to be why, as I age, my family becomes increasingly my best friends (though I do a pretty poor job keeping in touch with them, too, I must admit).

All of this is just to say that I can definitely see how “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends” made the list of top deathbed regrets. I am (hopefully) in the middle of my life, and I already regret it. I miss them. And I think I will miss them even more in the years to come if I continue my silence. So, I think I will get on Facebook tonight and send that old friend a message. Maybe we can even trade numbers and have a real conversation. That would do my heart good, maybe even ease some regret. It is something. A baby step. But nevertheless, a step in the right direction. It is time to break my silence. Time to turn the light back on. I am open for business!

How about you? How well do you stay in contact? Open up your journal and spill some ink. Maybe the best way to start is by making the same type of list that I made, with all of your most beloved friends from the various stops on your life journey and how much communication you currently have with them. How does it look? Are you pretty good at making the consistent effort, or is your list as bleak as mine? Are your best best friends from childhood, like mine, or are they from a different phase of your life? Is your communication frequent enough that you have “regular conversations”, or are you stuck in “catch-up conversations” each time you talk? How many do you get together with in person? Do you have a group that still gets together for things like a “girls weekend”? How much regret do you feel from losing touch with people, and how does that compare to how much you think you will feel on your deathbed? Is it enough to get you to reach out? This listing exercise was quite therapeutic for me, and I hope it works the same for you. Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you gone dark? 

Listen to the quiet wisdom of your heart,

William

Is Your Job Working You?

IMG_1015Hello friend,

Picture yourself on your deathbed. Your mind spins like a broken record, replaying your life over and over in hopes of coming to some peace. Peace with what you have done and left undone. Peace with your accomplishments and your failures, your great loves and great loves lost. But mostly, you are trying to make peace with how you passed your time here on Earth, how you spent your dash. Regret enters the conversation. “I wish I had done that.” “I am so sorry that I did the other thing.” Woulda shoulda coulda. These are tough thoughts, heavy loads to bear as you cross over to the other side. So, here is my question: At the end of the road, are you going to say, “I wish I spent more time at work”?

Naahhh! Me neither. Not many people, I am guessing, would fess up to that regret. It is not that I discount that as a possibility, especially for those who are truly following their Bliss–their calling–and have turned it into a career. I love writing these posts to you. If I was earning a living wage for it, I could definitely see spending a little “too much” time delivering one to you on a daily basis. Mostly, though, I think that, like most of you, wishing I had worked more hours won’t be among my biggest deathbed regrets.

But how about the reverse? Have I spent too many hours at work? Have I missed out on the things that I would tell you are important: my kids, my wife, my family of origin, taking care of my health, pursuing my passions, learning? Has my schedule reflected my priorities?

As with many other areas of my life, I have taken a unique, winding path in my relationship with my work schedule. After spending most of my 20’s trying to work as little as possible so that I could spend my hours on self-improvement, my early 30’s found me living the life of a workaholic. I was on both the teaching and the management sides of tennis, and that meant a grueling schedule of more than 40 hours per week pounding my body on a tennis court and then another 20-30 hours in the office stressing over budgets, staffing, programming and the like. I was burning the candle at both ends, to be sure, only seeing the light of day on the weekends (some weekends). Every night found me completely exhausted.

In my work on The Journal Project, I have been able to revisit those years via my daily journal entries. Let me tell you, those are the most boring, repetitive entries of my entire adult life! They are like a broken record that goes something like this: “I am so tired. My body hurts so badly. This is no way to live. I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody. I am happy and grateful. Life is beautiful.” Yes, thank goodness that my spiritual and psychological foundation—my base of deep happiness and gratitude—had been laid prior to those years, because I never would have made it through without that foundation. It is true that I believed in my cause—I loved being in tennis and was heavily invested in making my club a wonderful place to work and play—and that certainly helped me to sustain my energies while there. But it was all there. I didn’t have much energy left to offer anything outside the building. All of those other things I would have said were high priorities—wife, family, passions, health—were left to pick at the crumbs of energy I had left when I limped in the house under cover of night. Between the stress and the physical beating and the endless hours, my work certainly exacted a heavy toll on me in exchange for a paycheck. In effect, it consumed me. (Here might be a good place to add that my wife is a saint.)  I knew what was happening, too, but I just couldn’t seem to do anything about it.

But then, something magical happened. My daughter was born. The sweetest, most beautiful angel ever in the world was alive and coming to stay in my house, where I could scarcely find time to be. That seemed just plain wrong to me. My priorities suddenly came sharply into focus. But more than that, the need to match my schedule to my priorities became urgent. So I did. I quit the management side of my job and cut my teaching schedule down to four days, with no nights or weekends. The paycheck and status took a huge hit, but finally my schedule was in alignment with my priorities.

Those quality days with my daughter—and eventually my son, too—were worth more to me than any paycheck ever was. If you could ever climb inside my heart on a “Three Amigos Day”—one of our weekdays with just the kids and I—or “Family Fun Day” (all of us together on a weekend), you would understand completely the meaning of the word “priceless”. We have been carrying on like this for 5 ½ years now, with me spending less time at work and more time with the ones I love and having the energy to be fully present when I am with them. So, there I was at the bus stop this morning to give my daughter a hug good-bye before school, and there I was at the end of the day to see her jump off the bus and run smiling toward me for another giant hug—an untradeable moment—and a trip on our bikes to the park. And tomorrow, on that weekday away from my job I have clung to all these years, I get to go along on the kindergarten fieldtrip to the museum and the zoo. These days of my being my kid’s best friend don’t last forever, right? I think I’ll soak them up while they are still here.

As you can see, my relationship with my working hours has been one of extremes. I have known dipping my feet in the water, wading comfortably at waist-deep, and full-fledged drowning in my work. I have known myself to be happy in the midst of all three, but actual satisfaction came only when I was finally able to make my schedule reflect my priorities. Who can say how my path will meander in the coming years as circumstances change, but I hope that when I am in full life-review mode while lying on my deathbed, I will have no regrets when it comes to the time I spent at work.

How about you? How are you doing with your work schedule? Open up your journal and tell yourself about it. Are you spending too much time at your job? Are you missing out on important aspects of your life because of your work schedule? Do you ever wish you worked more? Is your job your true calling or just something you do? When it is all over, are you going to regret the way you spent your time? And most importantly, how closely do you think your schedule reflects your priorities? If it does not, what small step can you take today to change that? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is your job working you?

Live a self-approved life,

William