Tag Archives: relationships

Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

So, how did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make each moment count,

William

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

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

All I Got From My Vacation Was…..

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I am having a hard time mustering up the drive to write to you today. My family and I just got back from a week of vacation, and my mind is still floating in that lazy haze of sand and sunshine. In many ways, I have not quite returned yet. I haven’t admitted to myself that it is time for “real life” again (whatever that even means). However, despite my stubborn denial, I know that tomorrow will find me back to the usual Monday routine. So, while I still have a last hazy moment to cling to, I feel the need to put a little bow on my week of escape.

I have been drifting blissfully in the moment for seven days, not working too hard to process the state of my life as a whole or even the state of those vacation days. My journal entries from those days show few deep thoughts and breakthroughs, few philosophical dissertations, and few great lessons and takeaways from each of those days. Mostly it shows a mind floating in easy-breezy vacation nothingness.

But it was NOT nothing! It had to be something! If it was nothing, I would not be still feeling both hazy and deeply sentimental a few days later. I would not have been near tears as I made a slide show of my trip photos yesterday. No, it was definitely something. I just have been too woozy to nail down exactly what that something was.

Right from the first night, when my Dad drove us straight from the airport to the beach just before sunset, my vacation was a reminder. It was a reminder that I am at home on the water. More specifically, I am at home IN the water. Despite a cool evening breeze and no towels to dry with, I could not resist diving right into to the chilly saltwater, hooting and whooping in delight as I rode a few waves right up onto the sand and tossed my excited kids into the surf. That water entered my soul that night and stayed all week, reminding me how organic it is to my very being. In that reminder, I also felt how tragic it had been that I had neglected that aspect of my soul for so many years, but I chose to let that regret go and simply bask in the overwhelming sense of Joy and Peace that can only be felt when one has returned Home. The water is certainly my spiritual Home. What a blissful reminder!

My vacation also reminded me of something critical to my purpose in life: to expose my children to as much of this world as I can. I try to remember this in my daily life. I read them books and show them videos of people doing brave and interesting things. I encourage them to try different sports and activities. I tell them stories about my childhood and the things I have done in my life. I ask their teachers to challenge their limits. I try to model curiosity, open-mindedness, and a love of books.   These are good things, I know.

But this trip reminded me that there is nothing quite like an adventure when it comes to broadening your horizons. Having a manatee swim by you as you are playing in the ocean, racing barefoot on a golf course at night, boating through canals full of homes worth 20 and 30 million dollars each, flying on an airplane for the first time, walking the beach with your Grandma collecting seashells. These are things that require an adventure. I was tickled every time I saw my kids’ eyes light up with the newness and wonder of Life beyond their usual borders. My eyes were glowing, too!

My vacation also reminded me of the fleeting nature of these chances to do life this way with these people. The childhoods of my kids, now 6 and 8, are flying by. Up until a few years ago, they were thrilled every time a friend of mine—whom they call “Uncle”–came over to play. He made them giggle to no end and happily joined us for things like sledding and birthday cake. Then he moved away, and no one has replaced him. On our vacation, they got to see him again, and it was like they didn’t miss a beat. Magic! But those years pass in a blink, and it is so easy to miss these things. Not just for the kids, but for me, too.

After a blissful vacation week with my parents, they dropped us off at the airport to go home. We said a quick goodbye at the curb and lugged our stuff inside. As the sliding doors closed behind us, I turned and looked back as my Mom and Dad each closed their car door and drove off. They didn’t see me as I watched them disappear. Already feeling sentimental from saying goodbye, I suddenly had the very sad realization that there may not be so many more adventures and goodbyes with them. Of course, any of us could fall ill or die at any point, but the odds change as you get to their age. I don’t know if it was the cumulative result of a week’s time with them, talking of my uncle’s recent death and the health issues of other of their friends and family members, but for some reason, seeing them drive away made me so grateful and sad. It can’t be forever, I thought, but it can be now. Cherish it. Cherish them.

And that reminded me of my last big takeaway from my vacation, something I kept noticing in passing during the week but never quite solidifying in my mind or noting in my hazy journal entries. The reminder: It’s never too late.

In recent years, I hardly ever see my parents unless there is a big crowd of their children and grandchildren gathered together in one of their houses. In that chaotic atmosphere, my old man tends to play the role of the crotchety, distant guy who might grouse about how messy you are making his house or give you a little teasing but never gets very lovey or just hangs out with you and gets to know you. His kids (and some of his grandkids) all know he is a great, big-hearted guy underneath that prickly veneer, so we let it slide and love him for what is true. My kids, though, because of the crowded and infrequent visits, have never gotten to that point with him. My son has enjoyed trading tickles and barbs a few times and never minds a little ribbing, so they have been fine but never close. My daughter, though, is more about gentle, deep, and intimate relationships and thus never seemed to bond with her grandfather. When I would remind her to give him a hug, it always seemed forced, almost scared in its distance. I always lamented that. And I figured that would be how it remained.

Imagine my delight, then, when I saw him, on our first night, walking side-by-side with my son like old friends. Or the next day, when I saw him voluntarily give my daughter a little hug and call her “Honey” in conversation. Or, at the end of the week, as I watched the three of them—my old man, my daughter, and my son—walk off together down the beach, no hesitation and no questions asked. There was genuine affection there. A bond had formed. It was totally cool. Priceless, really. If he should happen to leave us soon, their lasting feelings and memories of him will be completely different than they were before this week. That right there made the whole trip worthwhile.

But the rest was alright, too, I guess. I think I will try this vacation thing again someday!

How about you? What were your takeaways from your last vacation? Open up your journal and your memory and take a trip. What was your last real getaway? How big was it in your life? How long had you daydreamed about it? Was it more about action (e.g. a ski trip) or pure relaxation (e.g. the beach)? Who was with you? What did the vacation do for your relationships with your companions? Did it completely change any of them? For the better or worse? Did it change the way you relate to the people who weren’t on the trip? Did it recharge your battery? Did you have any big “A-Ha!” moments, when something important struck you? I find that whenever I travel—whether it is because of all the time in the car or sitting in the airport or on the beach or whatever—I usually end up doing a lot of soul-searching. How about you? How well are you able to leave your regular life behind and just be on vacation? Do you think that makes it easier to put your regular life in perspective? Is that a big part of what vacation is all about? Leave me a reply and let me know: What did your last vacation do for you?

Roll the windows down,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s stir each other up!

This Is NOT an Election Article!

dsc_0566“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen

Hello friend,

Imagine a group of college-age friends who grew up together. They are all figuring out what their path in life is. Nearly all of them, of course, are going the conventional routes: business, teaching, medicine, technology, trades, and the like. They want to be respectable, earning members of the workforce until they retire. Generally speaking, you would say they are a group of very stable people.

There are two outliers in their group, though. One friend has decided that she wants to follow her passion for the arts and become a painter. She’s not exactly sure how she will make it work financially, but she is a dreamer and has faith it will work out. The other friend has decided he is going to become an estate lawyer and make a fortune scamming old people out of their money. His goal is to make money, and he doesn’t care about the human cost.

How, then, does their stable group of friends react to these two who are straying from the conventional path?

As for the artist/dreamer, they are concerned for her but don’t dislike or distrust her for her decision. They dismiss her, in a way, as being too whimsical, not sensible enough, foolish for choosing the unstable path. They warn her about the starving artist lifestyle she is choosing, reminding her that she will be without health insurance or a 401K plan. The stable crew feels a little bad for their artist friend, even, as she “just doesn’t get it” and “lives in a fantasyland.” Her heart is in the right place, though, so they don’t dislike her. But they also don’t take her seriously and are relieved there aren’t lots more like her. She is a bit dangerous to their stability. Lovable, but dangerous.

The scamming lawyer, on the other hand, is now viewed by the friends as dangerous but unlovable. It is clear that his heart is not in the right place. A moral failing has entered the picture, and their sensibilities are offended by that. They are disappointed. They realize they can no longer trust him the way they thought they could. A wall has gone up in their relationship, one that is probably too steep to climb in order to build that relationship back to whole again.

The artist’s flaw, according to the group, is that she feels too much, she lets her heart guide her. The lawyer’s flaw is that he is heartless, callous. The artist can be forgiven for veering off the path of the rest of the group, but the lawyer cannot.

You are probably wondering why in the world I am having you think about these people. Well, lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about the individual people in my life, how I interact with each, and whether they seem more like someone who I want closer to me or someone who I need to distance myself from. I am oversensitive to just about everything, but especially to the prospect of spending time with people I think poorly of. I am repulsed by that and have left jobs and relationships because of it.

With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we have this magical way of reconnecting and staying in touch with so many more people than ever before. People from your past—high school and college friends, former colleagues—and even people whom you have never met in person. You can actually learn a lot about some of them. Sometimes more than you want to.

As you well know, it is political season. And while many of the people I know–whether intimately, in person, or online–tend to reveal little to nothing about their political views, there are certainly others who really put themselves out there for their candidate or cause. They reveal their positions on some topics that truly matter to me. That’s where it can get uncomfortable.

As I have watched other people’s interactions and tried to understand my own reactions to people on the other end of the political spectrum from me—I am quite liberal on just about all of the big topics—I see patterns emerging. So, I am developing my own pet theory on how a relationship between a liberal person and a conservative person plays out when their views are made known to the other. (Keep in mind that I am well aware that the people of the world hold a zillion varieties of viewpoints, and that the liberal and conservative in my theory are, by necessity, caricatured people that are to the far left and far right, respectively.) Check this out and be ready to help me tinker with my theory by sharing your personal pattern of reactions.

Remember the artist/dreamer of the friend group? Well, in my developing theory, the way the group viewed the artist is the way my conservative character views my liberal character. He (the conservative) sees her (the liberal’s) flaw as her “bleeding heart,” always thinking the government should help everyone and right wrongs. In his eyes, she is leading with her heart, which is foolish and impractical, because of course we can’t foot the bill for other people’s problems. Her insistence that we can is more annoying than anything. But at least her heart is in the right place, so he can’t despise her for that. He tolerates her.

To the liberal, on the other hand, the conservative is looked upon the way our friend group reacted to the scamming lawyer. She sees him as having abandoned his heart in favor of his pocketbook. His is a callous perspective, ignoring the plight of others and even basic human rights (I have been using universal health coverage in my ponderings, but we could use things like capital punishment, women’s health issues, LGBT rights, or the Syrian refugee crisis, too). He has taken moral issues and turned them instead into economic ones, ignoring hearts and souls in favor of financial calculations. This is incredibly disappointing—even hurtful—to the liberal. Her feelings are hurt by the seeming callousness of the conservative’s positions. Her sensibilities are offended. A trust has been broken. There is a “How could you?” in her reaction, as in, “How could you devalue human life this way?” The liberal does not want to believe someone’s heart could be so cold. It is a devastating realization. She is effectively done with him.

So, at the end of it, it looks as though the conservative would be more tolerant of the liberal than the liberal is of the conservative. The conservative sees the liberal as a failure of reason and practicality, whereas the liberal sees the conservative as a failure of character and conscience. Her failure is acceptable; his is not. He can continue with her in his life, just as the stable group of friends could keep the artist. The liberal, however, no longer feels any interest in fraternizing with the conservative, seeing him as the friend group sees the scamming lawyer: morally bankrupt. With the trust broken, for her, the relationship is as good as over.

So, that’s the theory at this point. Like I said, the positions are probably a bit extreme for most people. But I have to admit, the liberal side is mostly a projection of stuff coming up from my own heart in these situations. I recognized the feelings I was having in response to all of these political posts as well as my conversations with different people, and the theory emerged from me trying, mostly through my daily journal entries, to make sense of the feelings. I wanted some clarity, which is what journaling has always brought me.

This process has helped me to better understand my internal workings, as well as my evolving relationships with family members, friends, and online connections. I have to admit it is a bit disturbing to see the final product being a desire to end, or at least pull back from, a number of relationships that I had once enjoyed and valued, even if on a more superficial level. But I can’t fake it, either. As I mentioned early on, it is a weakness of mine that I am oversensitive. Another one is that I am stubborn. That combination makes me tough to hang with. If you break my trust, I don’t easily let it go. (And yes, I recognize the irony in the fact that despite seeing my political positions as more enlightened and compassionate than the other side, I am the one who ends up being more intolerant in the actual relationship. I guess personal boundaries come with a cost.)

I suppose I hope for other people’s sake that they can make peace with people who hold vastly different views more easily than I can, that they can either forgive or compartmentalize their politics. Maybe it is like my theory—the conservatives can do it better than the liberals can—or maybe it is only me. In any case, the theory-making helped me to know myself better. Even if the results have shaken me a bit, I am glad I took the dive.

How about you? How would you categorize your reactions to people whose views are starkly opposed to yours? It is probably helpful to start by locating yourself along the political spectrum. Are you fairly far in one direction overall, or pretty moderate? Is there one particular issue that you hold an extra-strong opinion about? Can disagreement on that issue trigger an emotional response from you? If you are on the conservative side of the spectrum, does my proposed theory resonate with you at all, i.e. do you find yourself being dismissive of liberals because their “bleeding hearts” make their proposals too impractical and expensive for your tastes, even if you tolerate them because they mean well? If that is not how you experience it, what is your reaction to someone you know who proposes a liberal idea? Do you find that the liberal ideas fail your test morally, or is it more logically or practically? If you are more left-leaning, does my theory resonate with you? Have you had the experience, in talking with conservatives about these issues, of being so dismayed—even hurt—by the callousness and lack of compassion in their positions to the point that you no longer wish to socialize with them? Have I gone too far in that side of the theory? Is your experience more like I described for the other side: it is frustrating that the conservative disagrees with you, but that has no bearing on how you rate their character and how much time you want to spend with them? If you are someone who is kind of in the middle on the issues—conservative on some, liberal on others—do you find yourself still leaning toward one side in terms of which friends you like or respect more, or is it also a pretty even mix? Is there something more morally upstanding about one side or the other? If you had to choose between spending your time with someone who is hopelessly impractical or someone who is immoral, who would you choose? Do you mostly try to avoid political discussions with people in your social groups so you aren’t forced to make these kinds of character evaluations and relationship changes? I think most of us do that at least some of the time, because let’s face it, it’s risky to wade into these waters. Is that an unhealthy denial, or is that simply a wise way to make life bearable in your little corner of the world? I am dying to know how you navigate this stuff! So please, leave me a reply and let me know: How do you handle your relationships with people who differ from you on important political issues? 

Claim your amazing self,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you examining your relationships and how your political opinions shape your friend group and your tolerance for others, I hope you will share it. If you want these letters in your Inbox as soon as they are published, I invite you to sign up for the email.  Peace and Love, my friend.

A Bridge Between Generations: The Beauty of Connecting Human Life

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be your best today,

William

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

The Facebook ‘Friends’ You Wish Were Your Real Friends

IMG_1091“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck, and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

I don’t do a very good job of making friends. I am introverted, so I don’t seek out social situations. I am also a bit shy, so I am not very chatty and outgoing when I do meet new people. I would say I am courteous but not engaging. Some—or all—of that may be due to the fact that I have an inherent disgust for small-talk. It tends to make my skin crawl. It is, by its very nature, superficial. I don’t do superficial well at all. I prefer to either dive right into a meaningful interaction or be ignored altogether.

With all that, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t do high school very well when it came to reputation. I had my group of close friends, no doubt, but most people thought I was “stuck-up,” our word for arrogant and just generally thinking you are better than everyone else. I don’t deny that there was some of that in the mix, but, at this distance of almost 25 years, it is clear to me that most of my reputation stemmed from my innate repulsion to all things petty and superficial, most notably small-talk. Unfortunately, that encompasses the bulk of the high school experience outside of your closest friend group. I just didn’t have it in me to pretend to be everyone’s best friend. A small but true handful was all my nature could handle. It still is.

Sadly, in addition to not being a good maker of friends, I am also a very poor keeper of friends. Well, at least in the usual sense. I am terrible at staying in touch: making the call, sending the birthday card, getting to the class reunion, or setting up the boys weekend. As a result, I have basically lost touch with almost all of my best friends. That doesn’t feel so good. On the other side of it, I still consider all of my best high school buddies to be my best friends, contact or not. I still value them like I did when we were together every day and would still do anything for them. They are my boys, and that is that. In my head! Maybe they are like the ghosts I wrote to you about last time, their relationship with me existing perfectly in my head only. Maybe they have either forgotten about me or allowed the passage of time to lessen their love for me in a way that my heart simply doesn’t operate.

My heart and my head seem to be like vaults. What was once placed there is secure forever. Perhaps that is something of a curse, though, lulling me into thinking I do not have to work to maintain those relationships just because I feel the same way about my loved ones that I always have. It is probably the case that while I am silently moving on with these timeless feelings, the other side is moving on to new relationships that more clearly and consistently reveal themselves. I hold onto ghosts of friendships past and don’t seek out new ones, figuring I am all set in the best friend department. Like I said, for better or worse, it is my nature to have only a few of the best kind and almost none of the superficial.

With all that said, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I was one of the last, stubborn holdouts of the Facebook era. I heard people sing its praises for years and years and still had no interest in trying it. For one, it just sounded so time-consuming. I pictured everyone sitting around writing little notes about themselves all day and couldn’t imagine myself having the time or interest to do that. Granted, I had never actually seen a Facebook page, but this is how I imagined it. And second—and most important to our discussion today—was my complete distaste for the idea that people were writing and sharing these notes with people they weren’t really friends with. Why in the world would you become “friends” with someone who was never your true friend, who you just knew in the superficial high school way? This concept was absolutely beyond my comprehension and seemingly totally contrary to my nature. Facebook and I, it seemed, would never become friends.

So it went for years and years, until I finally created “Journal of You” and needed a way to tell people about my posts every week. My sister suggested I join Facebook and connect with some old friends and relatives to at least share it with them. So, I reluctantly signed up for an account. BOOM! Blast after blast came flooding from the past! Suddenly I was seeing the faces of my high school—even elementary school–classmates who had completely disappeared from my life more than 20 years before. Some were friends then, some barely acquaintances.

Initially, I told myself that I would just connect with them for the purpose of the blog, as the entire exercise seemed extremely awkward to me. Much to my surprise, however, instead of being repulsed by the idea of becoming “friends” with these characters from my past, I became quite tickled by discovering all about their new lives. As a voracious learner, I delighted in studying their posts to meet their families and friends, and also to learn about their pastimes and passions. My wife had many occasions to roll her eyes as I sounded like a great-grandpa musing, “This Facebook thing is REALLY COOL!”

It wasn’t long before I developed a minor addiction, making it a habit to catch up on my Newsfeed each night. It was during this time that I confirmed my long-held concern that Facebook could take up a lot of time. To counter that, though, were the warm feelings that stemmed from making the kind of modern-day connections that come from “likes” and comments on posts. It was so cool to get a like on a blog post from someone in my Advanced Algebra class or a happy comment from one of my pals from fifth grade. In the midst of my otherwise-unsocial existence, where I hardly speak to anyone outside of my house, here I was being touched with a little sense of community. I was simultaneously surprised and thrilled by it. Hence, “This Facebook thing is REALLY COOL!” 

Other than the simple delight of these little moments of cyber-connection, my big “A-HA!” from my year or so on Facebook is that, in following all of these “friends,” I have come to wish that some of them actually would be my friends. Real friends. Human ones, not electronic ones. In following people’s posts in my daily check of the Newsfeed, I feel like I have gotten a real sense of how some people are (or at least how I imagine them to be). Some of it is the articles, videos, or memes that they share. Some of it is what they write about their experience of the world. Some of it is their family photos and captions. Those things are very intriguing to me. The rest comes from what they like or comment on from my posts, as I am very sensitive to that.

The end result is that I have this handful of people that I feel a real affinity to, who I would very much like to be put in the same room with for a few days to see if we would save the world somehow, or at least become true friends. I am not talking about people that were my best friends before but we somehow lost touch along the way. No, I am talking about people who I either hardly knew at all, knew only when we were young kids, or were only somewhat friendly with but hardly thought of making the effort to keep tabs on. Now, however, through the magic of Facebook, I wish these “friends” were my friends. They are:

  • Stephanie—I honestly have no recollection of any level of friendship with her in high school–no specific memories at all—but now I find her an inspiration and a delight. I love all of the stuff she posts about, and she says nice things about my kids’ pictures (the easy way to get on this list!). She is thoroughly positive, which is endlessly appealing to me.
  • John—I think I last heard from him in seventh grade and were on okay terms before that, but I love the specific comments he has made on my posts, and I like the energy of his.
  • Susan—We were decent friends in high school, but I haven’t seen her since. She posts a lot about parenting her brood of kids, one who has special needs. I love the honesty with which she shares, and no matter how funny or self-deprecating the story is, I can feel the gratitude oozing from my screen. I can just tell that she is an awesome parent and role model.
  • Jillian—She is actually not a school friend but a second cousin and much younger than I, who I mostly knew when she was a little kid. She fits in here because I now love following her posts as a mother of a little one. It is so clear how much she appreciates her life and the gift of parenthood.
  • Kassie—This one is not a childhood acquaintance but rather someone who I crossed paths with a few times through work many years ago. Now, I absolutely LOVE following her story, which includes overcoming the deepest grief, battling to be healthy, and finding love and peace wherever you are. She is an amazing inspiration to me from afar. Then, once in a while, she sneaks me a little comment that never fails to lift me up.

There are others, of course, that make me very grateful that I finally joined the modern world and Facebook. The common themes that hook me and make me wish we could all get together in one room seem to be gratitude and positivity. These people are a wonderful reminder of what I need to be better at delivering to the people in my own world, both on Facebook and to the flesh-and-blood humans I meet and know. I want it to be clear from everything I say, write, and do. In the end, I just want to be the kind of guy that someone would want to be friends with.

How about you? Are there people in your world—real or cyber—that you would like to be real friends with? Open up your journal and make a list of them. From what part of your life do they come? High school? Work acquaintances? Relatives? What is it about each of them that you are drawn to? Is there a common theme—like my gratitude and positivity—or does each appeal to you for different reasons? How good of a job have you done at staying in touch with your friends from the different stages of your life? Have the relationships that have faded over the years done so for good reason? Are you like me and maintain the same feelings and faithfulness to people no matter how much time passes, or do your relationships fade in your heart with the passage of time? What role has Facebook played in rekindling your old relationships? Do you use it mostly as a voyeur, or do you post and comment often as well to share your story? Have you discovered people whose posts and comments you are very much drawn to, who you would like to become true friends with even though you never were before? How odd does that seem to you? How great? I love to discover something new and wonderful, especially in a person. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who are the Facebook “friends” you would like to become real friends with, and why?

Be unabashedly YOU,

William

What Choice Do I Have?

DSC_0893“We are the choices we make.” —Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Hello friend,

When I was a kid, I heard the same thing you did: “You can be anything you want to be.” But, as my youth passed and young adulthood emerged, it seemed that everything was preordained, that I was powerless to Destiny. I would go to college, just like they always said. I would become a doctor, just like they always said. And that’s pretty much how the rest of my life would go. How much of a choice is that, really, when everybody said I was going to do it since elementary school? At 21, I felt like I was stuck in a trap that had been set before I had even hit puberty. My life was on rails going only one way.

And then, I jumped off the track. The straight-A, destined-for-doctorhood guy quit school altogether. It felt like the first time I had ever made a real choice in my life. It scared the heck out of me! It shocked everyone—including me, frankly—and I don’t pretend that I wasn’t a big disappointment to those I loved the most, especially my parents. And yet, as outcast and alone as I felt after making that fateful decision, it was also strangely liberating. There was a freedom in finally ignoring the “shoulds” of all of them—whoever “they” are—and taking the reins of my own life. Yes, in the midst of all of that fear and anxiety about how I could succeed while going against the grain in this world, I felt powerful. I had given myself the greatest gift I had ever known: CHOICE.

That gift emboldened me, and after that I spent a good number of years marching to the beat of my own drummer, choosing a path rich in experience and enrichment. I was floating, really, quite blissful in my empowered state. Years later, I fell in love and found myself feeling enormously conflicted about what to do with that. I feared that making the big commitment to a life partnership would once again trap me into being a giant expectation and that I would spend the rest of my life “shoulding” all over myself. Eventually, I made my peace with the idea, and I instead found some freedom within the form that is Love. It was a good choice.

However, the next phase of adulthood showed me the other way people get out-of-choice in life and get lost. I became sucked into working way too many hours and exhausting myself. My other passions went completely out the door, and the years passed by in a mindless fog. I was well on my way to being one of those guys who was going to blink and be 65, wondering where my life went (if I hadn’t already had a heart attack). I was on autopilot. I was living by default, not by design.

I am so thankful to my daughter for bringing me back to life. Her birth was my re-birth; she woke me up. I got my priorities straight. Work became secondary, mostly just a means to take care of my family. My time and energy suddenly felt very valuable. I wanted to give it all to her. And for the most part, I did. I cut down my work hours drastically, and all other outside interests as well. I was family only. Everything else went to the back burner.

And so, the pendulum swung back the other way. Any foray into marriage or parenthood brings its own set of shoulds, and one’s dreams for himself can become tempered by the dreams of others, or for others. Sometimes you willingly give away your choices. The big decisions to enter these relationships become obligations that both fulfill you and bind you at the same time. I would not go back and choose anything different on the family front, but it certainly has changed the arc of my pursuit of my dreams.

I was really at peace with that trade—some might say “sacrifice”—at least until a couple of years ago. Turning 40 very much changed my perspective and got me back into the mindset of my dreams and my purpose. It literally “re-minded” me. And now I continue to make the choice to put my kids and family first—they are, after all, deeply entrenched with my purpose here on Earth—but I don’t do it mindlessly. I don’t just drift into it without thought. It is also not because of someone else’s “should”. I choose it because I want it. But I am simultaneously aware of what I am giving up in order to prioritize these people so highly.

My other dreams—to be a writer, speaker, and coach—are not allotted much time in my day. That is difficult for me to swallow, I admit. But it is still a choice. And that is also why I choose to drive so hard when I am not doing family stuff. I have chosen to give up most leisure activities and social engagements in order to use what little “spare time” there is to press on with my mission, to follow my Bliss. So, I write my journal every day to know myself better so that I can be more grateful and thus more happy. And I write this letter to you every week, because it means a great deal to me to help you know yourself better and feel more grateful and happy, too. And I take my coaching classes and do my homework to prepare myself even more to help people.

I do all of that so that one day, instead of trying to squeeze my dreams into a couple of hours of spare time to the exclusion of other things that might help me lead a more balanced life, I will actually have a profession of these passions that I can do during the normal work day, leaving the “spare time” for such bucket list items as teaching myself the guitar or creating movies of my kids’ lives. Or, maybe I would just let myself dive into leisure, such as my beloved books or movies. Leisure. Yes, I like the sound of that. That would be a nice reward for some good choices made and executed. Some day.

That is my vision. That is what has driven my recent choices, including the big-picture moves—job changes and a return to school—and the daily choices to fill my schedule and go hard at my passions. I am trying to ignore the shoulds of other people’s plans and expectations for me, trying to listen to the drum that is beating inside of me (in the back of my mind, I always hear my old pal Thoreau saying, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”). I hope I am choosing wisely. I am heartened by the fact that if I fail today, I can wake up tomorrow and choose again. Life is beautifully generous that way. The challenge for me is to accept the offer. Every. Single. Time. That is the best choice I can make.

How about you? Are you living your life by choice? Open up your journal and think about why you do what you do. How much do the expectations of others and obligations—“the shoulds”—play a role in your life? Is it only in certain areas—your career or where you live, for instance—or does it go across the board? How different do you think your life would look without those shoulds? A lot or a little? Do you see marriage and parenthood more as chains that bind people and limit their future choices, or rather as choices they make to express their love and their passions more freely? How much is on each side of that spectrum? To what extent is your life just a mindless routine that you go through the motions of without really making choices anymore? This numbing is, I think, at least partially what Thoreau is referring to when he says, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Does that resonate with you? Are you living by default, or by design? If you woke up tomorrow and decided to design your life from now on, what would be the first choices you would make to be more authentic and purposeful? Are you ready to commit to that? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What choice do YOU have? 

Your life is now,

William