Tag Archives: stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some excerpts from those days in late April of 2007:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the ride,

William

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you peace,

William

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

Hostage to the Almighty Dollar

DSC_0112“There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money.” –Sophocles

Hello friend,

I have tension in me. All week long, I have felt it gripping my chest, tying knots in my back. I HATE THAT FEELING! Of course, I dislike the actual physical sensation, feeling as though I am trapped and suffocated by my own body. But much worse than the physical discomfort, for me, is the psychological. Not even the actual stress but the realization that I have become weak again. I hate that I allow myself to feel this way. I hate that I allow the source of tension to have as much control over me as it does. I hate to admit that to myself. I usually think I have it under control—that I am immune to being controlled again by my former master—but then a week like this one comes along, and it rears its ugly head. And that is when I feel it: the squeeze on my chest and the shoulders raised up, knotted with stress. ARGH!!!

I like to think of myself as a relaxed, easygoing guy. I think I go with the flow pretty well, riding the ups and downs of Life on a relatively even keel. So, what is my Achilles heel, my Kryptonite? One word: MONEY! I absolutely cringe as I write that word. Not that money itself makes me cringe, but rather its power over my psychological state. Its ability to invite tension into my peaceful little corner of the world. Curse you, MONEY! How did you make your way back into my consciousness?

I try to spend as little of my time thinking and worrying about money as possible. I don’t have a lot of it, but I usually have just enough to keep the bills paid. I have been more than willing to have less of it in order to spend more time with my kids. Though I do have some expensive tastes, I have learned to live without those things. Sure, I wish I had a lot more money, but I am aware of my bank account and its limitations, and I live accordingly. The beauty of that is that, as long as things are moving along as planned, I am stress-free. I don’t think about it, and I don’t worry about it. I’m easy!

Oh, but I am walking a tightrope with that serenity. Because, as you know, in life, things are not always “moving along as planned.” Sometimes the world comes along and bites you in the behind. Things break. Accidents happen. More accidents happen. And with each one, my wallet gets lighter and thinner. Pretty soon, I am thinking about money every time I open that wallet, and sometimes even when I am not. Carefree Me gets replaced my Tense Me.

That is what has happened over the course of the past week. It started off innocently enough. When pulling out of the driveway in the morning last Friday, I noticed that the garage door stopped a few inches above the ground. When I returned, I figured I would pull a chain or adjust a sensor and it would be fine, just like it always is. Nope! A couple hours later, the repairman is handing me a $1,600 estimate and I am feeling my chest begin to constrict. That vacation I was thinking about taking this Winter instantly got pushed back another year, and I knew the old wallet tension would be back to stay for a while. I was already dreading that. What a day! As it turned out, that was only the beginning.

Later that day, we discovered that my dear, sweet cat has been peeing—for many days—in the tent I had set up in the basement family room to practice camping with my daughter. Somehow that odor had remained hidden. However, when the tent—and all of its contents—were bagged up and hauled to the trash, the whole place suddenly smelled like the Monkey House at the zoo. Worst Smell Ever!!! Of course, this is awful on so many different levels–I can testify to all of them, believe me—not the least of which is that it is a very expensive “accident” to recover from. There is the stuff I had to throw away. There is the cost to shampoo the carpets. And then, when cat decides to return to the spot to keep peeing there—because that is what cats do, says the vet (oh yes, the vet, another expense from this delightful episode)–there is the cost to replace the carpet. That garage door bill now seems like a mere pittance!

The tension in my shoulders, however, is very real. I am again so totally aware of money, which I have no interest in being. I am trying to stay away from stores. I would rather not look at the mail. I now HATE to spend money again. It is making me tense. I really hate to be tense! More than that, I hate that I have allowed money to have this hold on me. I am fully aware that money does not earn this type of power; I have to give the power away. I have let it happen. I have granted money the power to make me tense. That is weak. I really, really don’t like that part of myself.

It is a complex relationship, this one of mine with money. I am an extremely happy man. I go through every day in this world truly grateful for who I am and all that I have been blessed with. With that said, I am still totally envious of rich people. I know how everyone says wealthy people are not any happier than the rest of us and that lottery winners get depressed and all of that. But I know my personality. I would love it! I would still be wildly happy, yet I would be without this current state of tension. I would use the freedom money buys in order to more directly pursue my dreams, so there would be no boredom or loss of purpose. I could crowd out my Kryptonite with cold cash! Instead, I must learn to live with my current bank account. Just as I grew accustomed to my former status and lived accordingly, I can figure out what to cut out this time, too. I will find a way to peaceful coexistence with this thinner wallet. I will let this tension go, because it doesn’t serve me. Money and I can be friends. I know we can.

How about you? What is your relationship with money? Open up your journal and explore the different ways you allow money to make you feel. What is your current financial situation? How long have you been where you are? How much do you think about money? Are you stressed when you have to open your wallet? Overall, how much tension is in you on a daily basis, and what percentage of that do you attribute to money concerns?   How hard are you working at trying to get out of your current financial situation, if at all? How far are you from your goals? What is one thing you can do today to get yourself closer to those goals? What concerns would you have if you suddenly fell into a lot of money through the lottery, inheritance, or the like? How would you live differently? Can you name the actual dollar amount—either in your bank account or your annual income—that you believe would allow you to live just comfortably enough to not allow life’s expenses to stress you? How does money affect your relationships? If you are in a committed relationship, can you imagine money ever being the source of your breakup? Are you, like me, bothered my how much power money can have over you and your life satisfaction? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you held hostage by the almighty dollar?

Be a light,

William

The Storm Before the Calm? Does BUSY Ever End?

DSC_1155“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?” –Cecelia Ahern, Love, Rosie 

Hello friend,

Busy. I cannot stand that word. Busy. Everyone is busy. Whenever you ask someone how they have been or what they have been up to, the answer is the same: “I have been so busy!” I get it. I see how scheduled up everyone is. I see how the kids don’t just play much anymore the way I did when I was a kid. Instead, they go from one scheduled activity to the next. Adults keep working more and more. It is a busy world. Period.

I guess I just don’t like it when BUSY is the reason that important things in our world get left out. I like it when kids get to simply play. I like it when adults get to relax and connect with one another. I like it when extended families get together for long weekends to continue traditions. I like the concepts of leisure and self-reflection. These things take sacrifices, of course. People have to step out of their busy-ness—the stuff everyone calls essential–to carve out this quality time for one another and for themselves. Important things require sacrifice. Life balance is worth that sacrifice.

So, why have I been running around like an absolute madman lately? I have put enough on my plate to fill ten tables! So, I have to occasionally remind myself, as I am going around like the chicken with his head cut off, that I actually chose all of this stuff. Let’s face it: I already knew I have two young kids who I want to shower with attention. I already knew I have a job. I was already trying to squeeze in this weekly letter to you with the last bits of my time and energy. So I can see why my sanity would be questioned when I decided to also return to school to become a Life Coach. It was a huge undertaking and cramped my already suffocating schedule. Then I began to actually start to build the business of it, too. Constructing websites, business cards, bank accounts, government filings. Then, while beginning to go underwater with trying to fit all of that into the day—and stubbornly not wanting to give up anything else from my priority list—this other great business opportunity came along. Any sane person would have either passed on the chance due to lack of time or cut something else from the priority list to make room for this new gig. Not me! Like a man drowning with a load of bricks in my arms, instead of letting go of them and swimming up for air, I simply grabbed another brick on my way down. I am swamped!

My journal entries of late are littered with commentary on this latest run of overwhelm. Every day I use the journal to unload thoughts and baggage from the day. It relieves me of stresses and things that might otherwise linger to disturb my sleep. Journaling is my therapy. Lately the most frequent comments are about “chipping away at this enormous To-Do List,” “I am in such a rush,” and “This is exhausting, but I have to stay focused and be efficient to keep afloat.” And on and on and on. It is a daily challenge, and I need that journal entry to both unload my fears and to remind me of why I am doing it all.

In paging back through the last week of entries, besides seeing those themes run over and over, I struck upon a passage that really sums up what is becoming my main concern in all of this busy-ness. After writing out the million things I had done that day to advance my new businesses, and then relaying my fears and stresses about when it was all going to start working, I wrote:

I just really want to change my life for the better. I want to DESIGN the change. I will keep plugging away. It can’t be this challenging and anxiety-producing, can it? I want to break into something that feels like a clearing, without the slogging, grinding feeling. I want to come up for air. Sure, I could do that now by not taking on so many things, but I feel like I need to in order to break out of this mire. I want to be on my time and my purpose. So, I keep plugging away, grinding in order to become free of the grind. I suppose it is a parallel to the argument that in order to have peace, we must make war on the bad guys. Fight so you won’t have to always fight or be oppressed. That seems to be me now, slogging away at a handful of big rocks so that I can get to the spot where I only need a few. I don’t know if it is logical or wise, but it feels like my best bet right now. I will keep at it, trusting in the sunshine on the other side. 

That is me right now in a nutshell: hoping that this crazy busy-ness that I have chosen is just the storm I have to pass through in order to see the rainbow. I guess I just want some assurance that it is 1) just a passing phase—that it won’t always be this busy and stressful; and 2) that I really am going to reap the benefits of all of this effort. I want to see that glimpse of sunlight at the edge of this storm, to know that there is an end to it, and a lovely one. I want to believe that the Universe is going to acknowledge my commitment and my deeds, that I really am going to come out on the other end of this with the thing I am doing this for: a chance to pursue my passions on a full-time basis.

Of course, I know that there are no guarantees in life. I may work and work and work and still never make that breakthrough. I may fail to move people as a writer. I may never make the connections to get my two new businesses off the ground. For all of my efforts to improve people’s lives and make the world a happier, more connected place, I may end up broke and burnt out from driving myself too hard. Maybe being this busy is my new normal, that there is no rainbow in the form of a balanced life to look forward to. Maybe BUSY never ends.

I can’t buy that. Maybe I am being too optimistic—or even delusional–but I really believe that good times are on the way. I believe in paying your dues and earning your way, and I hope that is what I am doing now with the gas pedal continuously down and juggling all of these big rocks at once. This is my storm, and there is a rainbow coming. BUSY is a phase, not a lifestyle. So yeah, I am going to keep chipping away at the giant To-Do List and doing without television or down-time. I am going to test my limits. I have to. The reward means too much to me, and the alternative is an unfulfilling life. I want to play a bigger game. So, I am breaking out the storm gear. Rain on!

What about you? Are you busy designing the life of your dreams? Open up your journal and think about how much you are willing to endure to live the life you have imagined. How busy are you? Is it busy doing things that you are passionate about and that are improving you, or just busy to be busy (e.g. busy on Facebook, busy binge-watching television series)? How busy does your career keep you? How much of that is up to you? Could you spend less time and be equally effective? Do you work as long and hard as you do because you want to advance, because you are just trying to keep your job, or is there something else involved? How much does it exhaust you? Do you allow yourself some true leisure in your “spare time”, or are you more like me and just drive yourself continuously? Do you have the right balance in your life right now? Have you ever created a storm like my current situation, where you took on too many projects—“big rocks,” I like to call them—at once in the service of making a major life move? How long did the storm—the busy-ness—last? Did you find the rainbow at the end? Was all of the hard work and sacrifice worth it to you? When you consider your current schedule, what sort of changes would be beneficial for you to make to improve your life? Is it being more efficient, setting better boundaries, changing jobs, removing yourself from a storm, or perhaps jumping into a storm in the service of a greater long-term good? How busy are you willing to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distinguish between a healthy challenge and running yourself into the ground? 

Be the light you seek,

William

Are You Wasting Your Life?

IMG_1196“Don’t die with your music still inside you.” —Dr. Wayne Dyer

Hello friend,

Did you ever read or hear something that completely stopped you in your tracks? I mean, totally stunned you, and in that instant gave you a smack-in-the-face reality check that made the state of your life crystal clear? I did.

I mentioned to you in my last post, “Falling Off The Tightrope”, that probably my greatest fear in this world is wasting my life, that I am not making the most of my time here. I also talked about how I am desperately trying—and failing—to do everything I possibly can to be productive and fulfill my dreams……after 8:30 P.M., when my kids fall asleep. I have enormous ambitions for those late-night hours: write these blog posts to you, write my own journal entries, work on “The Journal Project” to eventually produce the story of my life, study all of the many things I still want to learn, and on and on and on. That is my window of time available, and I am squeezing hard to fit it all in. It is a tall order, and no wonder that I have had such trouble finding the right balance.

That imbalance—specifically, the desire to accomplish more of the things that I love and feel called to do—creates a lot of tension in me. Turmoil. Stress. Anxiety. Quite simply, I want to do better than I am doing now. MUCH better. Even as I have recently become more clear about what is my soul’s calling and what lights me up, at the same time it becomes increasingly apparent how I am failing to make that positive contribution to the world in the scope that I feel capable of. I feel like I am running a losing race against my potential. That hurts my heart much more deeply than I can find words to explain. So, I keep rushing around trying to pack more and more in so I can make a greater contribution to the world before I die.

With all of this as background noise, I was, not so many months ago, going about my busy way. To ripen me even more for a wake-up call, I had just that morning had a situation at work that had gotten my blood pressure up and soured me a bit. I escaped for a quick workout in hopes of improving my mood, and when I hopped on the elliptical machine and turned on my e-reader, I found a “Quote of the Day” message in my inbox. Here is what it said:

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.” –Eric Hoffer

I was absolutely shell-shocked. Stunned. You could have just as well hit me over the head with a baseball bat. I stood there dazed for a few moments before I could do anything else, and finally I started reading it over and over to slowly dissect and absorb it. It was a total “A-ha!” moment for me. Suddenly my life situation was crystal clear to me. I wouldn’t be trying to squeeze in a book or a kayak ride or a nature walk or learning the guitar or even just watching an occasional movie if I were writing full-time. Those things get edged out because I have to write and do The Journal Project in the few “free” moments I get, always feeling rushed and compromised.

I like my job. I like teaching people and helping them to gain more confidence in themselves. I really like being a small part of one of the highlights of someone’s week; that never gets old. However, thanks to the clarity that has come from a lot of soul-searching, my career has become my version of “wasting my life” by not being what my true purpose is. And because it occupies the time that it does, I am trying to hurry to do the rest and never succeeding at that. Thus it feels, as Hoffer says, as though I have no time for anything else because I am not spending the bulk of my time and energy on my calling. What a glorious feeling it would be to live my purpose—to literally work on my calling—from nine to five instead of 8:30 P.M. to oblivion. I could actually use the evening hours for hobbies and rest, and not even be stressed or guilt-ridden by that. That is a happy thought.

And so, it seems that the gauntlet has been thrown down. What am I going to DO about this moment of clarity, this reality check? It is, after all, much easier to understand my situation than it is to change it. The time for thinking has passed; the time for doing is upon me. Starting Journal of You was a direct result of that “A-ha!” moment. It was my first step out of my comfort zone, and it was my announcement to the Universe that I am in the ring at last, ready to give my gift. I can see now that this was the first of many necessary steps. This one has kept me in the post-8:30 P.M. hours, though. I must take some bolder steps in the direction of nine-to-five. These are the steps that will take more courage, more audacity.

I am definitely scared of the risks required to make the next big move, but I am getting to that tipping point of being MORE scared of the regret I will feel if I don’t. Now is the time to engage my soul and my dreams with this world. It is time to give my gift. Along with the Wayne Dyer quote at the top, the other thought that keeps pecking away at my mind is, “This is NOT a dress rehearsal!” If not now, when? It is my time to act with courage, to embrace the uncertainty, to be radically myself. I can do it. I will do it. Onward and upward! Let me never again have to wonder if I am wasting my life.

How about you? How comfortable are you with the way you are spending your time on Earth? Open up your journal, and take a long look in the mirror. What is your potential? Seriously, how great can you be? How much can you contribute to the world? Don’t limit the meaning of “contribute;” it can be anything you decide (how many smiles you put on people’s faces, how well you raise your children, how honestly you share yourself with others, how professionally you do your job, and a zillion other seemingly invisible things are magnificent contributions). Does the difference between your contributions and your perceived potential bother you like it does me? How rushed do you feel? If you do feel rushed, is it because there is simply too much to do, or are you not spending your time the right way? How does your job and career path mesh with your dreams and your purpose? Is it integrally intertwined, totally unrelated, or somewhere in between? Is your work fulfilling? What one thing could you do today to more closely align your schedule with your calling? How can you live better? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you wasting your life?

Go boldly in the direction of your dreams,

William

Falling Off The Tightrope

IMG_1128“My world was delicately balanced, but the scales never hung even. When something improved, something else had to crumble.” –Rebecca Donovan, Reason to Breathe

Hello friend,

I have never been good at balance. Never. I tend to zero in on one thing and let it consume all of my time and energy, leaving the rest of my passions, hobbies, and pursuits twisting in the wind. However, because I am a man of many interests, with an insatiable desire to learn new things, my headlong pursuit of only one thing at a time—no matter how worthy of my attention it is–invariably leaves me feeling torn, restless, and unfulfilled. And sometimes, just plain burnt out.

This is exactly why I don’t have a Ph.D. behind my name right now. I started my doctoral program full of high-minded ideals and enthusiasm. The intensive education—not to mention the cache of being called “Dr. William Rutten”—was going to help me save the world, so I was eager for the commitment. Then, however, classes started, and my Perfectionism Gene reared its ugly head. I had to know everything and get every answer right, as I always had in school. As it turns out, thanks to this annoying trait, the only way I do school is to study every waking hour of every day. My life was the epitome of imbalance. All of my other passions were crowded out by school. In a moment of clarity, I realized that that was no way to live for six straight years. So I bailed out.

You might think that I was wise enough to never let that happen again. You would be wrong. Not long after I checked out of academia, my career path switched into tennis teaching and management. I moved into Tennis because it was my first love and because I love teaching. And hey, how busy or stressful could it be for a guy who gets to wear shorts all day? As it turned out in my case, pretty darn busy and stressful. It wasn’t long before 60 and 70-hour weeks became the norm. I hardly ever saw the light of day, was completely wiped out physically from all of the hours on the court, and was a giant stress-ball from all of the demands off the court. And, oh yeah, I had neither the time nor the energy to pursue my other passions. The job was all-consuming, and once again, I was off-balance. This time, though, the imbalance lasted for several years, not just a semester or two.

You would be astonished to know that someone stuck by me through both the school and the work addictions, each time on the wrong end of my imbalances. As though her love and loyalty through all of that were not enough, she also provided me the key to let myself out of my self-created prison of workaholism. That key was our first child. When my daughter was born, the reality of how little time I was spending at home and my overall imbalance hit me immediately, and it shocked my system enough to make me want out right then and there. I wanted the elusive home/work balance that I had heard about. So I quit my job. Well, not exactly. I quit the management portion of my job and cut my working days down to four, taking the evenings off as well. My daughter was my number one priority, and I wanted my schedule to reflect that.

Here might be a good time to admit the full truth. I didn’t actually want the home/work balance. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to go from 60+ hours at work directly to ZERO. I wanted to spend every single minute with my daughter. If my wife made more money, I would happily have been a stay-at-home Dad and removed myself entirely from the work force. Basically, I wanted my comfortable imbalance back, only I wanted the imbalance to be fully attached to my daughter, not my job.

This longing has never left me. My daughter is almost six now—my son is almost four—and I would still shake your hand right now if you offered me the chance to stay home with them every day. As it is, I have manipulated my life with them into a different version of imbalance. I still work when I have to, yes, but when I am not there, I spend their every waking minute with them. I have given up all hobbies—e.g., golf, hanging with friends, etc.–that happen while they are awake. My wife and I don’t even go on evening dates—EVER, I mean—because that would come at the cost of missing their bedtime. I don’t miss bedtime. Last year, for our 10th anniversary, I only very begrudgingly agreed to leave them for a night. I simply want to be with them all the time.

I know that probably looks like just another unhealthy imbalance to everyone else, but this is one imbalance that I embrace. I don’t know, I guess the other stuff just feels pretty unimportant compared to them. Spending so much time with them—even to the deterioration of the other things—has never caused me much inner turmoil. When I was in school and studied all the time, it pained me that I was not giving time to my other hobbies, interests, and loved ones. That tension eventually led to my break-up with school. When I was working like a maniac, I was keenly aware that it was an unhealthy way of being. My daily journal entries from that period are pretty pathetic, mostly describing the depths of my exhaustion and how, despite my happiness, I would not recommend my lifestyle to anyone. It took the birth of my daughter to give me the strength to change it, but I knew the change was long overdue. I was a model of imbalance, and knowing that bothered me. It is only the imbalance of spending so much time with my kids to the exclusion of other things that has felt tension-free for me. The other imbalances I regret; this one I do not. Does that mean, in some strange way, that I have actually found a balance? Not someone else’s version of balance, but one that fits only me? Maybe.

It has only been in the last year-and-a-half that I have felt much inner competition for my time and energy on this family-time front. Around the time I turned 40—can you say midlife crisis?—it became more clear to me that I wanted to do some things with my life that I was not already doing. Beyond just doing my job and spending the rest of my time with the kids, I wanted to do The Journal Project to revisit and re-create the story of my life. I wanted to help people in a bigger way. I wanted to learn more and create more and be more fully who I believed I could be. But I had to keep working, and I was not willing to give up time with the kids. My solution was to be the most efficient guy in the world…….after 8:30 P.M.

Since then, instead of winding down after the kids go to bed, I attempt to get all of my other projects taken care of. I go like a madman until I can go no longer. That worked pretty well the first year, when my main thing was The Journal Project. I didn’t sleep much, but the inner turmoil was gone. I was feeling satisfied with my efforts. But then I got greedy. I wanted all of my dreams to come true. So, four months ago, I started Journal of You. It has been a fantastic addition to my life, but—argh!—quite consuming of those precious post-8:30 hours. The Journal Project has been sitting on hold, and a couple of other projects I am itching to start are getting no love. I am also feeling like I am not allowed any leisure time for things like a sway in the hammock or a ride in the kayak, because I need the minutes to get it all done. Lastly, it is becoming increasingly clear that I cannot survive on this little sleep forever (those post-8:30 hours go quickly, and for some reason these darn kids don’t wake up any later just because I was writing into the wee hours). Needless to say, I am feeling that tension again. I have lost my balance.

I think my biggest fear in this world is that I will waste my life, that I won’t make the most of my time here. I am always aware—sometimes painfully so—of how “productive” I am being. I want to spend my time being a positive influence, giving my gifts to the fullest, and making my dreams come true.  When I am doing that efficiently, I feel at ease. The moment I lose my way, I feel tense. Imbalance strikes again!!!

How about you? How balanced is your life? Get out your journal and take an honest look at your life and how you are spending it. Does your schedule match your priorities? Are you like me, getting stuck on one aspect of your life to the detriment of all others? How many hobbies do you have, and how important are they to you? Do you work too much? Do you make time to recharge your batteries? Do you spend as much time with your loved ones as you would like? If not, are you willing to change your day to make it happen? What can you sacrifice from your current schedule in order to spend more time on your highest priorities? Do you have any areas that others would say are imbalanced—like me never getting a babysitter—that feel just fine to you? If you knew you would die in one year but had to keep earning a living, how would you spend your non-working hours? Would you become more balanced, or less? How important is balance, anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you falling off the tightrope?

Live a 100% self-approved life today,

William