Tag Archives: uncertainty

Resisting Reality: When You Can’t Accept The Facts of Life

“…and the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” –Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Hello friend,

Did you see the news of the 60 protesters killed in Gaza this week? How about the story of the new outbreak of the Ebola virus? It has been hard to miss the stories of potential nuclear war with North Korea and Iran. And what about those deadly storms? I also checked out an episode of David Letterman’s new interview series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” featuring Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, in which she told of being shot in the head at age 17 for speaking out in support of allowing girls to be educated after her home region in Pakistan was taken over by the Taliban.

All of that was just Tuesday for me!

I know those types of stories come cascading down upon us every day of every week, threatening to drown us in shock, outrage, or despair (depending upon what the last thing was and the readiness of our defense systems). But some days, I just seem to have more nerves exposed and a weaker power of Denial, and all of this stuff storms my fortress and seeps in from all sides. It is then that I am forced face-to-face with the simple truth of human life that I work so hard to keep out: that it is uncertain and unfair, often violent and painful, and so much out of our control.

I hate that truth. I really do. All my life I have been fighting against it, resisting, denying.

I think most of us have one or more of those Realities or Truths About Life that we are–whether consciously or not–in denial of or don’t believe that they apply to us (and only us). Mine is definitely the one about the brutal and uncertain nature of our individual lives.

And I tell myself–occasionally, anyway–that it is childish and foolish to resist this truth so vehemently. After all, the evidence is everywhere. Bombs are exploding all over the world and destroying homes, businesses, sometimes entire families in an instant. Natural disasters are doing the same. Cars are crashing and taking limbs and lives. Viruses like Ebola are spreading to the unsuspecting of all ages. And kids are still getting cancer.

So, clearly, an individual human’s existence is precarious at best. More honestly, it is harsh and uncertain, often lonely and cut short. That is the practical reality.

Yet I resist that reality. I somehow refuse to accept it.

Every time I become aware of something harrowing happening in the world, I take it in and feel it. I try to meet it honestly. I don’t deny the event. I allow it to play its notes upon my heart and mind. There is sadness, sometimes disillusionment, often frustration–occasionally all three. As my system goes through all of those thoughts and feelings and the process runs its course, I deal with what is. That is a reality that I can face.

Simultaneously, however, there is a parallel reality that I cannot face (and even here in this lucid moment I will not fully accept). It is the idea that these frequent harrowing events and this uncertain and unsafe existence are a human’s natural and inevitable state of being. Something in me will not surrender to this idea, despite the abundant evidence to the contrary.

Upon reflection, I suppose that it is the idealist in me that continues to put up the fight. You see, I truly believe that we humans are capable of magnificence, both individually and collectively. I believe that our potential is so vast, almost to the point of being limitless. There is so much that is possible for us intellectually and emotionally. My vision of us acting at peak capacity is truly beautiful.

The smear on that beautiful vision, however, is our persistent and extreme failure to live up to our potential as a species. From my angle, humans are the epitome of wasted potential. Despite many wonderful examples of individual greatness, as a group, we fail at nearly opportunity to rise and make our existence safer, happier, and healthier. Almost every one of those violent uncertainties is something that we could improve or eliminate were we to use our resources wisely.

Think about the amount of money, time, brain power, muscle, and emotional resources that we devote toward attacking and defending ourselves from one another. What if all of those resources were instead devoted to making each other safer, happier, and healthier? You know, what if those trillions of dollars and all of those brilliant minds were spent on waging Peace, curing cancer, and making advances in renewable energy, education, sustainable communities, quality health care for all, clean water, healthy food, living wages, mental health, scientific research, and restorative justice? What if the humans of the planet got together and committed to doing right by each other and by the planet?

I absolutely believe that the evolution of our species would take a quantum leap forward. With that leap, I think we would eliminate nearly all of the things that make our individual lives so fraught with the terrors and pains that I have been speaking of. Cure diseases. Solve problems diplomatically. Understand the workings of our planet and how to spread our abundant resources equitably so that all can thrive and excel. Devise our buildings, transportation systems, and devices to be ultra-safe and eco-friendly.

We could do this stuff. I know we could.

But we don’t. Over and over and over we don’t. We consistently choose to operate out of Fear instead of Love and set up our perpetuating systems accordingly. Because of this Fear, we consistently act foolishly instead of wisely. Our systems further greed and corruption rather than empathy and kindness. The modus operandi that our ancestors chose and that we continue to choose works in the opposite direction of our potential.

Basically, our way is to underachieve our potential. We choose to fail ourselves. It’s a tragedy and a shame.

And in the end, what it means is that we continue to live these individual lives in perpetual danger. So many of the perils that make human life so scary–wars, diseases, food and water issues, crime, climate events, terrorism, isolation–are things that we have the resources and the ability to solve if only we were to choose our priorities wisely and act collectively out of Love. But instead, we choose to be less. That choice has us living in darkness.

Reading back over those last few paragraphs, you might not believe that I am a passionate optimist. It’s true, though. I deeply believe not only in my idealistic image of what we are capable of, but also that we will get there. I believe it is in written into the code of our species and our planet.

So sure, if you look at what we have been up to historically and what we are up to now, I agree that you could call me a fool for continuing to resist and deny the idea that human life is cruel and dangerous, uncertain and uncontrollable. And I am quite sure there will always be some element that we can strive to make more predictable and survivable–natural disaster preparation or cures for new diseases, for example. But I think I will hold onto my idealism about Who We Really Are and therefore Who We Will Become. And while one arm clings to that precious ideal, I will use the other arm to fend off any Reality or Truth About Life that says otherwise.

How about you? Is there an idea that most people accept as fact that you either deny or need to come to peace with? Open up your journal and explore your resistance to commonly accepted truths about Life. Which one do you fight against the most? What is it about that reality/truth that just doesn’t sit right with your heart or mind? Is it based on a personal experience that contradicts it, or is it more of a gut feeling or intuition that you trust? Do you think the rest of the world should awaken and adopt your stance on the subject, or is it fine as your personal belief? How would the world be different if everyone stopped accepting this idea as Reality? Okay, now to my specific resistance. Do you have any sympathy with my belief that it is not the natural and inevitable fate of humans to live amidst constant danger and uncertainty, or do you think this peril is a simple fact of Life? Are there any facets of this constant danger–disease, war, crime, natural disaster, climate events, pollution–that you believe we have the power to be free of or at least better protected from? What percentage of the usual danger and uncertainty that we face is it possible to be relieved of through measures we can take? Can you envision us taking those measures in your lifetime? How close are we as a species to achieving our potential? What actions can we take to evolve to that higher order? Am I fooling myself by expecting so much of us? Do you think it’s okay for me to carry on with this idealistic belief, or would I be better served to “face reality?” Leave me a reply and let me know: Are we right about all the things we accept as “Facts of Life,” or are there “truths” that are actually false?

Be your own standard,

William

P.S. If this topic resonated with you today, please share it on your social media channels. Perhaps we can make connections that will ultimately shift our reality for the better.

P.S.S. If this type of questioning and search for your own Truth is appealing to you, I recommend you checking out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online bookseller.

A BOLDER LIFE: Are You Existing or Adventuring?

“I refuse to walk carefully through life only to arrive safely at death.” –Paulo Coelho

Hello friend,

About 25 years ago, I was about the most stable, on-the-right-path guy in the world. I knew exactly what I would be doing in two years, twenty years, and any other year before or after. How did I know? I had been planning it ever since I was little. Everyone I knew was sure of my plan and its success. They, too, had been in on the idea from the beginning. None of us doubted it.

I was pegged as a smart, achieving kind of kid at a young age, and in the small town I came from, the richest, most envied people were the doctors. So, I was going to be a doctor. No question about it. My Dad told me so at an early age, and I never forgot or considered otherwise. Elementary school and high school sailed by with complete clarity about my future, and Pre-Med was in full swing, the Road of Life paved smooth in front of me. Set in stone. I was about to tell the most boring, predictable life story ever.

But then, I changed it. I decided that my life should be a tale of adventure instead.

Well, I didn’t exactly think of it in those terms. I mean, I didn’t say, “My life is now an adventure!!!” It was more like, “I am scared to admit that I have a different dream because then I would have to take a big risk by jumping off the safe path, but I am more scared of living that nice life everyone has always had planned for me but that doesn’t light me up inside.” 

I suppose it sounds weird that the safer, more predictable path was the one that eventually frightened me the most. But it’s true. I guess the lure of my dreams just became too enchanting once I finally admitted to having them. I became addicted to that feeling of giddiness–and yes, even anxiety–that bubbled up when imagining how my life could be. It was more risky, sure, but so much more exciting.

You know, like an adventure.

So I did it. And for the next several years, it really felt like a big adventure.

I bounced around the country, living in iconic cities and meeting fascinating people. I acted in the theatre. I learned to surf and practice yoga. I traveled the world. I discovered my journal. I found my spiritual foundation. I read. I wrote. I fell in love.

It was fantastic! Scary sometimes, and almost always uncertain, but every minute engaging and enlightening and invigorating. I was most certainly alive. And I never once regretted jumping off the safe, predictable path (though that doctor money sure would have been nice!).

It is amazing how you can start to clamor for stability and certainty–and doctor money–when suddenly you have other lives depending upon you for cereal and new basketball shoes.

My wife was always the one in our relationship who sought the most stability and provided the most stability. She always had the steadiest job with the insurance and the retirement package. She seemed to like it that way, even as I gave up my career arc and slashed my working hours (and dollars) when our kids were born to maximize my time with them in these irreplaceable years. She was our rock and put up with the silly adventures of her three kids (me and the two little ones), sacrificing some of the fun stuff in order to do meaningful work and keep us in cereal and basketball shoes.

I thought that she would be content on that stable path until she retired. She was so good on it, and I figured that maybe she was just genetically inclined to like that stuff better than I could. I admired her for it and was grateful that she could bear a burden I didn’t seem wired for.

Then, several months ago, she jumped off the stable path, too. Overnight she became an entrepreneur. She had been on a regular salary in a low-risk career her entire adult life–and as a guy who has lived with her for 18 years, that shoe seemed to fit–and BOOM, she decided to take on a new career and no guarantees. Talk about an adventure!

I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was by this move. As the guy who thought he owned the rights to “trust your gut, dream bigger, take a chance on yourself” in the relationship, I was absolutely tickled to see that side of her emerge. I was so happy for her, and proud. Very, very proud.

I’m a little scared, too, I admit. After all, if you are on the whimsical, perhaps-artistic, not-so-inclined-to-grind side of the spectrum, it is reassuring to be partnered up with someone who is better at enduring the dirty work than you are. But this is what makes her all the more worthy of my admiration: because she was brave enough to follow her heart off the safe and secure path even without a safety net. She is braver than me!

And now, my friend, we are on a real adventure! Who can say how it will turn out or what new ways our family will adapt and grow: new skillsets, new attitudes, new sources of income, new opportunities for play and family togetherness.

That family thing is crucial for us. And even as we try to navigate this new era of uncertainty in our little corner of the world, we use that home base of family as our rock. Now matter how adventurous you are, it is nice to have a few bases of certainty. These people in this house–and indeed, the house itself–are definitely that for me, for us.

So there I was last week, wading these uncertain waters of our new life, when my wife says to me out of nowhere, “Seriously, name a state you are willing to move to.” Like many of us in northern states at this time of year, the bitter conditions outside had pushed her just far enough that day to question her sanity for living here and consider leaving for good. She wanted an answer.

I giggled and decided to play along, sure that nothing would come of it. “Oregon,” I said. Rejected! “Okay, how about Colorado?” “Hmm….” So, right then and there, she hops on the computer and starts researching. And not just for a few minutes, but for over an hour! She gives me stats on diversity, school rankings, all kinds of stuff that matters to us. I actually started getting a little freaked out. In my head, I was like, “Who is this new, ready-for-change person? And are we seriously talking about moving???”

I am relieved to report that nothing has come of it in the ensuing days. I have put it out of my mind. Well, not true: I have sort of put it out. Suddenly, I am not so sure of just how adventurous this lady I live with has become. Might she want to roll the dice and make an even bigger change in our life? And while that is a bit unnerving, I have to admit that it is exciting, too. Invigorating. The overall air of uncertainty about the specifics of our future has sparked something enchanting about our life together. There is intrigue. There is fantasy and dream-building. There is a sense of the potential that we have only just begun to tap.

There is a true sense of WONDER that is nothing short of intoxicating.

I have this sense that, even though I haven’t a clue as to what our future holds, somehow it will be truly magnificent and saturated with blessings. So, let’s throw off the bowlines and let this ship sail in the big waters of LIFE. I am feeling ready for an adventure!

How about you? At this point in your life, are you more drawn to the stable and secure path, or the uncertain and adventurous one? Open up your journal and trace the path your life has taken to this point. Has it always been fairly clear where you are headed, or have you taken some bold leaps off the path and brought a sense of adventure to your world? When you were in elementary school and high school, how did you imagine your adult life? How about when you were in college: was your career path clear in your mind? How accurate have your visions turned out to be for yourself? Do you work in the field that you went to school for? Have you ever switched career fields entirely and started fresh? If so, how difficult was it to arrive at that decision and take action? Are you currently on a career path that is satisfying to you? If not, how likely are you to do something bold to change paths? How soon will you take action? How brave will you need to be? How about the place that you live? Are you satisfied? Have you considered moving to a different area of the country or a different country altogether? Have you done it before? What are the chances? How would you describe your relationship with Uncertainty? Have you made friends with it? Do you fear it like The Plague? On a scale of one to ten–with one being “Bore Me With Stability” and ten being “Bring On the Change and Adventure”–where has the path of your life revealed you to be naturally drawn to? How has that changed as you have aged? Generally speaking, why do you live the life you live now? Is it because you don’t dare to try another one? At the end of your days, is that answer going to satisfy you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is your life a daring adventure or a safe walk? 

Be brave,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. A world full of authentic people would be a grand thing!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

A Peaceful Transfer of Power: Ruminations on the New Presidency

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

It is Inauguration Weekend in Washington, DC. Amidst a wide array of celebrations and demonstrations, only one thing is certain: we have a new President. What comes next is anybody’s guess….

I think that the range of internal reactions to this event and this unique period in American history runs the gamut among our fellow citizens. We are emerging from the most unusual political campaign imaginable, but in some ways, we haven’t emerged much at all. Drama has continued unabated, on every conceivable topic. As with any drama, there are a million different ways to react to our current events, depending upon your personal history and the interests you have vested in the players on the stage.

I have seen jubilation, and I have seen devastation. I have seen relief, and I have seen dread. I have seen hope, and I have seen fear. I have seen smugness, and I have seen humility. I have seen eagerness, and I have seen panic. I have seen joy, and I have seen profound sadness. I have seen triumph, and I have seen abject loss.

Through all of those reactions I have witnessed while out in the world or inside my home–seeing them through the news or social media—I have sensed a unique undercurrent. It is almost indescribable. Maybe the best word I can come up with is UNCERTAINTY. It is not exactly in people’s words—and I mean people on all sides of the emotional and political spectrum–but in how they deliver them and how they are received. It is in people’s body language, in the structure of conversations and news reports.

There is a sense of wildness out there. The Wild, Wild West. There is the feeling that, even though it is not written anywhere, the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore. The term “post-truth world” has become popular in the press, and I think that is this feeling in the air. Like, “I think I will just say or do something untrue or illegal or outrageous, because something tells me I will get away with it now, though I never could before.” It just feels willy-nilly in the atmosphere to me, like we are at some strange portal in the Universe, and none of us knows if, when we take that next step, the regular laws of gravity and thermodynamics and such will still apply. It is as though a huge experiment is beginning, and some are starting with the attitude of “Let me see what I can get away with,” while others just want the rules to be posted, and still others are scared to death.

I know I am not explaining myself well here, but suffice it to say that I sense a really awkward vibe in the air. Uncertainty. As I said at the beginning, what comes next is anyone’s guess.

I, of course, have gone through my own process with the whole campaign, election, and the transition period, a process that is still evolving now as I write to you. 

I followed the Presidential campaigns with great interest from the very start (crazy that that was nearly two years ago!). I am very liberal but am fascinated by both major parties as well as a few minor ones, though I don’t belong to one. I assumed from the start that whomever the Republicans selected would win, especially as it seemed clear that an unpopular Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic contender. But when the Republicans made their selection, I thought the Democrats were back in it with a decent shot.

The end of the campaign and the election itself left me gutted. I am an optimist, and I have a perhaps-naïve faith in the goodness of people. Recent years have brought what seemed like so much social progress. After all of the ignorance, hate, and general smallness on display daily through the campaign, I did not want to believe that the millions of independent voters in this country could, in good conscience, step into the voting booth and, in effect, give an okay to those ideas and undo the momentum we had built toward open-mindedness and equal treatment. Of course, I was wrong, and painfully so.

I felt like I woke up to a different country after the election. It had nothing to do with which party won—I admittedly preferred the Democrat and Green Party candidates—but rather what the result said about what was inside so many more hearts than I wanted to believe.

After seeing the reactions on Facebook for a day or two and feeling worse, I stopped going on there for almost two months. It was too tempting to go down the road of defeatism and bitterness. I didn’t want to be swallowed up by that, because my world is too important to me, and I respect the gift of my own voice. I did not want to sully my spirit and be false to who I really am.

So, I laid low, retreated from the fray, and concentrated on other things. I peaked in on the news, of course, and followed things like Cabinet appointments and intelligence reports so that my head was not buried in the sand, but I allowed my heart some space to heal and prepare for this transfer of power and the uncertain years to come.

Where am I today? While I won’t pretend that I don’t still cringe at the Tweets, Cabinet hearings, and press conferences I see on my regular check of the news, and I won’t pretend I am not anxious about my loved ones’ sense of safety and belonging in my beloved country, I am doing my best to not let my energies be leached away from me in those directions.

Instead, I am focusing on how I can be a light and make a positive impact on my own little sphere of influence. I am not going to pretend I can just keep my eyes down and hope these four years pass as quickly as possible. I am not going to sit around and blame the President or the Congress for my lot in life and the way my community is (dis)connected. I am taking ownership for my share in it. I will speak up when I need to (which may be often). I will lend a hand when I can. I will be an example to those around me of the types of qualities I expect from them: compassion, decency, courage, kindness, open-mindedness, inclusivity, and hope.

That last one—hope—is so important to me now. As I said before, I am an optimist in my core. I believe in the goodness of people and the greatness of our future together. And I cannot help but look to the arc of human history and American history to bolster my belief. The greater story being told is one of progress. No, that progress is not always direct and steady—there is often a step back after a few hard-won steps forward—but the arc is no less clear. I have faith that, however this step we are now taking becomes defined by the history books, it will not stop the greater march of Progress. I am not willing to surrender that optimism simply because we have a new temp in the Oval Office. Onward and upward!

How about you? How are your heart and mind as we transition from one President to the next? Open up your journal and give yourself a little check-up. How has this election and transition treated you? How closely did you follow the seemingly endless campaign season? Did your favorite candidate become a nominee? Did your favorite nominee win? By the end of the campaign—not the election–how disgusted were you? What bothered you most? Was there anything you particularly liked about the campaign process? How about the election? What was your reaction to the results? How has that changed during the transition period leading up to Inauguration Day? Where are you with it now? Start with your heart. What are your emotions as the new administration gets under way? Now to your head. How are you expecting things to go in the next four years? How do you think this leadership will change your life, if at all? How have you decided to think and act in the process? Do you plan to get more involved in your community? Do you plan to speak up more about your beliefs or about injustice? Are you preparing to lead with Love? What can you do to best bring about the world that you wish to live in? Leave me a reply and let me know, “How are you processing our country’s changes?”

Choose Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated or helped you along, please share it. Let’s own who we are and rise from there. Blessings!

Learning to Flex Your Brave Muscles

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time he can be brave,’ his father told him.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Hello friend,

I am attempting a new workout routine to start the New Year. Like any new workout, it is causing me lots of aches and pains. Lots of grumbling, too. It is hard to keep going every day. It’s even harder to step up to those crisis moments, when it feels too daunting to continue, when giving up is the greatest temptation. They say that’s just how new workout programs are. The muscles need lots of time and repetition to get accustomed to lifting the load over and over again. After a while, it will get easier, or so they say. Right now, though, it’s hard to believe them. It just feels like a lot of work and pain and doubt.

Which muscles am I working on, you ask? My Brave Muscles.

That’s what I call them anyway. The Brave Muscles are the ones you need when you feel the most self-doubt. They are the ones you need when you feel afraid, unsure, and embarrassed. You need your Brave Muscles when you feel alone and not up to the task ahead. You need them most when your dreams—the very life of your soul—are at stake and you feel like giving up and playing small.

I have felt all of those things lately. None of them are any fun, believe me. That is why I started my workout routine. I need to build up my Brave Muscles, because they seem to have withered over the years.

The place where I worked for the last few years just shut down, so I am out of work and hoping to avoid a family financial crisis in the coming months. When I started that job, I planned for it to be the last “real job” I ever had, before my writing career took off and I could work from home around my family’s schedule. Well, I wasn’t exactly up to speed yet when the axe fell, so now I am in a minor panic about my future, my dreams, and my family’s well-being. I desperately want to get to some writing projects that could be the transition to that career of my dreams, but the tension is rising as the clock—and my bank account—counts down.

Looming on the other side is the “safe route” of a real job and more money, but that translates to the loss of my dreams and a coinciding loss of my family’s charmed existence of maximum quality time together. I despise that safe route right now! Still, it sings its siren song of safety and certainty.

Needless to say, I am at war with myself. I know I am supposed to feel weak and embarrassed—and I do–about threatening my family’s financial stability by being without a guaranteed, regular income. I know I am supposed to feel guilty—and I do—about selfishly going after my dreams instead of settling for something more stable. The uncertainty of it has me feeling quite alone on my island. Those feelings—weak, embarrassed, guilty, selfish, uncertain, lonely–don’t sit well with me at all.

But on the other side of all of that weakness is this fire raging in me to burst upon my dreams with all the gusto I can summon, to demand from myself and from the Universe that THIS IS MY TIME!!! My soul demands that I seize this little moment—despite it being forced upon me—to lay claim to my purpose and Follow My Bliss. And of course, to make it work.

The path of least resistance—at least on the outside—is the safe route. There is such a powerful allure to that. It doesn’t require the workout routine. My soul can be a couch potato and sloth away the years of my life. When I am not guarding my thoughts closely, I fall prey to all of those self-defeating thoughts and emotions. “It’s too hard (or risky, new, unlikely to succeed, selfish…..). I’m not good (or prepared, talented, connected, wealthy, lucky…..) enough.” They spread like a gasoline fire through my heart and mind.

They come whenever I get stuck at a tough part while writing my book. They come when I am reading about how hard it is to get an agent or a publisher. They come when the bank statement arrives in the mail. They come when someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?”

This is where the new workout routine enters the picture. I decided, entering this year, that how I wanted to feel most this year is BRAVE. So, whenever one of those weak moments arises—it happens many times per day, believe me—and my confidence starts spinning away into oblivion, my job is to recognize it as soon as possible, before the devastation is too widespread. This early recognition is an enormous challenge, but I am getting lots of practice and learning the telltale signs: constricting chest, pit in my stomach, frown on my face, and that twisting, sinking mind. Once I recognize it, it is time for those Brave Muscles to go to work. I remind myself to take a deep breath. Then I clear those awful thoughts from my mind, replacing them with visions of what my soul is called to do. Finally, I speak some words of conviction and determination: “I’m doing this!”

And I am. One crisis moment at a time, those Brave Muscles are getting stronger and stronger. I know there will never come a day when I don’t need them anymore, so I might as well get lots of repetitions in now, to build that strength and endurance for the long haul. The biggest dreams need those things.

The workouts may be exhausting and the signs of progress frustratingly slow to reveal themselves, but I can already tell that it is worth the effort. These Brave Muscles are flexing, and every time they do, I can feel my soul begin to rise. I think I might just soar.

How about you? In what part of your life could you use more courage today? Open up your journal and let yourself feel around for your weak spots. In what part of your life are you operating out of fear? Is it in a relationship? In your career? Your finances? Your politics or spirituality? In what area is your self-esteem the lowest? Where are you in relation to your dreams? Are you following your Bliss? If you are not, why not? What would being more brave look like in your life? Would the changes be subtle or dramatic? How does that image of a Brave You feel in your heart? Pretty awesome, right? What specific things are keeping you from flexing your Brave Muscles and demanding that life? How good are you at catching and correcting your mind when it starts spiraling out of control with thoughts of fear and self-doubt? It’s hard! But your best life is worth the effort. What small act of bravery can you take today to better yourself? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How strong are your Brave Muscles?

Stake a claim to your greatness,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. And make sure you are signed up to receive every post in your email inbox right when I publish them. Make it a brave week!

Making Friends With Uncertainty

DSC_1100“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” –Confucius

These last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for me. My quiet, simple life has been shaken. First, I went back to school, finally starting on my official path to certification for life coaching. Big change! Then, as if juggling multiple classes per week amidst my other usual craziness were not enough, I just accepted a job offer for a totally new career. BOOM! Suddenly, it feels as though I have become the juggler who has just thrown all of the balls up in the air at once and is tasked with smoothly catching them all at the right time to continue the show. Except, instead of balls, maybe they are flaming torches.

In any case, it seems that I have found myself in one of those Life moments when nothing seems certain and I don’t have a clue how it will turn out, either next week or next year. I have moved to the very edge of the cliff, and then taken another step. Of course, I am crossing my fingers that it will be a “Leap and the net will appear” moment. But, it very well could be a Wile E. Coyote moment instead, with me doing a couple of mid-air strides before plummeting to oblivion. What have I done? Uncertainty rules!!!

I wrote to you last week about the mighty fear and self-doubt that I must overcome to make these kinds of life moves (See “Challengers of Change”). So, making two big ones in the blink of an eye is quite a feat for my psyche. But, before I can finish pinning on my Badge of Courage, the howling winds of change have blown the stark map of Uncertainty right across my face. Where are those old familiar landmarks? I used to know so well what the day ahead was going to look like, how much I was going to be challenged. Now, who knows? I have to wait for my cues from the day itself. It feels like I am on patrol duty in the middle of the night in the dark forest, completely on-edge in my vigilance because I have no idea what might be lurking out there. My adrenaline and cortisol are dialed all the way up. Every neuron feels alive and on fire. Hyper-awareness is the side effect of this drug called Uncertainty. In its own scary way, it is wildly scintillating and energizing.

One of the big self-help gurus, Tony Robbins, says, “The quality of our lives is directly related to the amount of uncertainty we can live with comfortably.” Basically, if you are good with Uncertainty, you are good with Happiness. I love this! I frequently tell my clients and friends, “Make friends with uncertainty!” and “Embrace the unknown!” Of course, it is easier said than done, but I believe in the message. I have a dear friend who is about to drop just about everything he knows for sure—his schedule, his paycheck, his home, his city, his career—and start again from scratch. Even as he has some grave doubts, he is still doing it. It is a beautiful move in my eyes. I have no small amount of both envy and admiration for what he is doing. It is a courageous leap, but I am certain he will be rewarded for his bravery many times over in both Happiness and confidence.

You see, I think that one of the primary components of Happiness is an atmosphere of growth. If we are to grow, we must stretch our limits, move past our comfort zone, live on what I call our “growing edge.” But when we go beyond our comfort zone, naturally we feel uncertain. Doubt creeps in. It feels like a risk. It is a risk! But embracing that uncertainty—indeed, making friends with it—is essential to the growth that is essential to the Happiness that we are talking about. It is like an equation in Mathematics, or at least Logic:

  • If you want Happiness, you must have Growth.
  • If you want Growth, you must have Uncertainty.
  • Therefore, if you want Happiness, you must have Uncertainty.

Well, I want Happiness, darn it! And I want to keep growing, keep learning, keep stretching my limits. I understand that the price of growth (and, by extension, Happiness) is uncertainty. I am going to have to live with some doubt. I will have to take risks and not know the outcome. That may feel like a heavy toll to pay. But hey, we are talking about The Holy Grail here: Happiness. Did I think it was going to be free? So, show me where the line starts. I am ready to pay. I am eager to take this amazing ride into What’s Next. I am already grateful for all of the magic to come. Uncertainty, you are about to be my best good friend!

How about you? How much uncertainty can you live with comfortably? Open up your journal and write about your dreams. What do you most wish you could do in your world? Are you living where you want to live? What about your career: is it the best fit for who you are as a whole person? Does what you really want require you to get some more training? Are you willing to both admit that you are in the wrong spot and do what is necessary to get on the right career track? How about your relationships? Are there any issues that have gone unaddressed for too long simply because you are afraid of what opening that can of worms might lead to? Is today the day you feel strong enough to take that risk?   Do you agree with me that one of the components of a happy life is an atmosphere of growth, or is that part unnecessary? Do people who play it safe with everything and never take any risks in their lives—never stretch themselves or make any big moves—really have any more control of the outcome of their lives than people who constantly challenge themselves and make a few mistakes in the service of growth? Is their safety real or imagined? Think of all of your friends and family members and try to place them in order, on one end the people who never take risks or try anything new or push themselves, and on the other end the people who challenge themselves and embrace new experiences. Which side seems more happy and fulfilled to you? Where do you fit on your spectrum? Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you made friends with Uncertainty?

Be unabashedly YOU today,

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