Tag Archives: Wonder

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!

A Front Row Seat to a Magic Show

IMG_2888“The miracle of children is that we just don’t know how they will change or who they will become.” –Eileen Kennedy-Moore

Hello friend,

Yesterday I went to my first track meet since I was a kid. It was quite a show! My soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter was finishing her week of “Track Camp”, a serious-sounding name for a week of playing Tag and Ships Across The Ocean, mixed with a few laps around the track. Thus, I wasn’t exactly expecting her to be pole vaulting and throwing discus, but I actually did hold out some secret hopes for her running and jumping prowess. Of course I am heavily biased, but I have seen her go. She outruns me around the house, and she is sporting some pretty good muscles (you know, as six-year-olds go!). So I kind of thought the track meet might be a coming-out party for her, a discovery of something she would excel at and take confidence from.

Well, not so much. She wasn’t bad. She just wasn’t a hero. And the funny thing was this: it didn’t seem to matter at all to her whether she won or lost. Unlike her fairly competitive parents, she just isn’t very into that side of sports. As a result, she doesn’t seem to either gain or lose confidence from the results. As baffling and uncommon as that is, I find it totally refreshing. After all, isn’t that what the coaches and sports psychologists of professional athletes are trying to instill in them? A kind of independence from circumstance, not affected by luck or momentum.

It is how she is in school, too, according to her teachers. At conferences, they tell us she plays with every kid openly and patiently, even the boys who have just been totally obnoxious and rude. When I asked her this year if she knew why she went to the Gifted & Talented teacher’s room almost every day of the week, she had no idea other than “to work on math” or “to work on reading” or whatever. When I explained that she was blessed by being more intelligent than most kids, it didn’t phase her at all, and she never spoke of it again. She somehow just absorbs her situation and finds joy there, no matter who else is there. After the first day of Summer camp, our conversation went like this: “Did you meet any new friends?” “No.” “You didn’t talk to anyone?” “Nope.” “Was it fun?” “Yes!!!” Same thing the next day. On the third day, she met some new friends. “Fun?” “Yes!!!” It just doesn’t matter to her. She hasn’t had a bad day at camp all Summer. We should all be so lucky.

Her little brother, meanwhile, had his own fun at the track meet. Even though he was too young for camp—still four for a couple more weeks–and just a spectator, he was more busy than all of the competitors. He explored, as he always does, every nook and cranny of the new space with the specific intent of discovering all the ways he could turn it into a funhouse. He loves making his sister his partner in this adventure, as they are quite a pair in a new place. The novelty completely stirs them, and I am completely amazed by the variety of ways they can find to create fun and excitement out of thin air. I am so envious of their creativity and zest for amusement.

I am also envious of my son’s demand to be heard and be a part of the action. After all of the big kids finished their runs, he demanded a turn to run around the track. Captivated by his spirit, I, of course, conceded to his order. He coaxed my daughter into a 400 meter race—in his Crocs, no less—and joyously crossed the finish line in victory. Then, “I wanna do it again!” His spirit is relentless.

He seems to have staked a claim to his right to pursue Joy in whatever way he sees fit. So he goes after it with fervor, whatever it is. In one moment, he will demand that I play along with one of his jokes to make his Mom and sister laugh. In the next, he might order me away for a few minutes so he can have some time with his “imaginations”. But mostly, he is ordering me from one amusement to the next in his never-ending search to find and provide greater enjoyment in this wonderful game called LIFE. He is a born performer and makes friends wherever he goes. In most cases, you would say his confidence is through the roof. But then it’s not. I have to twist his arm to go to the child center at the gym or any new thing without his big sister. Suddenly, I have this uncertain little boy on my hands that needs lots of hugs and reassurance. Forty-five minutes later, when I come to pick him up, he practically owns the place. It is such a high-wire act. I so admire the way he conquers his insecurities and completely flourishes, never allowing his spirit to be held down.

What are they going to be when they grow up? Who knows! When my daughter first started day care at six months old, she brought us home some awful germs. On my very first day home alone with her, I was as sick as could be, totally vomiting and unable to get off the sofa when I was not in the bathroom. Amidst my misery, I was completely in awe of her as she just sat in her swing across the room, staring at me with the sweetest, most empathetic eyes. I swore right then that she was destined to become a healer of some sort. When she graduated pre-school, she said she wanted to be a teacher. I don’t know anymore. What I do know is that the world will be better for having her in it. As for my son, I have always guessed he would be some sort of entertainer. Even before he could speak, he would work hard to find ways to coax a laugh and a smile out of people, then give a look of satisfaction when it was achieved. No matter what he chooses, it seems clear that making people smile will come along with the package.

They take you on a ride, these kids. You simply don’t know which way they will turn their lives from one moment to the next. The only way to stay with them is to live in the moment. Living in the moment. It is just about the most important lesson any of us can learn in life, and kids teach it best. The other lesson they teach me so beautifully is to be authentic. Live your Truth. Just be yourself. Relentlessly yourself. Don’t bother with what the crowd is doing or what it means to someone else to be cool. Just do the thing that makes you feel like you. Following them around every day is the best education I have ever had. I feel so incredibly blessed that they take me along for the ride that is their lives. Whatever twists and turns they take, it never fails to feel beautiful and magical to me.

How about you? Who in your life brings you that sense of awe and amazement? Open up your journal and your heart. Are there children in your life? How much do they mean to you? Do they take you to that place of wonder and fascination? Why do we not allow our grown-up selves to be experienced this way? Can we take the edge off our jadedness and begin to see our peers as the amazing creatures that we all truly are, and can we let down our guards enough to let ourselves be seen as the unique, beautiful creatures that we have been since we were babies? Has the premium on fitting in caused us all to lose our shine in the hopes of not sticking out? Is the magic still there under all our self-censorship?   I hope it is. I hope we are not naturally less fascinating and less divine as we age. Even if I am my only audience, I want to still be magnificent and awe-inspiring. I want to be what my kids are to me. Do grandparents still see that in their adult children, or do they just rev it up again with their grandchildren only? How will I observe these two magicians when they are my current age? I guess I have to wait and see. I have a feeling it will be a fun wait, though. I am already grateful for all that is to come. Are you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who keeps the magic and the moment in your life? 

Just be you,

William

Is Awe Still In You?

DSC_0601“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  –W.B. Yeats 

Hello friend,

A couple of weeks ago, I brought my kids downtown to see the skyscrapers. As suburbanites, I often point out “Big City” in the distance as we are driving, but never in their lives had I taken them there to see the tall buildings up close. We parked the car just out of downtown so that we could walk through a sculpture garden and park on the way to the buildings. To get there, though, we had to cross a walking bridge high above a busy freeway. We got to the top of the steps to cross, and my 3 ½ year-old son’s mouth dropped wide open. He stared in wide wonder as, right below him, cars and trucks went speeding by in several lanes side-by-side. He was absolutely mesmerized by the entire scene. Awestruck.

The look on his face was priceless, like a brand new world had just opened up and was flooding his senses. He was stunned, but giddy at the same time. It was, for me, one of those moments when time slows down and every image gets etched into my heart and mind. I was so glad to get to share in a really cool moment in his life that instantly became a really cool moment in mine, but for very different reasons.   For him, it was that he was being blown away by this amazing world and all of its magnificent offerings—like cars and motorcycles racing right under your feet—and for me it was pure gratitude: for him and for the idea that I could provide this jaw-dropping moment for him. The thought that really grabbed me in that moment–and hasn’t let go of me since–though, was “Oh, to be so lucky! To be completely in awe of so many things in this world that the rest of us walk right by. What I wouldn’t give to have the WONDER of a child. The susceptibility to AWE.” 

If you spend any time around little kids, you quickly learn how amazing our world is. They are excited about almost everything. Even when we don’t even leave my house and yard, I can’t tell you how many times a day my son hollers for me: “DAD!!! You GOTTA SEE THIS! This is TOTALLY COOL!!!” He could be talking about a leaf, or, just as easily, what he has just created in the toilet. But beyond mere excitement, this sense of awe is nearly as common. Children are so good at staying in the moment that so many things feel brand new to them every time, and that sense of novelty is the key ingredient in awe. You can stare in wide wonder at a world that is new to you and full of magic.

Regarding the Yeats quote I mentioned at the top, I think kids do a better job than us adults at keeping their senses sharp, i.e., being present and open to the magic that fills the world around us. Where and when do we go wrong, though? When do our senses dull? When do we stop being so awestruck by this place? Is it simply the repetitive nature of our lives, the fact that we see and do the same things over and over? Is it in how terribly busy we get as we grow, our minds trying to keep ourselves organized rather than stopping to smell the roses, or even noticing their presence?

I am trying to think of all the times I have been in awe as an adult. Sadly, it is a challenge to come up with examples. I was completely awestruck by my daughter when she was born. Simply her presence in the world, that this little living thing was breathing and crying and melting my heart when only moments before she was living inside my wife’s abdomen. That was truly amazing to me. I was in awe of her every development, in the first couple of years especially. I remember vividly, in the period of 18-24 months, being completely dumbfounded almost daily by the new intellectual feats. Human development is an astonishing thing. In the old days, when I spent all of my time on personal/spiritual enrichment and didn’t have a care in the world, I found many moments of awe in the Universe, most frequently when I was in nature. Put me by the ocean or a glacial lake in the mountains of Montana, and I ooze awe. What a wonderland we have been gifted with in which to live! Other moments of awe, for me, have happened at concerts, when the music and the artist stir my soul into a frenzy. The last one that comes to me is the head-over-heels falling-in-love phase of a relationship, being in awe not just of the other person but of the utter magnificence of existence now that you have found the key to the whole thing.

Babies, Nature, Art, and Love. These are the things that have dropped my jaw in adulthood. Four things? My son’s list is longer than that before breakfast! So how can I be more like him: amazed and excited by nearly every thing he comes upon? I think a big part of it is presence: simply staying in the moment and appreciating what is. I can also do better at taking an attitude of gratitude, being more mindful of the intricacy and interconnectedness of all Life in the Universe. When I consider the most minute details of how this place runs and all the conditions that had to fall exactly into place so that I could sit here and write this to you, I cannot help but be in awe. That awe makes me feel so much more alive. Einstein had it right when he said, “He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

So, how about you? What makes you “pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe”? Get out your journal and start writing. When was the last time you felt that wonder, that awe? How much do you envy children for their wide-eyed approach to the world? What is your biggest trigger, the thing that makes you most likely to feel amazement? What can you do to put yourself in position to feel it more often? Do you think it declines steadily with age, or does it rise and fall with your attitude and life circumstances? Be honest: do you sometimes think you might never feel it again? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is awe still in you?

Let your inner kid go out to play today,

William