Tag Archives: writing

On Whose Time? Take Life As It Comes vs. Force Your Own Agenda

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” –Chinese proverb

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I’ve been doing a little experiment over these last several months since I published my book. You see, up until that point, I religiously published my post once a week, only ever taking a week off when I was traveling. Although I don’t recall ever making a cross-my-heart promise to myself that I would get a new letter to you every week, that was essentially the deal. No excuses. And I kept it. For years.

I can’t adequately express to you how distressing it was to–hundreds of letters later–finally come to the decision last Autumn to put the blog on hold for several weeks in order to get through the very tedious and time-consuming final stages of publishing the book. Despite my certainty that it was the wisest course and that I would get right back to these letters when I finished all I had to do for the book, the decision to pause took me weeks to finally accept and execute. I hated to break the flow and the commitment.

An interesting thing happened when it finally came time to resume my weekly letters. I wrote the first few weeks: no problem. But the next week, when it was time to nail down a topic for the new post, I drew a blank. Nothing came to me. I started to panic. It’s not as though I had never had trouble coming up with a topic before; I definitely had. But through manic brainstorms or scouring of old notebooks or searches of the news, I had always come up with something that inspired/confounded me enough to deem worthy of my consideration and yours. But not that week. Try as I might for several anxious days, it just didn’t’ come.

In a rare moment of self-mercy, I let myself off the hook. I rationalized that after all of the work on the book, my mind must simply be not fully restored to its engaged self. I figured I just wasn’t tapped into the Universe the way I had been, and I decided that it would be very “enlightened” of me to accept that reality and flow with it. I gave myself a break. And let me tell you, that felt incredibly strange! I was almost itchy with dissonance. Something was definitely missing from my week.

But you know what? Even without my writing, my world did not come crashing down. I survived the anxiety and guilt of “not doing my job” of writing to you. Inspiration returned the following week, I wrote a long post, and I figured I was back on track. Trusting the flow of inspiration from the Universe was fine for a week, and I gave myself a little pat on the back for giving it a shot. “But I’m a writer,” I assured myself. “From now on, I write. No excuses!”

But then it happened again. Nothing stirred in my chest and my brain, aching to get out of me. I scanned and scoured, but nothing stuck. I had my panic moment, but eventually I rationalized, “Maybe this is the Universe telling me that I have a new pace. I will trust this one more time.” And I let that week go.

I wrote again the next week, then waited on pins and needles to see what would happen. Again I drew a blank and it slipped by. I scratched my head, eventually forgave myself, and moved on. And so it went for these last few months, alternating between a writing week and a head-scratching week. It is not like I didn’t write anything; I still journaled every day. I just couldn’t muster a post idea, and I accepted that–albeit with some suspicion–as me “staying in the moment” and “trusting the Universe to provide inspiration in its time.”

That, I suppose, became the essence of my struggle: deciding how much to view my lack of inspiration and diminished ambition to create something no matter what as A) me surrendering to the whims of the Universe, rather than as B) me failing at something under my control. I battled myself over and over to grant myself permission to let those uninspired weeks slide by without a product to publish.

My natural instinct was to label this inclination ‘Lazy’ and ‘Weak’ and then prod my myself until I found something to make it work. That has been my way for years: no excuses, act like a professional, get it done.

Produce! Push the envelope! Never settle! Go hard to get to your dreams!

That’s the way the world works, right? Or not?

But what about that seemingly enlightened idea of not “pushing the river” from the Chinese proverb? That sounds pretty darn good to me most mornings when my alarm sounds extra-early so I can squeeze more ambition into my day. It felt like a siren song on those weeks when I didn’t (couldn’t?) publish anything, telling me that it was all okay and even healthy to take a break from the rigors of striving for my dreams. It was downright alluring to believe that inspiration would come in its own time, when the Universe was ready for me to receive it, and that I could relax and enjoy the beautiful moments until The Muse decided to tap me on the shoulder and invite herself back into my soul, allowing me to return to my passion fully-armed.

So alluring that if tried really hard, I could almost believe it.

I tried that on myself last week. The week before had been one of my “off” weeks that I have begun to get accustomed to after a post, so last week I was on the clock. A letter was due. But then I got busy at work for a couple of days, and then my kids got out of school and took over my world, and yada yada yada…..the next thing I knew, I was pretending I had a legitimate excuse for not writing to you that week. I truly put in the effort to snow myself into believing I was just too busy and that “sometimes Life intervenes, the Universe decides it’s not time for that,” despite my best intentions. It made for a stress-free weekend.

But not really. Because, despite my best efforts at pretending that I had given my best efforts toward my writing, deep down the truth was lurking. “Trusting the Universe’s pacing” and “not pushing the river” were fast becoming justifications for my laziness and lack of focus on my passion, and I knew it underneath all of my “enlightened” rationalizations.

Although I am a big believer in intuition and following your gut, by nature I am a driver. My inclination is to look for a way I can make my situation better and then to set out to make that happen. I am stubborn about getting things to go my way. I have been known to “push the river.”

Despite all of that, I like the theory of being at peace with what is and trusting that the Universe has my back no matter how things appear to be going. I like the idea of translating my lack of inspiration as, “It’s just not meant to be today. I’ll check in again tomorrow.” I sometimes admire the people who just chill and don’t mind at all what happens with their situation one way or the other.

But despite the allure of “Whatever,” that just isn’t me.

This reminds me of the other age-old dilemma that I have taken my turn struggling to come to grips with: choosing to be happy with who you are and accepting yourself (your body, your flaws, etc.) completely vs. constantly striving to be better than you are today. Maybe it’s exactly the same issue.

In either case, I always seem to fall back to being bothered by the “Just accept things/Let it be” answer because it feels lazy and complacent. It takes my agency, my responsibility away from me. It coaxes me into helplessness. I despise that condition.

I choose to believe that I have the power to change my situation, whether that relates to an injustice in my country or a lack of inspiration in my mind. I choose to believe that, no matter what forces are working against me that seem to be representing “the Universe wants it this way,” I can take action to steer the situation another way. That action might be a march on Washington, DC, or a volunteer shift at a shelter, but it might also be just showing up at my computer next time I don’t feel “inspired” by any particular topic and start typing anyway, one grinding word at a time. After all, The Muse may or may not be real, but if she is (and I believe she is), I am certain that she only helps the ones who are there doing the work that their soul calls out for them to do. When she stops by my house, I plan to be plugging away at my keyboard.

Maybe this boils down to me saying that I have to act as though the Universe does not have a pace, does not have an agenda. That it’s up to me to create the life I long for, despite the circumstances that sometimes seem to conspire against me. I can’t sit on the sidelines of my own life and take the “It’s in God’s hands” attitude. I think God’s hands are my hands. Yours, too. I must use my hands to the best of my ability to create a life and a world that meets my standards. So that is what I will do.

I am not guaranteeing that you will start seeing a new letter again every week. I am only promising that I won’t blame it on someone or something else when I don’t produce or live up to my expectations. I will not write it off to the whims of the Universe or The Fates not feeling me. I will own what I do and what I fail to do, call myself out when I am being lazy or procrastinating, and take regular stock of myself (usually in my journal).

This morning as I was trying to pull this letter together, I took a break to look at social media. One of the first things to pop up in my newsfeed was a photo of one of those old signs that used to be in front of every convenience store, with the rows for interchangeable block letters that listed the hot deals on cigarettes or jumbo sodas or Slim Jims. This one read: EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. SOMETIMES THE REASON IS YOU’RE STUPID AND MAKE BAD DECISIONS. “Yes! This is what I am trying to say!” I shouted to myself. The Universe may have its own agenda, but we have to take ownership of our little neck of the woods.

My new working theory after processing all of this: Maybe each of us doing our absolute best to ambitiously pursue the life and the world that we dream of is what creates the Universe’s agenda. That is, maybe each of us pushing our little portion of the river is what actually makes it “flow by itself.” Yeah, I like that. It doesn’t make me feel guilty for being ambitious and not settling for the way things are. In fact, it demands that I trust that instinct to push the river and live my dreams. That works for me!

How about you? How do you balance trusting the Universe’s pacing with pushing for things to happen as quickly as your ambition demands? Open up your journal and your engine and try to understand how driven you are and what causes the ebbs and flows in that drive. How ambitious are you in getting what you want, whatever that may be (not necessarily career goals or saving the world–could be anything)? Do you impose your will upon the situation and force things to go your way no matter what the circumstances are? Or, if things do not seem to line up in your favor, do you accept that as a sign that it was not meant to be and let it pass? On a scale of 1 to 100–with 1 being “Whatever” and 100 being stubbornly ambitious–how do rate yourself? Would the people in your life agree with that number? What would they rate you? Speaking of them, how does your number compare to the people in your inner circle? How does it compare to the people you admire most? Are the people we generally see as heroic and worthy of our admiration–the people in our History books–more likely to have high ratings? Does that make stubborn ambition better, or does it just make it unusual? How much do you admire the “Whatever” folks who are just fine with any situation? Do you think those folks are happier than the people like me who are always striving and looking for ways to improve our situation? Does the world need more people on one side of the spectrum than the other? What do you think is the proper dispersal of people along the spectrum? What would happen if we all became stubbornly ambitious in our pursuit of a better life and better world, given that we might not all have the same ideas of what “better” looks like? Could that work? Might it be amazing? Okay, so does the Universe–or God, or Spirit, or The Fates, or whatever–have its own timing? Does It aid or hinder us in our pursuits based on Its own agenda or Its own pacing? If you believe so, how often are you aware of that sensation of things being out of your hands and under control of the Universe? What feelings does that awareness bring up in you? Awe? Calm? Frustration? Helplessness? Gratitude? Does it make you more complacent or lazy to think that something is out of your hands or “just not meant to be?” Do you feel less responsible for your actions in those cases? How do you strike that balance in your life between, on the one side, ambition and personal responsibility, and on the other side, going with the flow and leaving it to Fate? Do you often sway dramatically from one end of the spectrum to the other? Have you found your sweet spot yet, where you feel like you are pushing just enough to bend the Universe to your will but still accepting whatever comes as a result of your pushing? Leave me a reply and let me know: Whose agenda is your life following?

Make Peace with it All,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your social media channels. Together we can create a more self-aware world.

P.P.S. If you are looking for a Summer read (and write), check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

What Are You Willing To Struggle & Suffer For?

dsc_0435“You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

I was talking recently with an entrepreneurial friend of mine whose new business is failing. She was wrestling with different options for how she might save it, or whether just letting it go was the best choice. It is a horrible spot to be in, to have to consider giving up on something you believed in and very much wanted to succeed.

I am not very good at advice—I tend to think people are the experts on their own lives–so I don’t give it often. Instead, I usually just ask them questions. My hope is that my questions will help them think more clearly about their situation so they can come up with the answer on their own that feels right with both their brain and their gut. I think that when you make your own decision rather than just doing what someone told you to do, you are more likely to take responsibility for the result. There is no one else to blame.

So, when she asked me what I thought she should do, I had no sure-thing strategy or any story about the times when I have had to make a similar decision. The only thing I had was a question.

Is it something you are willing to struggle and suffer for?

In other words, is it so important that this dream succeeds that you are willing to make big sacrifices—your time, money, emotions, etc.—to see it succeed?

Let’s face it, we all want our stuff to succeed. You want your new business to flourish. You want your relationship to be healthy, happy, and lasting. You want to make more money. You want to go on vacation next year. You want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You want to be fit and healthy. You want to be self-aware. Right?

But which of those things are you ready to truly sacrifice for? The proof is almost always in the pudding.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to begin the transition out of my career coaching tennis. I knew that if I had a gun to my head, my answer for what I really wanted to do was be a writer. However, my confidence for achieving tangible success (i.e. a regular paycheck) doing that was low, so I was open to other avenues. But those avenues had to work around my kids, because giving my time and energy to them was my true top priority. I started taking classes to become a Life Coach, which sounded like a career right up my alley: fulfilling and flexible. I took a job out of tennis that wasn’t fulfilling but kept money coming in while meshing perfectly with my kids’ schedule. And I kept writing.

While in pursuit of the coaching avenue, a business opportunity doing something I wasn’t interested in was basically handed to me. I made a deal with myself to give it the minimal amount of time and effort to see if it would “magically” produce clients and dollars, crossing my fingers and hoping to strike it rich, at least until it no longer made financial sense to keep the experiment going. And I kept writing.

So, basically I had a job and three things I wanted to work out (under the condition that they let me be with my kids most of the time). That’s not asking for much, right?

What happened? Well, it was pretty straightforward. With the business that I didn’t care about, as soon as it looked like I had to work and get uncomfortable to turn a profit, I pulled the plug. Because I knew my conditions for that one going in, I was at peace. The next one to fall was the Life Coaching training. That one was much more painful to let go of, because it really would be both fulfilling and convenient as a career for me. And I loved it. But it would be a lot of work. More classes, trying to scrounge up clients from scratch, marketing, etc. Struggling, scraping, sacrificing, and suffering. If it was the only horse in the race, I would have kept at it.

But there was the writing thing. That was the longest shot of all of them, the one with the most uncertainty, most likely to fail, most difficult to gain steady employment, and generally most tormenting of all (as creative ventures are prone to be). I would have jettisoned all thoughts of a writing career, except for one small detail: my heart was set on it.

I knew with what little time I have when I am not at my regular job or busy with the kids, I simply could not attempt to press on with the Life Coach training and the writing simultaneously. Push had finally come to shove, and, as I said, the proof is in the pudding. The writing is all that remains. It is the only career-related enterprise I seem willing to struggle and suffer for.

There are bigger tests to pass with it, though, as it won’t be long before I will have to challenge myself to replace my safe day job with some form of actually being paid to write. It remains to be seen how much I will be willing to sacrifice, how much I will compromise, and how stubbornly I will take a stand for “writing or starvation,” as it is much tougher to be principled when there are other mouths to feed.

Will I truly be willing to suffer for my writing, or will time bear out that I only really like the idea of being a writer but not the actual writer’s life and work? Inevitably, the proof will be in the pudding.

The only other area of my life that I have shown the willingness to make sacrifices to make it work is mentioned above: that demand to spend my children’s childhood with them rather than consumed by work. Before my daughter was born, I was in a position of some authority and made a comfortable amount of money. But I worked a ton. If I had kept that schedule, I would have hardly seen her or her future brother. So, I stepped down, taking a lower position and a much lower paycheck. But I staked a claim to my schedule. I have hardly compromised it in the eight years since.

And yes, I have wanted to make more money in those eight years. And I have wanted to go on vacation. But I haven’t been willing to do the necessary struggle and sacrifice for the money or the vacation, because that would mean compromising the time with the kids. The proof in the pudding, see?

So, I guess I have two stories for myself. I would say I am passing the test on the kids priority, not just saying I want the time but actually struggling to protect it. But I am willing to say that the jury is still out on the writing priority. I want to think that it is a done deal, that I will make all necessary sufferings and sacrifices for it and will go down swinging rather than compromise again, but that test has not been completed. I feel it coming to a head very soon and am gathering my strength and resolve for it.

But I also have the sneaking suspicion that these tests are never completely passed, that we have to step up to them and stake our claim over and over again as we continually define who we are in this life. I think sometimes we ignore them, though, and go sleepwalking through our little worlds for a while. But other times, the battle lines are crystal clear: you know the very value of your life is on the line, how hard it will be live it the way your heart knows you should, and that this is the moment of truth. I feel one of those crystalline moments approaching in my life. It is scary yet exhilarating, this opportunity to define myself by laying claim to what I value. I go willingly into the struggles. En garde! 

How about you? What in your life is so important that you are willing to suffer and struggle and sacrifice for? Open up your journal take a look at the pudding. What does the way you live your life say about the things you value most? First, it might be more helpful to begin with a rundown of the things you think you value or say you value. What are they? Now take a look at your history. What are the things, at different points in your life, that you have genuinely struggled for? As you look back now, how did those struggles shape you? Do you still value those things that you once struggled so hard for? What about now? Is there anything in your life right now that you are making the big sacrifices for, grinding so hard in the service of something you value so highly? What are the sacrifices and struggles and sufferings? How sure are you that it is worth it? Is it worth so much to you because of the struggle or in spite of the struggle? Okay, so now compare what you said you value with the things you are actually sacrificing for, if there are any? Do your mouth and your actions tell us different stories? Are you prepared to do something to correct that? Is there something in your life—a long-held dream, perhaps—that you want badly but have simply not had the courage to pursue because of all of the struggle and sacrifice involved? What small step can you take today in the direction of that desire? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you willing to struggle and suffer for?

Let your life be your message,

William

P.S. I hope you really climbed inside yourself on this topic, as I know that for me, that good, hard look in the mirror is so helpful, even if difficult. If it helped you, I hope you will share today’s letter with your world. Go and grow!

Who Do You Wish To Be, Part 2: The DOING Part

IMG_2404“What we do comes out of who we believe we are.” –Rob Bell

Hello friend,

Last week, I wrote to you and asked, Who do you wish to be? It was a general question about the type of person you were striving to become, your vision for your best self. It was about the character traits you want to exemplify and the impact you want to have on the world in the rest of your numbered days. I asked you to keep it about who you wanted to be, to not get bogged down by needing to know exactly what you wanted to do. The being and the doing are hard to separate, of course. I tried, and here again is what I came up with for my best version of me:

I wish to be a person who inspires others. I wish to be an example of how sincere self-reflection and an open mind can allow you to know who you are and what your purpose is. I want to be an example of how that self-knowledge, far from being something to fear and find shame in, is something that can grant you the deepest peace and gratitude, basking in the beauty that is your Truth. I wish to share the stories of people who are doing the daily work of lifting others up, providing the rest of us with living examples of empathy, courage, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and social justice. I wish to be a person who brings people together to learn from each other, help each other, and enjoy each other. I wish to expose injustices where I find them, to give a voice to the voiceless. I wish to enlighten the most powerful among us in hopes that they will use their power for good. I wish to be an example of loving kindness for everyone I meet. I wish to be an example for my children of integrity and authenticity. I wish to show my loved ones how valuable they are to me. I wish to embody Gratitude every day. I wish to be relentless in the pursuit of my dreams. I wish to be unapologetically me, all the time. I wish to be Peace. I wish to always be mindful of the Divine in me, and the unity of us All.  

Okay. A week later, that still sounds about right for me. As I read through it, I keep nodding my head in agreement and feeling my heart rise up in me. That tells me my vision rings true for me. It resonates. So, what now? I can see how I want to be and the impact I want to make, but how do I do that? Just sitting here thinking good thoughts is nice, but it isn’t going to amount to anything if I am content with that. I need to take some action!

But what? What kinds of things will get me from here to there? Probably it is better to pretend for the moment that excuses don’t exist, that there is nothing holding me back from doing the things that will make me feel like the person I want to be. All of those things I habitually tell myself—there is no time, no money, I can wait until the kids grow up, I need more practice, I’m not good enough, I don’t know the right people, etc.—need to get checked at the door if we are going to do this the right way. Because we are talking about our own happiness and fulfillment here, friends! And we are talking about our ONE lifetime with these gifts and these opportunities. This isn’t a dress rehearsal here! The clock is ticking, so let’s—at least for now—pretend those obstacles don’t exist.

Imagine it: a clear path to the You of your dreams. All you have to do is take the actions to get from here to there….

This is tough! I am feeling the pressure. Okay, clear action items…. As I re-read that vision a few more times (am I stalling?), the concepts that jump out at me are 1) Be an example; 2) Share the best examples with others; 3) Speak up, on behalf of others and because there is light that needs sharing; and 4) Be grateful, mindful, and unabashedly me. Okay, that helps. I can see my best self more clearly in action now. So, here goes! These are some things, if I had no excuses, my best self would be doing:

I would volunteer more for causes that would help people who need a hand up. Homeless shelters, food shelves, family crisis centers, that sort of thing. I am so, so blessed, and frankly, it feels wrong to not do more for others than I am doing now. I am embarrassed by this.

I would write a book about how regular folks like you and me can do simple things in our everyday lives that will help make our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and our entire country places of greater compassion, kindness, inclusiveness, courage, justice, and joy. I am actually in the early phases of that project right now, and it definitely feels like the right thing to be doing. It checks all of those four boxes I just mentioned, so I am doing a little cheer inside as I realize that. Go, Me!

I would put myself out there more, really engage the people I come across, and act as insatiably curious as I really am inside. I am horribly unsocial, so I tend to keep to myself even in obvious social situations, and then later I wish I had dug a lot deeper, found out what someone is passionate about, and made a true connection. I have a long way to go on this one.

I would write Journal of You. Even on the days I am feeling sorry for myself about how few people actually read these posts—bless you, my dear reader—I know that this is the right thing for me to do. It is a labor of love.

I would write more about social justice issues. Though I know they stir stuff up—and probably contribute to my small audience—I can tell by how I feel when I am writing them that it puts wind in my sails. I definitely fits that third box of speaking up on behalf of others. I need to be more brave here.

I would create a media outlet—web-based newspaper, YouTube channel, social media—that would tell the stories of all of the people doing great things in my community. I mean people who are living examples of generosity, compassion, inclusivity, forgiveness, open-mindedness, peace, and justice. I would tell their stories and let you know how you can connect with them, perhaps contribute your gifts to their work. I would make a calendar of local events that bring people together across difference so that they might get to know each other, learn from each other, and ENJOY each other. It would be a clearinghouse—a one-stop shop–for all that is positive in my area. And I would make it reproducible, so that the same format could be used in other cities. Anywhere in the country, you could know where there are good things happening, where you could be helped, where you could shine your light, and where you might find your tribe. This is a recent vision I have been brainstorming, and I love it! It is enormous, though, so I am definitely in the mode of making excuses and letting in lots of limiting beliefs. Pray for me!

I would make all of these things happen and find a way to make them my full-time lifestyle, something I could earn a living at and not just squeeze tiny bits of them in here and there. I feel like I owe that to myself, and I owe that example to my kids. I tell them how important it is to serve others. They see me trying to write while at their swimming lessons or soccer practices, but they know I work a regular job during the day. They hear me tell them to speak up for others, to ask questions, and to fully engage the people they meet. And while I know that it is important for them to learn that striving to act well and striving toward one’s dreams are part of the bigger process, I desperately want to be the guy who is exemplifying a lifestyle of acting well and living out one’s dreams. I want to show them that following their passions is both expected and rewarded.

I guess I want it all!

How about you? If you were being your absolute best self, what would you be doing? Open up your journal and let your mind run. As I mentioned, I think it is best to not be so “realistic,” that is, to not allow yourself too many excuses based on your current time constraints and responsibilities. However, when you finish with the exercise, I do think it is helpful to name all of those excuses and do your best to dismiss them as quickly as possible. So, let’s get to your best version of you. If you didn’t write it down last week, write that out first—the general picture of the character traits you would like to exemplify and the type of impact you would like to have. With that vision of who you wish to be clearly in your mind, start filling in the picture with actions, things you would be doing while being your ideal You. In what ways would you treat people? How would you spend your spare time? What would your career be? How different are these actions of your ideal self from the things you do now? What are some things you do now that you wouldn’t change, that speak to your highest self? In what area of your life are you closest to your best? In what area do you have the furthest to go? On your list of things your best self would do, is there something that you can get started on today? No matter how small, I bet your soul would appreciate the doing. How confident are you that you will live out your vision? Is the striving toward it reward enough? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would the best version of You be doing?

You can have it all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you imagine a life that made you smile, I hope you will share it with someone. We all have greatness in us. Share yours!

Free Time: Imagine the Possibilities!

DSC_0042“If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time.” –Willie Nelson

Hello friend,

A week ago, I came up with a wonderful new idea to write a book about. I was so excited! Immediately I started brainstorming and working on an outline. Next I had to do some hard bargaining with myself as to whether I am willing to temporarily suspend the other project I am working hard on now, a project that means so much to me. But this new idea is time-sensitive and must be addressed now. As I started to buy into the new project more and more and got to the point of committing to write the book, it suddenly struck me: How am I every going to find the time to do this?

 Sneaking in a few tired minutes of writing at the end of a full day of work and kids is not the way to take a deep dive into a topic, not to mention finding the artistic inspiration to make it all come out right (trust me, I’ve tried it many times!). I need several hours in a row of focused work for days and days on end. Hmmm. Those hours don’t seem to exist in my upcoming calendar of events. If I want to sleep at all, I simply don’t have the time.

This is when my escapist fantasies begin. These daydreams typically come in bunches over several days—usually a few different times per year–when I get really excited to take on a new project and then am hit with the reality of my schedule. Usually these fantasies take the form of me winning the lottery and never having a care about money again. That, of course, means I would never have to hold a job ever again. That, for me, would be absolute BLISS.

I always thought this extreme anti-job thing I had was that I simply didn’t like working. I mean, hey, who likes working, right? I just thought I had an extreme case of it. I have marveled about this many times in my journal, wondering how I got so spoiled. Lately, though, I have realized something about myself. I realized that, more than anything else, I just don’t like to work for someone else. I don’t like my work polluted by other people’s agendas, and I don’t like to be told what to do and when (and certainly not how). Simply put, I have never, EVER wanted to hold a job. That is, until the day I realized I just wanted to be my own boss.

I want to work—I’m dying to work—on my own projects on my terms. I want to choose the things I take on and how the work is performed. For those conditions, I am willing to work hard every day until my life ends. I don’t need retirement because I love what I choose to do.

So, it turns out I am not as lazy as I thought. Spoiled maybe, but not lazy. What a relief!

But that still doesn’t solve my problem. I work my current job because it brings in just enough money—combining with my wife’s income–to keep my household running and allows me to be here for my kids whenever they are here. It is a busy lifestyle, but our arrangement manages to just keep the bills paid and all of us happy and grateful for the time together.

But still pent-up and wishing for more.

More time and more money would be ideal, of course. That is where my usual fantasies of winning the lottery come in. But this week, as my soul was stirred up into a frenzy by this new book idea and my eagerness to dive into the writing of it, I realized something different about the tone of my fantasy hypotheticals.

The pleas suddenly became much less greedy, much more sensible. Instead of “If only I had 500 million dollars, I could really do what I want!” my visions have been more like, “If only I could keep my simple, paltry income but not have to put in the time to do the job and commute, I could do enough of what I want to keep me fulfilled.”

Maybe I thought that if my request wasn’t so gigantic, the wish-granters—there is a local branch of the Wizard of Oz in every town, right?—might somehow find a way for me. I am not asking to be rid of my usual financial balancing act and the tension that comes whenever I spend money. I will happily carry those burdens if only I am granted the TIME.

Yes, TIME is what I am really after. I just want those hours that I spend from the moment I leave for work to the moment I arrive back at home. If I could have those hours, along with my current income, I would not ask the wish-granters for any more wishes (I say now).

What would I do with the hours? WORK! My work. I would spend every one of them writing. In the short-term, I would write the book whose idea is burning in me right now. In the long-term, I have many other things I want to write, too, including more of these weekly letters to you. Believe me, I could keep myself occupied with the many ideas that inspire me to help make the world a better place.

I feel like the painter who has the perfect painting in mind and his paints and brushes ready to go, but he is waiting for his canvas to arrive. Waiting impatiently.

Every artist needs a patron. I started saying that when I was a young actor, having first realized how much energy it takes to create and perform one’s art consistently well. I experienced how that energy and inspiration can get muted in the drudgery of making a living doing something that is not your passion for most of the day simply to get a small window of time to pursue that passion. I am convinced that most of the world’s great art has gone unproduced due to the world’s artists lacking the requisite time and energy to create. Because I dare flatter myself by calling what I do a type of “Art,” I feel this pain. I ache for that time and energy. And thus my fantasies.

Those obligation-free hours are so alluring to my imagination. Of course, there are a million ways to use them. I know it would be wonderful to use the time to read all of the books I have on my list and take up all the hobbies I have ever aspired to. I can see myself easily passing the day between guitar practice, yoga, and some Hemingway in my hammock. It is a vision that warms my heart.

It wouldn’t last, though. What drives me is the writing. Trying to string together words that will make a difference in people’s lives. I can’t make it very long without returning to that.

So yeah, at the end of the day, if you let me keep my current income but allowed me to quit working, what would I do? I would work! (MY way.)

How about you? What would you do if you were guaranteed your income without the time commitment? Open up your journal and imagine this amazing opportunity. How would you use it? Maybe this essentially becomes a question of what you prioritize at this point in your life, not just what you like to do. Is there something that you highly value but that you have not had time to devote to with your current schedule? Is it something that you can see yourself making a habit of and keeping in your life long-term? Would you use the time to cultivate a hobby or rather something that would become a new career for you? How widely would you spread your wings? How much would you simply kick back and take life easier than you have been? Would you intentionally have no agenda at all for a while? How long do you think you could go without any job before you became either bored or stir crazy? Is this even a deal that you would take? Perhaps you would prefer to keep doing your current job, whether for social reasons or connections and opportunities to keep climbing the career ladder in your field and building a bigger income than you have now? Whatever your choice, I hope that the things you prioritize—the things you might fill your newfound window of time with—are things that will leave you feeling fulfilled. I would love to hear what you choose. Leave me a reply and let me know: How would you fill the time that is truly free?

Think big,

William

P.S. If this letter had you re-thinking about what you really prioritize at this point in your life, pass it on. A little clarity could do us all some good!

How Will You Judge Your Life When You Turn 80?

DSC_0175“It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you know you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.” –Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

 Hello friend,

This weekend we are celebrating my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. Her big day was a few weeks ago, but you know, you gather when you can. I am a chronicler, of course, so I am inclined to get something in the books. And hey, 80 is big, so let’s mark it! To get her to talk about her past, however, much less to assess her life and open up about how she feels about it all, is like pulling teeth. When we record the kids singing her “Happy Birthday” (or celebrating other occasions), I often then aim the camera at her and ask her how she feels about turning 80 or if she has any thoughts about her life to this point, anything she would like to say to commemorate the occasion. “NO!”  Every darn time!

As a guy who assesses his life on a daily basis and enjoys sharing his thoughts about most anything–but particularly about the life I have been given—I have such a hard time understanding her guarded mentality. I will be that old guy who annoys every grandkid and nursing home assistant whose turn it is to humor me, talking their ear off about my memories and any nuggets of wisdom I may have gained along the way.

Still, thinking about my mother-in-law turning 80 has me in a pondering mood. And since she won’t let me in about how this late milestone is playing on her heart and mind, I have done a mental transfer instead. I started imagining about how I will feel turning 80, how I will assess my life up to that signature year.

I am more than halfway there already and have a lot of habits and tendencies that have made well-worn paths in my mind. How much can I expect to change about my essence between now and 80? Are the final chapters of my story already easy to read? Or, perhaps, have I just wiped the slate clean? Maybe I can surprise even myself. I hope to keep it interesting, of course, but I can probably make a few educated guesses based on the current course. After all, I have been studying this subject pretty closely for a few years now!

The part of my vision of myself at 80 that gives me the most comfort is that I believe I will still be extremely happy. I am on a run right now of a solid 19 years of deep happiness. Many circumstances have changed during that time—and I fully admit to being blessed with a healthy family and a life of good luck—but the one thing that has not been threatened is my happiness and gratitude for my life. I am planning for that to stick with me until the end of the ride.

I am also quite sure I will still be writing—a big part of what keeps me happy—still trying to understand myself and my relationship to the Universe a little better. I will still be in love with books and the life of the mind, striving to learn and grow every day. I want to think I will still be up for adventures and new experiences. I will be doing my best to leave a positive impression on the world. I know I will cherish whatever family moments I have, perhaps even with grandkids if I am so blessed. These are the things I am most sure about my 80-year-old self.

The one thing I wish I were more certain of at that age is my degree of contentment and satisfaction with myself and my journey. I would like some measure of peace about my run, some feeling of acceptance of the life I have been given and what I did with it. I know that at 43, I am extremely dissatisfied with my achievements and contributions to the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like who I am. I can acknowledge some good qualities in myself and appreciate the man I have become. But to pass the test—graded by myself, of course—I will need to DO more good and maximize the potential of my gifts, not just be a good guy on the inside. There is a big difference there.

I imagine myself being dragged kicking and screaming to my death, begging for more time to accomplish more, give more, learn more. I want to think that by age 80, I will have done most of the things I plan to do—like publish books and share the wonders of this great world with my kids—and will not be so desperate to finish the job, pleading for a bigger share of the pie, a few more hugs or walks on the beach or hours to create.

If I am to arrive at 80 with peace and acceptance, there is a lot of work to do! I will die doing my best. That much I know. Maybe that is all there is. I will try to make peace with the process, too, not just the end result. What a challenge!

I am grateful to be alive in this moment, grateful for my chance to live my purpose and know the wonderful joys of existence. I look into my daughter’s eyes as I write this to you and think, “Oh, how I would miss this! Thank God for this great chance called ‘my life’.” I will savor it now and for however many more tomorrows may come.

How about you? How do you think you will judge your life when you reach 80? Open up your journal and your imagination. How is 80-year-old you feeling about yourself? What do you believe are the biggest factors that will determine that feeling? Companionship? Close family relationships? Career success? Financial security? Health? Evidence of a lasting legacy? Faith/connection with the Divine? Belief that you have lived authentically and with integrity? Completing your bucket list items? When you get to age 80, how willing and eager will you be to share your story and the lessons that life has taught you? Compared to how you are now, how much do you think your personality and outlook will change by the time you hit 80? Will you be more or less content? More or less happy? More or less satisfied with the impact you have made? More or less optimistic for the future of the world? If you could jump ahead and ask your 80-year-old self anything, what would you ask? What advice do you think 80-year-old you would give you about your life right now? Are you taking that advice? When you picture yourself that many years down the road, how much ground do you have to make up between now and then to become as satisfied and at peace with your life as you would like to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How contented will you be with your existence at age 80?

 Eat the dessert,

William

P.S. If this letter was helpful to you, please pass it on. It is not too late for any of us to change for the better.

A Day in the Life: one simple journal entry

DSC_0680“Every great thinker keeps a journal, you know.” –Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

Hello friend,

The date of my very first journal entry was March 12, 1994. I didn’t quite know what to think about the blank page in front of me, and the thought of all those blank pages that followed was even more daunting. I had all kinds of reservations: What am I supposed to say? Are there rules? But I don’t have an exciting life to gush about! I made a tentative entry, just feeling out what it was like to write my thoughts to no audience. It was several days before I would open the book up again–and sometimes several months between entries over the next few years–but something always drew me back in. The more I opened up, the more I learned about myself, and the happier I became. It became increasingly addictive. After those first few years of random entries—and without ever making a conscious decision about it—I began to write at least one entry every day.

When people learn of this daily habit of mine, I get a lot of interesting reactions. From some, I get the look that screams, “You are strange!” followed by a quick change of subject. From others, I get a more respectfully curious look, kind of like, “That is weird, but it is also interesting.” For those who are interested enough to continue the conversation, invariably the question arises: “What do you say??? I can’t imagine what I would write about!” 

Honestly, a daily journal entry—for me, at least—usually looks like a pretty boring piece of writing. There are a lot of “This is what I did today…” type of entries. Sure, sometimes, I have a hot topic on my mind that I need to unpack with my pen and paper, but most of the time I start my entry with no agenda at all and just let the words flow out of the pen. I am not trying to create great art or something that would be fun for another person to read. I am simply trying to empty my mind and see if there are connections to be made that will help me to understand myself better so I can live more authentically (and, by extension, more happily).

With that said, I thought I would use today’s letter to show you what an ordinary entry from my personal journal looks like. I picked another March 20 for symmetry. I hope this demystifies the process a bit for you and shows you how simple it really is to start your own journaling practice. Here you go:

22:15 Saturday March 20, 1999 Minot, ND USA

It is a banner night right now. I have just come in from outside feeling a grand high. The old man mentioned a cheap golf club at Wal-Mart earlier today. A short while ago, my curiosity got the best of me and I ventured over there. There it was: an oversized driver with graphite modulus shaft and a seventeen-dollar price tag. The old man had spotted me a twenty before I left, so I was sold. There is this clearance aisle hiding near the pets, and it was full of treasures. When I saw footballs for five bucks, I couldn’t pass it up. Then I found a window-scraper for a quarter. I almost bought some head-covers for my woods for four bucks, but I was already over my budget and still needing to get contact supplies. So I just brought it home. I had to get outside and take a few swings. I ran out the screen porch and looked into the night. The sky took my breath away. All of the stars are shining gloriously, as is the crescent moon in the low western sky. I love skies like that. They make me think of nights in faraway lands. I started taking a few swings, but I was distracted by a sound. Flowing water. The stream in the back is still at it. Today it rose higher than it has in several years. I think the culverts are a bit blocked, because it seemed to grow and grow. It was whitewater under our bridge. I was absolutely thrilled. My heart was racing at the sight of it. Dick, Mother, and I stood out on the deck in the sunshine and marveled at it. I was only in tee shirt and shorts, but the forty degrees didn’t seem so bad. Oh, how I wish it would flow like that all year. Or flow at all. I love flowing water, as does Mother. The sound of it is so invigorating. And the look of any water is tantalizing and soothing to me in a grand way. So a few moments ago, when I heard the sound of the stream still running, I ran down to the edge to marvel at it. It had receded since the afternoon but was still such that walking to the bridge was not possible. It flowed both under the bridge and around it on this side. All of the grass crackled under each step. It was still warm out there. I felt like wading in the water, as though it was summertime at a mountain stream. It was all so very magical: nighttime by a running stream under the stars, with the silver moon in the distance and a new driver in my hands. I was on top of the world. My heart is still pumping pixie dust. I am alive and well on this grand night. I may just go out there again to watch the water flow and feel the gaze of a thousand stars upon me. Nights like this are eternal. They remain within me forever. Nighttime is the right time. Saturate me, oh starry night.

 That’s my entry. How about yours? Are you journaling yet? How often? Open up your journal—especially if you haven’t already—and spill the beans. Perhaps your first entry can be themed, “Why I never write in my journal.” If you are already writing, I think it is still a good exercise to consider what you write about and why. Do you write only when you have no other outlet for your thoughts, no one to share with? Do you write only when you have some very important issue to address? Do you write to free your mind of the random thoughts floating around in there? I have many times said that I always wrote at the end of the night so I wouldn’t have those strange ideas entering my dream life as I slept. Do you find it easier to write if I give you a specific topic and an example—as I do every week with my usual letter to you—or do you prefer the “Just tell me about your day and see where it leads” prompting? Do you feel obligated to say something profound—or to get artistic and be a “real” writer—in your entries? That seems like way too much pressure for me! I just want the outlet for my thoughts and the chance to clarify my relationship to all of the elements in my world. Why do you want to journal? What are the biggest things that keep you from doing it, or doing it as often as you would like? Does seeing how simple and boring my entry is make you more or less likely to give it a shot today? This is my challenge for you: Write about this day in your life.

 Free your mind,

William

P.S. If this letter nudged you at all, pass it on. We are all due a little nudge from time to time (or all the time)!

What Will You Regret?

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No day but today,

William

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

Sleepwalking Through Life, or Sucking the Marrow Out of It: What Will You Regret?

DSC_0148“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.–Henry David Thoreau

Hello friend,

Isn’t it amazing how differently we see the other ages of our life when we get some years away from them? I think it is safe to say that we all look back at our high school years—the continuous flow of earth-shaking drama weaving its way through every day and every interaction—and think of how silly and insignificant it all was in the grand scheme of things. Most of us—myself definitely included—look at our old girlfriends and boyfriends and laugh at how wrong we were for each other, even though it seemed so right at the time. The years of separation provide fascinating insights (and hopefully some good laughs to go with the invaluable lessons).

I find myself now at a unique junction in the story of my life. The different chapters from past and future are converging in my mind. It is a perfect storm. For one, in The Journal Project, I am studying my daily journals from 1997, which was a truly revolutionary and magical time in my mind and, thus, my life. My foundation of deep and lasting happiness was being built in those days, and reading back through them is again making a deep impact on my current perspective.   The bar was set high.

The second thing brewing is that I am at a crossroads with the different jobs that make up the “career” portion of my little world. Even though it has been a year since I left my original career as a tennis coach, the job I transitioned to has been something of a holding pattern, meant not to fulfill my biggest career aspirations but instead to fulfill my parenting aspiration to give my kids the most of my time and energy. It has worked wonderfully for that, and I am so glad I made the move when I did. However, it is coming to the end of its run, forcing me to take a long look at what I have done and what I could do in the future. I am in one of those moments that will shape the long course of my existence. I want to do it right. I don’t want any regrets.

Needless to say, I have a lot swirling around in my mind these days. I think back to a time almost fourteen years ago when I had to make—and make quickly—a career move. I had just quit graduate school–deciding that it wasn’t the life for me–and needed to figure out what was next. I needed not just a job but something that might be a career. In brainstorming the options, I allowed myself a momentary fantasy of working as a writer, sharing my message with the world and making the kind of difference I hoped I was capable of. Fear and uncertainty squashed that fantasy in a hurry. I knew nothing about how to get into it, and I didn’t believe enough in my talent to bet my future on it. Instead, I turned to my first love and something I had always enjoyed (even though I had never considered it as a possible career): teaching tennis.

I loved it. I had always felt completely in my element when teaching others, and getting to be involved in the best part of someone’s day while sharing my love of the game was immensely gratifying. It was work I could see myself doing for a long time. And I did.

About eleven years down the road, though, my mind began to change. My love for tennis and teaching didn’t diminish, and I was still deeply happy in my life (which, by then, included a wife and two kids). But something that had been dormant was awakening inside me. A giant was stirring. Questions began arising: What is your Bliss? Are you giving your Gift? Are you doing the work you feel called to do? What would you do if money was not an issue? What would you do if you weren’t scared? What is your soul telling you? Soon these questions were all that I could hear? The sleeping giant had awoken. I had to face him.

I started by admitting that even though I enjoyed and appreciated my work as a coach, it wasn’t my true calling. It was a shadow career, something that fills many of the requirements of a calling but is not it. I also had to come to grips with the fact that happiness was not enough for me. I figured happiness was an achievement of the mind and that I was blessed with the ability to be happy in any circumstance. I wanted not just happiness; I wanted fulfillment, too.

I vowed then to listen to my heart. If something made my heart sing, I would follow it. I began The Journal Project with no idea where it would lead me. I just knew I loved it and that it resonated deep down in that place where the giant had been sleeping. And as I read through the daily entries from all of the years of my adulthood, I saw all of these signs that told me—sometimes in the plainest English—that writing and sharing my message was my dream job. I wanted to help people to grow and be their best, happiest selves. I was doing a version of that in my coaching career, but not as fully and directly as I envisioned it when the writing aspect was added to it.

The ship has been slow to turn. It turns out that rediscovering my Bliss did not necessarily make it much easier to follow. I still had two little kids and a job to put food on the table. Time was short, and though I worked hard at it, progress was slow. In trying to keep with my plan of changing lives in a bigger way, I started Life Coach training, which was right up my alley. Then I added the skin care business, hoping this would eventually lead me to more time and financial freedom to pursue my writing. All of this was happening while I transitioned out of tennis and into my current job around my kids’ schedule.   Hence, the slow-turning ship.

And now I arrive at this perfect storm of circumstances: lots of reflection about my past combining with my current job nearing its end. There are large decisions to be made, and uncertainty about the future is rampant. My biggest takeaway from all of this journal-reading is that when I had that moment fourteen years ago to make a career move and chose the more certain route—totally bowing to the fear and self-doubt around my writing prospects—I went into what I can now see was a long period of sleepwalking. Happy sleepwalking, but still sleepwalking. Only when I started questioning myself and the giant awoke did I start to listen to my soul and return to my passion. With The Journal Project and Journal of You, I am getting to the juicy, fulfilling stuff. I hear my friend Thoreau clearly: “It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.

So, can I really do it? Could I achieve the magic double of making a real paycheck AND fulfilling my deepest passions simultaneously? If I let go of my other business ventures and gave all of the available time and energy to the writing, I am quite sure of the fulfillment part. The uncertainty is in the paycheck part. Do I dare bet on myself if my family’s financial stability is the cost? If I don’t bet on myself by doggedly pursuing my purpose, can I live with the alternative? And, perhaps equally important, if I cannot afford to go all-in on the dream, can I keep enough of it alive that I don’t spend the next dozen years sleepwalking? I don’t think I could bear the regret if I re-awoke to this same feeling at age 55. I must get to the marrow!

How about you? How awake are you as you pass through your life? Open up your journal and explore your relationship with your Bliss. What is your Bliss? What lights up your heart and makes your soul sing? What role does your Bliss play in your everyday life? Are you doing it all day in your job or just squeezing it into your spare time as a hobby? It is in there somewhere, right? Whatever your current level of engagement with your dreams and your purpose, how can you make it greater? What kinds of things can you do to make sure it is included in your regular schedule? Is it enough for you to follow your Bliss as a hobby—e.g. writing a blog or volunteering with children on the weekends—or do you feel it is essential that you incorporate that calling into your primary pursuit or career? How big of a leap would it take to turn your passion into your profession? Which is bigger: the psychological risk, or the financial risk? Is simply “being happy” enough for you as a goal for life? And finally, how aware of your dreams and your calling are you on a daily basis? As you can tell, this occupies a lot of space in my thoughts—at least it has for the past few years since I woke up—but I don’t know how it is for everyone else. So leave me a reply and let me know: How conscious are you of your passion and purpose, and how well are you living it?

 This life is your big chance,

William

P.S. If this speaks to you, perhaps it would speak to your loved ones. Share freely.

The Letter I Wrote To Never Send

DSC_0543“A letter is always better than a phone call. People write things in letters they would never say in person. They permit themselves to write down feelings and observations using emotional syntax far more intimate and powerful than speech will allow. –Alice Steinbach

Hello friend,

I love letters! You remember letters, right? They were written on paper and you got them in your mailbox. They came from people who thought enough of you to take the time to not just write to you but also to buy a stamp and put them in the mail. You could save them in a special shoebox under your bed and bring them out when you were in the mood to feel that person again. In that way, letters achieved something we all long for: timelessness.

I have only one problem: I never send them anymore. Email came along and brought a convenience and immediacy that letters couldn’t compete with. Then social media took that convenience and immediacy to a whole new level. Like Main Street small businesses when Wal-Mart comes to town, letters have withered and died on the vine in our digital age. One thing that instant messages will never have, however, is the thing that letters had in spades: timelessness.

On a picture perfect afternoon in Rome, eighteen Autumns ago, I emptied myself wholly onto several pages in blue ink. It was a letter to my brother, Jacques. He and I, quite frankly, hadn’t been very close for most of my life, but he was nonetheless a hero figure to me. He had a magnetic personality. He was always doing such cool things in the outdoors. And, he was a writer, which I highly romanticized. We had only just begun in recent months to connect in conversations, and I truly revered him. Quite simply, he was a mythic figure to me, and I fancied the idea that he might be interested in my journey, both on the map and in the landscape of my soul.

I was in the midst of my epic journey across Europe–my first and greatest–and my mind and spirit were absolutely on fire with growth and discovery. Although I had been journaling for a few years by then, it had been very sporadic. The start of that epic adventure with my backpack, however, marked the start of my daily practice that has continued all these years. And I was filling up the pages like a madman. It was almost as though I had opened up the top of my head and was simply pouring it all out in the white pages of my new best friend. I was the embodiment of “high on life,” in the midst of a full-blown spiritual revolution that had me nearly unable to catch my breath several times per day. It was a truly extraordinary time, as I was seemingly communing with God.

God, and no one else. I traveled alone through strange lands and languages, and I spoke to my parents only occasionally for a few brief moments as the phone card ran itself out like water down a drain. My outlet was my journal. But on that beautiful Italian afternoon eighteen Autumns ago, I wanted to write a letter. I wanted to share what I had been experiencing. I wanted to tell my story. But I also didn’t want to share my story. I wanted to keep it close to my heart, where the journey really was taking place.

So, I compromised. I wrote the letter to my brother, but I wrote it into my journal, where it would remain forever. I realized that I just wanted to write the letter to clear my mind, like the way a storyteller wants to unload the latest baby of his imagination, just to get it out there and let it go. And so, on a Tuesday in Rome, with my brother squarely in my thoughts, I opened my second journal to its last handful of pages, and I began:

3:54PM Tuesday October 21, 1997 Roma, Italia

Dearest Brother

I am sitting here on the Spanish Steps, and Bob Dylan is playing in my head: “Oh the streets of Rome are filled with rubble…From the Spanish Steps to the….” I have not and probably will not write a letter or postcard on this trip, but it seems like the one I am always talking to when I pretend to write one is you. For whatever that means, here is my letter. It cannot be put into words what an amazing adventure I am having. The feeling I have each day is really quite indescribable. I believe it is what is commonly referred to as “unreasonable happiness.” Honestly I do not know where to begin. I suppose a chronological trail might be best. After my excellent stay in New York, Amsterdam was where the plane dropped me first. It is said that the best trip to Amsterdam is the one you don’t remember, but it was still pretty cool in a sober state, though the smell from the coffee shops was enough for a bit of a buzz. I didn’t go so far as watching a “real live sex act,” but I did go to the Sex Museum and through the red light district , where all the whores lean out of the doors and their two-high glass apartments wearing only high heels, bra, and panties. I laughed my ass off. After less than a day in Minneapolis-like Hanover, I headed down to Munich and those crazy German stein-hoisters decked out in the full Clark Griswald get-up, as it was Oktoberfest. It was damn wild as both men and women slugged down massive amounts of beer in mugs that looked like they weighed 50 pounds, empty. Germany is a lot like Wisconsin in the north and central parts, while in the south it reminds me a bit more of the eastern states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Itching to get down to the sea, but not wanting to miss anything, I took the rails down to Vienna. It is a majestic old city, with all evidence from its days as the capital of a great empire still intact. I walked the amazing lawns of a castle and took in an opera for two bucks. Salzburg was next. Set in a Bozeman-type landscape, check out “quaint” in Webster’s and you might find a picture of this beautiful city. Westward through the Tirol region and on to Switzerland I rode, through clearly the most beautiful landscape I have found here. It’s like the most beautiful part of Montana everywhere. Perhaps “Paradise Valley with steeper, more beautiful mountains” is a better description. Switzerland was beautiful and expensive, and the Great Sea was calling, so I ascended and descended the Alps into this amazing land called Italy. I was in love immediately and vowed to learn the language when I returned to the States. And the air was so thick, with the sea, the passion, the garlic, and the love. I was intoxicated. The boat landed me in Greece, and I was wondering if the correct spelling wasn’t actually Grease. It is essentially a desert, with only its history and the Great Sea as attributes. I was glad to see the ruins of Athens, but more happy to hop on that boat bound for the islands. If you have ever seen a postcard of Greece, with the brilliant blue sea as a backdrop for little whitewashed dwellings with blue shutters and doors, it was not the mainland. The islands are essentially deserts as well, but the villages are charming and that amazing water is all around. It is clear like the waters at Glacier, and the sun portrays your shadow on the bottom, even in deep water. The first night I got there, the surface was ripe for waterskiing and I just had to take a dive through the cool night air. I was whooping and howling at the moon, my version of whistling zippity-doo-da out of my asshole. It was a welcome relief from hauling my pack around and sleeping in a different bed every night. And I was a savage within a few days. Oh, was I peaceful. I laid on the black sand and listened to those light waves gently lapping at the shore. After my ten-day “vacation” on three islands, I spent three dreary nights on boats and trains to get me here to Roma. But what a reward for my troubles. It is a wonderful city. Though I believe Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, I hear that my next two stops, Florence and Siena, give it a run for its money. That was a pretty superficial brush-over of it all, but it is not the places that are most important but rather the experiences and growth the journey offers. And I have had much of both. What I am most happy to report is that I have written an incredible amount. When I left I didn’t even conceive of finishing this book before the trip was done, but here I am with two pages to go and a month left of travels. I have written a minimum of two pages every single day since I left home, and it seems to increase with each day’s passing. I have put down my first three short stories, thanks to the inspiration of one Mr. Ernest Hemingway. They are so damn fun to write! One night in Vienna I was writing an essay on withdrawing from the world to draw closer to God, and some remarkable ideas came into my mind. It was an unbelievable experience. I was sweating. My heart was racing. I couldn’t get the pen to move fast enough. It was a true revelation. In the end I had the idea for my first book and a depleted supply of adrenaline. I have felt for some months now that I am growing closer and closer to God. I have really ceased using my mind for the intellectual, in the controlling manner I once did. I use it now as a channel to the higher world. I shut up and listen for the way. I find myself increasingly in tune with the Lord. There is no tension, no obstruction in the channel. Everything feels so very right at every moment in my life. All of the energy that flows is of the positive nature. The secrets are showing themselves to me more clearly with each passing day. The result of it all is that “unreasonable happiness” I spoke of earlier. But that’s the whole thing. I have realized this “unreasonable” thing is the one to which we are intended to feel always. This is the will of God. In our world we have made it seem so unreachable, but it is right there for us. All we need to do is change our minds! It’s not easy, but it is truly simple. Enough of the sermon, but I just want everyone to be feeling the way I do. My time is coming and is here now. The world will be a better place for my time here. This much I know. The guy I stayed with in New York said I could choose three paperbacks for the trip. On The Road, Hemingway’s Short Stories, and The Portable Emerson were the winners, and I because of them. In barely over two weeks I had finished the Kerouac and the Hemingway. I couldn’t put them down. I was so in love with Sal and Dean in the Kerouac. This is raw life. It was so romantic. And the Hemingway was simply brilliant. As soon as time permits I will be into his novels. Now my guidebook of Europe, the Emerson, and my 900-page History of Western Philosophy keep me fully occupied. Mostly I’m writing now though. I love it more than I can say. It feels like my avenue toward helping the world. Who can say? I am just so happy to be who I am and doing what I am. And I am so very happy for your presence in my life. I love you so much, Jacques. You may never physically see this land called Europe, but you will have been here, because you travel always with me. God bless. Always, Willy

That letter was therapy for me somehow. It was therapy on the day that I wrote it, and it was therapy again this week, when I came across it while working on The Journal Project. I think all letters are therapy in a way. Like the quote at the top says, we allow ourselves to express things in letters that we would not—or could not—otherwise express. And so, whether I actually decide to send them or not, maybe it is time I sat down and wrote my words for someone specific. Maybe it will even be worthy of a shoebox under a bed far, far away, there basking in its most treasured state: timelessness.

How about you? Is there a letter inside of you, dying to get out? Open up your journal and think about the people you are compelled to share yourself with. Who is on your short list? Are they mostly people whom you have lost contact with? Or, rather, are they people currently in your life—perhaps family members—whom you would like to have a deeper relationship with? Is there someone you should write to strictly for therapeutic reasons, even if you never intend to send it? Perhaps it is someone who has hurt you deeply and who you need to forgive in order to find peace. Perhaps it is someone you have long needed to thank. Perhaps it is God. Why do you think we express ourselves so much more clearly—and daringly—in letters rather than conversation? Is it the time to prepare the words precisely? Maybe it is the distance away from the audience, knowing we are safe from the initial reaction? Is it the intimacy of immediate feedback that we fear? I know that I am much braver with the pen and keyboard than I am with my mouth. Do you save old letters? Whom would you most like to receive a letter from now? Imagine going to the mailbox tomorrow and finding a letter from that person: the warmth and gratitude you would feel knowing that you were deep in their thoughts and in their heart. Who might be the person whose day you could make by writing to them? Are you ready? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who will get your letter? 

Give your gift today,

William

P.S. If you were touched by this, I encourage you to share it. We need each other’s best!

All-In, or Hedge Your Bets? A Question for Dreamers

DSC_0769“Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you choose to make.–Rick Warren

Hello friend,

In the questions I wrote to you at the end of last week’s letter, I somehow scratched the surface of a topic I have been denying for a very long time. That scratch, however small, has broken open this week, revealing a massive abscess that has been festering far too long in the buried depths of my mind, where I had tried to keep it. Denial is a powerful force, and despite my philosophy of life being based on self-knowledge and the complete ownership, acceptance, and celebration of who I am, I have used the cancerous powers of denial to escape accountability for failing at my biggest of dreams. In that failure, I have been false to my Truth, not allowing the best parts of me to shine through to be used to their fullest to serve the world.

I have been frustrated with the Universe. I have grumbled about the unfairness of Life, how it does not allow me enough time to pursue my passions fully in order to help me maximize my potential. If I can blossom—I have often thought to myself—what I have to give can help to “save the world” and make for a more peaceful, authentic, and happy existence for so many. But the Universe—with its mere 24 hours in a day and bills to pay and soccer practices to get to and such—is not supporting me in that. It is not making it easy on me. It is not, as it turns out, a wish-granting factory. That is extremely annoying to me. It makes it feel like a conspiracy against my dreams, with all of my efforts to advance being thwarted by the constrictions of time, money, and obligations.

So it was that I arrived at the last paragraph of last week’s letter to you, which was about whether or not I had moved any closer to my dreams in the last year. The pertinent questions started flowing out of my mind, things I wanted to ask you so that you might dig deep and know yourself more fully. Then, out of my fingers came the question that opened up the long-festering issue that, in a lot of ways, defines my existence: Does it make any sense in this crazy-busy world of ours to have more than one thing that you are really passionate about and want to give your time and energy to? It stopped me in my tracks. It was like I walked face-first into a wall. I couldn’t help but just stare at the question in front of me. Psychologically, my defenses started to go up. “The question is for the reader. Just move on. Finish the letter! But here I sit, one week later, and I haven’t moved on.

I think I have written this story before, but it bears repeating. A few years ago, when I was in the midst of my revival of my passions and really full of energy to finally start living my purpose on this Earth before it is too late, I used to read a blog every day called “The Daily Love” by Mastin Kipp, that was all about those kinds of thoughts. Well, one day, Mastin posted a video of himself as the subject of an interview by his girlfriend. At the end, she asked him if he had one thing he hadn’t said or would really like to say to his audience. He turned directly into the camera and, after a warning to remove the children from the room, said, “F*#%ing ditch Plan B!! Go all-in on Plan A! Plan B is a f*#%ing distraction from your dreams. When you go all-in on Plan A, not only will Plan A happen, it will be better, because what The Divine has in store for you is so much greater than you can possibly imagine and it’s not going to look anything like you want. Please ditch Plan B.

It was like a jolt of electricity went right up my spine. The goosebumps were immediate. He was talking to me. He found my weak spot. I thought of my writing dreams immediately. I was energized and eager to go all-in on the spot. But then the fears, doubts, and excuses started creeping in: “Yeah, but I have kids to feed and bills to pay; I can’t just go ALL-in.I hated that thought, but I gave it credence. So I kept on in my usual ways.

Sure, I pressed harder on my dreams, but I kept them dispersed pretty widely. I started my Life Coaching training, which is directly related to my big dream of writing to change people’s lives. I took a career move that would reduce stress and distractions and allow me more time with my kids and more energy for my other pursuits, including writing. Then, I also started my skin care business, which was intended to free up more time and energy in the long run for the writing. All of these things have been positives in theory—they speak to my heart and are intended to help the cause—but they also have taken up tons of time and energy. As I look at them now, I can see that, at their core, they are my Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D. They are safety nets. Enjoyable and meaningful safety nets, but still, at the end of the day, just safety nets.

I have been dodging this issue of just going all-in on Plan A for all these years behind my justification that I need to keep guaranteed money coming in so the bills can be paid. It’s a legitimate-sounding excuse, and I have clung to it with all my rationality. And hey, maybe I still should. Is it selfish to take a financial risk for my family in order to pursue my personal dream? How does one give himself permission for that? Is it brave to do so, or merely self-indulgent?

I am wondering, though, if it is just plain cowardice that keeps me from narrowing my options to Plan A/writing only. Am I scared that if I go all-in and can’t make it go, that I will have blown all of my options and left my family without income? Or maybe I am scared that failing at my biggest dream will be a devastating blow to my ego, as I will have no excuses if I have focused all my energies on it. Now I have built-in excuses because I don’t “have” time to devote myself fully to the writing. What I am doing is still not making my dream happen, but I guess I am making that more palatable by bleeding slowly out rather than being bombed to bits by going all-in and failing. The more I think about it, the more cowardly this seems. It is weak. I know there is the family excuse—and I could stomach this course much less easily if I was single—but that is not sufficient.

So, what am I going to do? Is my shame from the admission of cowardice going to be enough to get me to change course, to throw caution to the wind, eliminate my other interests and potential income sources, and go single-mindedly at my writing as though there is no other option for me? Honestly, I don’t know if I can do that. I hate how scared I am about staying financially afloat. On the other hand, I hate how far I feel from making my big dream come true. And frankly, I am greedy. I want to be able to pursue all of my passions and interests at the same time. I have said before that I am spoiled. I feel like there should be time for everything that I want. I understand that I probably have more hobbies, curiosities, and passions than most people, and darn it, I want the Universe to accommodate the way it made me. I don’t want to “be realistic” and narrow my allowances to only one pursuit because that is all the clock says there is time for. I want to be me: idealistic, optimistic, and fully believing that I am going to change the world with more than one of my gifts. Perhaps I am delusional. Perhaps the combination of my spoiled nature, my greed, and my delusions will keep me from ever going all-in on my biggest dream and thus keep me from ever really succeeding in the way I imagine that I will. But maybe this letter has been the beginning of something for me. Maybe in finally stepping out of my denial and facing this issue head-on for the first time, I will actually make a move toward “reality” and narrow my focus to writing only. Perhaps it is not a bridge too far for me. I am glad to have at least begun the negotiations.

How about you? Have you gone all-in on your biggest dream, or do you spread yourself thin amongst other things that don’t speak to your soul as loudly and clearly? Open up your journal and think about your version of reality and what that allows you to do. What is your Plan A? When you close your eyes and imagine yourself in your dream job and giving your gifts to the fullest, what do you see? How dedicated are you to this vision now? Are you either living it or making your best efforts to see to it that you will get there as soon as possible? If not, why not? What holds you back? Is it the usual trappings of a secure job and needing to keep a certain lifestyle going, or is it a lack of self-belief? Do you believe that if you put all of your eggs in the basket of your biggest dream, that you would succeed at that dream? How sure are you, either of failing or succeeding? Could your gift make the world a better place? Does your answer to that question influence how passionate you are in pursuing it? How much denial do you live with around this issue of your dream and your life purpose? If it is true that most of us are not doing well in the pursuit of our passions but have instead settled for something “safer,” doesn’t that suggest that we must live pretty deep in denial? After all, how well could we live with ourselves if we consciously ignored our calling? Not well, I am guessing. So, back to my original question: how many passionate pursuits do you think we are allowed in this lifetime? Is it best just to stick to one? What is one thing you can do today that moves you closer to your Plan A? What are some aspects of your Plan B or C or D that you are willing to give up in order to put more resources into your Plan A? What is the worst that could happen by going all-in on Plan A? Could you live with that most negative outcome? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are YOU ready to go all-in on you? 

You are worth your best,

William

P.S. If this post spoke to you and made you think deeper about who you are, please share it with others who might appreciate it. Let’s raise self-awareness together! Thank you.