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Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

So, how did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make each moment count,

William

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

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

The TIME of My Life

DSC_0756“You may delay, but time will not.” –Benjamin Franklin

Hello friend,

It is Birthday Week at my house! My son turned five a couple of days ago, and this week my daughter will turn seven. They are super-excited, of course. They have been talking about this week for months and months. “How old am I now, Daddy???” “You are four and one-fourth.” “How old am I NOW, Daddy???” “You are four and one-third.” On and on we go, all through the year. Because to them, a month is like a year, and a year is like FOREVER. They cannot wrap their beautiful little minds around having to wait a whole year for something. It sounds like torture! So, I started thinking the other day—you know, when my son was four and three hundred sixty-four three hundred sixty-fifths–how differently we view Time as we progress through it.

Kids have an amazing connection to the Now. If you never mentioned to them the idea of something occurring tomorrow or next year or when they are grown-up, they would never bother fretting about the future the way we adults do. They would just stay happily in the moment and flow with it. They stay totally connected with their current process, and then they shift gears immediately if someone suggests something more appealing. They don’t battle with Time like the adults around them. They live in the precious present. If you jar them with the prospect of doing something “later”—especially a whole year later—they cannot stand it.

We adults laugh at their anguish at the mere thought of holding out for a year, as we know how quickly Time marches on in our lives. We seem to blink and five years have passed. But think about it: relative to the total length of our lives, Time should be perceived differently. I have lived more than EIGHT TIMES as long as my son. One year is 20% of his life! Telling him he has to wait another year to go to the lake cabin with his cousins—his favorite event of the year—is the equivalent of telling me I have to wait 8 ½ years to go. That really is torture! I see now why they cannot fathom the idea of waiting until Christmas to get that forgotten item from the birthday list. That is FIVE MONTHS away after all, or 3 ½ years in my world. This new calculus for the perceived length of Time’s passage is totally enlightening to me. I am actually starting to feel pretty bad about not getting him that other birthday gift now!

I look at adults—myself included—and see how our time slips by. I don’t know if it is because of this calculus and the stretching of time as we age, or perhaps it is laziness and apathy, but whatever it is, we certainly have a tendency to watch it slide by. In some situations, the speed of Time passing is just what it is: it roars by even when we are savoring it to the fullest. In this vein, I think most specifically about raising kids. Every parent of older kids I have ever talked to tells me how unbelievably fast their children’s youth flew by. They say this whether they took it all in or not. I already feel that with my own kids. I like to think it is just a case of “Time flies when you are having fun.”

In other ways, though, I feel like we adults are guilty of letting our time slip by, of allowing the years to get away from us. I think particularly of people I know who are in jobs that are neither enjoyable nor fulfilling, and yet they have been doing the same job seemingly forever. Maybe the paycheck and security for the family seem more important than fulfillment. And hey, maybe those things are more important for a while. But then the kids are gone and nothing changes. They poke their head out one day and realize that they buried themselves years ago and have been going along unconsciously ever since. This seems more like, “Time flies when you numb yourself to the pain of boredom and emptiness.” I don’t want that for myself. I want to be engaged with my life.

I know Time is flying. I know it is. Still, I don’t want to be the guy who wakes up and says, “How in the world did I just turn 70??? I haven’t even done anything with my life yet! I didn’t follow my Bliss. I didn’t chase my dream. Now it seems too late.” I don’t ever want it to feel too late. I think I have started to do better with this in the last few years. I have to admit that the prospect of turning forty really scared me straight. It was around that time that I began gravitating more toward the idea of living my best, most authentic life, of making sure that my dreams were not being neglected. With this theme as my driving force, I began work on my personal labor of love: The Journal Project. Eventually, that led to the start of this little project in front of you called Journal of You. It also led to my Life Coach training and a much more focused schedule to maximize my efficiency and contribution to this world. Now every day is packed to the gills with things that are important to me, and I am becoming highly sensitive to activities that may be a waste of my time. I am determined that my time on this Earth will be meaningful and fulfilling, and I want to know, in the end, that I have been of service. I am on my way, one blessed day at a time.

How about you? What is your relationship with TIME? Open up your journal and take an honest look at the way your sands flow through the hourglass. How quickly is your life passing? Does it seem to pass more quickly each year, more slowly, or about the same? Do you ever feel like life is passing you by? Are you following your Bliss? Are you on a path toward the life of your dreams? If you are on that path, how long have you been on it? If you are off the path, how long have you been off? Do you seem to jump on and off frequently? Can you find your way back soon? Does it feel too late for you to be who you really want to be? How well do you stay in the Now? Do you know anyone who is on that unconscious slide through their years, just seeming to be paying the bills until it is time to die? Are you one of those people? When you leave the present, is your mind more likely to visit the past or the future? What do you think that says about you? Is that a good thing? When the day is over, how often do you feel like you have wasted it? When you get to the end of your days of Earth, do you think you will feel like it all went by too fast? Do you think you will be content with the way you lived? Would you like to go back and be a kid again? At what age do you feel like you were living your best life? What about it made that so? Can you capture that feeling today? Are you willing to do what it takes? Leave me a reply and let me know: How will you make TODAY the best Time of your life?

Lead with Love,

William

The Year That Changed Everything

DSC_0896Hello friend,

Your wedding day.  The day you got fired.  The birth of your first child.  The moment you fell in love.  The day someone special died.  Your big promotion.  Crossing the finish line of your first marathon.  Seeing your favorite band live in concert.  Signing the papers to buy your first house or your own business.  Signing your divorce papers.

These are defining moments in our lives, the ones that come with such extreme emotions attached that they are forever carved in the rock of our memories.  When someone mentions that day or that moment, you can conjure up the visual—and often the feeling—in an instant.  They leave a marker on you, like a GPS homing signal that is easily returned to.

Such is the way with significant moments.  The memory of that moment remains, even if the event ultimately has very little impact on how you see the world and, consequently, how you live your life over the long haul.  While there are undoubtedly a rare few events that instantly shock your system into a whole new worldview—a near-death experience or even perhaps the birth of a child—typically major shifts in your mindsets and happiness levels take some time.  These periods may include defining moments—the months on both sides of my daughter’s birth were part of a bigger shift for me—but are seldom built on one moment alone.

I have spent the last year-and-a-half studying and taking notes on my daily journal entries covering the last 20 years, basically all of my adult life.  One of the questions I wanted an answer to was this: was there a year that changed it all?  Was there one stretch of time that saw my thinking, my attitude, my emotions—my worldview—change so drastically and permanently that my time on earth could be marked as a “Pre-“ and “Post-“ that time?  The answer was, in a word, “YES!”

My year that changed everything began in the late Spring of 1997.  I was 24 years old and had already experienced one pretty dramatic shift in my life a few years earlier when I bucked my (and everyone else’s) expectations and quit the life of a straight-A Pre-Med student to bounce around the country studying acting (NOTE: I ranked this as #3 in my worldview-changing years, with #2 being the mind-blowing period surrounding the birth of my first child—most of you parents out there can probably relate).  That change had liberated me to a great degree in terms of defining my own path, but I still held most of my same thought patterns from before.  I was subject to emotional highs and lows, feelings of disconnect from the world and the people in it, and a lack of clarity about my true nature.  It wasn’t a matter of a typical 20something not sure of his career path or wishing for the love of his life to come along; I was fine with those things.  I was a regular guy who dealt with the usual ups and downs, hopes and fears, as most adults do throughout their lives.

But then came my year.  I think the process began when I started reading books about spirituality and other topics that got my soul stirring.  I got into yoga for the first time.  I started to write in my journal more frequently.  All of these things helped me to greatly expand my view of myself and my connectedness to the Divine.  Then came a momentous decision to change from thinking of enlightenment and the expansion of my mind as a hobby to thinking of it as a way of life.  In that moment, it struck me that I had to leave my life in California and wander around Europe, something I had never before that moment considered.  Those last two months in California found me defining myself not as a starving actor but simply a happy person.  I left there and had no idea where I would live when I returned from Europe.  I jumped into uncertainty, following the subtle instructions of my inner voice.

The day I left for Europe was the day that my journal habit became a daily one.  The entries from that trip, and the months that followed it, show no more traces of unhappiness.  I was wandering alone for months, with not much food and even less money, yet I had never felt so sustained in my life.  There was never a bad mood or a bad day, despite all of the challenges that one encounters on such an adventure.  The entries describe one blissful day after another, each one increasing in self-knowledge and connectedness to God.  There were even a couple of moments of transcendence, when I felt myself actually leave my body in a state of Divine Peace.

On that trip and in the months that followed, I was truly undergoing a complete spiritual overhaul, and it was wonderfully liberating.   It made me understand and feel myself to be fully Divine and fully connected with everyone else, and I came to believe that since I am—indeed, we ALL are–part of the Divine Source, the end is not in doubt.  That is a pretty powerful belief!  There is not much to fight about or fret about after that.  It is, as I said, liberating.

With any spiritual overhaul, a psychological and emotional overhaul comes included in the package.  That is where the unbounded happiness enters the picture.  I went from a guy who went through the usual ups and downs that people go through, to a guy who was practically oozing Joy, Peace, and Love.  I was just so grateful for all of the wonderful gifts I had been granted.  And of course, that gratitude becomes exponentially greater when you come to view everything as a gift, when you encounter only angels and miracles, when you see God wherever you look.

During this period of late 1997 and early 1998, which at the time I dubbed “The Season of Enrichment”, I devoted “my time and energy to bettering myself in the hopes of bettering the world”, as I would describe it in a journal entry at that time.  I was reading like a madman, tons of spiritual, nonfiction, and fiction books that inspired me.  I fell in love with writing, and my journal entries were long and filled with passion and purpose.  I was becoming clear on so many things, and it seemed as though my foundation was unshakable.

It is this foundation idea that makes that year the one that—far and away—changed everything for me.  You see, the remarkable thing about not just the worldview I was coming to embody, but, more importantly, the deep, complete happiness and gratitude, is that they have sustained.  Life circumstances have changed—career, family, and financial stressors didn’t magically disappear—but my deep-seated Happiness and Peace carry on through it all.  The foundation has shown itself, indeed, unshakable.  It was a magical time in my life, that year, but its greatest trick was in making every year since then feel increasingly magical.  I certainly feel like the luckiest man alive, and I know exactly when I started feeling that way.  It was the year that changed everything.

So, what was your year that changed everything?  Get out your journal and start to write your thoughts.  Explore your life.  Can you pinpoint an era that shaped the way you view the world?  Who was involved?  Was it centered around one of those defining moments, like falling in love or having a child?  Did it make your worldview more positive or more negative?  Search your memory deeply on this one, and realize that you probably cannot name the year.  That’s right, it is quite common to maintain your general outlook and thought patterns from a very young age, so don’t feel ashamed or unenlightened if you cannot come up with a defining year.  Still, ask yourself, how do I see the world?  How happy am I?  How connected do I feel, both to the people around me and to something greater?

Who knows, the day you finally take me up on my offer and write your first journal entry just might be the first day of your Year That Changed Everything.  I dare you to find out!

Celebrate your life today,

William