Monthly Archives: March 2014

Roadtrip Down Memory Lane

DSC_0674Hello friend,

Picture the scene: a campground in Middle of Nowhere, USA.  It is the dead of night, and at one particular site, there is no tent or camper set up, and no evidence of a campfire.  No marshmallows.  No lawn chairs.  No clothesline.  Just a solitary maroon van with North Dakota license plates.  But wait!  What is that thing on the picnic table????  The remains of a meal?  A table cloth?  Nope!  That’s just my brother.  Sleeping.  Welcome to the Rutten Family roadtrip, early 1980s-style!

With the coming of Spring Break this week and its many possibilities, I have grown increasingly nostalgic about my family trips in the good-old days of my youth.  I am sure I have, by necessity, blocked a lot out, but I cannot help but grin and giggle every time I think of our adventures in that maroon van (and the navy blue one that came before it).

What, you might ask, was going on inside that van to cause my brother to choose the cold comforts of a picnic table?  Well, let’s see.  In the back section, with the bench “sofa” folded down, you could probably find my snoring Mom snuggled up tight with my two sisters (my little sister could not sleep unless she was up against another body—tight against).  In the middle row, where there were two bucket seats that swiveled and reclined, you could find one of my brothers snoozing with his no-sock-wearing stinky feet resting on the cooler that was chock-full of all of the nutrition my Mom could pack for such a cross-country adventure (read: Mello Yello and Coke).  I was usually wrenched in the “aisle”—I use the term loosely—between the two seats or in the front passenger seat with the chair reclined back into the middle row—uncomfortably close to my brother’s aforementioned stankfeet—and my own feet up on the nearby footrest, I mean dashboard.

So, what were my other brother’s options?  He could go with the driver’s seat with all of its spacious amenities, or he could sit in the other middle row seat, next to Stankyfoot and with me either under his feet or reclining my chair into his lap.  I am guessing that by this point you are seeing his wisdom in forgoing those lavish comforts for a night in favor of the splintered wood and rusty nails of the picnic table.  But just for a night.  The next few nights, in the next few campgrounds in Podunk and Timbuktu, it would thunderstorm, and nobody goes out in a thunderstorm (right, Mom?).

That was us, night after night as we traversed this great country in that van.  Every couple of years, my Dad would have a big convention to go to in the Summer for his job.  One year it was Nashville, another time Boston.  That was big stuff for a kid from North Dakota, so I was thrilled to pile into the van several days before the convention with my brothers, sisters, and Mom.  And off we would go, just the six of us, hopped up on the Mello Yello (for the kids) and Coke (for my Mom).

Where was my Dad?  Good question.  My old man was no fool.  He was not about to sleep in a car with six other people night after night.  No sir.  While we were schlepping our way across the land from campground to campground and hitting the nearest waterslide or historic site, he was hanging out at home until the day the convention started.  Then he would hop on a plane and meet up with us at the airport.  Same thing on the return.  He would fly home and dine on a nice steak while we were eating McDonald’s for every meal—and I mean every meal—and sleeping on top of each other.  A smart man, my Dad!

But how about my Mom!!!  God bless her!  That is no small feat to shuttle five lunatics across the country and back, fueled only by Egg McMuffins and Coke.  There was no OnStar, iPhone, or TomTom, just an atlas and one cassette tape—Alabama’s “Roll On”–to get her down the road.  I am absolutely amazed by this as I think back.  That woman was a real trooper!

I have nothing but the best memories of these Mom-lead family roadtrips of my childhood.  I have been in love with the roadtrip concept ever since.  I have done many alone and others with friends, but my most frequent companion, even well into adulthood, has been my Mom.  We have driven to and/or from New York City, New Mexico, Montana, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.  I will save the tales of those adventures for another day, but suffice it to say that my Mom is the absolute best (and most bladder-challenged) traveling companion ever.

She is also the inspiration for the roadtrip bug I have been feeling lately.  My kids are now three and five, just about to the age when they could appreciate a good old-fashioned roadtrip.  When I think of trekking cross-country with them at this age, my mind tends to go directly to nightmares of chasing down rest areas while begging them to hold it, cleaning up spills on the seats, breaking up fights with the classic “If I have to stop this car!” and trying to keep them both in my sight as we walk through busy areas at stops.  It seems too stressful.  But then I think of my saintly mother in that old maroon van.  If she could do it with five of us monsters, surely I can do it with two.  My kids deserve to experience this part of my Mom’s great legacy.  Alright, I am convinced: ROLL ON!!!

How about you?  What is your favorite roadtrip experience?  Open up your journal and let your memories spill themselves out onto the paper.  What feelings does it bring up?  Did you love the driving part, or were you bored?  What music was playing?  Were your best trips with family, friends, or alone?  Where did you go?  Who was the leader, and how did that affect you?  If you have kids, are you passing on the tradition?  Leave me a reply and let me know all about your favorite spots and memories.  Tell me, are you up for a roadtrip down memory lane?

Happy trails,


What’s So Good About YOU?

DSC_0437Hello friend,

I’m prematurely gray and wrinkled.  I’m unsocial.  I’m a little too sure I am right all the time.  I need to lose 10 pounds.  I don’t make enough money.  I’m oversensitive to criticism.  I have too much body hair.  I don’t compromise well.  I don’t have much respect for authority.  I wish my teeth were nicer.  I am sometimes short on empathy.  I wish I were a more heralded writer.  My body feels really old and slow compared to even a few years ago.  I tend to unload all of my issues onto my journal instead of communicating with the people who really need to hear me.  I can be intellectually snobby.  I am vain and wish I wasn’t.

It was WAAAAAY to easy to make that list!  On and on I could go.  I am guessing that I am like most people in finding it all too easy to point out my flaws.  We are amazingly quick and adept at finding our weaknesses and shortcomings, ways to make ourselves feel less than.  We might be quick to forgive or look past the same traits in a friend, but with ourselves, we are brutal and relentless.  Why do we do that to ourselves?  Why?

I have decided that my cure for this disturbing self-mutilation is to make a list of the things I DO like about myself.  I want to name and claim the stuff I do well, to really own the parts of me that are worthy of my admiration.  This seems like a much healthier job than pointing out my shortcomings.  So here I go!


Okay, this is HARD!!!!  Is it because I don’t want to sound conceited by saying there are good things about me?  Or are there NOT good things about me?  Alright, REALLY—I mean it this time–here I go!

I always try to keep growing and learning.  I trust my intuition.  I mostly march to the beat of my own drummer.  I’m a great Dad (okay, I like that one!).  My schedule reflects my priorities.  I know who I am (thank you, Journal).  Even though my body feels old, I like that I can still hit a tennis ball better than most people.  I tend to choose a good attitude and feel happy and grateful at the end of each day.  I appreciate being relatively intelligent.  My work helps people enjoy and challenge themselves.

Whew!!!  That actually feels really good to put down in words!  A relief!  But also clarity.  What I am discovering as I make these lists is that I actually like myself.  When I look at that list of positives, I see things that tend to be about “who I am”.  With the exception of the tennis and intelligence, what I really like about myself are things that are more internal, that I have chosen, and that can stand the test of time.  I take that to be a good sign.  My negative list definitely has some of those “who I am” things on it—hypersensitivity, empathy, snobbery, vanity—but a lot of it is external, “ego” stuff.  In my moments of greatest wisdom and clarity, I know that things like the paycheck, the accolades, and my rapidly-aging body are not really me.  They are mere window dressing.

My challenge, as I see it, is to focus more on the positive list than the negative.  Of course, I will keep trying to shore up the negatives, especially the ones that are central to my character.  I will try to be a better communicator, more empathetic, and less sensitive and vain.  But I will try to distance myself from the ego stuff and not judge my appearance and outward signs of success so harshly.  Instead, I will embrace the “who I am” items on the positive list and remind myself more regularly of the list.  I will try to give myself more pats on the back, fewer kicks in the pants.

I am guessing that the better I become at seeing the good in me, the better I will be at seeing the good in others.  The more forgiving I can be with myself, the more forgiving I can be with others.  The less I am focused on the outward, ego-driven signs for me, the less I will care about those signs in others.  Ha!  My amazing discovery in this moment is that by focusing heavily on my positive list and mostly ignoring my negative list, I will naturally be solving the issues on my negative list that I really do want to work on: vanity, empathy, hypersensitivity, etc.  What a lovely side effect!  This sounds like a worthwhile assignment to me.

So, what are your best qualities and habits?  What do you like about yourself?  What are you more deserving of a pat on the back for?  Open up your journal and start writing.  If you are like me, this positive list takes some time to come up with.  It starts with giving yourself permission to say you are good at something.  That is hard for most of us, so don’t be surprised if this process brings up some emotions.  Allow them in, and keep writing.  I hope that in the end, you will have enjoyed working on your list as much as I have, and learned as much, too.  Then, leave me a reply.  Tell me, what’s so good about YOU?

Start today,


What Makes You Happy?

DSC_0405Hello friend,

Making snow angels.  Running through the sprinkler.  Taking photographs.  Surfing.  Playing “Keep-it-up”.  Building a snowman with my kids.  Skiing.  Visiting my parents and siblings in the house where I grew up.  Writing this blog.  Holding hands with my wife and kids when we are walking somewhere.  Sledding.  Yoga.  Hiking along a mountain stream.  Reading.  Snuggling.  Just being at my family’s lake cabin.  Doing “Steamroller” across the carpet or grass with my kids, just like my Dad used to do with me.  Hitting a tennis ball.  Flying a kite.  Swimming.  Tickling my son.  Writing in my journal.  Having a dinner date with just my wife and talking about our hopes and dreams.  Ice skating.  Paddling my kayak on a quiet lake.  Swaying in my hammock. Working on my book.  Sitting by the ocean. Learning something new.  Teaching.

These are my happiest moments.  These are the activities that bring me the most unbridled, unadulterated joy.  These are the things I am willing to take time out of a busy schedule for, because I deem them to be “Good for the soul”.  They make me feel pure and centered and serene and light and alive and joyful.  They just feel right in every part of my being.

I got to thinking about these activities and the feelings they produce in me.  Does the mere doing of them—and the frequency with which I do at least one of the items on the list—dictate my level of happiness?  I tend to think of myself as the happiest person that I know.  I could be wrong about that, but I think it nonetheless.  In any case, I am happy and don’t want to trade places with anyone.  But is it all about the snow angels and the Steamroller?  Is that enough to explain my happiness?

I decided that what those activities do for me is necessary but not sufficient to justify my happiness.  That is, I need them, but there is more to it.  They certainly produce Joy, Peace, and Love, which, I think, are kind of a deal-breaker trio when it comes to living happily.  But what else does it take?  Is there a short list or equation that can actually explain not just joyful moments, but true, deep, ongoing HAPPINESS?

I checked it out.  One of the most commonly quoted happiness recipes (attributed to a variety of sources) is: 1) Someone to love, 2) Something to do, and 3) Something to hope for.  That sounded pretty good.  The philosopher John Locke went simple with, “A sound mind in a sound body.”  He is onto something there, I thought, if you expound on the “sound mind” part.  Aristotle said, “Happiness is a state of activity.”  That didn’t do it for me at all.  Mohandas Gandhi, who is on the short list of my all-time heroes, said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  I liked that one, too, but I still wasn’t sure I had it yet.  So, I went with one of my other all-timers: my wife.  At lunch today, I asked her what she thought the short list of happiness components should be.  After a moment of thought, she came up with: 1) Contentedness, 2) Self-assuredness, and 3) Peace.  That is a solid recipe (I think I’ll keep her on my all-time hero list!).

With those wise folks as my jumping off point, I decided to take a crack at a simple recipe of my own Happiness Stew.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. As a base, pour in one gallon of Authenticity (a la Gandhi): living your Truth
  2. Fold in four cups of the Connectedness of your choice:, To a Divine Source, To family, To friends, To everything (whether you feel that is Divine or not)
  3. Blend well with an atmosphere of Progress/Growth by continually learning and stretching your limits
  4. Garnish with as many “Good for the soul” activities as you can swallow

Enjoy!  (That should actually be part of the recipe, too.)

Now, what is your recipe for happiness?  Get out your journal, and go for it!  There is no single right answer that applies to everyone, so you have to look deep into yourself to find your unique recipe.  Is it a mix of the ones I mentioned, or none of the above?  Is it way more complicated than I am making it sound?  While you’re at it, process this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  If he is right, you have an awesome responsibility on your hands!  Finally, make out your own list of “Good for the soul” activities, the things that make you feel happy at your core.  I would love to hear what you come up with, so leave a reply and get the conversation started.  Trust me, just making the list will put a huge smile on your face.  I guarantee it will be worth your time.  What are you waiting for?

Be happily you,


My Family’s Adopted Holiday

1975154_10202817070604257_1405049607_nHello friend,

My normally-silent cellphone was buzzing on Monday.  It was St. Patrick’s Day, and text messages were flying across the country seemingly every few minutes, loaded with photos of all sorts of green and/or shamrock-shaped food and other shenanigans.  It wasn’t my friends out on the town getting silly on green beer.  No, it was simply my siblings and parents, each in their respective homes, celebrating this minor holiday in a major way.  They were putting photos and comments on Facebook, too, sharing recipes for home-made shamrock shakes and photos of big spreads of corned beef & cabbage and shamrock cookies.  I have four siblings, and every single one—along with my parents—were doing the day for all it is worth, and then some.

As I watched the messages and photos pour in, I couldn’t help but think we are an odd bunch, making St. Patrick’s Day our unofficial family holiday.  To most people, I think this holiday is nothing more than a chance to get an extra party night in the year or to wear a green shirt as a conversation piece in an otherwise normal day.  Otherwise, on every 17th day of March, the world goes on the same as it did on the 16th or 25th day.  Schools are in session, banks are open, and no one is gearing their vacation around it.  As holidays go, it is more April Fool’s Day or, at best, Halloween, than it is Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Those are the big ones, the ones that not just get families together but bind them together.

Not my family, though.  No, while we enjoy the other holidays (and certainly gather more frequently at Christmas), the day that binds us together is St. Patrick’s Day.  It is only in the last couple of years that I have recognized this, and truly it was not always the case.  When I was a kid, we wore green just to avoid getting pinched, and of course I loved to get a Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s when we went to Montana on our annual skiing trip (I still love those shakes, too, and that is the one and only day of the year I visit the Golden Arches, driven mostly by nostalgia but also by that minty, sweet goodness).  But that was it.  St. Patrick’s Day came and went like Arbor Day or Flag Day.  It is only in my adulthood that it has become this sort of glue to my family.  But why?  This is what I was shaking my head about as I watched the messages keep flying into my phone that night.  Thankfully, it was about that time of the night when I usually sit down with my journal.  As always, my old friend helped me find some much-needed clarity on the topic.

What I came to see in the process of my writing is that the underlying motivation for us to not just celebrate St. Patrick’s Day but share it with each other in this unusually passionate way stems from our deep love of our father and our attempt to let him know that in a way that he can let in.  Let me unpack that thought.  My dad’s mother—my grandma (we called her “Nana”, and she was a gem)–was fully Irish, her parents having come from the old country and settling on the open plains of North Dakota to raise a family.  She died while I was in high school.  In the ensuing years, my old man became more sincere in his remembrance of St. Patrick’s Day, seemingly in an attempt to make sure that all of us not just remembered but honored our Irish heritage and, as an extension, his dear mother.  As my siblings and I started having kids, it was not unusual to get a little package of green necklaces, headwear, and other paraphernalia just before the big day to ensure a complete celebration and a passing of the torch to the next generation.

Tracing this back to my grandma’s death helped me see the source of the passion from my Dad’s end, but still the question was lingering about why my brothers, sisters, and I have so completely climbed onboard with it and are passing it to our own children.  It turns out that for us kids, it is also about paying tribute to a parent.  You see, my old man can be a bit difficult to get close to.  Like a lot of guys his age—or any age for that matter—he doesn’t really let his guard down enough to allow you to share a truly intimate moment with him.  He tends to disappear when it is time to say goodbye after a visit, leaving the hugs and tears role to my Mom.  It is tough to say “I love you” and have him truly receive it; he just doesn’t take that in very well or make it comfortable for you to try to say, even.  It is tough to get past the wall.

I love my Dad like crazy.  I always thought I would never be able to tell him that, though, never be able to share with him that he really means the world to me.  As you might guess, I am more open and expressive with my emotions than he is, so we are not always on the same page in the communication department.  But, as I came to understand while writing about St. Patrick’s Day in my journal on Monday, it turns out that I have, unknowingly, learned to speak his language and say what I want to say in a way that he can hear.  In the absence of a lot of hugs, terms of endearment, and the like, adopting this holiday has become the one way for the kids to tell the old man “I love you” in a way that he can accept.  We can kind of slip it in under the radar.  No one has to admit—even if we are aware of it, which I wasn’t until writing about it—that this is what is really happening.  Embracing St. Patrick’s Day to the hilt is our tribute to him and our acknowledgment of his love for his mother.  We celebrate her to celebrate him.  And since no one says that out loud, he doesn’t put up any walls or keep the celebration at arm’s length.  Even though that sounds like a lot of subconscious smoke & mirrors, it actually seems to work for everyone.  I am okay with it.

So, it seems that for my siblings and I, the depth of our sincerity in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is less about honoring our Irish heritage than it is about honoring our Dad.  My Mom sent us all a text message Monday morning with a picture of the old man all clad in green (see above) and a quote from him: “If you’re lucky enough to be even a wee bit Irish, you’re lucky enough!  Happy St. Paddy’s Day.”  To that I would say of the man who bestowed upon me the middle name Patrick: if you are lucky enough to have a Dad even a wee bit like mine, you are lucky enough!

Okay, your turn.  Get out your journal and start exploring your mind.  What holiday has your family adopted?  What is it about that holiday that connects you to each other more than the other holidays?  Is it, like mine, underlined by a sentimentality toward a parent or grandparent?  Also, how do you communicate with your parents or family members?  Are you as affectionate and physical as you are with your close friends, or do you feel like you have to filter yourself?  Have you found a new language to speak in, like my placing uncommon importance on a holiday?  If you have kids, is the pattern reproducing itself, or have you charted a new course in affection and communication?  Probing the depths of your heart and mind about family matters is an enormous can of worms, but the digging is, in my experience, simultaneously fascinating and liberating.  How deep are you willing to dig?

Be brave and be YOU,


The Movies That Charm Me Every Time

DSC_1409Hello Friend,

I LOVE movies!  I always have.  I love them so much that I moved to New York and Hollywood to study acting when I was young.  There is just something so magical about them.  I think it must be that a movie is one giant piece of art that requires so many different types of artists to make: writers, directors, actors, costume designers, set designers, composers, musicians, and more.  When all of these things come together in just the right way, the result is two or three mesmerizing hours of pure enchantment and escapism for me.

Sadly, since having kids five years ago, a few consecutive hours of quiet are extremely rare in my world.  So, my beloved hobby has been temporarily put on the shelf along with other friends like golf, reading, and meditation.  I still allow myself the guilty pleasure of watching the award shows (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and Oscars) as my one link to this hibernating passion of mine.  I say hibernating, because I will definitely be back.  I love movies too much.

I have to admit to being a bit of a movie snob (I even call them “films” a little too frequently in conversation).  That little movie that film critics like but that only plays at the little art-house theater because most folks won’t sit through it: that one is probably just right for my tastes.  In my pre-kids days, I made a point of seeing all of the films—see, I just did it—that were up for the awards.  On the other hand, I never made it a point to see the giant blockbuster that everyone in the world had seen at least once (I’m that one guy who has never seen “Jurassic Park” or “Mission: Impossible” or the modern “Star Wars” trilogy, to name a few).  I wasn’t intentionally avoiding them; they just didn’t appeal to me.  Generally, if there are a lot of explosions, aliens, superheroes, car chases, or jokes, I am in a different theater.  The closest I come to an “action movie” are films about war, which I love in a way I can’t explain (because they make me sick as I watch, but watch I must).  I tend to go for a drama–something with some gravity–that stirs me up in a deep place.  I am the guy who sits in the theater until all the credits have rolled and the lights come up, because I need all of that time to process such a serious work of art.

So there I was today, in front of the cabinet of my favorite DVDs, taking a stroll down memory lane.  As I looked through the titles and considered each movie, I realized that certain ones had me grinning.   I love all of the movies I own—most have landed on various “William’s Top 10” or “William’s War Favorites” or the like over the years–but somehow a whole new category of favorites was being created as I perused.  What was it, though, that was causing this grin on my face?  What separated these favorites from the others?  At first I thought it was just that these movies were not as serious as the others, not as typically “dramatic” as my usual favorites.  That was part of it.  Indeed, I was not grinning as I passed most of the war movies. But that wasn’t the big answer, wasn’t the common denominator.  But what was the defining element?  What was making me grin?  It took me awhile to pin it down.

It was charm.  I realized that during the many times I have watched this handful of movies, I probably had a subtle grin on my face, or at least a lightness in my heart, all the way through them.  I thought about the effect that charming people have: they are captivating yet keep you grinning, as though under a spell.  They make you feel a little happier, a little more alive.  They connect with you and also tickle you a bit with their sweetness.  They charm you.

These are the movies that touch my heart in just that special way:

  • Stand By Me—This has been on my short list of favorites since I was a kid, and still I enjoy every sweet, poignant minute with those boys from Castle Rock.
  • Almost Famous—There is an innocence and purity about this movie for me.  Both with the musical choices—I dare you to try to NOT sing along on “Tiny Dancer”–and the genuine humanity, it strikes just the right note.
  • Cinema Paradiso—If you have to read subtitles the entire time and are still as completely smitten as I am with this movie, it must be charming.
  • Beautiful Girls—There are so many flat-out funny lines and monologues in this one, but it is the tender, truthful scenes that keep it among my all-time favorites.  The young Natalie Portman is absolutely captivating.
  • American Beauty—The fact that a film with so many dark, disturbing elements can make it on this list is a testament to its amazing director and cast.  This is a great movie!
  • Home for the Holidays—Much like “Beautiful Girls”, there is a lot of straight funny in this one, but that is mixed so beautifully with honest, sad truth-telling.  And it is about family, so of course it touches a soft spot in me.
  • Life is Beautiful (La Vita e Bella)—I told you I love war movies, so I had to include one!  Despite covering a horrific topic, Roberto Benigni managed to bring a love and sweetness to this one.  (Added props again for making this list despite subtitles).

There they are: the movies that charm me every time I watch them.  I am grinning just thinking about them.  That is the power of great art!

So, which movies charm you every time?  Get out your journal and write the first titles that come to your mind when you think about the charm factor.  When you come up with a few, write about them.  What is it about them that sticks with you?  What about them keeps that subtle grin on your face the whole way through?  What is so special?  As you explore your mind for that answer, you probably will find more old favorites popping into your head.  Write them out.  See if you can find similarities among the favorites on your list.  The answer can give you some terrific insight into what makes you tick.  Then—PLEASE–leave me a reply.  As I said, I love movies and any discussion about them, so I would really appreciate hearing which ones have charmed you.  What is on your list?

Keep mining your inner treasure,


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,


What’s your Tagline?

DSC_0887Hello friend,

When people first learn that I write in a journal every day, one of the first things they ask—after shaking their head for a bit and looking at me like I come from Mars—is, “What do you say???  How can you come up with something new every day?”  The truth is that I don’t set out to say something new and original in each entry.  I don’t make any sort of plan, really.  I write the dateline and then simply let my mind run.  I let it empty out whatever it needs to be rid of.  When a thought pops up, I do my best to not judge whether it is worthy of my ink or time; I just write it out and see where it leads.  My mind is brand new each day—partly because journaling cleans it out—so a day that looks the same on the outside gets processed quite differently on the inside.    Sure, I have gone through phases in my life when I was doing similar things every day or was attached to a particular topic in my mind—there have been lots of blogging thoughts the last couple of weeks, for instance—but always the entries are unique.  That is, except for one line.

“Life is beautiful.”  That is the one constant for me when it comes to my journal entries.  Life is beautiful.  I conclude every one of my daily entries with that line or some very close cousin to it (e.g. Life is truly beautiful.  Life is so very beautiful.  La vita e bella.).  That is my tagline.

“Why ‘Life is beautiful’?” you might ask.  And why the same thing every day?  Why even have a tagline?  Why not just come up with something new each time, letting it flow from your real mood at the moment you are finishing?  After all, you don’t really think Life is beautiful every day, do you?    Isn’t that a little phony, not to mention unoriginal, to write that same platitude each time?

These are valid questions.  For me, much of the answer is deeply rooted in one of my primary reasons for journaling in the first place.  One of the big ones for me is, as I mentioned above, simply emptying out my mind of the day’s rubbish and cleaning it up in a more organized way, bringing me clarity about how I really feel about the people and issues in my little world.  But the other main reason I journal, which is a natural offshoot of the first reason, is to remind myself of how truly and wildly blessed I am.  When I can see things clearly—with the falseness of my ego in check and the other rubbish of the day’s issues removed—it is so blatantly obvious to me that there are nothing but angels and miracles in my world, that I am blessed beyond my wildest imagination, and that I am, as a result, indescribably happy.

So it is that as I start to wrap up the day’s entry in my journal—after I have spilled out all of the day’s issues, stresses, and regular events, and then landed on the right side of clarity—I come around to these thoughts of my infinite blessings.  I often catch myself at that point in the writing with the biggest, most serene grin plastered across my face.  So, while I am the first to admit that writing “Life is beautiful” is a habit that could easily happen unconsciously like any other habit, I can honestly say that as I wrap up my writings every day and get ready to pen that last sentence, I feel it in my core.  I write it with conviction.  I have written it–and meant it–when I could not walk or stand up straight from the pain of a herniated disc, when my loved ones have died, and when I have felt most unsure about my future.  So yes, for me, that simple statement sums up best who I am at that moment in my day’s journal entry.  It is both a summary and a reminder to me.  And hey, if I am going to have one magnetic thought that my inner compass returns to every day as my True North, let it be that one.  Life is beautiful.  It may sound trite and phony to others, but it is, quite simply, my Truth.

So, what is your tagline?  If you had to choose something to say to yourself or about yourself every day, what would it be?  It could be a quote that inspires you—who doesn’t need a “Carpe diem” or “Follow your Bliss” or “Fortune favors the bold”?—or a line that summarizes who you are.  It could be your motto.  You might even think of it as your epitaph; what would you want that line on your tombstone to read?  It should be succinct but authentic, the latter being much more important.  Get out your journal and try to figure out what your tagline is.  It could start with a list of options, but it doesn’t have to.  Just start writing about who you are at your core.  It will find its way to you.  I would love to hear what you come up with.  Leave me a reply, and let’s get the conversation going.

I will leave you today with the last few lines from my own journal entry earlier this afternoon:

My heart is light with Divine energy, and that seems to sustain.  I am buoyed by today’s sunlight; it fills me.  Even amidst grogginess, I lay here with this persistent, peaceful grin upon my face.  It is evidence of my Truth, of my core Happiness.  Thanks be to God.  Life is truly beautiful. 

May your Truth set you free,


Do you need a Timeout?

DSC_1051Hello Friend,

This morning at the breakfast table, my wife said to me, “What do you think of this?  You could take one year away from here–you have to move to a different city—and work on your stuff.  You would have time to finish your book, and who knows how long that will take with your normal schedule around here?  It is a year just for you and your work. And it is a fellowship, so you will not be losing money to do it.  It could set you up for the future.  Are you up for it?”

She sold it so convincingly that I half-thought she had actually lined this up for me.  A total timeout from the rigors of my normal life to devote all of my time to an important pursuit that I otherwise have to sneak in at random and fleeting moments (when I am typically exhausted).  Imagine that!  I would be like a TV show in Summer: “”William’s World” is on hiatus.  He will return in the Fall, right where he left off.”  For a whole year!

What could I accomplish in a year?  I was salivating at the thought.  I am a guy who always has an endless and ever-growing To-Do List when it comes to things I want to learn and do in my life.  The idea of being bored for a single moment is totally inconceivable to me.  I arrive at the end of every day wishing it were twice as long.  So, when she put the offer of a whole year on the table for me and suggested that I could write my book in that period, I took that as a challenge.  Surely I could finish the first one and get the second one started.  Of course, I would have to keep the blog going, too, and yes, those books I have been needing to read to get myself better equipped to write the books and blogs.  Maybe I would even take a couple of minutes at the end of each day and learn the guitar (I got a guitar for Christmas this year, not because I expected to make time to learn it this year, but rather because it is a bucket-list item for me that I will get to someday, and I want to be equipped when a “free” moment appears).  There are a million other items on the list, but those would have to wait; this year would be all serious business.

So, with all of those thoughts racing through my head in the few seconds that it took for her to finish explaining the opportunity, what was my response?  “No way.  Not a chance.”  What???  How could a guy who spends each day begging for more time pass up an opportunity like this?  It is a one-year timeout: who gets that opportunity?!? And, more importantly, who gets that opportunity and declines?  I do, without a second thought.

You see, in spite of my deep passion for everything I would use that year for, I have something that trumps everything every time.  I have two little children.  Since the day my daughter was born 5 ½ years ago, I have basically eliminated any non-essential activities in my life.  I changed my job so I could spend more time with her (and later her brother).  Hobbies and social life went out the window.  I allow myself writing time and exercise, but only when it doesn’t keep me away from them.  I don’t take trips without them, and I don’t get babysitters.  It is a bit extreme, I know, but the time with them is that important to me.  And, since 5 ½ years has gone by in a blink, I recognize how fleeting my time is with them.  Being their Daddy is the coolest thing I know—by miles and miles–so I can comfortably pass on the other things I always loved to do.  It is also why I can pass on the free year.  It would be an amazing year, no doubt, but not in the same ballpark as any year with them.  That is just how it is with me.

BUT……..ask me again in 15 years!  Then I will probably take you up on the offer and apply for a second year when the first is finished.  It is all in the life context.  In theory, the timeout year sounds fabulous.  I am taking my deferral of it as a sign that I have a pretty darn good gig going right here and now, even as I am well aware of the dreams that gnaw at me daily and could be addressed in that year.

So, how about you?  Are you ready for a timeout?  Get out your journal and ask yourself: Would you take that year right now if offered?  If you couldn’t do a whole year, how much time could you take?  What would stop you from taking it or limiting your time?  Then, what would you do with it?  How would you spend your time and what would that set you up to be and do?  How do you see your life differently at the end of your timeout?  Are you just less stressed, or has a whole new world opened up for you?

Explore all of these questions in your journal.  Believe me, you will go much deeper by writing them out than by simply giving a quick answer to each as you read.  Enjoy the process, and let your mind go wherever it leads you.  Dive deep!  Then, leave a reply with the link above.  Tell me about your timeout.

Be your beautiful self today,


The Stories We Tell Ourselves

DSC_0728Hello Friend,

Last week I wrote to you about following your Bliss.  Your Bliss is that thing that you feel called to do, that lights you up inside and just simply feels right.  For me, this very act of writing to you and helping you explore your Bliss is the way I follow mine.  I feel called to it, and I am invigorated every time I sit down to write to you.  I asked you to open your journal and write out some thoughts on what your Bliss is, and, as usual, I hoped that you would share some of your thoughts with us in order to get the conversation started, to build a community among not just you and I, but with the other readers as well.

A reader named Alex responded with, “I’d love to follow my ‘bliss’ but I’m busy paying the bills.  Bliss is for rich people!!!!!!”  That is a lot of exclamation points!  I sincerely hope that Alex took the time to explore his Bliss before coming to the conclusion that it was impossible for him.  But his response—or some version of it– was, I believe, shared by many other readers of the post.  Asking someone about their dream life invites vulnerability, and opening up about our calling, our Bliss, certainly carries with it a personal challenge.  Inevitably, when we admit to what we believe we should be doing, we become bombarded with the recurring thought, “Why aren’t I following my calling?  Why aren’t I living my dreams?”  That is a personal challenge, and it can feel like an attack on our character.  After all, we grew up hearing, “You can be whatever you set your mind to.  If you can dream it, you can do it!”  If you believe that, and then you take me up on my challenge to uncover your Bliss, you are set up with the idea that you are capable of living your dreams, fulfilling your calling.  Sounds great, right?

Well, for most of us, the inevitable next step is to take a good long look in the mirror and realize that we are NOT following our Bliss, NOT living our dreams, NOT sticking our necks out in search of progress toward those ideals.  Most of us, if we are honest, have chosen to walk on what feels like the safer path.  To admit this does not feel so good.  It feels weak.  It feels small.  It feels cowardly.  So, we begin to tell ourselves stories to justify our current path, to justify why we can’t have what our soul is shouting out that it wants, why it is not realistic to do what really blows our hair back.

These stories are called limiting beliefs.  They usually take the form of “I am too ___________” or “I am not _____________ enough.”  You get to fill in the blanks with whatever convinces you best.  I am too old.  Too young.  Too busy.  Too poor.  Too fat.  Too thin.  Too qualified.  Too tired.  Too shy.  I’m not educated enough.  Not spiritual enough.  Not courageous enough.  Not connected enough.  Not experienced enough.  Not smart enough.  Not rich enough.  Not beautiful enough.  And on and on and on.  We tell ourselves these stories so convincingly and so often that we come to believe them to be true.  They become our narrative, and we lean on them like a sturdy crutch.  We take comfort in them like an opiate.  They stem our ambition.  They quiet the voice of our soul.  They keep us playing small.

For me, I empathize with Alex.  His answer boiled down to “I’m too busy to follow my Bliss.  I’m not rich enough to live my calling.”  These two limiting beliefs have been my most convincing stories in recent years.  I have two little kids and bills to pay.  I have leaned on that story—leaned HARD—in the service of keeping me from writing a book, starting this blog, and doing more formalized training to be a better teacher.  And believe me, these are things that I can feel in the deepest, most honest parts of me that I need to do.  My soul demands it!  But I haven’t.  That is how strong limiting beliefs are.  They can squash your calling, silence your soul, and keep you sleep-walking the safe path through life.  They are as lethal to your dreams as they are convincing to your brain.

So, what are your limiting beliefs?  What stories do you tell to justify why you don’t follow your Bliss, why you don’t heed your soul’s calling?  Get out your instrument of choice—pen, keyboard, whatever—and write it out.  Make a “I am too______” list and a “I am not _________ enough” list, and go from there.  Flesh out what your most convincing stories are.  Don’t beat yourself up and make yourself wrong for having the stories.  For now, it is enough just to name them, to own them as uniquely yours.  In the long run, it is very difficult to move beyond these stories if we do not first unveil them.  If you are willing, I would love you to leave a reply.  Tell me, what are the stories you tell?

Be well & be honest,