Category Archives: Bliss

What Good Is Life Without Your Health?

“The first wealth is health.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” ―Herophilus

Hello friend,

I spent some days last week in a hellish level of back pain, so bad that my mind was pulled toward a topic I had no wish to visit: suicide.  To be clear, I was not suicidal; I was merely pondering suicide as a concept, examining it from multiple angles, considering the motivations.  The pondering itself, and even more so the strength of the magnetic pull to the topic, was telling of my state of mind.

It took me back nearly two decades, the last time my back exploded and had me almost delirious in pain, culminating in a body full of drugs and an emergency surgery.  Through all of my days of agony prior to the surgery, one subject came through clearly in my otherwise desperate mind: suicide.  I had never thought so much about it in all my life (and haven’t since).  My mind was all over the topic: the how, the why, the who, the aftermath.  The everything.  I couldn’t seem to clear it from my brain.  I am fairly sure the obsession stemmed from the fact that, racked with pain at a level I had never imagined possible, for the first time in my life I could totally get why some people no longer want to live.  Honestly, I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on like that if I didn’t believe a cure was coming.  Pulled from an otherwise blissful life, I suddenly had absolutely no capacity for joy.  It didn’t feel like a life at all.  It just felt like misery.

Some years before that episode, when I was in graduate school, one of the professors in the department was suffering from bowel cancer or colitis or some other very serious disease of the digestive tract.  And when I say “suffering,” I mean truly suffering.  I hadn’t known him well and had only heard that he had something and did not understand its severity until I took a brief visit to the bathroom one evening before class.  It was a tiny bathroom, and I spotted someone’s feet in the single stall as I stepped up to the lone urinal.  That’s when I heard the sounds of a man in the throes of pain and anguish, still trying to keep quiet.  I felt terrible as I rushed out of there, haunted by another human’s suffering.  A few months later, I heard that he committed suicide.  I understood why.

I have been wildly blessed throughout my life, probably in no area more important than my mental health.  I mentioned to you in a letter once that one of the things that has surprised me most in my years on this Earth is just how prevalent and truly commonplace mental illness is.  When I was a kid and learned that a family member had an eating disorder, it absolutely floored me.  I never dreamed someone close to me would have psychological problems, and I was sure it shouldn’t be mentioned to anyone.  As an adult, the more I learn, the more it feels like almost everyone is dealing with some measure of addiction or other mental illness, or at least has dealt with it.  I am grateful to have been mostly spared.  Because of that, my only insight into depression (or other)-induced suicidal thoughts is from Psychology classes and lots and lots of memoirs.

So, though it is a fascinating topic to explore and one that I would like to know more about, I am not here today with strictly mental states on my agenda.  Not the kind that decide it is preferable to be dead than alive based only on how dark and painful it is inside the mind, anyway.  Rather, I want to know about how physical pain and disability shape one’s sense of the value of one’s own life.  Because one day I was feeling physically fine, with a few aches and pains like anyone my age has, and I was thinking I was living a great life full of blessings that I wanted to keep experiencing indefinitely.  And the next day I was doubled over in pain, wondering if it was all worth it to go on.

I admit, that instantaneous loss of my life’s value freaked me out a little.  Okay, maybe a lot.  I mean, is the value of existence so fragile that once the body stops cooperating, the whole game needs to be forfeited?  If so, what of all these emotional and intellectual gymnastics we constantly perform to keep ourselves believing how sturdy and enduring our many blessings are and how they will carry us through the low points in life?  The love of our families and friends, our connection to the Divine, our sense of accomplishment from the work we have done, the creations we have provided the world, the dreams we are on our way to fulfilling.  If it all collapses with the slip of a vertebrae, how solid was the ground that sense of Value was built upon?  I am being haunted by that question now.

I am thinking of the many times an injury has kept me from doing the things I wanted to do.  I have always been an active guy, and I have had my share of injuries along the way.  Usually, I just play through it, as I cannot stand to be inactive.  But even so, when I cannot do everything I want, I know that I don’t enjoy myself as much.  Just this Summer, when a slow-healing gash on my foot kept me away from my favorite activities for a couple of months, I found life much less fulfilling.  Sure, I found other things to do and enjoyed them, but it was much less satisfying than what I wanted to do.  I swallowed my frustrations and did my impatient best to be patient and positive, but that was because I knew the end was in sight.  But I wonder: What if there was no end in sight?  What if I could no longer swim or run or play?  Would my base of happiness start to erode?  I am fairly certain it would.  And then, how quickly would it erode?  And even bigger picture: when I hit my low point with it, would that level still be called “Happy,” or would it be something very different?  Would that something different be something I could go on living with?

Even at this point in my aging/erosion process—I am almost half a century old—I can’t do so many of the things I once could due to previous injuries and simply the reality of a body at this age.  I can no longer go out for a real run.  Bending over to lift heavy things can take me out of commission for weeks.  My elbow hurts after I play tennis, and I cannot serve even half the speed I once could.  Believe me, the list goes on!

For a guy most at home when playing a sport or sweating out an outdoor adventure, this new reality is deeply frustrating.  I was tempted to say it is awful, but it only relatively awful.  That is, when I imagine how much fun it would be to still be doing that stuff, it feels awful to my heart.  And yet, I definitely don’t find that my life is awful.  I am quite happy (just maybe less satisfied than I could be).

I can’t say how it will be as I age and gradually lose more and more of my physical capacities–perhaps my mind will continue to adapt as well and find increasingly innovative ways to find Joy in my little world and offset the thrills and satisfaction of physical exertion and mastery–or if I suffer an injury or illness that renders me instantly unable to perform.  This is something I would like to interview some elderly and physically disabled folks about—the ways they have adapted, and what their perception of their own happiness is compared to how it might be if they had all of their physical tools working at full capacity.  Do we all just go through our journeys constantly adjusting our standard for Happiness and Fulfillment based on what seems realistic given our physical circumstances, most everyone finding themselves able to say, “Yeah, I’m doing alright” even if they would have felt sorry for someone in their present circumstances no so long ago?  Are we that wisely and graciously adaptable, or are we deluded suckers?  I hope it’s the former.

With my foot injury this Summer and at other times in my life, such as when limbs were in casts, even though I was unable to use the limb, I had the benefit of not being in constant pain.  So, even though I may have been frustrated—which I may have described as “misery” at the time—I was not in physical agony.  As someone who has suffered the worst kind of back pain, I can tell you that that is where this whole issue turns into something different.  When you are racked with an extreme, unrelenting physical pain that leaves you simply unable to enjoy anything—no, it’s not that you can’t “enjoy,” but rather that you can feel only anguish, only suffering–we are in a new realm.  This is, I am guessing, where my old professor was.  It is where I was in the days before my back surgery.  The only difference was that I believed that surgery was going to improve my situation; I would have deemed it unbearable if that wasn’t an option.  He didn’t have any assurances.  I understand the route he chose.  “There, but for the grace of God, go I…”

I see now that this is where the discussion really splits and there is a need for two separate inquiries.  Loss of the use of your physical abilities—even with some accompanying moderate pain–is one thing, but severe pain is quite another.  I am coming to believe through experience that I will still be able to be grateful and happy if or as I lose my athleticism and flexibility and such.  I am less sure that that I will feel fulfilled without that physical element, but I believe I can achieve happiness.  I have faith that my life can still feel fun and valuable to me.  I don’t have that same confidence when it comes to living with chronic pain.

I would like to believe that it is simply mind over matter and that I could find joy, gratitude, and peace of mind in any physical state.  But I remember the pain I was in last week as I tried to get out of the car and walk down the sidewalk without collapsing and without crying.  And I still shiver as I think about those days before my surgery years ago, my body stuck in a wholly unnatural position due to the spasms from the herniated disc in my back and me barely able to breathe without sobbing uncontrollably.  That was not a life that could be maintained.  If it had value, I couldn’t see it at the time.

In the end, I guess my answer is YES, my life can still be quite valuable without all the things I love about being fit and active, but that value probably begins to deteriorate once chronic pain gets past moderate intensity, with the value then becoming inversely proportional to the pain as I move toward full-on agony.  It’s a theory for now.  I hope I don’t have to find out the truth.

How about you?  How does your health dictate the value of your life?  Open up your journal and your memory and search for times when your health shaped the way you value your life.  What are your very worst experiences with your health and physical abilities?  Are they illnesses that knocked you flat and made you feel like garbage?  Migraines?  Are your worst times from acute injuries that brought your pain immediately to an extreme intensity?  Do you have chronic pain at a high level that shapes your perception of your life’s value?  Whatever your worst experiences, did they ever reach a point where you began to wonder if you could go on much longer in that state?  Did you ever, at your very worst point, realize that it no longer even felt like living, but instead just endless suffering?  If so, how did that realization play on your psyche?  If you haven’t experienced this level of physical agony, do you know someone who has?  How closely do you believe you can empathize with it?  Who in your life has lived for long stretches in the greatest physical pain?  Was it from an illness—like cancer or arthritis—or from injury (e.g. spine trouble or concussion)?  Have they adapted and created a happy life in spite of the pain?  Do you think you could be happy no matter your level of chronic pain?  Do you believe there is a level of pain that would lead you to take your own life?  Do you have any judgment about people who do?  Okay, let’s switch gears.  How much does a diminished physical capacity affect your mindset?  Have you ever been incapacitated with an injury that limited you enough that it affected your happiness or life satisfaction?  What did it keep you from doing or feeling that you missed so much?  Did you find a substitute for that previous ability to fill in the happiness gap, or did you simply adjust your standards?  Was your loss temporary or permanent?  What can you no longer do that you once could (e.g run, play a sport, garden, etc.)?  How has that loss affected you?  Do you harp on it psychologically, reminding yourself how much you miss it and maybe cursing your luck?  Have you given yourself grace as you have aged, letting abilities go without too much bitterness or mourning?  Have you found that life can be just as good without the physical gifts of youth?  Can you think of a physical loss that would almost certainly cause you to devalue your life (e.g. paralysis, blindness, obesity)?  Is there a physical loss that you can imagine making life seem no longer worth living for you?  Are you at all embarrassed to admit to that last answer?  Are we weak and shallow for tying so much of our happiness and life satisfaction to our health—rather than, say, spiritual peace or wisdom–or is that just the reality of the human condition?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What good is your life without your health?

Be as well as you can,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community.  We rise together!

P.P.S.  If this way of self-exploration appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Are You Giving LIFE Your Best Shot?

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook.  At seven I wanted to be Napoleon.  And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” –Salvador Dali

“I go dreaming into the future, where I see nothing, nothing.  I have no plans, no idea, no project, and, what is worse, no ambition.  Something—the eternal ‘what’s the use?’—sets its bronze barrier across every avenue that I open up in the realm of hypothesis.” –Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility On Tour

Hello friend,

Last weekend I finished up my first (and probably last) season as a middle school volleyball coach.  It was my daughter’s team.   They were desperate for a coach so they could start the season, so I swallowed my insecurities about never having played organized volleyball in my life and jumped in to lead them.  I had spent years as a professional tennis coach and worked with middle schoolers many times, so I wasn’t worried about dealing with the kids.  But it’s a totally different sport, so I definitely went in feeling like a fish out of water.  I discovered immediately, though, that I liked it.  The old coach in me jumped right back into that zone, and I found myself quite invigorated by each practice and game.  I was teaching and learning at the same time, a perfect recipe for me.

The one thing that struck me from the very first practice was the reminder of how painfully shy and awkward most kids—both girls and boys—are in middle school.  It is like you can cut the insecurity in the room with a knife.  I have always believed that if there is one thing I would like to be able to bottle and give to every child (and adult, really), it is self-belief.  We miss out on so, so much simply because we lack the confidence to put ourselves out there and try something new or hard or both.  We play small and stay in our shell, living life with our MUTE button pressed upon our souls.  The missed opportunities pile on top of one another: deep conversations, social clubs or sports, new friendships, leadership roles, job applications or promotions, love interests, or just the last slice of pizza.  Lack of self-belief leads to lack of luck and lack of the best, juiciest things in Life.  It cascades.  All the fun that goes un-had and all the magic that goes unclaimed.  I find it deeply tragic.

In that first volleyball practice, I met a girl we will call Tamara, who seemed particularly afflicted with this crippling self-doubt.  When it came time to work on serving, I went through all of the technical points of the overhand serve and then set the kids loose to try it for themselves.  She cautiously approached me and, eyes cast down, asked if she could just serve underhand.  I explained to her that one of the goals at this age is to serve overhand instead of the underhanded variety that kids learn in elementary school, so we were all going to give it a shot.  It was built into the rules of our league that kids should try the overhand serve on their first attempt, and if they couldn’t get it, a “mulligan”/second serve would be given, during which they could settle for the weaker underhand serve if absolutely necessary.  Tamara was a big, strong girl, though, so I told her I believed she had what it took to serve overhand.  She was clearly dubious about that and very disappointed, but I poured on the encouragement.  By the third practice, she was looking like our best server.  When our first game rolled around, she asked to serve first.  It was amazing!  I was tickled and felt that old gratification that a coach feels when a player overcomes their doubts and fears to achieve something they hadn’t thought possible.  It’s that magic that keeps old coaches coaching.

Tamara was marching along beautifully for a few games, claiming the serve to start every game.  I was feeding her belief with everything I had.  She was winning us free points with her power and depth.  She was rolling.  Then, she had a game where she missed a few.  It really got into her head, immediately.  On a timeout, she came to me with the sunken eyes again: “Can I serve underhand from now on?”  It totally floored me.  As a guy who has a lot of self-confidence (and who hasn’t coached in a while), I was caught off-guard by how quickly her belief had melted away.  I told her that technically she was allowed to, but that I hoped she would stick with it.  I pointed out that despite the misses, she was scoring more points for us with her best shot than she was costing us with it.  Crushed and dubious, she stuck with it for the rest of that game and found her rhythm again.  After the match, I teased her, “Don’t ever ask me that again!”

We made our way through the final weeks of the season with Tamara serving well and got to the last tournament, when she again hit a rough patch and again asked if she could serve underhand.  I told her no, she could not, and that she was better for the team when she went for her best shot.  It was hard to watch her struggle so much with her self-confidence; it was obvious how fragile her belief in herself was and how quickly it abandoned her.

The tournament ended, and with it the realization that I will probably never see Tamara again.  We had developed a nice rapport through this adventure with her serving and my belief in her, and probably because of that, her agonizing self-doubt really left an impression on me.  I stewed on it for a few days, feeling like I wanted to leave her with one last parting shot that, just maybe, she could take with her for the rest of her life.  I found her email address and wrote her a short note to thank her for playing.  I ended it with this:

Life is like your volleyball serve. There will be setbacks along the way and moments when you lose confidence in yourself, but if you can somehow look at the bigger picture and realize how much better you are when you trust yourself and go for your best version, you and those around you come out so much better for it. Believe in yourself. Life deserves your overhand serve, and so do you.  All the best to you in your bright future, Coach William

Writing that note to Tamara got me thinking about my own life, wondering how well I have done and how well I am currently doing at giving it my own version of the overhand serve.  It is a tough question, because I think you have to look beyond obvious risks and accomplishments to find the truth (well, I hope you do).  It is convenient for me to look back at certain times in my adulthood and say, “See, I took my shot!”  I went to Hollywood in my early twenties to take a shot at acting.  I climbed the ladder to a position of power in my first “real” career field.  I took a chance on a cross-country love that turned out to be the love of my life.  I achieved a long-time dream of writing a book.  I take a regular shot when I write these letters to you.  I can point to all of these things when I am put before the judge to plead my case that I am living like I mean it.  But is that stuff enough?  Is my case really all that convincing?

Some days at work, if I am in the midst of a mind-numbing task, I wonder to myself, “Is this the best I can do?”  If I get late in the week and I haven’t come up with a topic I deem worthy of a letter to you and so decide to let the week pass and settle for trying next week, I think, “This feels like playing small.”  When weeks and months go by and I don’t feel myself making an impact on other people’s lives, I feel my tension rise with the thought, “The clock is ticking down on my time here, and I am not doing enough.”

I am not sure what taking a bigger swing would look like for me right now.  Is it a career change?  Writing a new book?  Running for political office?  The pressure seems to be more embedded in the question, “Am I doing enough?”  Of course, that question comes through in different versions: Can I justify my existence?  Is this set of choices fulfilling?  Am I living my purpose?  Am I okay with this as my legacy?  Am I happy?

I find myself in a lull when it comes to notable achievements.  I have not blasted any life goals, passed any major milestones, or won any prizes lately.  Even more, I don’t feel myself striving for a particular prize with any great urgency.  I am kind of gliding along.  Given my propensity to seek out the next mountain to climb, this current gliding makes me suspicious.  I must be doing something wrong to be so unambitious.  Shouldn’t I be more antsy?  Why am I not climbing the walls and plotting to take over the world?  Surely this is not my best shot.  Right?

And yet, I am unmistakably happy.  I enjoy my days.  I love giving as much time as I do to my family, even as I am aware of it coming at a cost of my time for other, more aspirational accomplishments.  I like my hobbies and want to devote even more time to them, even though I won’t win any of the popular prizes for them.  So many of the things that I am looking forward to and orienting my time around are just fun.  They are peace-inducing.  Lots of good-for-the-soul kind of stuff.  I am kept busy doing things that I enjoy.  I’ve heard that’s a version of living the good life.

So, why do I still feel that nagging thought about doing more and bigger?  Why did my note to Tamara about not settling for the Life version of the underhand serve make me wonder if it wasn’t addressed as much to me as to her?  Why does this stretch of time without a significant achievement make me feel guilty and a little ashamed?

I realize that Life requires a balance of contentment and ambition.  I also have come to realize that there are seasons in our lives that will lean more heavily, even completely, into one or the other.  For me, at least, I cannot keep my nose constantly to the grindstone; I have learned to listen to my system’s signals that it needs a recharge.  That has helped keep my creative juices flowing more consistently and fueled my passions for work and other interests.  But I am also learning lately that it is possible for me to get too indulgent and lose my edge.  For instance, if I go too long between letters to you, as I have done more in the last year, I get a little antsy.  I need that regular challenge to keep my sword sharpened, to feel fully engaged in Life itself, and my purpose in it.  It is a good thing to understand this about myself; it keeps me from getting lost.

So, am I giving Life my overhand serve right now?  In a way, no.  I am not ambitiously attacking a long-held dream or newfound passion project.  But in another way, I think I am hitting it just solidly and aggressively enough for what the moment calls for.  I am understanding where I am right now in my cycle and responding in a way that makes me feel happy.  It won’t last forever, I know.  I will have to adjust as my ambitions flare.  But I trust that if I keep at my daily journaling and my quest for self-awareness and present mindfulness—and continue to believe that I have what it takes to rise to the occasion–I will keep adjusting the volume on my serve to meet the needs of my sensitive-yet-demanding soul.  If I can stay on that razor’s edge, I think I can find a way to always keep it overhand.

How about you?  Are you giving Life your best shot, or are you playing small?  Open your journal and unpack your Truth.  Does your self-belief have you striving for your best life?  Perhaps it is easier to go back in your life story and follow your journey step-by-step as it relates to self-belief and the actions you have taken to decide your fate.  How bold were you while growing up?  Did you have the confidence to try things that you thought might interest you?  Were you okay with struggle and failure if the endeavor was interesting or fun for you?  Can you think of times when fear and insecurity kept you from trying something new (e.g. auditioning for a play or asking someone on a date)?  If you had those moments and played small, how long (if ever) did it take for you to realize it?  Were you able to learn from your meekest moments and then rise to similar moments later on?  As you moved into adulthood, what was your level of self-belief?  How did that affect the choices you made regarding Life stuff like career aspirations and relationships?  Did you go for the things you dreamed about?  Did you try new things?  How open were you to meeting new people and joining new groups?  Did you believe yourself worthy of a wonderful romantic partner?  Can you point to specific moments in young adulthood when you bet on yourself or took a real chance to get what you wanted?  How did that work out?  Conversely, do you recall certain moments when you played small and hid your light, perhaps not believing you were worthy or ready for the best things?  How much regret do you carry from those small moments?  How have they shaped your life in the years since?  Where do you find yourself lately when it comes to self-belief and the level of ambition behind your life choices?  Are you still taking shots at your dreams and striving for your vision of a “best life,” or are you mostly floating along without much ambition?  If you lack ambition, do you think that reflects more that you are basically satisfied with your life or that you don’t feel yourself worthy of more?  As you look back through the years and the changes along your journey, do you see an ebb and flow in your level of ambition and boldness?  Do you have seasons of contentment and ease, followed by seasons where you really strive for something big (e.g. getting an advanced degree or writing a book or gunning for a promotion)?  Do you tend more toward the ease or more toward the striving?  How has that changed over time?  Do you feel more or less urgency as you age?  What was the last big shot you took?  What will be your next one?  If you don’t have anything on your horizon, do you think that means it is time to find something?  Or does that mean you are simply living right?  On the whole, would you say your life is an underhand serve or an overhand serve?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you giving Life your best shot?

Embody self-belief,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  We rise by lifting others.

P.P.S. If this way of exploring your inner and outer worlds appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

The Absolute Worst Time To Make A Big Life Decision…Or Not?

“Losing your head in a crisis is a good way to become the crisis.” –C.J. Redwine, Defiance

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” –Erol Ozan

Hello friend,

I was talking with a friend last week—she’s about my age–and out of nowhere, she dropped this bomb on me: “I’ve come into a little bit of money, and I am thinking I might retire.”  She said she would like to relax, travel, volunteer–all of that stuff that we all say we are going to do when we retire.  You know: unstructured and unobligated living.  The dream.  Well, my dream anyway.  To me, it sounds like everything I have always wanted: casual, fluid, free.  The only problem: none of that sounds like her!

In other conversations, she has shared with me how difficult the first months of the pandemic were on her, as that was the time when she was not able to go into her work and have that structure, schedule, and task list that her tightly-wound personality requires.  It was a mental health struggle to be without her job (not the income part).  After reiterating that fundamental aspect of her personality to me numerous times in recent months, you can imagine my surprise the other day she when totally flipped the script with the announcement of a possible retirement.  WHAT?!?!?  I was flabbergasted.   A reasonable guess would have been that she was clinging for dear life to the normalcy and regularity of her career in these wildly uncertain times.  Nope!  Just the opposite.  After explaining herself, she at least showed her self-awareness by asserting that with all of the stressors that our whole society has been flooded with this year—coronavirus, George Floyd, Donald Trump, etc.—she probably has no business making any major Life decisions at this point.

That counterpoint flashed me back to last Autumn, a conversation I had with my niece.  She is a freshman in college, and she was by that point a few months into it and feeling very unsure as to whether her chosen school was really the right place for her.  Not sure about the people, the vibe of the campus, all of that stuff that is crucial at that transformative age that so many of us recall as a life-defining year on our journey of self-discovery.  I remember saying to her, “This is going to come as no comfort to you, but I think you may not get to have an answer to that question this year.  You may go through the whole school year isolated in your dorm room and at socially distanced meals, not going to the parties and club meetings and lecture halls that all of the other college freshmen in the history of college campuses have used to find their crowd and their niche.  You may have to wait a whole year until you can start a “normal year,” using your second year of college to learn what everyone else in history has learned in their first year.  But if it’s any consolation, all of the other freshmen in the world are stuck in this same Purgatory. How can you know if a place is right for you if you are not able to experience it as it usually is?”  I’m sorry to say it, but you may just not get to decide anything big this year.”

I mentioned that conversation to my friend the other day when she was questioning the sanity of her sudden desire to retire.  We both agreed that the crazy extremes of circumstances and emotions this year have left us feeling like our minds are on shaky ground and thus we ought to be suspicious of any major, Life-altering inclinations that flash through them.  It has become difficult to trust our impulses, knowing that everything this year has been “unprecedented”—a word used more often this year than any other—and therefore “not normal.”

We have good reason to think that when we return to that normal—please tell me it is soon—that our inclinations and tastes will probably be more like they were before.  Our current desires to overhaul our lives and the world around us will go from a boil to a simmer, maybe even to a cool.  We will almost certainly go back to the same old, same old.  Our minds and passions will go back on autopilot and cruise control.  We will quickly shush those inner voices that suggest we shake it all up, whether that shake-up is a new job, a retirement, a new health care system, or a new way of policing our cities.  Big ideas will be replaced by small ones again.  Progress, if any, will be by baby steps again.  You remember, the usual.  These impulses—whether personal or societal–that have been allowed oxygen during these “unprecedented times” will crawl back under the rock they emerged from.  If you just ignore them for a little while longer, you will get to that spot where you won’t have to be so suspicious of your inclinations.  You will be safe and boring and uninspired again.  We all will.

But should we ignore them?

What if the lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic made it crystal clear to you how little time you had actually been spending with your family and how important that time is, making you want to dramatically shift your schedule and perhaps your career path?  What if the economic crisis made you aware of how thoroughly unfulfilling your luxury car or jewelry or fancy whatever is, making you want to sell off some things and simplify, giving more of your wealth to causes that you now see truly need it.  What if the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor stories sparked a sudden realization of your privilege in this inequitable world, stirring up an activist streak in you that you had no idea existed?  What if the Capitol insurrection of January 6th and the exposure of the lies about the election fraud made you wake up to the reality of the damage your political beliefs have been doing in the real world for years, causing you to re-think not only your use of social media and usual news sources but also your political party?  What if all of these cascading crises have actually made things not more fuzzy for you, but more clear?  What if it took all of this to reveal your true values and priorities?

Maybe we haven’t had our foundation shaken but rather just had the artifice scraped off.  Maybe it took all of this drama and uncertainty to make clear who we really are inside and what we want our lives to be truly about.  Maybe all of these “out of nowhere” impulses to change ourselves and our world aren’t really so out of nowhere.  Maybe they have been at our core, our foundation, the entire time, just covered up or blurred by all of the other superficial stuff that we thought we should be doing or the speed at which we’ve been going to try to keep up with all of our commitments.  Isn’t there some quote–or at least a meme–about how life is not about finding yourself so much as it is about uncovering who you always were?  Well, that is what I am getting at.  It’s just so easy to get swept along by “normal life,” with all its busy-ness, and become numb to the signs from our soul about what is truly important to us and what resonates deep in our being.  The panic of a global health scare, the guilt and grief of knowing a loved one is dying alone in a hospital, or the graphic video of one man calmly kneeling on another man’s neck as the life force slowly goes out of him—these things have the power to shake us to a different level and perhaps expose our Truths in a way that we can no longer deny.  Trauma breeds uncertainty, no doubt, but maybe it also breeds clarity.

So, how do we tell which is which?  How do we know if that newfound impulse to switch careers or run for City Council or lead a protest march or have a baby or get a divorce or buy a bookmobile or join the Peace Corps or get a dog–how do we know if these are the insecurity of a totally shaken core talking, and how do we know if they are a finally revealed core talking?  Is there a different sound they make—a resonance—we can listen for to know if this is the thing to reject due to the extremity of the year rather than attend to because it is the revelation of our essence?  How does one feel compared to the other?

Honestly, I don’t know.  That is why I journal every day: to try to flesh it out.  I fill up my pages with the rolling of ideas around in my head, taking them from different angles, ascertaining whether and how the impulse evolves over time, questioning my motivations and scouring my psyche for insecurities or unsatisfied longings.  I attempt to look at myself in the mirror as clear-eyed as I possibly can, hoping to decipher which of these new impulses is an imposter out for a persuasive but fleeting flight of fancy, and which is my Truth revealing itself in a way that my eyes can finally see.

I think my friend is right to be suspicious of her motives for her recent, dramatic shift in outlook on her career.  Not even necessarily the motives themselves—they should be mined for lessons for their own sake—but the sustainability of her motives.  Will they keep when her job goes back to the normal that she loved for so many years?  Maybe not.  I am guessing most of our impulses and temptations from this year will not.  Most, but not all.  Truths have been revealed to us; I am sure of that.  Whether or not we will do a good job of combing through the lot to dismiss the pretenders and find that priceless gem—or whether we even allow ourselves the courage to entertain the new ideas and inspirations at all—is a different matter.  I happen believe in the power of those impulses; I think they are messages from our deeper levels.  There is Magic in there.  Sure, it must be sorted through, but true Magic is worth the labor.  That is where the marrow of Life is.  It is why, when my friend was verbally dismissing her retirement idea with, “Of course, now is the absolute worst time to be making any sort of meaningful Life decision,” I replied with, “Or maybe it’s the perfect time… .”  Maybe.  I am here to find out.

How about you?  Do you trust yourself to make an important Life change at a time of multiple societal crises and a swirl of heavy emotions inside you?  Open up your journal and try to get a sense of how steady your current grounding is to your True North?  Generally speaking, how has your mental health been in recent months compared to other points in your life when things were more “normal”?  How much more grief, anxiety, and sadness have you been dealing with this year?  Have you found your mind feeling more foggy, your senses dulled, or your motivation lacking?  Have you enjoyed things as much as you usually do, or are you one of the many experiencing anhedonia, the loss of the ability to feel pleasure?  Do you like your job as well this year as you have in other years?  Are you as engaged in your work and as fulfilled by your tasks?  With all of that considered, how confident are you in your ability to make the wisest decisions on major Life issues this year (e.g. career or location change, family changes like having a child or getting a divorce)?  How much more or less confident is that than you are in “normal” times—i.e., any time before 2020?  Have you had to make some big decisions anyway, whether you wanted to or not?  If so, how has it worked out so far?  What fresh impulses or ideas have you had in the last year around bigger changes to your lifestyle?  In what area have they popped up most frequently or strongly?  Career path?  Family life?  Health of your lifestyle?  Politics?  Spirituality?  Relationships?  How have these inclinations and impulses been different than what you have felt in other, more stable times in your life?  How do you interpret their meaning?  Do you tend to take these new tastes or ideas seriously and follow through on them, or are you more skeptical of any big idea you have during these unprecedented times?  Which new changes have you made?  Which ideas did you disregard?  Which ones will you keep on your radar until Life settles down a bit and returns to normalcy?  What is the biggest, game-changing decision you have made in the last year?  How has it worked out?  Would you have made the same decision in normal times?  Has all of this crisis, change, and chaos served to make your values and priorities more clear to you?  How will this period change your Life in the long run?  Will you be better for it, or will you carry the mental and emotional scars and be weighed down by them?  If someone came to you now who has struggled emotionally through this period and announces a major Life-changing decision, would you caution them against making such a big move given the circumstances—essentially telling them to wait it out until it is easier to be clear-headed–or are you inclined to think that these times are good for clarifying priorities and are thus a great time to make a big change?  Is your opinion on this different for yourself than it is for the general public?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Is this age of cascading crises the absolute worst time to make a big Life decision, or is it the best?

Take care of yourself,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it.  Together we can get through anything!

P.P.S. If this way of self-reflection suits you, consider buying my book, Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

How Can You Make Your Home Reflect Your Soul?

“I live in my own little world.  But it’s ok, they know me here.” —Lauren Myracle

“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.” –Pierce Brown, Golden Son

Hello friend,

Every year, I pledge to spend more time outdoors.  In my quest to fine-tune everything about my life as I have aged, I have come to realize that being outside just hits all the right buttons for me.  It calms me.  It energizes me.  It inspires me.  Quite simply, it fills up my soul with all kinds of beautiful light.  As I have become more aware of this magic, I have increasingly made these pledges to put myself out there more often, to find the fresh air and let it do its thing upon my spirit.  I don’t have to do much—though I do love the action—but rather just be in it.  Just be in “the room where it happens,” so to speak, though that magical room is no room at all.  In fact, it is everything that a room is not: unbound, uncontained, limitless.  For me, there is nothing better than to feel limitless. 

So, I make myself promises and plans to get out more, to allow fewer excuses for staying inside.  I do it in every season, even in the terribly long, dark, and cold Winters of Minnesota.  Those are tough every year (though I did better this time around).  I do it in our brief Autumn and Springtime, too, trying to squeeze every last little bit of warmth out of the season before Winter and then trying to make up for lost time by immediately pouncing on any early Spring day that offers a glimmer of Hope in the way of sunshine (or even just relatively little wind).  I mine it for all it is worth.

But my season is Summer.  I love the warm air filling up my lungs, the light breeze caressing my cheeks.  I love the heat, and I love the shade.  Summer does it all for me.  So, of course, that is when I really crank up the demands regarding the fresh air.  I want to be outside all day long!  I feel pent-up if I am not.  That fresh air is like a drug that I want more and more of.

Alas, living in this Land of 10,000 Bodies of Stagnant Water, my Summer outdoor hours have always been limited by my least favorites creatures in all of Creation: mosquitoes.  I loathe mosquitoes.  Earnestly, passionately loathe them.  Aside from the buzzing, pestering nuisance in the moment, the disgusting smell of repellant, and the bites that make me itch nonstop for several days afterwards (and make my children swell up like fleshy melons on their skin)—each awful in its own right—it is their very direct role in keeping me indoors during my season that incites my greatest hatred.  But it is more than hatred.  It is resentment.  I resent that they are keeping me from what my heart and mind know to be rightfully mine.  I belong in that enchanting night air.  It is my element.  Each breath is like food to my soul.  To be denied that has always felt disturbingly wrong to me at a cellular level.  It is the one aspect of Summer that leaves me feeling contained, and my finicky soul cannot abide by that.  I am not to be bound.  My happiness depends upon it.

All these years, I have been vaguely aware of this but have felt helpless to do anything about it.  I have placated myself by spending as much daylight time as possible outside.  I have even gone from being a natural night owl to an early riser so I can be up and out in the early part of the day in order to capture more of it, thereby tiring myself out by the time darkness arrives so I can tell myself I am not missing much indoors.  I guess that deep down, though, I have known all along.  I still feel that longing for the cooling air of night, the sounds of the insects, the shine of the moon, and the faint glimmer of starlight high above suburbia.  It has become clear that I will not feel completely at Peace and at home unless I can bridge that gap to carefree fresh air at any hour.

But how?

At my childhood home, we used to have a back deck on the second level with a shabby concrete patio underneath.  In later years, my parents put some walls up and screened the large window spaces, making a three-season porch with a big hammock inside.  I spent every Summer night reading and writing in that hammock, basking in the intoxicating nighttime air.  It was glorious.  I have longed for its equivalent ever since.

Well, a few decades later and ten years after living in my current house, I am finally about to get my wish.  My wonderful, tenacious researcher of a wife, after begrudgingly submitting to the idea that she is stuck living in the cold of Minnesota until her kids are grown, has become determined to do Life in this house right.  So, rather than hide inside from the mosquitoes with me and miss her beautiful Summer evenings, she found the one contractor who could screen in our entire deck–sides and roof–creating an outdoor living room.  Fresh air, views of the night sky, all the sounds of nature, but without those evil mosquitoes hunting our blood when the sun begins to set.  I had spotted a house with one of these screen rooms a few years ago and have been fantasizing about it ever since.  I even asked the guy who owned it, but he had no information, and I didn’t think we would ever make the investment anyway, even if we could find someone to design and build it.  But here we are, deep in discussion.  The designs are done, and if all goes well with the weather gods and contractors and such, it will be built before the swarms of mosquitoes arrive for the season.  Did I mention my wife is wonderful?

I daydream about it all the time now.  I picture myself typing away on my laptop while lying on my hammock under the stars, listening to the crickets.  I envision game nights by the fire table with family and friends.  I see my wife and I sharing a quiet evening with our books and the fresh air.  I imagine outdoor sleepovers with the kids under the full moon.  Did I mention that there are no mosquitoes in any of these visions?  Only Peace, Joy, and Freedom.  Limitless.

This screen room fits me like a glove.  I haven’t even been in it yet, but whenever I think about it, I feel the biggest grin spread all the way across my face.  It is a contented grin, a satisfied one, like, “Yes, this hits the spot.”  I laugh, as it reminds me of the sappy old line from Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.”  Maybe it’s sad to say that about some aluminum posts and a bunch of screen, but hey, I feel it.  It’s a game-changer in the way I feel about my home.

I am always looking for little things that I can insert into my daily existence that rub my soul the right way.  I want not only the things that I do in Life to resonate with my heart and mind; I want the things I touch, the things I see, the spaces I occupy to hit me there, too.  I know it when I feel it.  I am talking about resonance: that which “rings true” to my very essence when its chord is struck.  So I test things out, and when something feels like me—like me at Peace—I adopt it.  I make it part of my home, part of my world.  Part of me.

Obviously, it would be great to have an unlimited bank account so I could buy anything I want any time I felt that pull.  After all, in my experience, luxury items tend to feel pretty darn good. Intoxicating, even.  But that is not my financial reality.  I have to operate within my realm, and I am pretty cheap by nature, anyway.  So the screen room is a huge deal for me, budget-wise and Peace-wise.  It is a game-changer—and I want to believe it is going to be worth it in the long run—but it is not the kind of soul booster I can treat myself to very often.

With that in mind, I seek out the little items and little ways make my space feel more homey to my whole being.  I have hundreds of family photos on my walls; I enlarge the ones I especially love.  I hang other Nature photos I have taken; they remind me of my favorite places and my joy in creating.  I drink my tea and hot chocolate out of only a couple of mugs of a certain style that feels right in my hand and right to my eye; the same with my water cup.  I only like to hold certain types of pens and pencils.  I keep just the right configuration of pillows around my body in my bed.  I like my towel to be a certain color and texture.  When I get a say in paint color for rooms I will spend time in, I use that resonation test.  I own multiple hammocks and an anti-gravity chair (and someday a plush recliner), so much do I prefer to recline rather than sitting upright.  I have a certain spoon I use to eat my ice cream, nothing like the spoons I use the rest of the day.  All of these selections are things that just feel right to me.  In a way, I suppose they are my method of treating myself in almost every moment of the day.  Not in a fancy way, but in a catered-to-my-soul’s-care way.

They are my idiosyncratic ways of making my space mine, and I am guessing that you couldn’t find another person with strong feelings about all of the same things that move the needle for me (an ice cream spoon?).  Everyone has different things that their soul latches onto, different ways that bring Peace in through their senses.  I can imagine people for whom it might be a spice organizer.  A desk.  Drapes of a certain color or fabric texture.  A fitness room (or corner of a room).  A meditation spot or religious shrine.  Throw pillows.  Floor-to-ceiling book shelves.  Framed quotes.  A compost bin.  Great sheets.  A fruit tree.  Surround sound.  Special light fixtures or cabinet pulls.  Hardwood floors.  Exposed brick.  A double oven.  A change of stain color on the trim.  Glassware.  A wet bar.  A ping pong table.  A certain blanket.  House plants.  A dressing table.  A solid, sharp kitchen knife.  Family heirlooms.  The perfect chair.  A reading nook.  A workshop.  On even the smallest of budgets, the options are truly endless.

I hope your space is filled top-to-bottom with things that make you feel the way my visions of the screen room are making me feel.  Even though I said it will complete me, I have no doubt that I will keep searching for more, keep fine-tuning all of the spaces my life touches to make them simultaneously invigorate and calm me.  Maybe by the time I have it all right, it will be time for me to retire to the beach (the right beach, of course, with the right lounge chair and the right towel, the right sunglasses)!  Something tells me I will continue this soul quest until the day I die.

How about you?  How can you make your living spaces resonate more with your soul?  Open up your journal and take a walk through your home.  Which parts of it feel the most homey to your senses?  Do the staple items in your sleeping space—sheets, pillows, blankets, lighting, wall color, and art—make you want to snuggle right in every time you enter the room?  Is your pillow special to you?  Does your configuration of blankets and pillows feel like it is custom-tailored to your sleeping style, or is it pretty generic?  What could you change to make it more welcoming and restful, more personal?  How about in your bathroom?  Does your toothbrush make you want to brush your teeth (mine does)?  Do you have certain towels that make you feel specially cared for?  Does your shower space—and the products in it—bring you Peace?  Does the light feel right to you?  Would a dimmer switch provide a level of control and variety that better suits your particular tastes and moods?  Is there a certain level of cleanliness beyond which you become agitated?  How well do you do at keeping it in the comfortable zone?  Does your kitchen suit you?  Are there specific dishes or utensils that are your favorites?  Is there a specific small appliance that is a special treat for you (e.g. a blender, an espresso machine, a waffle iron)?  Do you enjoy hanging out in your kitchen, whether for cooking or socializing?  Are your cabinets and walls the right color for you?  How about your family room or living room, wherever you are most likely to lounge and read or watch television?  Do you have a special spot?  What makes it yours?  Do you nap there also?  How does the texture of the furniture affect you?  Is there another space in the house that you feel especially at home in (e.g. an office, a guest room, a workout or meditation space)?  What makes that place soothing to your soul, beyond just what you do in there?  Is it the seating?  The color?  The light?  The décor?  How about your outer spaces?  Do you have a patio or deck?  Are they happy places for you like they are for me?  Do you have special lounge chairs or a hammock that are your jam?  How about a fire pit or table?  What could you add to make it more meaningful to you?  Do you have a yard?  If so, are you happy there?  What is your favorite thing about your outside space?  A certain tree or garden?  The grass?  The view?  What connects it to your essence?  In all of your home space, what is the biggest splurge item you have purchased just because it feels good to you each time you interact with it?  What is the simplest thing that deeply resonates with you but that other people might not even notice or care about?  Which colors give you the best feelings?  How does light affect your experiences?  Are textures important to you (e.g. sheets, towels, furniture, flooring, utensils, etc.)?  Is there something specific that really stirs your soul (like my fresh air)?  Does your home and the way your currently use give you enough of that special ingredient?  How can you infuse more of your home life with it?  If someone you care about visited your home for the first time, do you think they could feel your energy in its different spaces?  Can you?  Leave me a reply and let me know: How can you make your home touch more of your soul?

Live in Peace,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it.  Let’s care for ourselves by being true to ourselves!

P.P.S. If this way of digging deep into your life to find out what makes you tick feels right to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

What Is Your Vision of Retirement?

Hello friend,

“Retirement is a blank sheet of paper.  It is a chance to redesign your life into something new and different.” –Patrick Foley, Winning At Retirement 

“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” –Harry Emerson Fosdick

I have been a very jealous man lately.  What is that commandment: Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s goods?  Maybe I haven’t been coveting his goods, per se, but I have definitely been jealous of his new life for the last month.  This youngish guy who lives on my street just retired, and I cannot seem to wrap my mind around it.  Or maybe I can, but it just annoys me to process it because I become so wild with jealousy.  Either way, for the very first time in my life, this guy has me pondering what the whole idea of retirement means to me.

For reasons I cannot explain, I have always had the feeling that I would die young.  I don’t have a death wish, and I don’t claim to see the future or know how I will go, but I have just always thought I would not be here for long.  And since I have never expected to live into old age, it makes sense that the thought of retirement just never occurred to me.  So, whenever I heard stories of someone retiring or asked retired people about how they fill their time, other than being jealous that they no longer have to work, I guess I just never inserted myself into the scene in my imagination.  It wasn’t in the cards for me, so why bother?

Then last month, my neighbor guy retired.  And this guy is young!  Not like 30 young, but young to retire.  Early fifties.  Worked for the city.  Great pension.  Done.  Anyway, his retirement has my head spinning.  Because even though I didn’t do his job for 30 years and I don’t have a pension and many other important facts that make our lives quite different, the fact that he is not much older than I am AND that he is retired has me wondering if I might actually do that some day.  It is a wild thought, too.  Like a whole new quadrant of my brain just opened up for business.  Now, because of course my brain leaves no topic unscoured once it arrives in there, I simply must figure out exactly what my retirement would look like.

I feel like the usual question people ask is, Where are you going to retire?  As though the location is the most important thing.  And it seems like the main answers that are deemed acceptable are 1) Right here where I’ve always lived; 2) Where the grandkids are; 3) Arizona; or 4) Florida.  But is that it?  Are those the options?  And is that even the right question to start with?  Maybe it should be, How do you want to spend your time?  Once you figure out your activities and interests, then the location could follow.  Maybe the activities and location are so intertwined that asking one assumes you will take the other into account.  Hey, like I said, I have never thought about this stuff before; I am trying to get all the settings right before I dive in!

I think it’s probably unwise to use my early 50s neighbor as my example, though, because that is fantasyland (sort of like, “If you won the lottery at age 50….”).  If I retired in the next five years, I would want to head for the mountains and spend so much time hiking long miles and sleeping in a tent.  I don’t think that is going to be as realistic if my retirement comes 20 years from now.  Maybe the only thing similar in my visions of a 55-year-old retirement and a 70-year-old retirement is time spent on the beach.  No matter my age, I will most definitely want to spend lots of time by the water and in warm weather.  I have been stuck in frigid Northern states for most of my life, and I truly do not want to be here any longer than necessary.  I am here now because this is the life I set up for my kids, and they don’t want to leave it.  But I can guarantee you that if I live to see retirement, I will see it through sunglasses sitting by the pool or the ocean.

I would love to travel.  Jetting around the world and immersing myself in different cultures would be fantastic, but I think I would also be content to crisscross America on long roadtrips.  A different retired neighbor of mine bought a camper and a truck to tow it with.  That sounds to me like a fun way to pass the golden years, too.  There is enough beauty and variety on this continent to keep me fully engaged in a life dedicated to exploration and adventure.

I hope I spend my time still creating and learning.  If I haven’t gotten to it by that point, I believe I will still want to learn a few musical instruments and will set myself up with lessons from a real teacher the same way I send my kids to piano lessons now.  I see myself taking photography seminars and trying new lenses and techniques and such.  I hope I am still writing and thinking of ways my words might help someone.  Maybe I will join the local theatre troupe.  I can definitely imagine myself trying a painting workshop, a SCUBA course, or whatever else they are offering in the Community Education brochure.   I hope that kind of stuff always excites me.

As I think of this, it strikes me how the whole thing about retirement visions is dependent upon one’s finances.  It would be easy to get into this exercise and say, “I’ll have a house on the beach in Florida for Winter, a log cabin in the mountains for Summer, and maybe a condo downtown in the city where my kids live.  I will travel the world.  I’ll spoil my grandkids.  I’ll collect boats.  And so much more!”  But who suddenly becomes rich when they retire?  You may have more time—which sounds absolutely wonderful to me—but not more money.  So I keep cautioning myself not to make this the same answer I would give if you asked me what I would do if I won the lottery.  Social Security is not a Powerball ticket.  I am trying to be reasonable about what I would do with the time, not so much the money.

And then there’s that weird unknown about how healthy and energetic I imagine I will be at that age.  Because believe me, I have had plenty of fantasies already about not working, envisioning my wife one day coming home and announcing, “I got a fat raise!  I now make enough money so you don’t have to contribute financially.  Go ahead and quit your job!”  In this fantasy, we are not necessarily millionaires, but just wealthy enough that we don’t need two incomes.  The hitch is that I am always my current age and health in these fantasies.  I am never old and worn out.

So, I don’t know if, in this current exercise, I am setting the bar too high for retirement.  Will I be healthy enough to travel and adventure?  Will I be energetic enough to take on new challenges and keep looking to grow my mind and my skillset?  Will my fixed income allow for big trips and cool classes, or will I have to settle for walks around my local parks and YouTube guitar lessons?  I get that the nature of the Future is that it is unknown, but I am trying to make this exercise worthwhile and reasonably accurate.

I can do without the multiple homes and luxuries if you tell me I am going to be healthy, curious, creative, and not freezing all Winter long.  And have all of that glorious TIME!  That is what I really want.  It is what I want now and what I have always cherished: just unscheduled time to fill with whatever I want.  With as many interests as I have and as many things that I am dying to learn about and try, I am not a man who has ever been bored.  When I hear a guy like my newly-retired neighbor talking about getting a job “not for the money but just to keep busy,” my mind nearly explodes.  If you put me in a thousand parallel universes with all different circumstances, I cannot imagine ever saying something like that.  I think of all the things people fill their free time with today—television, video games, social media—you could offer me immediate retirement in exchange for taking all of that stuff away from me, and I would shake on that deal in an instant.  I promise you I would be happy as a clam and not pass a bored day for the rest of my life.

That is why I long for retirement so much when I finally stop to consider it.  That is why I covet my neighbor’s new life.  Enough money to live on and no one with a claim on my time: that is truly a dream to me.  I can hardly wait!

How about you?  How do you imagine your retirement life?  Open up your journal and your imagination.  What do you see for yourself when your working days are done?  Is it your first inclination to picture where you want to be, what you want to be doing, or who you want to be with?  Let’s start with the location.  Where do you think you will live when you are retired?  The same place you call home now?  Somewhere you once visited?  Someplace warm, like Florida or Arizona?  No matter where you envision, do you imagine you will travel a lot when you retire?  More or less than you travel now?  Will you go farther away than you go now?  Who do you see yourself spending your time with when you retire?  Your partner?  Your kids and grandkids?  Old friends?  Do you see yourself making many new friends and spending the time with them?  Would it bother you if you spent most of it alone?  Will you be more or less social when you retire?  What other ways do you imagine yourself changing at that stage of Life?  Will you be more or less open-minded?  More or less adventurous?  More or less candid and honest?  Curious?  Political?  Focused on your legacy?  Do you think you will still have ambitions?  How will you fill up your days and years without a job to dominate your calendar?  Will you join groups or leagues?  Go out for lunches or dinners?  Take up some new hobbies or rekindle some old ones?  Read?  Nap?  Sit by the pool or the beach?  Travel?  Volunteer?  How content do you think you will be with those activities?  Will the fulfillment of your career be hard to replace?  Will you be bored?  Make an attempt to answer all of these questions from two perspectives: 1) Realistically: from where you actually believe you will be, and 2) Fantastically: from where you would ideally like to be.  How widely do those perspectives differ for you?  Is there something you can do to close the gap between now and then?  Do you imagine that you will be happy in either scenario?  How often do you daydream about your retirement?  Is it usually the Reality version or the Fantasy version?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your vision for your retirement years?

Make your whole life beautiful,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let us build lives that are worthy of appreciation and reward.

P.P.S. If this way or examining your life and your values appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

Shackles Or The Meaning Of Life: How Do You View Your Responsibilities?

“Nothing shapes your life more than the commitments you choose to make.” –Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life

“Commitment…something which is loved and hated in equal measure.” –Kiran Joshi

Hello friend,

I have been the bad guy at my house lately.  Fun-killer.  Mean Dad.  Wet blanket.  All of that stuff.  Me.

You see, my wife really wants a dog.  She spends her free time researching the countless different designer breeds and pulls up pictures of each one to share with my kids so they can all “OOH” and “AHH” together.  Because of course the kids want a dog, too.  What kid doesn’t?  My wife knows this and plays the situation like a maestro.  It gets mentioned in any interaction with family or friends.  More inquiries are made.  More photos.  “OOH!”  “AHH!”

I, meanwhile, have not budged from my position.  I do not want a dog.  Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs.  I really do.  I love their energy, their loyalty, their playfulness, their goodness.  I grew up with dogs and loved all of them.  I see how much other people love their dogs, too, how much they are truly a part of the family.  I understand their value.  And honestly, I know I would be best pals with a dog if I had one.

But, I don’t want one.  I never have, in all of my adult life.  It boils down to one thing: RESPONSIBILITY.

Perhaps a brief, adulthood-only autobiography would make this stance easier to understand about me.  In my twenties, I didn’t spend a single day wanting to be married, wanting to have kids, or wanting a pet.  I was deep into my personal development and cultivating ideas to make the world a better place to live.  I had no interest in being “tied down,” even though I was in love the last few years of that decade.  When I hit 30, I finally surrendered to the idea of being a husband and father.  The decision didn’t come easily, as I was so deeply happy and at peace without the long-term commitments and responsibilities that I questioned the wisdom of trading that for the more conventional life that everyone else seemed to go in for.  I wondered if I was just not wired for it—full disclosure: I still have that wonder way down underneath it all–and would at some point crack in the face of all that obligation and selflessness.  Still, I made the choice to dive in, knowing that it was not just marriage that I was signing up for but marriage with children.  Two, not more.  I had accepted a cat into the deal before the kids came along.  When he died when they were young, I decided he was easy enough to care for that getting a replacement was okay.  But that’s it.  No more.  No more kids, no more animals, no more spouses.  With all of them plus a home to take care of, that was my absolute limit.  I needed some room for myself, too.

Now, with the cat 13 and the kids 12 and 10, I am still walking that tightrope.  I am all-in on the husband and fatherhood deal, but I have also carved out enough space to still feel like a unique human being instead of being swallowed whole by my responsibilities.  However, I am also well-aware of the daily sacrifices of the personal, soul-feeding stuff I would otherwise like to do and had done before this chapter in my life began.  Even with that awareness, I can say concretely that I have made a good bargain in adding these guys to my world, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  I love my life and appreciate the choices I have made, the responsibilities I have taken on.  I am the family man.

Enter the dog proposition.

I understand that it probably seems like the logical next step.  I have the house and the yard.  My wife can help.  The kids are theoretically at an age where they can feed it, walk it, and scoop the poop.  And dogs are cool.  It sounds like a slam dunk.

And yet, everything in my independent soul is screaming, “NO WAY!”  It stresses me just to think about it.  I picture that cute little guy and think, “Sorry buddy, it’s not you.  It’s me.”  Because it is.  It’s totally me.

I simply don’t want any more responsibilities.  Well, at least not of the large and long-term variety.  I want to be a wonderful, totally devoted father who spends as much time with his kids as they allow, all the way until they grow up and move away.  I want to be good to my cat (who, of course I know, is much less demanding than a dog).  I want to be a devoted husband.  I want to keep my home maintained, the bills paid, and my family doted upon.  I want to be great in all those roles.  But then I don’t want any other roles.  I don’t want to be the guy anybody else counts on for any daily—or even weekly—needs.  Quite simply, I would rather give that time and energy to myself.

That sounds really selfish as I write it, giving me a twinge of guilt and making me wonder if I have somehow taken a wrong turn from my basic humanity.  But the pause is brief, the guilt fleeting.  Through journal entries and endless hours of pondering over the course of a lifetime, I know who I am and what works for my energy supply.  I am clear about my needs, and all of my senses are fine-tuned to detect when things become even slightly off-balance.

I have a serious thing with BOUNDARIES.  If I meet someone whose energies do not match up with mine—I don’t even have to know exactly why; I go with the feeling—I do not allow them any room in my world.  Similarly, I fiercely protect my time.  If I am told going into a job that I am required to be there exactly these days at these times, I am a loyal and committed soldier.  But the moment they start saying, “No, we actually need you to come in more often and at different times than we agreed to,” my loyalty and enthusiasm go right out the window.  Don’t mess with my time.  Every single minute of it is precious to me.

I can see that this fierce guardianship of my time and energy is behind my unwillingness to add more deep, long-term responsibilities in the form of offspring or pets or spouses [I know it is not exactly the same line of thinking—because believe me, my wife does not need me to take care of her–but I would lump a spouse in with kids and pets here.  If my wife finds some trick to be rid of me along the way, I cannot imagine myself wanting to get married or otherwise legally bound to someone again.  I will happily take this commitment to the end, but then I’m good.].  I know that there are still things I want to do in my life.  There are places I want to travel, things I want to write, and solitude I want to bask in.  These are daydreams that don’t involve responsibilities and obligations to others.  I don’t want to have to worry about finding places where my dog can stay in the room or campsite with me, or all of the logistical adjustments I have to make in order to travel with kids.  And I don’t want to feel the guilt about leaving the dog or the kids with other people and both missing out on what they are doing and hating that they are missing out on the memories I am making without them.  I don’t want any of that baggage.  I want some freedom.  Freedom while I am still young enough to enjoy it and make something out of it.

I think about all of the childless-by-choice adults and the way people tend to think about them.  We like to think they are selfish or, at the least, just not wise enough to understand what they are missing out on.   They don’t get it.  Unlike those of us who have chosen to be parents, these self-centered hedonists can’t wrap their minds around the magical equation that, despite all of the diapers, tantrums, sleep-deprivation, financial drain, time drain, headaches, heartaches, and stress that children bring (in a single day even, but also all through life), despite all of that, kids still somehow come out on the plus side of Life’s ledger and make every day with them worthwhile.  If only these egotists could understand that, they would do the right thing and procreate, like us.  After judging them, we come to feel bad for them, sentenced as they are to a life of relative emptiness.  I think dog owners carry some of that sentiment for those of too short-sighted to get a dog or too uncommitted and therefore settle upon a love-withholding feline.  I understand where they are coming from; there is no love and loyalty quite like a dog’s for its owner.  We should want that for others, right?

This is why I have to fight off the internal nudge to feel bad about myself for not wanting a dog (or, at one point, more kids).   Not because I don’t know how much more rich and rewarding life can be through our relationships with those we take responsibility for, but because I do.

I think it speaks to the strength of my boundaries and the strength of my conviction about what is truly essential for my unique journey through Life.  I know not only some of the things I want to do, but perhaps more importantly, I know how I want to feel.

I want to feel free.  Unburdened.  Unencumbered.  Unfettered.  Unchecked.  Unbound.  Free.

Not now.  Now I want this deep dive into my kids’ world and all of the magic and fulfillment that complete investment in others’ lives brings.  But later on, when that passes, then I want the unburdening, the liberation from responsibility, and a re-investment in my own life and the part of my path that meanders away from the others.

After the blessings of this golden age of parenthood move on, I will be eager to get back to my old priorities from my twenties—self-improvement work in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms—as well as the many new ventures and adventures I have been dreaming of in these last many years of responsibility.  I want to travel more, and more spontaneously.  I want to read and write more.  I want my “free time” to actually be free.  It is not that I want to abandon people (and pets) altogether—though I have my moments—but rather just the responsibility for them.

I like the idea of having a few distinct stages of my life’s journey, with different governing philosophies for each.  I understand that it is all one flow, but I appreciate that the map of my journey shows clear forks in the road, with my chosen path obvious from the historical record, but with the paths untaken also clear from what I consciously gave up to follow the ones taken.  I hope it continues that way.  All lives can look that way if examined closely enough, but this one is mine, and because I have journaled all the way through it, I have been keenly aware of its contours as I have co-created them with the Universe.  I love to read, listen to, or watch a good life story.  There is nothing more fascinating or entertaining to me.  I hope that if I keep my priorities and my boundaries tight and clear, that my story will someday be one that I enjoy watching in the rearview mirror.  I hope that I will have loved and cared for others long enough and deep enough in my “responsibility years” that I will have no regrets about staking such a firm claim upon my “freedom years.”  From this position midway through, I would say it all looks pretty darn beautiful.

How about you?  How do you see the responsibilities and commitments you have taken on in life?  Open up your journal and be honest with yourself.  What feelings arise when you think about the characters (both human and animal) that you claimed responsibility for in this world?  Whether you are in the midst of your biggest commitments (e.g. to young children, to employees, to dogs) or are looking back on them, what is your range of feelings?  How much love do they fill you with?  How much pride?  Do they inspire you to be better and uplift you in your darker moments?  How much humor do they provide you with?  Have you found a certain freedom within those responsibilities (I think of the Indigo Girls line from Power of Two: “The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free.”)?  Do your responsibilities provide the foundation for your life, an emotional home base?  In the end, are the people you are or have been responsible for the true meaning of life?  What would your life be like without those you are responsible for?  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, how heavy is the weight of your responsibility?  How much stress do your obligations bring you?  To what degree do they dictate your happiness and overall well-being?  Does that seem healthy to you?  How often do you feel hints (or torrents) of bitterness or resentment toward those you are responsible for because of the weight of that responsibility?  Is the resentment fleeting or lasting?  Do you ever wish you had not made these enormous commitments?  What do you do with that feeling?  How much different is a spouse/life partner relationship than that of children and pets when it comes to providing meaning to a life?  What does having one another’s back mean compared to being truly responsible for another’s well-being?  Is it the difference of being responsible to and responsible for?  Which type of responsibility suits your personality better?  Are you able to see your life in specific chapters or seasons, defined in large part by your responsibilities at the time?  Do they tend to be good and bad in different ways but hard to evaluate overall in terms of what you liked better or what you would prefer to happen in your upcoming chapters, or is it very clear to you that your next chapter(s) should be defined one way or the other?  Will you steer your next chapter toward or away from responsibility and commitments to others?  If you want to spend more time and energy on yourself, do you feel any guilt about that?  Are you satisfied with how much you have done for others in your lifetime?  Would you choose the same commitments again if you had a chance to live it all over again?  Would you go with more or fewer?  What is the best thing you can do for yourself going forward?  How do you wish to feel in your next chapter?  How is that different than the other eras of your adulthood?  What will you carry with you from your current obligations?  Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you view your responsibilities?

Make it All beautiful,

William

P.S. If this one resonated with you, please share it with your community.  We are One!

P.P.S. If this combination of introspection and storytelling appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

Thanks, 2020! Personal Firsts, Bests, & Discoveries From A Year Like No Other

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.” –Roy T. Bennett, A Light In The Heart

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow.  The only way that we can grow is if we change.  The only way that we can change is if we learn.  The only way we can learn is if we are exposed.  And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.  Do it.  Throw yourself.” –C. JoyBell C. 

Hello friend,

I felt like a 90-year-old who couldn’t figure out how to get the remote control to play the movie.  I was on the phone with the Apple guy, stressed out and flummoxed, trying to learn how I could get my CDs to play in the new laptop I was considering buying.  “Why in the world wouldn’t it come with a disc drive?  How will I load all of my CDs into iTunes?  How will I burn the next album I rent from the library?  Surely I’m not alone here, am I, young genius person?  How else will I listen to my precious music????”  “Umm, well sir, you could just stream it.”  “Pay for music?  No way!  No….well, how would that work?”

Suspicious but intrigued by this sorcery he was explaining, I hung up the phone and called a couple of my friends who actually live in the modern world.  When one told me that he subscribes to Spotify Premium, I asked him how he plays all of his CDs that were the soundtrack of our many cross-country roadtrips a few decades ago (you know, when CDs were the newest, coolest technology).  “I sold them all on eBay,” he said, crushing my soul in one sentence.  How could you just dispose of those priceless archives of your life???  So, I called my other modern-yet-more-nostalgic friend.  She guided me through my fears, starting with a cost analysis: the cost of Apple Music for a month is the same as the cost of one CD.  But how do I get new albums when they are released?  I still need to buy them, right?  “They’re free.  They just show up on the release date.”  I didn’t believe her.  “Okay, name me a new album you would want?”  Indigo Girls: Look Long.  She looked it up: “Yep, it’s there.  I can listen to it right now if I want.  And anything else I want.  Anything.”

I was like a living, breathing version of the “Mind Blown” emoji.  I was stupefied by this new reality.  No CDs?  My whole world felt like it was coming apart.  But that stupor only lasted for a few minutes, the part when I was intellectualizing it all, thinking through plan options and credit card numbers.  After that, when I actually activated the free trial, well, then my whole world felt like it was opening up.  Wide!  All of this blessed inspiration was suddenly right at my fingertips.  I couldn’t get it in my ears fast enough.  Before the day was over, I had created several new playlists and downloaded hundreds of albums.  I was the proverbial kid in a candy store.  Honestly, as someone who is absolutely nutty about music, it felt like the discovery of a lifetime.  I was in Heaven!  Just so cool.

That day, lying on that hammock with my headphones on and my devices all aglow, with that music filling up my entire soul, was a total game-changer.  It was mid-2020—the height of the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest over racial injustice, and a crumbling economy—but all of those things that have become the year’s headlines suddenly had to share space in my heart and mind with something new and beautiful and, well, cool.  I don’t think a day has passed in the ensuing months that I haven’t been on Apple Music, granting myself that little space to both escape from this world and to be inspired to build a better one.  It is one of the things I will always remember 2020 for, and probably the one for which I will always be most grateful.

But it’s definitely not the only cool thing I learned or tried this year.  It’s not even the only eye-opener for me in the world of technology and media.  No, I got even further out of my old man mode when we finally cut the cable cord at my house.  My wife had been cursing the cable company for years.  I always watched the least amount of anything in my family, so I had no opinions.  However, when we got Netflix and Prime Video a couple years ago, I was intrigued by this streaming thing but just never found much time to watch anything.  When doing my cardio workouts in the gym, I always read books on my tablet.  However, when the gyms closed in March and my workouts moved home, watching Netflix as I rode the treadmill became my new thing.  I loved it.  Later, when we finally cut ties with the cable company and took on Hulu, Sling, Disney+, ESPN+, and Apple TV+, I was in the mode of wanting more material for my workout hours.  It was a revelation!  Bravo, streaming services!

There is really some wonderful stuff out there.  The artists are clearly in full bloom with all of these new outlets.  I have found that I love documentaries.  I have watched several good ones on different topics—from Bill Gates to Greta Thunberg–but find that I keep coming back to films that cover music and musicians, particularly those who were involved in the revolution of the 1960s.  I just finished two fascinating ones about The Band—Once Were Brothers and The Last Waltz—but have also been captivated by pieces about Keith Richards, the artists who lived in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon in the sixties, and Sam Cooke, among others.  I have dozens more on my watchlists.

Of the non-documentary things I have watched, a few of my favorites from this year are When They See Us, Schitt’s Creek, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7.  There are so many more that intrigue me, but I know my chances of getting to them are slim.  I am grateful for what I have seen, and grateful to 2020 for opening my eyes to so many wonderful works of art.

Whenever I watch a movie or TV show, though, it comes with a measure of guilt that I am ignoring the many brilliant books in the world.  I did, however, find one released this Autumn that has stayed with me in the weeks since I have finished it.  It is Greenlights, by the actor Matthew McConaughey.  I was drawn to it because I learned that, like me, he has kept journals for all of his adult life, and the book used many of the insights he gained in writing them over the years.  I have never been particularly drawn to McConaughey as an actor and so was otherwise skeptical going in, but I found myself captivated by his tales and the wisdom he drew from them.  It is my favorite literary discovery of this year.

While I doubt I will ever be anyone’s favorite literary discovery, I did have a Journal of You highlight this Summer, albeit coming not from something I wish I had to write about.  By many times over, more people than ever showed up to read and share my piece called “But I’m Not a Racist!” And Other Things We White Folks Need To Do Better.  It came on the heels of the George Floyd murder, as the protests were getting into full swing.  I certainly appreciated the positive feedback and was glad I could contribute to something so important.

I never know when something I write will resonate, but that moment in American history seemed to sweep so many of us up with it, and rightly so.  In addition to writing a couple of pieces on it, the George Floyd murder brought me to another significant first in my life: my first real protest.  I wasn’t in the throngs of people downtown getting teargassed or anything so dramatic, but I did bring my children to a local event where we got to lift our signs and our voices in a show of solidarity with our community against police violence and racial injustice.  It was moving for me and hopefully something of a precursor for more social activism, both for me in my later years and for my children for the rest of their long and precious lives.

I spent more of 2020 than any other year on the seat of a bicycle.  That seems a strange record, but it is true.  With fewer “play” options for my kids, we took so many more rides on the streets of our town.  I also got more into mountain biking at local trails; that was tremendously invigorating.  Then, as Fate would have it, I sustained an injury that would not allow me to walk, run, or play sports.  That would normally drive me to the nuthouse, but in a stroke of luck, I discovered that I was still able to ride a bicycle.  Early mornings in Summer and Autumn were spent pedaling out the miles on the quiet streets in the surrounding towns.  It was a delightful release to drink in that fresh air and still be able to sweat amidst my other physical limitations.  When the days shortened and chilled, I got myself an indoor bike to sweat away the Winter.  While I miss the fresh air and the lakes and trees, the workout is fantastic and much-needed.  Perhaps I won’t need the riding so much in other years when my body is more cooperative, but I am so grateful to have found it and made it a big part of my life.

Speaking of that fresh air and those lakes and trees, my last, best discovery of this year was about spending time outside and having more adventures.  Maybe this one qualifies more as a re-covery, since I have had it and lost it more than once in my many years on this planet.  I feel like the year has left me more committed than ever to design my remaining years around being outdoors and exploring the beauty of Mother Earth.  Most of my social media scrolling this year has been on the pages of National Parks and travel sites.  I don’t think a single day has gone by when I haven’t added to my itinerary and fantasies for my next trip to Glacier country in Northwest Montana, and I have plotted adventures all across the American West, from Utah’s “Mighty Five” parks to the Sierra Nevadas of California and the Cascade Range in the Northwest.  I have developed plans for overnights and weekends near home as well, with lots of hiking and sleeping in the pine-fresh air to the sounds of the forest and rippling streams.

Even as much of a Winter-hater as I am, my Christmas gifts this week included new snowshoes, trekking poles, fleeces, and a backpack (and I am even planning my next car and its necessary adventure accessories).  I am more determined than ever to be an active participant in the outdoor activities of every season.  Maybe I was coming to that anyway in my life’s evolution, or maybe 2020’s message of “Stay Home & Cover Your Breath” only served to stir up my natural resistance to being contained, or maybe it is some combination of the two.  In any case, I now know in a deeper place that being in Nature is one of my greatest inspirations and an absolutely necessary fuel to get me through the rest of the world’s obligations and nonsense.  It is both my escape and my spiritual home.  I am relieved to know that so clearly now.

I guess most discoveries and favorites are like that: something outside of us—music, books, blogs, bicycles, and mountain streams—lights up something inside of us.  They give our existence meaning and value.  They buoy us against the storms of Life and make historically bad years seem pretty darn good after all.  They are the source of our Gratitude and thus our Happiness.  I am deeply grateful that there are so many of these points of light in my life, no matter the year.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I want to do 2020 all over again!  But I know that it brought me many gifts, and I refuse to look past them just because they arrived on the same train as COVID, racism, and political folly.  I am grateful for this year and the many new things I know and love because I lived through it.

How about you?  What are the coolest things you learned or tried in 2020?  Open up your journal and your spirit and expose what the light let in this year.  First, what new things did you learn?  If you had extra time in the house, did you pick up any home improvement skills (e.g. Marie Kondo organizing, carpentry, plumbing)?  How about personal improvement skills, like learning a language or a musical instrument?  Did you learn how to be a teacher?  Did you learn some new technology tricks, like how to Zoom?  Did anything blow your mind?  What did you try for the first time this year?  New foods?  New fitness routines?  Online grocery shopping?  Something outdoorsy?  Did you do anything social justice-related this year that you had never previously been so moved to do, like a protest or a sign in your yard?  How about with politics: did the extreme divisions among this year’s election issues and candidates spur you to participate in ways that you hadn’t before?  Were most of the new things you tried in 2020 related to things specific to this year—being on lockdown, COVID, Trump drama, etc.—or were they more random and could have happened any year?  Which of them will you continue with even when things return to whatever “normal” looks like to you?  Now to the Arts.  What musical styles or artists did you discover this year, whether they were new or just new to you?  What was the best thing you watched on television?  What were your favorite 2020 movies?  Books?  Did you try anything unique to get Art in unconventional ways, like attending a virtual theatre performance, concert, or museum tour?  What else did you love?  Did you have any personal bests this year?  Did you excel at anything at your work?  Did you improve upon a hobby or passion project?  Were you a better friend, sibling, parent, co-worker, or ally?  Did you find you were great at the self-care this year demanded?  Finally, what did you discover about yourself this year?  What issue or passion might you have had only a hint at before this year but now have a clear position on?  Do you have a core belief that has changed?  Do you know what you want to do more of (and less of) going forward?  Are you clear that there are some people in your life who you need to distance yourself from?  Are there others you would like to cultivate a deeper relationship with?  How have you grown in the last year?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the coolest things you have done and discovered in 2020?

Seek out the light,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let’s chase the bright spots together!

P.P.S. If this way of reflection and introspection appeals to your way of being, consider buying my book Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

How Many Great Years Do You Need To Call It A Great Life?

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” –Mae West

“May you live every day of your life.” –Jonathan Swift

Hello friend,

I remember so clearly the high I felt upon publishing my first Journal of You letter to you more than six years ago.  The adrenaline rush, the ecstasy, the peace and satisfaction of doing what feels exactly right and true.  It was like falling in love.   I had always tried in different ways—teaching, coaching, managing–to help other people to be their best, but this time it was like I was finally tapping into my best stuff.  It was fulfilling in a way nothing else had ever been, making me believe I had truly and finally locked into my purpose.  It was heavenly.  I figured if I could just stay dialed into that energy for the rest of my life—just keep doing the meaningful work—when all was said and done, I could lay claim to a truly great life.  That’s all I wanted.  That all I have ever wanted.

For the first months after beginning my letters, I was going like a madman: working a lot, spending every possible minute with my young children, and then staying up into the wee hours to pour out my heart and soul into the keyboard to keep your inbox full of new thoughts from me.  I hardly slept at all, fueled almost entirely by my passion for the work and that inimitable high I mentioned above.

Before long, it became clear that I could not sustain the wild pace, and I settled on a deadline of one letter per week.  It would still be a stiff challenge for time and sleep, but it seemed to strike the right blend of reasonably demanding to my mind and deeply fulfilling to my soul.  Writing was in me, I knew that, and committing to producing constantly made it feel professional, like I wasn’t merely dabbling but instead was giving it the effort and attention that it deserved.  I was being a “real” writer, which felt like what I was called to do.

That hectic pace kept going right up until the time when I realized I could not edit and assemble my upcoming book if I was preoccupied every week with producing a new letter to you.  Even though the answer was obvious, it was still heart-wrenching for me to put the blog on hold until the book was ready for release.  It was a grinding process but richly rewarding to the soul in the end.  All of that blood, sweat, and tears had left some small mark upon the world; it would live beyond me.  I was proud of myself.  And I was sure it was just the beginning.

I have always had a very wide variety of interests and don’t like to limit my areas of study or work.  I could imagine being deeply fulfilled by years filled with writing in all sorts of formats—books, articles, blogs, personal correspondence—but I know that other things could fulfill me also.  Coaching, counseling, public speaking, working to make the world a more peaceful, sustainable, and equitable place to live—all of these things are meaningful to me.  So, although I think of myself as a writer and saw the publishing of my first book as a harbinger of things to come, I knew that writing wasn’t the only way I would measure “success” along my journey and certainly wouldn’t be the only consideration when I got to the end of it all and gave myself a final grade.

And not that work or career are the only ways I want to gauge my progress as a person and the quality of my existence.  As I go along, and definitely in my final measure, I will be looking hard at my relationships and the amount of love given and received in them.  My role as Dad will be especially under the microscope, followed by husband.  Son, brother, and friend, too.

I will also take into consideration how much fun I have had and the quality and quantity of my adventures.  I hope that, in the end, I will not be disappointed by the number cross-country roadtrips I have taken, how many new languages I have been lucky enough to try, and how many nights I have spent under the stars.  I will want to recall how many times I laughed myself into a bellyache, played my fingertips raw, and sung myself hoarse.  I will consider all the times I have played my muscles to exhaustion.  I will delight in replaying the moments when I have been moved to tears by live music, a poetry reading, an interpretive dance, or live theatre.  And of course, I will ache to recount the times (hopefully many) I have allowed myself to be moved to pure creation by The Muse.

I have no doubt that part of the equation will also be the quality of my actions and how they affected the greater world around me.  Did I show enough empathy for those who have not been as lucky as I have?  Did my writing do enough to raise awareness of the importance of living our best lives, including being better to the people around us?  Did I make visible the people too often ignored?  Did I raise my voice enough to help the voiceless?  Basically, is the world a better place because I was here?

The other thing I will really want to establish is if I was happy.  Really, truly happy.  I have read books and articles that suggested being happy is the meaning of Life.   I don’t know if that is true, but it certainly is important and a necessary consideration when assessing the quality of one’s full life.  After all, what good are adventures, ideals, and good deeds if they don’t make you happy?  Answer (I think): some good, no doubt, but not good enough.  So, I will measure my joy and satisfaction, my degree of fulfillment, and the delight at being me.

These subjective assessments should matter—just because they are difficult to measure does not mean they don’t have a significant impact—because they are the truth behind what we see in the mirror every day.  They cover over us and ooze out of us in our most quiet moments alone.  That’s why I will take them seriously in my final judgment.

But I know myself too well; I am sure that much of my grade will be based on “production.”  I will want a clear calculation of how many Journal of You letters I have published, and how many years I published them.  I will want to know how many books I have written (and it better be more than one!).  The same for podcasts, articles, TED talks, or anything else I put out into the world.  I will want specific examples of the people I have made a positive impact on: my students, clients, readers, listeners, and anyone else I somehow touched along the way with my endeavors.  I’ll need names!  There will be a list.   I’ll want proof of a great life.

That proof is exactly why my lifestyle since publishing my book has been gnawing at me lately.  You see, after I exhaled that giant sigh of relief two years ago when the book went out, I decided I needed some time to be without the strict deadlines I had kept for myself the previous five years.  I wanted a break from that pressure to produce writing all the time.  Instead of a weekly deadline for these letters to you, I gave myself an extra week in between.  So, instead of stressing every week, I let myself relax for a week, then stress the next week until I hit the “Publish” button.  It was a delightful ease that I had forgotten all about since I wrote that first Journal of You post years earlier.  I felt a little guilty—like I was cheating on my commitment to professionalism—but the ease was so nice.  I actually let myself do some other things, from home repairs to extra time reading, even an occasional movie.  I felt more well-rounded.  It seemed like self-care, which I have heard is a good thing.

But then, if something came up and I couldn’t quite squeeze in a post that second week, I gave myself a pass.  I wasn’t as hard on myself about meeting deadlines.  I let myself be okay with not having a new book idea to pursue.  I let myself stay in work that doesn’t deliver a high enough level of impact on others.  My standard for disappointment in myself loosened.  I justified more self-care.  Pass, pass, pass.  Slide, slide, slide.  And I have been happy.  I am enjoying myself and my time.  I notice the lack of tension and appreciate the absence of the weight on my shoulders, the need to constantly rise to my high standards.  I Iike doing the other things, too.  Life is good.

And yet, just below the surface, there is always the gnawing…

I can’t help thinking that I will wake up one of these days in a full-blown panic with the realization at how much time has passed since I was in fifth gear, churning out evidence of how I want to be in the world and the impact I want my life to leave.  I will remember vividly how, only two short years ago, I was on fire with productions of my purpose and my passions.  And I will be devastated by regret.

I am a lifelong student of Tennis, and I think often about the three guys that are at the absolute pinnacle of the sport: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic.  They only got there by doing everything right all along the way.  Nutrition, fitness, stroke production, mental strength, attitude, work ethic.  Everything.  All of that has to be done consistently to have the best career possible, to be Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic rather than Kyrgios or Safin.  If you are asking who those last two are, my answer is, “EXACTLY!”  You have proven my point.  (Answer: They are players who shared the era with the three giants and had at least as much talent but nowhere near the results, victims of their own inconsistent efforts.)

Is Life the same way?  Do we get to coast for any extended periods—mindlessly going through the motions without putting our noses to the grindstone of our dreams and ideals and pointedly attempting to do our best—without ultimately being unsatisfied with our run?  That is the question that gnaws at me.

I will turn 48 soon.  It’s not ancient, but believe me, that proximity to 50 has made me aware that my clock is ticking.  There is more sand in the bottom of the hourglass than the top.  I hate that!  I love this life and want it to go on and on.  I have thought that all along, but now there is that ticking in the ambience, supplying the years with an urgency that didn’t exist before.

I want my lifetime, when all the dust settles, to have been a great one.  Not just a good one.  Not just one with a smattering of good memories and sweet loves, or a handful of milestones that I was once proud to hit.  I want it to have been great.  Roger Federer great.  I want to know that I made good use of my gifts, that I lived up to my potential.  That’s really what it is, now that I write the word: potential. When I go, I want to have wrung out every last bit of goodness from my soul and left it here on the Earth.

When I think about that standard, the regret begins to pour over me.  It just seems like the people who have lived the very best of lives probably didn’t do a lot of sliding.  You know, like Mother Teresa, she probably didn’t knock off her work with the poor in India for a few years to recharge her battery, kicking back to read and do coffees with friends.  Martin Luther King probably didn’t do a lot of retreats or take sabbaticals from injustice (My goodness, the man did all he did and was killed before he even reached age 40; that is humbling to any aspiring change-maker.) .

And while I understand that Life requires balance, and while I accept that self-care, downtime, hobbies, and even perhaps some mindless television or social media are part of that balance that makes for a healthy existence, I also can see how easy it is to fall into the trap of overindulgence.  “Self-care” can be a drug, too, an opiate that allows me to piddle away my time on what genuinely appear to be pleasant activities and personal growth but are, after a while anyway, simply justifications for not doing better for the world around me.  That translates into a life that is enjoyed but not fulfilled.  I want both.  I demand both.

So, given that I know I haven’t done it all right to this point, my main question is: How much slide time do I have left, if any, before I no longer have a chance to make mine a truly great life?  Has my relative slide these past two years been too much to overcome?  How “productive” do I have to be every year going forward to negate this slow patch?  More generally, I just want to know what percentage of a person’s life gets to be unambitious in the direction of her ideals and goals compared to the percentage that she spends fully engaged in the good stuff.  Because, like I said, I do enjoy my sliding activities, but I think they would be all the more enjoyable if there wasn’t that perpetual gnawing that accompanies them.  It would be nice if present guilt and future regret didn’t accompany every period of ease and contentment.  I would champion and embody the whole Balance and Self-Care movement if I knew just what the acceptable balance was.  Acceptable for Greatness, that is.  I don’t want to be just generally satisfied at the end of this ride.  I want to be completely fulfilled.  I want to have made an impact.  I want to be able to call my life great.

How about you?  Are you using your time in a way that you will not have regrets later about squandering the potential you had to build a great life?  Open up your journal and explore your goals and ideals in juxtaposition with the way you have passed the years.  Are you on your way to living the life you have imagined for yourself, or are you mostly coasting through to wherever?  Perhaps it is best to begin by envisioning your best life.  What does that look like for you?  What kind of work would you be doing?  What positive impact on the world would you be making?  Whose lives would you be touching?  Which ideals would you be advancing?  How fulfilled would you be?  Does that vision feel like a great life?  Let’s keep that vision as your standard.  Now, how are you doing at living up to it?  Over the last decade, in how many of the years do you feel like you have made significant strides in the direction of these goals and ideals?  How many of the years have you coasted through?  What about this year?  Are you in a Progress Mode at the moment, or are you sliding by?  How much does it bother you when you realize you are in a coasting period?  Do you feel guilt about your slides?  How much do you think you will regret them later?  How do you feel in your most “productive” periods, when you are advancing your dreams and doing good work in the world?  Does the satisfaction give you fuel to do more, even as the work is taxing?  How long do your ideal stretches tend to last, these times when you are really in the flow and knowing you are making a difference?  How long do your more passive, coasting stretches tend to last?  Is your ebb and flow of ambition fairly consistent?  Do you need the down times to refuel your tank for more of the good stuff, or do you just get sidetracked?  How aware are you of the phase you are in at any given time?  Do you know when you are in Self-Care Mode versus Hard Driving Mode?  Do you plan it?  What do you think is the right balance for you?  What percentage of your adult years will have to have been good ones for you to proclaim, in the end, that you have had a truly great life?  Do you think your standard is pretty similar to most people’s?  Do you feel driven to have a great life, or is a good or okay one acceptable for you?  At the end of it all, how closely will you have come to reaching your potential?  Are you on track for that now, or do you have some catching up to do?  Do you believe it is still possible?  What will you regret coasting by?  What is one thing you can do today to advance your cause?  I hope that you will take advantage of the opportunity.  Leave me a reply and let me know: How much of your life needs to be great to have lived a truly great life?

Seize the day,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  We rise together!

P.P.S. If this method of self-inquiry and storytelling appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Have You Made Any Lemonade From All Of These 2020 Lemons?

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.  That’s what this storm’s all about.” –Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’  One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.  In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.” –John F. Kennedy

Hello friend,

I am SO HAPPY to connect with you again!  It feels like forever since I have written to you.  I love to write these letters.  I love the whole process: what I learn about myself in the exploration, the struggle to piece together the right combination of words to make my idea clear to you, the ecstatic blend of calm certainty and dancing butterflies I feel deep down in my chest and my soul from the knowledge that I am acting on my purpose, the joy and relief of hitting the “Publish” button and seeing my labor of love go out into the world to mingle with your beautiful mind, and the connection I feel with you as a result.  All of that is everything to me.  I love to write.  I am so grateful to be in your world, to share space with you today.  This is where I am supposed to be.

So, why haven’t I been here more often lately?  That is the logical question.  In Pandemic America, after all, the story goes that Time itself has slowed down, and with it, all of our lives.  We have the headspace and the minutes and hours (and days and weeks and months….) to collect ourselves, to nest, to make our spaces feel more like home, to set our priorities right, and to finally do all of the things we have been longing to do for ourselves.  As disruptive as the coronavirus has been to our normal—our economy, our relationships, our work, our fun, our faces—it supposedly gave us this gift of a “RESET,” the time to get ourselves right and clarify who and what we love.

This is why I have been racked with guilt and frustration that I haven’t been writing more over the past several months.  This would seem to have been the ideal time to churn out letters to you every week like I used to.  After all, Journal of You is about digging into our own existence and coming to understand where we have come from, where our passions lie today, and where we see ourselves going in the moments we have left on this Earth.  This should be our opportunity to nail that stuff down, right?  A chance at complete clarity, at least for a moment in our otherwise-busy lives.  Somehow, I have failed to capitalize on this most golden of opportunities.

I suppose it was some combination of laziness, busy-ness, and distractedness.  That natural slowing down during the earliest, “lockdown” phase of the pandemic seemed to slow everything down, including my ambition.  I was enjoying the relative quiet and solitude of my home and family, content to soak up their company and the extra moments without errands and commutes.  The urgency to write it all down just wasn’t there.  Then came the urgency to do the other things that are typically much more neglected than my writing.  Like so many other people, I took on all sorts of home improvement projects, becoming an apprentice painter, landscaper, and organization guru.  With my time going into those tasks, the hours allotted to writing diminished.  Then there was the issue of headspace.  For so much of the last half a year, my brain seemed to split its thoughts three ways: pandemic, racial injustice, and governmental/political nonsense.  All three are psychologically and emotionally draining in their own ways, leaving precious little energy for regular functioning, much less for creative expression.

I found myself at the breakfast table this week reading up on the wildfires currently devastating the American West.  The whole thing is absolutely heartbreaking to me on so many levels: the loss of life (human, animal, plant, and more), the loss of Beauty, the loss of habitat, the loss of personal property and the priceless feelings of “home” for so many, the loss of jobs and dreams, the recklessness of human-created climate change, the addition of even more greenhouse gases from the fires themselves, and all of the trauma caused, to name just a few.  The thought that rose up from inside me was, “My God, I hope we are learning something from this, at least.  There has to be some good that comes from it.  Something!”

It came out like a plea, I suppose, an imploring of the people of the world to find a way to do better as a result of this catastrophe, to create a silver lining from these darkest of clouds.  To make lemonade from this overabundance of lemons we seem to be tripping over wherever we step.

Just think about these last few months and the swirl of awfulness that has joined our already-tense and divided country. The gross mishandling of the coronavirus and subsequent spiraling death toll and economy.  The very public murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor (to name but a few) and the subsequent protests across in cities big and small across the country.  Unemployment and food insecurity for so many.  The deaths of social justice giants John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The continued lies and indecency of the President.   The approach of a contentious election.  The fires.

These are all things that have the potential, individually, to knock you down and leave you feeling lost and unmoored from your moral and emotional home base.  They can also, individually, leave you deeply bitter and lacking faith in our country, its institutions, and its people.  They have the potential, individually, to make you want to shut down, to retreat, to go into self-preservation mode.  With powers of destruction that strong individually, when taken together, in a series of relentless, cascading blows one on top of another and often simultaneously, the cumulative effect of 2020 has proven devastating.  The countless memes it has generated are a reliable testament to that (e.g “Cue the murder hornets!” and “Apocalypse Bingo”).

In a year when so much seems so wrong, the natural reaction feels like it ought to be to simply weather the storm, try to not get sick or committed to the asylum.  Dodge the bullet.  Just try to wait it out and hope to begin dreaming, loving, and achieving again next year.  Save self-improvement for 2021.  That makes sense.  “To everything, there is a season,” right?  This year definitely feels biblical, so maybe this is just the season of our lives to hunker down and ride it out, having faith that next year must be better.

That idea soothes me.  It placates me, softening my usual urgency for personal and global improvement, lets me off the hook for my recent lack of achievement and production.  My guilt is assuaged.  I appreciate the pass for 2020.

But I can’t help being suspicious of it.  I tend to disbelieve any philosophy that tells me it is okay to stop learning, growing, and making my life and my world better.  Sure, I understand that our ambition ebbs and flows along our journey, and I try to listen to my intuition about how hard I need to push in a given season.  And I am a huge fan of self-care and filling up one’s tank when it is running low so you can face the challenges of the present and the future.  On top of that, I realize that some of these blows that 2020 continues to deliver require true grieving—they are just that painful–which takes its own time.  Still, my internal dashboard is always measuring for Progress.  I am naturally monitoring myself for signs of growth and surveying the world around me for ways I can both use my talents for good and be enriched.  I am also naturally optimistic, so I live with the assumption that all situations can lead to better ones, and Growth is ours to claim.

With those traits in my nature, I should not be surprised at my response to the wildfires in the West (which are sending their smoke across the country as though to remind us that we are all in this together and no one gets away clean).  Even in my deepest despair, I cling to the idea that we must learn and grow from our situations. 

But have I?  This year, I mean.  Have I hunkered down and simply tried to survive—which may be enough, honestly, depending on how close to home each crisis has struck—or have I found any ways for these calamities to improve my life or the world around me?

I would say I have done very little directly for the world (e.g. I protested for racial justice and wrote some pieces, but I definitely didn’t write often enough), but I have improved myself in subtle but certain ways.  Much of it has come in the form of solidifying my priorities and values.  The pandemic, with its extra time to think and the need to stay in one place with only the people in my household, has served to thrust those values and priorities into bold relief, forcing an examination and a culling of the excesses and the things that just don’t feel authentic and uplifting anymore.  And because all of these other tragedies and tensions have occurred inside of the pandemic, each has received a thorough vetting in the recesses of my mind and the pages of my journal.

It has become increasingly clear to me this year that my family is the most important thing.  It turns out that I chose the right wife, and my kids are the right ones for me.  With all of this working and schooling from home and acting as each other’s playmates, teachers, and co-workers, I can only imagine how many families are at each other’s throats during all of these overlapping crises.  For all of my pre-family-life worry and fear I had over whether I could exist—much less be happy—with the responsibilities of a husband and father, I am so glad that I ended up with these guys.  I feel much better about that now, and I believe that foundation will support me no matter what else I have to face.

In watching the way my country’s institutions and people have handled (or mishandled) the crises of 2020, I have become even more deeply committed to moral and political positions I have held in the past.  The coronavirus pandemic has made crystal clear what a failure of leadership looks like.  In the halls of Congress and the White House, and in examples from different governors and mayors from around the country, I have seen examples of the best and worst kinds of politicians.  It has affirmed for me that, even though I am not a fan of our two-party system and neither party acts exactly as I wish they would, the folks that at least lean my way are doing so much more basic Good for ordinary Americans—that is, almost all of us—than the ones leaning the other way.  The particular political issues that have come into relief through the crises—climate science with the wildfires, health care coverage with the coronavirus and its ensuing unemployment, voting rights and women’s rights with the deaths of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, racial injustice with the murders of George Floyd and others, and the need to protect our democracy with the regular assaults on it by the President—have made me feel stronger in my positions than ever before.  My conviction has multiplied.  I have become even more of Me.

These things have also cast each of my relationships and potential relationships into the light, making me very protective of the kind of people I want to keep in my life now and let into it in the future.  Though my heart will be wide open with love, I have no doubt also that the gate will be well-guarded.  Boundaries are beautiful.

These overlapping crises and the time I have had to consider them has made these things very clear to me.  I am certain that this clarity will make me a happier person going forward, better able to see my way and also better able to use my gifts to serve the world and all of the beautiful souls finding their way through it.  Though I am eager for this year and its many calamities to be behind me, I can honestly say I am grateful for it.  I will come out the other side of 2020 as a better person.

How about you?  Have you managed to grow and improve your world amidst the stress and tragedy of this year?  Open up your journal and write out your own version of a progress report.  What changes have you gone through internally as the various crises of 2020 have piled on top of one another?  What is your balance of “just trying to ride it out” versus “I can thrive in this” mentality?  How different is that balance this year compared to a “normal” year?  Which aspects of the year’s drama—coronavirus, job loss, racial injustice and protests, social isolation, change of routine, economic stress, climate emergencies, death of heroes, murder hornets, political drama—tend to send you into self-preservation mode, where simple survival is the goal and personal growth seems out of the question?  In which areas have you made efforts to address the issue head-on and learn more about it to achieve better clarity in your position and/or take action in the world to help the cause?  How has that effort changed you?  If this year has had you “stuck” at home more often and unable to physically interact with others much, how have you dealt with that?  What have you learned about yourself through that aspect of the experience?  Did you reach any conclusions about yourself that caused you to make any major changes?  Do you feel like you have clarified who you really are this year?  What do you value most?  What are your top priorities?  Are there things that you have reduced or eliminated from your life in this process?  What about people?  How has seeing your “friends” react to this year on social media (e.g. their responses to George Floyd’s murder) changed the way you feel about them or their place in your life going forward?  If you have let some habits or people go, do you feel lighter and more authentic for it?  Have you started some new habits?  Are they healthy or unhealthy?  Can you point to anything specific in your world where you are making a more positive impact than you were before this crazy year happened?  Is it enough just to know that you are bringing a better self out into your regular life each day?  If you feel like you haven’t spun any of 2020’s calamities into growth experiences, how might you start today?  No matter what you have done to this point, which crisis area feels ripe for your next growth spurt?  I hope you will take on the challenge.  Leave me a reply and let me know: How have you turned 2020’s many lemons into lemonade?

Rise,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let’s improve together!

P.P.S. If you appreciate this sort of personal introspection, I encourage you to purchase my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Missed Connections: Are Your Conversations Deep Dives Or Surface Skims?

“Good conversation is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea 

“Sometimes when it looks like I’m deep in thought I’m just trying not to have a conversation with people.” –Pete Wentz

Hello friend,

At a recent holiday gathering with my immediate family, we were chatting outside on the deck when up pulled a crew of more distant relatives, many of whom I hardly know.  I am naturally reserved—probably ‘unsocial’ is more accurate—in such situations, inclined to disappear until the crowd passes through.  There was one cousin with them, however, who holds a special place in my heart, even if we don’t keep in touch beyond the photos on Facebook.  I am interested in her life and have always imagined that we could be close if the logistics of our lives matched up better.

In spite of my well-practiced social distancing precautions, I was pleased when she moved through the family and over to where I was observing the scene.  I greeted her warmly, and we proceeded to spend the next several minutes getting caught up on her family news.  Before long, my brother drifted over and started chatting with her, and our window together closed.  A few minutes later, she was gone with the rest of the visitors, probably out of my sight for a few more years.

It was a nothing conversation, but the moment seems to keep returning to my mind in these receding days.  We had a few minutes, a window.  Although it is, of course, the norm to do the standard check-in and small-talk—How long are you in town?  How is your Mom?  Do you like living in Anytown?  Blah blah blah…–we didn’t have to.  Knowing that she is an avid reader, the very first question I asked her instead could have been about the best book she has read lately, or her top five authors, or her favorite memoir (my go-to genre).  Now that would have been a good conversation!  Instead of lamenting her departure because we hadn’t really connected, as happened this time, I could have lamented being unable to finish a gripping exchange of ideas that likely would have ended with a promise to message me a list of suggestions.  Those are two very different laments.

I can tell that the reason this seemingly forgettable interaction remains unforgettable to me is that it was a wasted opportunity to feel alive.  Isn’t that what a good conversation is?  That deep connection to another human being in a moment, however brief, is the spark of Life itself.

I love Life.  I crave it in its various forms, including the ripple of the stream, the song of the bird, the breeze on my skin, and the rising of the sun.  Humans are in there, too, sharing their Life with me through their art, their compassion, their aspiration, and their acts of true love.

And yes, their conversation.  Real conversation.  Impassioned, curious, well-listened, and deeply felt conversation.  When it is fully engaged in both the give and the take, a conversation—whether it is silly or sad, with a stranger or a friend—is a priceless gem.  And like that gem, it is, unfortunately, too rare.  We just don’t take that deep, beautiful dive often enough.  Like me with my cousin, the window closes, perhaps never to be opened again with that person.

It would be easy and cliché to say that in this age of social media and texting, our faces in our screens preclude us from making those meaningful connections and having those heart-to-hearts.  But I don’t know that I believe that.  I have hung around plenty of people from older, less-techie generations and found their chatter to be nearly all of the small and space-filling variety.  And maybe these screens—provided we are willing to put them down from time to time—are so saturated with juicy information on every topic imaginable that everyone can find something that they are passionate about learning and sharing with someone else who is willing to lock eyes and listen.  Maybe these screens are the gateway to deeper conversation, not more shallow.  I hope so.

I believe in our ability to converse and to light each other up in the process.  What I am less sure of is our courage.  Let’s face it, when you attempt to go below the surface with someone, you don’t know what kind of reception you will get.  For one, these attempts are so rare, especially in traditional small-talk zones—sidelines of sporting events, walking in your neighborhood, pubs, grocery stores—so people can be taken aback by your probing and your full attention (sadly, something we also rarely seem to give).

But if you can catch someone in that perfect moment when you are both willing to be open, present, and vulnerable, Magic can happen. 

I am the first one to admit I don’t like talking with most people.  My soul sensors are fine-tuned to detect people whose energies align with mine and those who don’t.  I passionately dislike anything in life that feels like a waste of my time—errands, lines, traffic, meetings, small-talk, the list goes on—and that includes spending time with people who don’t ignite something special in my heart or mind.  Knowing that about myself, it crystallizes my challenge: to take full advantage of every moment to converse with these captivating people, to not waste any words on small-talk, but rather to plunge directly into a meaningful exchange of ideas and energies.

I have to be more opportunistic with these rare moments and more efficient about getting into the meaty portion of people’s minds.  I have to launch into my best questions from the outset rather than participate in the standard opening, anesthetic nonsense about the weather, the outfits, and the appetizers on offer.

And rather than just waiting around hoping that I happen upon one of my favorite people and that they happen to have time for me at that moment, I also need to be better about seeking them out.  This directive struck me hard this week as I was strolling through the Twitterverse.  Amidst all of the politics and pop culture, I stumbled upon this humble gem by the octogenarian news man Dan Rather (who happens to be a fountain of simple wisdom): That person you keep thinking, “I should call them.”  You should.  Do it.  Pass it on.

That seemingly innocuous little note had the effect of simultaneously slapping me in the face and kicking me in the butt, giving me a wake-up call about all the people I so often think about talking to but never make the effort to reach them.  Dan is right.  I need to do it.  My life would be infinitely richer for it.

I want that richer life.  I want those richer conversations.  I guess it all circles back to that issue of Courage.  If you want something—in this case, a richer life full of deep, meaningful exchanges with fascinating people who stir my soul—and you know what it takes to get it, you have to be willing to stick your neck out.  I have to be willing to feel awkward in order to feel energized and enlightened.  I have to be brave enough to follow my “Hello” with a question I really want to know the answer to, one that can stimulate a lively exchange.  I must set aside my anxiety about picking up the phone and calling someone who hasn’t heard from me in a long time.  I must display the same courage that I implore you to summon.  That seems only fair.  I can do that.

Hello, World, I am ready to converse!

How about you?  How open and assertive are you in your pursuit of good conversation?  Open up your journal and wade through your interactions with the people in your life.  How deeply are you reaching below the surface in your usual conversations with the people you are interested in?  Not the people whom you cannot avoid in the regular course of your day—at your job or in your neighborhood or your hangouts—but the people whom you would choose to interact with; nobody wants to take a deep dive with someone they can barely tolerate.  So, for those intriguing characters in your world, how aggressively do you pursue their true nature and interests?  In your encounters with them, do you make it a point to raise topics that will lead to a lively exchange and perhaps some personal growth for each of you?  Do you try to draw out their life story?  Do you probe for their opinions on important matters, whether the politics of the day or a life situation you are struggling with?  Do you ask them to educate you on something you don’t understand?  If they are natural storytellers, do you try to coax them into a fascinating or funny tale?  Do you request specific favorites or lists, such as favorite books, movies, music, vacations, games, foods, etc. that you know will spark a spirited discussion?  Which of these types of inquiries seems to work best for you to get the kind of feedback and deep connection that satisfies you?  How aware are you of the quality of the conversation as you are having it?  How much time typically passes after you have had a wonderful give-and-take before you realize its rewards and think to yourself, “I want to do that again!”?  How often do you find yourself in one of these discussions?  Do you usually arrive there intentionally or accidentally?  How often does an interaction end leaving you with some regret—like me with my cousin—that you didn’t make the effort to go deeper?  Do you think it is because you lacked the courage in the moment to probe them, or were you just not mindful enough of how shallow the conversation was until after it was over, stuck in the habits of our usual superficiality?  Why are we so superficial in general?  Is it just a matter of practicality, us being unable to take a deep dive very often due to things like time constraints and other people overhearing what we would like kept private?  Or are we afraid of being vulnerable, of exposing things about ourselves that will be open to judgment from others?  Or are we shallow?  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being shallow and 10 being deep, how deep are your conversations with the people you want to connect with?  How do you think that number compare to the average person?  How does it compare to the people you admire the most?  Who are those people?  Who in your life—whether it’s been 10 minutes or 10 years since you have spoken to them–would you love to get a phone call or a visit from so you can share stories, ideas, and passions?  How often do you think about calling or visiting them?  How much would it enrich your life?  What keeps you from doing it?  Does that fear or justification feel more important than the joy, the growth, and the inspiration that the connection would bring to you (and to them)?  If you could pick just one person to reach out to today for whatever reason, who would it be?  What would you ask them?  What would you share?  I dare you!  How much deeper do you want your connections to be?  How much richer do you want your life to be?  Are the two answers the same?  What is your next step to go further below the surface?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Are your conversations satisfying to your soul?

Take the plunge,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it.  Let it be another way to deepen your relationships.

P.P.S. If this way of probing yourself feels helpful to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.