Category Archives: Creativity

Happy Old Year!!! The Highly Specific, Totally Personal BEST OF 2022 List

“Make improvements, not excuses.” –Roy T. Bennett, The Light In The Heart 

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” –Lloyd Alexander

Hello friend,

Happy New Year!  I love this time of the year for its outward permission to begin again and to be optimistic.  It’s expected that we set some goals, make some plans, and generally set out to become a better version of who we were last year.  That sounds good, right?

Yes, BUT….

While I am so excited for what 2023 has in store for me—I’m sincerely thinking it could be my best year yet—I am not quite ready to just leave 2022 in the rubbish pile.  I adored 2022!  I so often found myself thrilled at what I was engaged in, whether that was a physical challenge, a streaming series, or a delicious beverage.  So before I go bouncing excitedly into the new year, I want to make a list of the best things I did or saw or got into in 2022.  Not the usual Top 10 Movies or 10 Best Television Shows type of lists that are everywhere lately—I do love those, too, however—but rather something very personal and specific, and yet also random.  I’m thinking of any little product I discovered or thing I added to my routine or even advice I heard.  Just stuff I kind of test drove in my life.

Since I am constantly tinkering with my life in hopes of making it the most productive, efficient, fun, adventurous, and helpful it can possibly be, I love when I find a good hack or pro tip or simply something that tastes amazing.  These are the kinds of things I am always trying to pry out of people I know: their secrets for making Life a little easier or happier.  Some people seem to have a ton—my sister is good at this–and I love when they are willing to share.  So, in the spirit of bests, here are some of my favorites from 2022:

  • Best Follow-My-Gut Moment: When I randomly wrote the first chapter of what became my novel. I had no clue about the plot of the story at the time, but I just decided to write a page simply to see how it felt.  The result: I was completely alive, every synapse in my brain exploding like a fireworks show.  Clearly I was onto something.  I didn’t know what, but I knew I needed to see where it would lead.  By the end of the year, I had a draft that I actually liked and felt like a real book to me.  We will see in 2023 if any publishers think so, but even if they don’t, this was absolutely one of the coolest and most rewarding things I have ever done.  I now feel like I must give myself permission to seize upon my gut instincts more often and take more chances creatively.  Who knows what other magic might be inside of me?
  • Best Addition To My Health & Fitness Routine: Bedtime yoga. I don’t know if it’s actually yoga.  Maybe it’s just stretching.  In any case, it has been so, so helpful to both my sleep and my waking life.  I have had back problems my entire adult life, including surgery and lots of rough weeks bent sideways in spasm.  I am always searching for ways to make those rough weeks fewer and further between.  This year I think I finally discovered one (knock on wood).  On a mat in the dark when I am otherwise completely ready for bed, I roll my back out with my Chirp wheel and then invert myself so my feet are in the air.   I do a bunch of stretches for my legs, hips, and torso.  I include focused breathing and a few regular yoga poses to finish up.  The whole routine—it has definitely become a routine—takes about 20 minutes.  Then I climb into bed feeling wonderfully relaxed and clear-minded.  I have had far fewer days of physical agony this year than any in recent decades, which means I can do more of the things that fill my bucket.  This addition to my routine, to which I have been faithful even when busy or exhausted or on vacation, is definitely something I am going to keep.  I am beyond grateful for it.
  • Best Electronic/Device To Keep Me On Track Physically: A Fitbit. For years I resisted getting any kind of step counter or fitness tracker or smartwatch, not because I didn’t believe in their usefulness but because I tend to get a bit obsessed with statistics and metrics of all sorts.  They are just too fascinating to me.  I knew that would happen if I got one of these gadgets, but I just couldn’t resist any longer.  I asked for one at the holidays last year and have been dialed in ever since (I started with a Charge 5 and just got a Sense 2 last week).  I love all the numbers: active zone minutes, steps, miles, sleep stages, heart rates, skin temperature, oxygen saturation, and on and on.  Beyond just being interesting, it got me to move more often and set more and different goals, sometimes many times per day.  And by judging me and assigning a sleep score every morning when I woke up, it tapped into my competitiveness and really pushed me to get to bed on time and sleep more.  Getting more active and sleeping better—it is a very satisfying combination for me.  I’m sticking with it.
  • Second Best Device To Keep Me On Track Physically: A scale. I know I know!  It’s not supposed to be about your weight but about how you feel.  I get it and I agree.  And I was also a bit hesitant to bring a scale into the house of young adolescents, as I don’t want them obsessing about their own weights.  I did it anyway, not long after I got the Fitbit.  All my adult life I had stayed fit but my weight kept creeping up almost imperceptibly, maybe a pound per year lately.  I had started to accept it as natural, but I just couldn’t convince myself.  I decided to make subtle changes and wanted to see if they worked.  I wanted the scale to give me one type of measurable data.  It absolutely did.  Yes, I admit that I am obsessed with it, checking my weight multiple times per day to understand my body’s patterns.  But it has also worked—along with the other things I have already mentioned—in helping me lose weight for the first time in my entire life.  I’m not saying a scale is for everybody, but for me it has been an excellent addition to my health plan.
  • Best New Tool For Yardwork & Chores: Battery power. This Spring, when it was time to get the stinky gas mower serviced again for the season, I instead got into heavy research about what has intrigued me for a couple of years: battery-powered mowers.  Since I absolutely loathe the smell of exhaust from gas engines and figured I could be doing something positive for the environment (and not be frustrated annually by the chugging of my engine and questioning which gas is right and how long it can be in the tank, etc.), I went for it (I got an E-GO brand).  Other than the battery not lasting as long as I needed to finish the yard in one pass, it proved to be a total game-changer.  It is so much more quiet, cuts well, and no more awful smell.  And good-bye cord-yanking; I just push the button to start it.  When Fall came and I needed more repairs to the even-less-trusty-but-more-stinky snowblower, I decided to cut my losses and get the battery-powered one from E-GO.  I can use the same batteries as the mower interchangeably and now won’t worry about running out of either.  I am never going back to gas.  Go Science!
  • Best Addition To Oral Health Routine (Hey, I said personal!): A water flosser (a.k.a. WaterPik). I have been intrigued by these things since I was a little kid but had never tried one.  At my last checkup, the hygienist said that because of grooves and pockets in my teeth, they can collect unwanted food during the day.  She suggested a water flosser.  As luck would have it, one soon went on sale at Costco.  The verdict: so worth it!  I don’t wait for the end of the night.  I do it a few times a day if I am around.  It feels so good and really does clear the food out.  I am committed for life!
  • Best Media Addition: I never understood how people had time for podcasts (or television series or movies, for that matter), so I just never considered them before.  However, on a trusted friend’s recommendation, I tried an episode of Jay Shetty’s “On Purpose” as a substitute for listening to music while working out.  I got hooked, first on that particular podcast and then on the medium in general.  Who knew there was so much to learn and laugh at?  Answer: probably everyone but me.  But now I do, and I love it.
  • Best Podcast: I smile just typing the word.  This interview show hosted by the brilliant comic actors Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes along with one famous guest has brought me so many hours of enjoyment this year.  I listen to it while lifting weights, so along with the regular grunting and panting from me dying in my attempts to stay fit, you will hear me giggling along to the show as they mock each other to oblivion.  The guests are excellent, but the hosts are the best.  I hope this show never ends!
  • Best Indulgent Drink: Big Train Spiced Chai Latte. I’ve had a lifelong sweet tooth and have always enjoyed a huge ice cream habit.  Part of my attempt to lose weight has been to ease up just a tiny bit on the sweets, and that includes ice cream.  However, I think I may have simply traded one very sweet treat for another this year.  I like the idea of tea, but my usual favorites are about half tea water and half honey.  This year, though, I allowed myself a splurge and bought some chai latte powder.  Big mistake!  I loved it too much, especially with some added Caramel Macchiato creamer from Aldi added to make it even more sweet and creamy.  I can’t even pretend it is good for me, as I like to do with other teas (honey is a health food, right?).  It is a dessert, plain and simple.  I do my best to not drink it every day, as I don’t want to admit it is a habit.  I will just say it is fantastic and hard to resist.  I’m a big fan and yes, hooked.
  • Best Streaming Stuff: Okay fine, I surrender! Since I love television and film, I can’t pass up the chance to share things I have enjoyed this year.  Full disclosure: other than the occasional weekend evening of watching an entire episode or movie with my family, I only ever watch things while on a piece of cardio equipment.  That means I watch movies in two or three sittings over the course of a week, and episodes get broken up randomly depending on my workouts.  It’s not an ideal way to watch and probably alters what I like and dislike, but it’s the best I can do for now.  Anyway, I feel like I have watched a lot of HBO Max and Apple TV+ this year.  My favorites from there and elsewhere have been Black Bird, Severance, Euphoria, Heartstopper, Ozark, Slow Horses, and Bullet Train.
  • Best Musical Artist: Though this was not a new find for me, I was deep into Matt Nathanson this year. His new album “Boston Accent” got by far the most plays on my Apple Music app.  My daughter and I just bonded over his Holiday Livestream on Friday night.  I believe I have been transformed from a fan to a superfan.
  • Best Advice From A Meme: “Be you. The world will adjust.”  Enough said.

I suppose I should take it as a good sign that I have not gotten too old and set in my ways that I can have this many fabulous new additions to my life in just one year.  I do love my routines and am undoubtedly highly opinionated, but I am constantly tinkering and trying new ways to see if I can make both my mind and my entire existence better.  And since I love learning, new experiments, ideas, and art forms are the natural way to scratch that ever-present itch.  This year I just happened to get lucky on many of the things I tried, leaving me feeling pretty darn satisfied with my Best Of Everything list and fairly certain many of these will become long-term positive changes in my life.  I love that.  So bring on 2023 and all of the new things I can try out!  My mind is open for business.

How about you?  What is on your Best Of Everything 2022 list?  Open up your journal and move your mind back through your year of new attempts at changing your world one little thing at a time.  Get specific and keep it very personal.  Which physical items (e.g. gadgets, tools, furniture, toys) made your little corner of the world a happier place?  Is there something that makes you more comfortable?  More efficient?  More organized?  Happier?  Which things that you tried or changed have made you healthier?  Which part of your daily routine or schedule have you changed the most?  What improvements have come from that?  Is there a special food or drink item that you have added to your diet?  How about a new favorite recipe?  Have you added any new people to your circle that have become favorites?  Which media that you consumed this year (TV, movies, music, books, podcasts, etc.) do you find yourself recommending to others?  Is there one medium that you have been particularly into this year?  Which artist(s) did you spend the most time with or appreciate the most?  What is the best advice you got this year?  What is the most important thing you did?  Did you spread your wings enough?  Did you get uncomfortable for the sake of growth?  Twenty years from now when you look back on 2022, what will be the most poignant and lasting item on your Best Of list?  Do you leave the year satisfied that you tried out enough new ideas, foods, art, and adventure for one year?  Will you be more or less willing to test your limits and stretch your comfort zone next year?  Do you expect next year to be even better than this one for you?  Leave me a reply and let me know, What is on you Best Of Everything 2022 list?

Onward and upward,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Examining our lives makes them so much more sweet and vibrant.

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

What Is Your Next Great Challenge?

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” –Roy T. Bennett

Although on the surface my life has looked pretty boring for the last several months, inside I have been completely on fire.  Circuits have been popping, fireworks have been exploding, and something magical has been coursing through my veins.  I have felt thoroughly ALIVE.  It’s why I haven’t written to you in so long, despite my best intentions to do so.  I just couldn’t take a chance on letting that electric feeling in my soul fade away.  I couldn’t risk it.  So I just kept at it until at last I was sure I had a hold of it.  And now here I am, dying for you to get some of what I got.  It is the best drug I know of.  The best part: it starts and ends inside of you.

I wrote a book.  And not just any kind of book.  I wrote a novel.  A work of fiction.

Never in my life have I ever believed I could write a novel.  Never.  Oh sure, I fancied the idea of being a famous novelist in the same way I fancied being a singer-songwriter-guitarist touring successfully or a renowned painter or sculptor.  These are skills I have never trained for and talent that I fantasize about but simply do not possess.  It is a sturdy characteristic of my long existence that I wish I was so much more artistic than I actually am.  I truly adore the Arts and the artists that create them.  I just don’t have the gifts.

The closest I have ever come is writing these letters to you.  I like to think there is some element of the artistic in finding the right combination of words to convey my ideas.  It is not purely robotic.  So I flatter myself and motivate myself by regularly reminding myself, “I am a writer.”  It appears over and over again in the pages of my daily journal entries.  “I am a writer.”  I use these letters as proof and the repetition of the mantra to convince myself of its truth.

But I know the deal: a writer of true words and opinions, even if anguished over and painstakingly executed, is no novelist and no poet.  Those are the true artists under the writing umbrella.  I suppose I have always felt like more of a journalist or a columnist for a magazine or newspaper, occupying the rungs on the writing ladder that are “of this world.”  A regular person who writes, not an artist (like a house painter compared to a Renoir or Monet).  The artists are the storytellers and the poets, the songwriters.  You know them.  Stephen King.  Amanda Gorman.  Bob Dylan.  All touched by The Muse in a way regular schmucks with a keyboard like me have never been.  I have known my limitations and been humble enough to stay on my side of the line.

But then I got an idea.

It came to me this Spring.  It wasn’t a story so much as it was a character: a confused kid who needed to sort out his life.  I could see him, but that’s about it.  The protagonist, if you will.  The narrator.  I thought he was worthy of a story, even if I didn’t know what that story was.  Mostly I thought, “Too bad you landed in my brain instead of a real writer’s.”  I figured he would languish there and die, fading away like other moments of inspiration that I have felt along the way.  I’m guessing we all have them: little signs from the Universe that we choose to either notice or ignore.  I bet the real artists notice them better and latch on for dear life, fully aware that how they handle inspiration is the only true currency of their oh-so-short lives.  Well guess what?  All of our lives are oh-so-short.

Maybe I realized that when this narrator kid showed up in my brain.  Maybe I knew deep down that I had been coasting too long, enjoying my life but knowing it lacked the thrill of a genuine challenge.  I admit that I had become aware that I had been taking it easy in the prior months, that I had uneasily given myself permission to be less ambitious.  My tolerance for ease has never been great.   Maybe my soul couldn’t stand it anymore.  Whatever it was, something about this kid in my head struck me differently.  He wasn’t leaving.  He needed a voice, an outlet.  He had something to say.  Though I felt bad for him for landing in my unimaginative brain, I offered him my best attempt.  He accepted.

Not long after, I wrote his first words.  I just thought of it as a writing exercise.  Like, “Okay, here’s this kid.  What would he say?  Go!”  So I went, awkwardly but excitedly.  I wrote this in my journal the next day:

“Big news: I started the middle grade novel last night….it was so fun…It is so exciting—a rush is an accurate term—to create again, and especially in this fiction way.  It is new and thrilling.  I feel the hormones popping.  No matter what comes of this, I am glad I started.”

And that’s how it went.  Early on, I had so little time that every chance I got to work on it, my journal the next day was bubbling with the joy and inspiration I was feeling alongside the tension of venturing into the unknown and feeling unequipped.

“This is going to be hard and fun.”

“I am eager to get back into the story tonight, as last night I felt the story begin to take shape.  I am in the middle of introducing the villain, and that makes me feel like my teeth are finally getting into it.  It’s exhilarating.  I am a writer!  For that, I am grateful and so happy.”

“I have lots to flesh out.  I wish I had a couple of months obligation-free so I could grind it all out.  I am so curious to see what The Muse will draw out of me.  It is exciting.  I am so glad I dared to start.”

“It really is fun to work on it.  It opens something in me.  I love being a writer.”

I just love looking back and seeing those words over and over: FUN, EAGER, EXHILARATING, CURIOUS, EXCITING.  And that was only the beginning.  About a month into it, I hit the 5,000-word mark, which felt like a ton to me (it would eventually get close to 50,000).  The next day’s journal entry kind of summed up what it had become for me:

“I am in the midst of the biggest ‘story chapter’ yet, with some relationship development and scene-setting and other things that seem like a real novel.  That is a bit surreal, but it is fun and invigorating.  This project has really ignited something in my soul.  It is a huge challenge, but it stirs a part of my brain that has been dormant for far too long.  It reminds me of Jay Shetty talking about ‘flow state’ being when your challenge perfectly matches your abilities.  It is totally a challenge for me—and honestly, I am not 100% sure I can pull it off—but for now I am pretending that I am plucky enough to give it a whirl.  When I work on it, I am fully engrossed.  I can feel my hormones being stimulated like crazy.  I can’t wait to get back into it.  I am incredibly grateful for its arrival in my world.”

As exciting as it was, though, I still felt way past my comfort zone and wildly anxious about it.  It was a constant dance with my self-esteem to keep soldiering the project forward.  My joy would push forward, and my insecurity about my talent and competence would pull back.  There was a real element of torture to it.  A couple of weeks after that last entry, I wrote this:

“I am up to 8,400 words, which is pretty decent.  Another 1,600 and I will feel fully entrenched in it.  I am fully engaged now, but I think that numerical milepost will give me permission to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m writing a novel,’ maybe even out loud.  I have to keep convincing myself to trust that I have a real story to tell, that I have enough words to fill the pages, that I can land it in the appropriate length range.  I get a little panicked about all that sometimes, I fully admit.  I just have to keep showing up and putting down the next word, knowing that there are many rounds of editing to go.  I have to believe in myself, or at least suspend my disbelief so I can keep working.  I press on.  It is so engaging, though.  I love how I can feel all of these neurons firing all over my brain.  It’s like fireworks in there.  It’s fantastic.”

I inched forward, battling with my fears and insecurities every step of the way.

“I just love what comes out each time I sit down to the keyboard.  When I try to plot it out ahead of time, I only seem to get disheartened.  But when I sit down to work, something always comes out.  I have to remember that so I can keep the faith in the inevitably challenging times ahead.  It is in me.  The Alpha and the Omega.  I love being a writer.”

“I am getting good exercise squashing down all these fears and anxieties about it.  The best antidote is just to keep sitting down to write.”

As I worked through that first half of the book and came to accept that it was going to always be difficult and always a test of my self-belief, I began to appreciate both the process and the greater significance of this undertaking in my life.  I could feel the supreme importance of facing my fear and embracing the challenge with both hands.  I started to see little nuggets like these more often in my daily entries:

“Oh, how I love this the deeper I dive.”

“I am so, so grateful that I took the chance to begin.”

When I reached the last page of that volume of my journal (that is sixty-something now, I believe), I was close to the halfway point in the novel and wrote this to myself:

“This book, in the long run, is going to be remembered for the start of the novel.  That is going to be a big thing in my history, or at least I hope so.  I don’t know if it will lead to more books or just more courage, but either would be a win.  I am proud of myself.”

Even now reading back those words, it feels a bit surreal and pretty darn awesome.  For one, I love that I recognized that what I was doing was going to make me more courageous going forward in my life.  That is absolutely one of the things I am always wishing I was more of: brave.  So, hooray for that.  And second, I am finding it so cool that I wrote that I was proud of myself.  That is not something I think about or claim very often as I pass through this world, so I am glad I had that moment at least once in my lifetime.  I with that upon everyone.

That is way more of my journal entries than you probably ever wanted to see, so I will spare you the many things I said as I pushed through the second half of the novel.  I will just say that there was undoubtedly a lot of glowing about how much fun it was to create mixed with a lot of anxiety about whether I was up to the task.

The brilliant relief is that I was up to it.  That is not to say the draft that I produced is any good.  Chances are good that it is quite awful, in fact.  Of course, I hope it isn’t.  I hope some publisher wants to pay me a million dollars for it and then some movie producer wants to pay me another million to adapt it for the big screen.  I hope it becomes a sensation with readers and that they demand a sequel.  I want all that.  But let’s be real: it is probably terrible.  I will probably find no interested publishers when I get to looking.  It will likely never be read by more than a few people who are either doing me a favor or are bound by blood.  It will almost certainly go down publicly as a failure.

But as much as I wish those things weren’t true, I am still going to look back at this as one of my most favorite life experiences.  Sincerely, I am so grateful about everything this experience has brought me.  Forget the outward stuff, the intrinsic rewards have been more than I could have ever imagined.  Even from that first night in grinding out the first few words, I was surprised and impressed that I would even try something I was so patently unprepared for.  And the mountains of doubts that I pushed through in the early phases of writing–mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t even thought of a story before beginning—I was pleased every time I could face those doubts and still bring myself to write down some words anyway.  It was such a brilliant lesson in sacrificing things that I really wanted to do this Summer for this thing that I just wanted to do more.  In the remaining years of my life, I will carry that lesson of saying no even to things I like because they are not the thing that stirs my soul.  Because man, did this ever stir my soul!  Those tingles and whirrings and can’t-wipe-it-off smiles are truly the stuff of a life being lived the right way.  They are priceless.  The fact that I could have this little period of frequent and regular tingles in my soul is something I will treasure forever.

Now I want more.  That is one of my biggest lessons from this experience.  I need to find more projects or adventures or whatever that will bring more of this feeling into my system.  Obviously it is great to just do more cool stuff and make more memories with things like vacations or concerts and the like.  But what I am talking about is not just the stuff that feels good but that also is a huge challenge for my skillset and something that puts me just past my comfort zone.  What has made this book so singular and special to me is not just that I am making something that can last forever or that can potentially help people but that I never believed I could do such a thing.  I never believed I could write fiction.  I didn’t believe I had a story interesting enough to tell, certainly not one long enough to fill a book.  It was a daily challenge both from a skill perspective and from a psychological perspective.  It required all of my determination, persistence, and self-belief to keep it going from one day to the next.  Thankfully, it then rewarded me for my efforts with these delightful tingles and glows.  But it was a battle.  From this perspective, I can see what a boon the sheer challenge of it has been to my overall life satisfaction.  If it had felt easy and natural, it may have been enjoyable but not nearly as satisfying.

I was listening to a podcast last week with the brilliant documentary filmmaker Michael Moore as the guest.  In his long career, he has taken on the most controversial, hot-button issues of our time, such as gun control, health care, and climate change.  The host asked him how he chooses what his next subject will be.  He said he chooses the topic that scares him the most, the one that will be most difficult or personally risky.  I love that!  He is doing it right, leaning into his growing edge by working in a medium he loves but making it a constant challenge that requires him to grow.

In the end, I suppose my very biggest takeaway from this book-writing experience is that what I want for myself is also what I want for everyone else.  It is not just me that I want adopting a growth mindset and pushing my limits in the service of igniting my soul and blowing my hair back.  It’s everybody.  We all need that, whether we realize it or not.  I want to feel again that same sense of tension between my joy of working on something I love and the fear that I don’t have what it takes.  I want to claim the thrill aspect of that risk and the satisfaction of pushing through.  And I want you to feel it, too.  Maybe mine will come from writing more books.  Or maybe it will be something totally new, like learning the guitar or starting a business.  I hope I am open to the inspiration in whichever form it arrives.  I am eager for my next great challenge.

How about you?  What is the next thing that will stir your soul, challenge your skillset and your self-belief, and potentially be wildly delightful in the process?  Open up your journal and plot to uncover your next great challenge.  Consider what you have already done.  What are the things in your life story that fit the description of a true soul-stirring challenge?  Was it some kind of educational pursuit (getting a degree, a licensure, etc.)?  Was it taking some sort of Art class or taking up an artistic endeavor on your own (e.g. photography, painting, a musical instrument, writing a novel)?  Was it having a child or taking on childcare responsibilities?  Was it a career change?  Was it some sort of physical challenge (e.g. weight loss, marathon training, crossfit, martial arts)?  In which pursuits have you grown the most as a person?  Which challenges left you feeling most fulfilled?  Which were the most pure fun?  In which challenge did you fail at what you were trying to accomplish but still gained so much from the experience?  Which of your greatest endeavors would you want to do all over again?  Which would you never even consider trying again?  Which would you recommend to others?  Are you in the middle of a pursuit now, or are you in a coasting phase?  Is coasting satisfying to you, are you like me and get antsy to achieve something if you are passive for long?  So, based on your review of all of the challenging pursuits of your lifetime so far, are you generating some ideas about what might be next for you?  Is it creative, physical, intellectual, or something else?  Which type of challenge is most likely to pull you quickly out of your comfort zone?  How badly do you need that big plunge into the deep end to jumpstart your soul?  Which type of challenge pushes you just hard enough to be engaging but not so much that you feel your self-esteem questioned?  What is something you have always secretly wanted to try or learn?  What keeps you from taking the next step toward doing it?  Is that an excuse you can live with?  How many more years do you think you have left to live?  Would it be okay with you if you arrive at your end and realize you haven’t pushed your limits and reached your potential?  Which challenge could be your first step to finding out?  I dare you to try.  Leave me a message and let me know: What is your next great challenge?

Wishing you so much courage,

William

P.S. If today’s topic resonated with you, please share it with your community.  All of us living more boldly would make for a truly wonderful world.

P.P.S. If this type of deep dive inside your beautiful mind appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

How Many Different Careers Are You Meant For?

“The crowning fortune of a man is to be born to some pursuit which finds him employment and happiness, whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or statues, or songs.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’.” –Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

Writer.  Waiter.  Actor.  Maid.  Tennis Instructor.  Librarian.  Secretary.  Manager.  Laborer.  Teacher.  Personal Trainer.  I could go on if I had to.  I have made money doing all of these things at various times—sometimes at the same time—of my life.  Most of them I have found interesting and have been quite engaged in.  A couple I even thought of as “my career” at the time, and even now when I look back, I might say, “That one was my career.”  But none of them have lasted.  None have had me saying, “This is all I am going to do until I am 70 years old.  I’m good now.”

It seems like the overriding message that our culture sends to our young people is that you go to college (or trade school or whatever) to get a specific degree that will get you a specific job in a specific field, and you are meant to stick in that specific field until you retire.  Get a hobby if you want, but your career—that thing you answered when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”–is meant to last until retirement.  So, don’t jump ship.  No “mid-life crisis” career changes allowed.  No new callings.  Stay In Your Lane!  I think that works for a lot of people, too.  Most, really.  It just hasn’t worked for me.

I thought I was more or less alone with my wandering eye for new paths, new skillsets, and new areas of expertise (and, frankly, felt pretty ashamed about that across my lifetime, like it made me a quitter).  But a couple of weeks ago, I came across a book called How To Be Everything, and it turns out it is written directly at me.  Or, more accurately, the author seems confident that there are enough people like me that she wrote it for this large, scattered, anonymous collective called us.  I was floored.  She (Emilie Wapnick is the author) calls us “multipotentialites,” but there are other words for us (e.g. “polymath, generalist, Renaissance person, scanner”), in contrast to “specialists,” regular folks who really can tolerate and enjoy doing one thing for the long haul.  I am only a little bit into the book, but needless to say I am quite taken by the idea that a misfit like me not only has peers but may also have something in my wide combination of interests and skills that might even be usefully combined in a career or series of careers that mainstream society could appreciate.  It has me wondering: How many people out there are made for more than one gig, and how many are actually pulling it off?

I am trying to think back on my ancestry and immediate family for clues to my proclivity for multiple passions and interests and inability to settle on just one thing forever.  One of my grandfathers was a lifelong dentist but also was in charge of the family farm, so I suppose that could be something.  My other grandfather managed a lumber yard, but he also liked to build homes on the side and was into the stock market.  My Dad was always a business guy and has been in his same job forever, still not retired yet at 80 years old.  He, too, likes the stock market, but other than reading, I have never thought of him as someone with hobbies.  My Mom started as a teacher very briefly before becoming a full-time Mom, then eased back into the workforce doing some advertising and eventually selling real estate.  I wouldn’t necessarily associate any of them with the “Renaissance person” or “multipotentialite” moniker.  I am quite sure my inability to stay on one track has caused them all some frustration and disappointment along the way, as I am plainly the apple that fell furthest from the tree.  As with most everything else, my siblings are better at staying on the expected path than I am.

Growing up, I always assumed I would be a doctor.  That’s what you were supposed to do if you were smart.  I never questioned it until I was deep into college and started learning a bit about the arts.  Suddenly I felt as if committing to medical school would keep me from exploring anything else I might be interested in.  I decided I wanted to become an actor.  It was completely different in every aspect of my life.  I loved the acting part—the variety of characters to explore was fascinating–but not really the rest of it.  I spent some years just reading nonstop about tons of topics but was primarily interested in religion and spirituality.  I then went back to school, and after some debate between becoming a therapist or a sociologist, I settled on becoming a Philosophy professor and activist.  When I had had enough of that—it didn’t take long—I had a panicked, “Oh my gosh, I am getting old, so what am I going to do for a real career?” moment and decided to go back to the thing that I had always loved but never thought of as a career: coaching tennis.  It wasn’t long into that before I realized I not only wanted to teach but also to be in charge of the program.  That combination of private coaching, group coaching, teams, and then managing a group of people within a large corporation—with budgeting, payroll, hiring and firing, ordering, planning, marketing, and so much more—gave me the kind of variety and challenge that my mind thrives on.

But then I had kids, and—shocker to no parent ever—my perspective changed.  The career was suddenly not so important if it took me away from them.  I gave up the management aspect and just continued the coaching, spending far fewer hours at work than ever.  It was really that change that, as I look back on it now, got me away from feeling like I have a real career and into feeling like I just have a job.  I loved to teach still, and the beautiful uniqueness of each character kept me engaged, but how old can one be and still chase a tennis ball around all day long?  So, I decided to manage a store, the main selling point being not the work but that I could keep being around for my kids for whatever they needed.  I realized I was settling for less than a career I was passionate about so long as it fit into the bigger priority.  When I took my next job at a school, it was the same.  I was willing to be uninspired by my work as long as my bucket got filled in the hours I was not there.

It is hard for me to admit to myself that I am not going for it all, accepting less than having everything up to my standards, being fully satisfied in my work life, family life, and all of my hobbies.  It feels a bit like giving up, which bothers me, but I also know that Life goes in seasons.  I know this time with my kids is fleeting, and giving up some career aspirations in exchange for a completely engaged, no-regrets kind of parenthood is a bargain I am willing to make (though I have plenty of moments when my passions tug at my sleeve like, “Hey, buddy, did you forget about us?”).

It is a good thing that I have so many interests to study and explore, and that each new thing seems to open doors to several new others, making Life an endless maze of discoveries and growth.  I have been writing these letters to you through Journal of You for seven years now, and threw in a book partway through.  I took courses in Life Coaching, which was quite enlightening and inspiring.  Through books, documentary films, and the Internet, I have learned about a wide array of topics that sometimes seem directly connected to the previous thing, sometimes a world apart. I am dying to know more. I am all in on my health and fitness.  Music continues to enthrall me.  My eagerness to be outside and connected to Mother Earth is strong, and my interest in the workings of my own mind remains as strong as ever.  I love to document it all with my pen and my camera.  All of these keep me excited to get up in the morning and deeply engaged until bedtime.  There is never a day that ends with me thinking I had enough time to do all of the things I wanted to do.  Even with a pretty dull work experience.

Because in the end, I understand that it is really about having a satisfying, engaging LIFE.  That is the real goal.  In some seasons of Life, the career part may be deeply meaningful, and hopefully the hobbies and people in my life are, too.  In other seasons, like this one for me, the “career” is just a job and it is the rest of my life that is there to fill my bucket.  I have mostly made my peace with it for now—like I said, I like it when I have everything my way—but I know it won’t be this way forever.

So, what is next?  The one thing I think of as the “career” I had was a tennis coach and program manager.  The other things I think of as jobs along my path.  I guess I am wondering now if the next 20 years or so are going to be about another thing that feels like a “career,” or will I just keep piecing jobs together until I get to the end of the road?  And also, because of my multipotentialite mind, will I ever be satisfied in just one job for very long, or will I need to have multiple jobs at once or a series of short “careers” just to keep my curious mind engaged?  Maybe there is even a multidisciplinary job meant for a guy like me who has a wide range of talents and a need to utilize them all in order to be satisfied.

I think often about my options and my evolving interests.  Just recently my wife bought me a new lens for my camera, and it got me thinking of what it would take to earn a living as a photographer.  I think I would like the variety of subjects and the opportunity to use the artistic part of me.  That is how I think about writing.  I love it every time I sit down to write to you: it’s challenging, it’s different every time, it lets me feel like I am putting something positive out into the world.  It is something I would feel comfortable having that real career feeling about.  I could see that about the Life Coaching thing, too: I felt like it was using my skills to do help a lot of people while satisfying my need for variety and challenge.  I think if I had more years left in my career era, I would consider going back to school for some kind of counseling or therapist training and make a go of that.   My Mom used to say I should be an addiction counselor at a rehab facility.  I can see commonalities in the things I am drawn to: helping others to reach their potential while facing somewhat new and different circumstances and puzzles every day for my mind to find the best way forward.

Who wants to pay me for that?  Anyone?  I know there are jobs out there that would be better suited to me than ones I have done in the last decade or more.  Mine have worked because they were in the mold of my children’s schedules, but maybe I should have been more ambitious or more selective.  I know I have been held back from things like freelance writing or Life Coaching because I am a terrible entrepreneur.  For all of my skills and my great desire to work alone and not be managed by someone else, I am really not good at marketing and digging up business.  It’s a problem that may ultimately dictate the fate of my employment future.  Will I have a job—a career, even—that perfectly suits my talents and my temperament for the long-term?  Will I skip from one thing that interests me until I learn enough about it to become bored and then on to the next thing that interests me, having lots of temporarily satisfying mini-careers?  Or will I just keep doing what fits in my family’s schedule and save all of the meaningful and rewarding stuff for the hours outside of work?  All of those seem like legitimate possibilities at this point.  And honestly, though some look like much more satisfying options than others, I believe that I could live a happy life in any of the worlds.  Not necessarily a happy work life, but a happy life overall.  I have no doubt that no matter which job or jobs I choose to do, my curiosity and thirst for fun and adventure, coupled with the people I spend my time with, will succeed in filling my life with joy and fulfillment.  But hey, why not have it all?  I will work on it.

How about you?  How many different careers are you meant to have over your lifetime?  Open up your journal and think about your working life to this point.  Make a list of all the different jobs you have ever held.  How many felt like just jobs, and how many, if any, have felt like your career?  If you have a career, what is it that appeals to you about your specialization?  Have you always known you would do something like that?  When you were younger and were asked what you wanted to be or do when you grew up, what did you say?  Did that dream career actually fit your personality and talents?  Whether you consider yourself to be in a career or not, what kind of career are you truly best suited for?  Do you have the right temperament to be a specialist, someone who can do the same job day after day, year after year, as most people do?  If that is you, do you make up for the monotony at work by having lots of things outside of work that satisfy your need for variety and meaning?  Now make a list of all the different jobs that you have ever fantasized about doing before you retire.  How different are those jobs from the one you do now?  How different are they from each other?  Would you be able to stick with only one for the long haul, or would you more likely have to cycle through them, either one at a time or doing multiple gigs part-time to sustain your interest?  What are you most looking for in a career?  If every career made the same amount of money, which would you choose from among your talents and interests?  What needs do these fantasized careers fill for you that your current career does not?  Before you retire, how many different twists and turns do you imagine your career path taking?  Is that more or less than you imagine other people’s paths taking?  Would you consider yourself a multipotentialite or Renaissance person?  If not, how far from that are you?  Are there people close to you whose interests and passions vary widely and who feel compelled to pursue them no matter how often that sends them off the career ladder?  Is it harder for you to empathize with a specialist or a multipotentialite?  Are you a big believer in people pursuing their passions as a career no matter what, or do you look at it more practically and suggest people pursue their passions as hobbies outside of work instead?  If you had one more career to choose today and stick with until the end, what would it be?  Does that thought experiment stress you out, or is yours an easy answer?  Leave me a reply and let me know: How winding and disjointed is your career path meant to be?

Live your Truth,

William

P.S. If this topic resonated with you today, please share it with your community.  Let us all explore the beauty of our differences.

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

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.

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.

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.

The Joy Of A New Toy: Why Adults Need Fun Stuff, Too

“We don’t really grow up.  Our toys change with time.” –Nitya Prakash

“Life is more fun if you play games.” –Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald

Hello friend,

On a lovely recent evening, I was out in the yard playing with my wife and kids, when up to the curb zoomed a turquoise motorbike.  You know the kind: not quite fast enough to be on the freeway with the “real” motorcycles, but fast enough to give you a jolt of adrenaline and make you feel carefree as you zip around town in the fresh air.  Anyway, there it was in front of my house.  Just as I was thinking, “Oh, I bet that’s fun,” the driver pulled off her helmet and revealed herself as a friend who lives down the way a few blocks, smiling in the delight of her adventure.  She had only had her new toy for a few days, as we came to learn, and it was obvious that the novelty had not worn off.

She was clearly tickled by it, and her giddiness came through as she described the whole process from longing to owning.  She said she had wanted one for several years and told herself that if she made it to 40—she is a multiple cancer survivor and has a keen sense of how few and precious our days are—that she would treat herself to her dream ride.  So, a few weeks early (which is even better, I think), she picked out her favorite color, named it Shirley after her grandmother, and sped out of the dealership with a hoot and a smile from ear to ear (or so I picture it).

I loved everything about her story, and I could tell from her glow that the splurge was already worth it.  How do you put a price on pure Delight?  Joy and Freedom, though often hard won after years of psychological strain and slow maturity, sometimes also just come in a package.  Or off a dealer’s lot.  I absolutely love it when I hear of people—grown people–finding that toy that makes their soul dance and their heart sing.  Those are my favorite stories.  They show people displaying what I think of as Courage, a willingness to reach out and stake a claim to their own Joy, sometimes (though definitely not always) at the cost of their hard-earned money that some people in their life will no doubt say is being thrown away on childish silliness.  I say, “PLAY ON!”

I seem to spend most of my life in search of those toys that scratch the many itches of my soul.  I place a high premium on Delight.  I feel it deepest when I feel free.  I feel most free when I am creating or playing (outdoors), the times when I have cut myself free from the usual psychological chains around my existence.  So I seek those out those experiences.  And when I find a toy that facilitates that Freedom and thus that Delight, I fantasize (and often obsess) and save and, when I am lucky, make it mine.

I need only think of things I have had on my Christmas List or saved up “Birthday Money” for in recent years to see what lights me up.  Journals.  Guitar.  Kayak.  Computer and iPad.  Pens.  Tent.  Bike.  Camera.  Hammock.  RipStick.  Music.  Headphones.  When I look at these things that have been my splurges, I see a lot of escape.  So many different ways to be free, to play, to relax, to release my creativity, to let it all go.  Those are the makings of a good toy, right?

Freedom and Expression are wonders that we don’t necessarily allow ourselves on a day-to-day basis, whether because we get lost in our busy-ness and the tedium of our many tasks, or because we don’t feel worthy of “spoiling” ourselves with treats and Delight.  I wish we weren’t so much this way.  Life is just so short, and it is plenty difficult without us denying ourselves of the experiences that excite our spirits.  Aren’t these the real tools of Self-Care?  I appreciate someone who mines their sources of Joy and Freedom with a determined passion.  They seem to know a secret that eludes the majority of us.

I recall many years ago, as a young adult, an old friend asking how my brother was.  After I replied that he was doing well, the person said, “He always seems to be doing something fun.”  That struck me at my core.  I knew I wasn’t really doing it right, that people probably weren’t saying that about me.  I have been trying to do better ever since.

Speaking of my brother: he has the quintessential toy that keeps on delivering on the Freedom and Delight that define a toy’s purpose.  When he was 16, after pining for years, he convinced my old man to get him this old Jeep that had been rotting forever unused on the family farm.  He and his buddies spent months getting it to run and painting it Coca-Cola red with black trim.  It was the best kind of toy for a teenage boy: open air cab without doors or roof, big speakers, romping through mud with your buddies, attracting the teenage girls.  It had it all.  What makes it truly rule Toyland, though, is that it still has it all.  Yes, more than three decades later, when the weather warms up each Spring, I still get a text with a new video of him cruising around in the fresh air with his kids in “The Freedom Machine,” as it is so appropriately named.  Freedom.  Release.  Joy.  An expression of the soul.  That’s a toy!  And that’s what we so desperately need at every age.

I suppose everyone has a different idea of what will do that for them.  I think of things that are still on my list: a big-screen iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard, snow shoes, jet ski, a great bike rack and new mountain bike to go with it, Photoshop, and a ukulele.  In one form or another, they are all tickets to ride.  Means to adventure and to create, to be outdoors and to express what is inside of me.  Seeing that commonality is helpful to me, a map toward more treats, more fun.  In that vein, I can also understand my friend’s motorbike impulse, and my brother’s history of skis and windsurfers and such (and his recent dirt bike purchase).  I can also see anything artistic: paint sets, sketchbooks, musical instruments, journals (of course!), and apps for things like graphics and movie-making.  I once saved up for a fancy blender, so I can understand people for whom a toy might be an Instant Pot, a stand mixer, or cake decorating set.  I get anything that is a connector to Mother Nature, which could be a million different things, including a new pair of walking shoes, a headlamp, binoculars, backpack, gardening tools, swimming goggles, and a golf club.  I recently got Apple Music, and believe me, I have been like a kid in a candy store ever since, delighting in the wonder of such a vast library of transcendence and escape.  It is infinite Delight.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to conceive of a toy, too.  It can obviously be a splurge of a purchase, but it can also be something inexpensive that sets you free creatively or psychologically.  Whatever it is for you, the thought of it has to stir up your heart with butterflies and waves of excitement or longing.  The getting of it has to scratch a major itch of the soul, making you giddy at the Joy, Freedom, and Release it will provide.  It must bring genuine Delight.  It has to be your Freedom Machine.

I plan to keep playing and keep fantasizing about new toys until the end of my happy adventure through Life.

How about you?  What sorts of toys still light you up inside?  Open up your journal and your memory, and try to recall all of the things of your adulthood that have truly been a Delight for your mind and your heart.  What things come immediately to mind?  Are they adult versions of conventional kid toys, like bicycles or video games or dolls?  Or are they things only an adult might like, such as an Instant Pot or a chainsaw?  Do you gravitate toward artistic/creative toys, like cameras, musical instruments, paints, and journals?  Do you like things that will provide an adrenaline rush to an otherwise not-so-thrilling existence, things like motorcycles, snowboards, and sleds?  Are you a gadget person, preferring things like drones, tablets, and fitness trackers?  Are kitchen toys your thing?  Apps?  What about exercise toys, like home gyms, fancy bikes, or running gear?  How about outdoorsy stuff, such as tents, water filters, and trekking poles?  Is music a toy for you?  Books?  What is it that excites you about each thing on your list?  Taken as a whole, do you see common themes running through?  Are they similar to my Freedom and Expression themes, or quite different?  Do the things that bring you Delight tend to cost a lot of money, or are they rather inexpensive?  If you could splurge on one big-ticket item right now that would make you absolutely giddy, what would it be?  What else is on your current Wish List?  Do the themes of this Wish List mirror the themes of the list of adult toys you already have?  Are your soul itches still essentially the same, or have they evolved as you have aged?  What kinds of toys once appealed to you but no longer do?  What are your newest desires?  Can you pinpoint the reasons for your changes?  Are you clearer now about what tickles you?  Will you ever be too old to seek out toys and to play?  Which toy that you use now will you still be using decades from now?  What gives that toy its timelessness?  How well have you done throughout your life at treating yourself to toys and allowing yourself to play?  Is their enough Fun in your life right now?  What is one toy that you could reasonably treat yourself to immediately in order to give your spirit a boost?  Will you?  If not now, when?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you still feel a childlike Delight with a new toy?

Let your spirit fly,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with someone who might need it.  We could all use a little boost from our friends once in a while.

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