Category Archives: Dreams

Are You Giving LIFE Your Best Shot?

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embody self-belief,

William

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

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

But should we ignore them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care of yourself,

William

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

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

How Can You Make Your Home Reflect Your Soul?

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

But how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live in Peace,

William

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

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

What Is Your Vision of Retirement?

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make your whole life beautiful,

William

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

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

Dear Mr. President: A Note To The New Guy In The White House

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends–honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism–these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.” –Barack Obama

“The people of the United States are one of the people I most admire in the world.  The only thing I don’t understand is why a country that manages to do so well cannot do better in choosing its president.” –Gabriel García Márquez

Hello friend,

I suppose every writer shares the compulsion to have their voice heard.  We feel we have something important to say, something that needs an audience.  Sometimes that is an audience of one.  I love letters.  That is probably no surprise to you, but it is so true.  I like the format.  There is a carefully selected audience who is both greeted and bid farewell.  It is understood that what falls in between those salutations is quite intentionally stated.  The writer means it.  It is thoughtful, unlike the mind(less) vomit that fills so many social media feeds.  I know it is not as fast as a Tweet or a text, but it means a million times more.  At least, that’s how I think of the letter.  I have one friend who still writes me real emails—letters—occasionally, and it fills me with all the best feelings every time.  I love her for it, and I love investing all my heart and soul into the response.  The relationship feels intentional.  That is everything to me.

By some strange twist of Fate, I have not become the global icon I dreamed of becoming when I was a kid.  I lack the status and connections I imagined I might have by this point in my life.  Somehow, that harsh reality has not deterred my ambition to secure the occasional audience with the big shots.  I simply have these exchanges in my imagination instead.   Musicians.  Educators.  Film directors.  Writers.  Scientists.  Activists.  Yogis.  Healers.  And yes, even politicians.  (Okay, maybe especially politicians.)

Four years ago at this time, in a letter to you, I ruminated on the new President and the direction things seemed to be headed.  I was definitely concerned.  Several months later, still in President Trump’s first year in office, I wrote him an open letter to share my by-then-heightened concerns on his presidency.  I am sure we all had strong opinions on the matter, as the presidency suddenly seemed to consume all of the airspace and hover over us every day.  I wanted to be clear—to me and to him–where I stood.

Now that we have a new President, it seems only right to give him a piece of my mind, too.  While in the literal sense, every moment is an unprecedented one–no two moments have ever been exactly the same—I think we can all agree that, in our lifetimes anyway, there has not been another era of political drama and intrigue quite like the one we are in right now.  “Unprecedented” doesn’t feel even remotely exaggerated.  The country could go a number of different ways from here.  And though I have no doubt that President Biden has many wise and experienced advisors, it wouldn’t hurt to hear from one of his constituents.  I don’t know anyone more opinionated than me, so why not?  This is what I have to say: 

Dear Mr. President, 

Just be decent.  You know: sane, kindhearted, generous, thoughtful, altruistic, inclusive, wise, optimistic, empathetic, patriotic, gracious, and just.  Just be a decent human and care about us for four years.  That’s it.   

No.  Sorry, that’s not it; that doesn’t do it.  But honestly, that is my first impulse, Mr. President.  That’s what jumps to my mind when I think about what I want you to do right now.  I know, I know, that’s not enough, and that would be shortchanging your potential for greatness—not to mention that I am WAY more demanding than that—but I also don’t want to downplay what some solid Goodness could do to salve the wounds in the soul of our beloved country right now.  I think you know that, so I won’t spend too much more time on it.  Or maybe I will.  Anyway, PLEASE be that soothing grandfather that the country is silently begging for.  That may be the most important thing I can ask at the moment.   

But it’s not all.  As much as I need you to simply BE good, I am going to need you to DO good, too.  Thanks to the voters of Georgia, your party controls the Congress as well and thus has the ability to do big things, to make major structural changes in a country desperately in need of them.  If you fail to seize this opportunity and merely be a decent, gracious man, I will be as disappointed in you as I have been in most of your predecessors.  Perhaps more so.   

What do I need you to do?  Let’s start with climate change and environmental issues.  It was a nice symbolic gesture that you rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on your first day, but I need to see some aggressive legislation and investment that will both create lots of new jobs and decrease our greenhouse gas emissions.  Similarly, after the last administration, you have a lot of catching up to do to restore credibility to the Environmental Protection Agency and to secure our public lands.  I understand that climate change is a global issue and that one country’s efforts can be nullified by the negligence of other countries, but there is no excuse for America to fail to be a leader in this urgent matter. And even though this is not the most exciting topic for the majority of the electorate, this could ultimately be your most important legacy.   Fortune favors the bold.  I expect you to rise to the occasion.   

Obviously, the coronavirus and its accompanying financial crisis are the issues slamming you in the face right now, and they will require the combination of bold proposals, wise judgment, and nimble adjustments to the fluid situations.  I encourage you to go the exact opposite way of your predecessor: embrace the science, tell us the truth, take responsibility for federal government-managed testing and tracing, provide ample funds to local and state governments so they can perform their roles, and provide enough human and financial resources to make the logistics of mass vaccination as efficient as possible.  I am past relying on my fellow citizens to do the right thing with masks and social distancing; I need you to get the vaccination in our arms and save us all, including those unwilling to do right by their communities.  I am less certain of all the right moves you should make on the financial side of the crisis.  I know the checks-for-everyone is kind of an easy, popular band-aid, but my main concern is targeting the people who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.  I want you to do all you can for small businesses, for the people who have lost their jobs (and the health care tied to those jobs), and for those in danger of being evicted.  As a nation, we have already failed this crisis quite miserably.  The best thing you can do is get us out of the woods quickly and land us on our feet.  Be the janitor and clean up our mess. 

I need you to address and constantly re-address issues of equity and racial justice.  This is one that you simply cannot back away from.  I am pleased so far with your willingness to speak phrases like “White supremacy” and “Black lives matter.”  I have been impressed with the diversity of your Cabinet nominees and advisers.  But it is high time we dig in with some policymaking.  Voting rights.  Prison reform.  Investment in infrastructure, green space, and schools in areas inhabited by people of color.  Loans for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and first-time homebuyers.  Tuition reimbursements.  Anti-bias and curriculum reform in schools.  Building a pipeline for teachers of color.  Pathways to citizenship.  Food justice.  And on and on and on….  Get to work! 

Health care.  I know you didn’t campaign on a universal healthcare/Medicare-for-all platform, so I am not holding my breath here.  But hey, this is my letter, so here goes.  I really want you to start talking about health care as a right and begin to explain to America in good old “Joe from Scranton” language how much better our overall quality of life would be if we could all count on cradle-to-grave care in the same way we count on public schools, parks, and roads.  Perhaps in your push to move the age for Medicare down to 60, you will see that the logic of your argument extends to any age.  It is an embarrassment that America does not provide health care to all of its citizens.  And let’s not pretend that it doesn’t affect poor people and people of color disproportionally.  Even if you don’t get us all the way there, please move us in the direction of EVERY OTHER WEALTHY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD (you know, those countries that, no matter how hard they were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, not one of their citizens lost health care coverage).  Bend that arc, Mr. President.  I beg you. 

I could go on and on with issues small and large that I want you to act on.  Statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, DC.  The Supreme Court.  Gun control.  The filibuster.  Homelessness.  Campaign financing.  The Electoral College.  Term limits.  I have strong opinions on just about everything.  But which ones you choose to take on and in whichever order you choose, I hope you will do it with the utmost class and grace.  Whether you are fulfilling all of my wildest policy dreams or falling short (as all of your predecessors have so far), I ask that Decency be one of your trademarks.  Be the kind of leader I would like my children to look up to.  We need that right now.  We need you.  

I’ll be honest with you, Mr. President.  You weren’t my first choice in the Democratic primaries.  You were pretty far down my list, frankly.  Though you seem like a nice guy, your record is much too centrist for my liberal tastes.  But I will tell you something: I have come to believe you are the right person for this moment.  I think you have it in you to be the leader we need right now. I believed you when you said, in your inauguration speech, that your soul is in it.  I sure hope so.  We need every ounce of Goodness that you have.  At any rate, I will be cheering for you, understanding that your success is our country’s success.   

Godspeed,  

William

How about you?  What would you like to say to the new President?  Open up your journal and unload your thoughts.  Is it comfortable to you to write in the letter format?  Does it feel weird to write a letter you aren’t formally sending?  Does it free you up to say things you might not otherwise dare to?  I hope you put it all out there for this one.  My guess is that your letter will look a lot different than mine.  But how?  Is your letter more confrontational?  What specific issues would you like to challenge the President about on his way into office?  Things he has stood for in the past or campaigned on?  Things you assume he is planning to change from the last President?  What about the other side: what specific issues do you want to encourage him to take up?  Which of the handful of crises that America is dealing with right now—pandemic, economy, racial justice, climate change, etc.—would you like the new administration to prioritize?  Do you believe the President has any choice but to tackle them all simultaneously?  What things would be a waste of his time and energy?  Would you share in your letter some personal stories of you or your loved ones and how his upcoming presidency could impact you?  Would you like to address his character and the example he can set for children, particularly in light of the last President?  How much of what you would say is driven by whether you voted for him or not?  Do you have a different list of demands depending upon which party the President belongs to?  How can your words help him?  If you are mostly angry about his arrival in the presidency, how can you find words that are both a release for you but also helpful to him?  Do you think there is anything you could say to bring about a positive change?  I dare you to try!  Leave me a reply and let me know: What would you like to say to the new President?

Lift your voice,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let us empower one another to speak and be heard!

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the dog proposition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it All beautiful,

William

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

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek out the light,

William

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

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seize the day,

William

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

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

Silver Linings: In Search Of The Positives In A Pandemic

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone 

“In a time of destruction, create something.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Hello friend,

I have had moments of anger during this pandemic, such as when I see my neighbors having yet another play date with their children’s friends and parents, ignoring all science and government warnings and putting the rest of us in danger (and keeping us home even longer) because they lack either the will power to resist their social nature or the moral fiber to care about their potential damage.

I have had moments of deep sadness, too, such as when I read the social media post of the nurse who had flown to New York to help in a hospital, who had just had her patient die, and she reported that they had 17 deaths in their 17-bed unit that night. How does that NOT break you?

I have had moments of fear and anxiety as well, each week when I go to the grocery store and when I think about the possibility of my wife losing her job or a family member needing a hospital visit.

I have felt at least some degree of all the negative stuff that I am guessing you and your loved ones have felt during this unusual time. And though currents of them dash in and out of my atmosphere like phantom winds, I can say with some certainty that–with the notable exception of the first few days following the cancellation of my vacation, as I shared in my last letter–I have not let the negative overtake me. Some of that, I am sure, can be chalked up to the fact that I have been lucky. My family has money coming in, food in the refrigerator, health insurance, and none of my loved ones have contracted Covid-19. Relative to what other people are dealing with and will deal with, I have a dream gig going here right now.

The rest of it, though, seems to be attributed to my psychological make-up. I am a glass-half-full kind of guy by nature, and I tend to have my radar up and tracking the potential blessings in any situation. In the course of my day, I tend to find the fun, the kind, and the beautiful that is available to all but seemingly noticed by few. I have been blessed by an inclination toward those things and a willingness to train my eye to find more. It leaves me uncommonly grateful and, by extension, happy.

So, amidst the throes of the rampant sadness, frustration, anger, fear, and anxiety that seem so common and expected in this unprecedented age, I have found myself all the more determined to uncover the blessings and the good that might come of it. In this storm of storms, I am looking for silver linings.

It is easy to latch onto the most popular ones, which start with the frontline medical personnel. These people are just amazing to me. I look at me, not wanting to so much as leave my yard because I don’t want to closely interact with anyone and risk getting the virus and subsequently passing it to my family members. Then I look at the emergency room staff and first responders, going into work every day nearly certain that they are going to get it, if not today then tomorrow. There was the video that went viral a few weeks ago of the man in scrubs coming home and his tiny child running to greet him. It broke my heart to watch him have to suddenly keep her from excitedly running into his arms for a hug. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that is probably the single greatest feeling in the world. To think that there are people like that all over the world, voluntarily eschewing the proximity and affection of their loved ones in order to continue serving the sickest among us, well, that is simultaneously both deeply saddening and incredibly inspiring.

All of the other frontline workers are so uplifting for me as well, even as I fret for their safety. I go out to the grocery store once a week and, as I am standing in the long, spread-out line for my turn to pay, I am absolutely spellbound watching the employees–these folks barely, if even, making a living wage for their services–ringing people up. It boggles my mind how they keep doing it day after day. I am so grateful for them.

Obviously there are very few people who signed up for this gig, whatever it is they are doing in this new age. Nearly everyone’s job, if they still have one, has changed. So many public-facing difference-makers–the teachers, the coaches, the therapists–can no longer do their jobs in a way that they can feel the daily difference they are making. There are a lot of teachers in my life, and I know that it pains them to have to “only” deliver educational modules to their students through a computer every day rather than their usual nurturing of the whole, complex person for the 25 or 30 growing souls in their classroom. They don’t get to directly help them through their challenges and witness that spark in the eye when the light bulb comes on or the hug of gratitude and love when it is most needed. I exchanged a message with one of my colleagues about this, and she lamented, “Distance learning is like planning, shopping, wrapping, and sending the perfect gift for someone you adore, but never getting to see them open it or know if they even like the present.” But teachers keep pouring their all into it because our children depend on them even in their absence. Those kind of people inspire me.

There are so many others, of course, whether they work on the front lines or are struggling because so much has changed behind the lines but they keep putting one foot in front of the other because the world needs them. I am even inspired by the people who, unlike me, are so wildly social at their core and need company like they need oxygen, but are choosing to be good humans and stay home. There are admirable sacrifices all around if your eyes are open to them.

One thing that tickles me these days is seeing so many people out walking, running, or bicycling in their neighborhoods. I have always loved visiting “active” towns–usually in places embedded in the mountains or by the ocean–where it seems like everyone is an outdoors enthusiast and people are moving their bodies wherever you look. My community is not typically one of those hubs of energy, but it sure has become one in the last month. I have never walked so much in my life, and I get the sense everyone else could say the same. I love seeing them all out and active. It energizes me. I hope we can keep that outdoor momentum going even when gyms and stores open up again. There is new life in the fresh air.

I also take great joy and inspiration in some of the new opportunities that people, especially artists, have created and made available online during this time. The actor John Krasinski’s YouTube broadcast from home, Some Good News, has been a delight, and I highly recommend it. I have also loved the “quarantine concerts” that so many musicians have put on their social media, whether it is a daily song (I have been digging Michael Franti on Facebook) or weekly concerts (I adore Matt Nathanson’s weekly events from his home office on YouTube, during which he sings songs and reads beautiful passages from books of poetry or wisdom that inspire him) or those big sing-along collaborations that artists have been putting together through ZOOM. There is nothing like music to lift the spirit, and these times ought to give us a greater sense of the necessity of the arts in our society. I have also appreciated those virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest museums and our national parks, both the sights themselves and the thoughtfulness of the people bringing them to us.

Though all of these inspirations have flashed regularly across my radar throughout the pandemic, the one ray of Hope that has grown exponentially in my mind as the weeks have passed falls under the theme “How We Might Grow From This Experience.” I am enchanted by the possibility of some sort of simultaneous mass realization of the errors of our former, “normal” ways and a subsequent move toward a more highly idealized society, perhaps even to the extent of an evolutionary leap in the behavior of our species. Might we take advantage of this collective pause in our society–one that is unlikely to ever happen again in our lifetimes–and use it to gain wisdom in the direction of a world that is more peaceful, equitable, and just? Might we come to value each other more? Might we come to value our time more? I desperately hope so.

What kinds of things might this translate to? Maybe it is as simple as choosing our commitments–whether to individual people or activities or groups–more discerningly. Now that we have been pulled out of our sports, clubs, churches, stores, meet-ups, coffee shops, restaurants, classes, and gyms, I hope that we are using the time away from them to better understand how much we (individually) need each one of our diversions. Even though most of us are going stir-crazy in our homes, we may also be realizing for the first time that perhaps it would be wise to begin prioritizing some downtime at home when “real life” resumes. As we have been removed from nearly all of the people in our usual routines, I hope that we are realizing which of those people are really not a positive influence on us and perhaps which are more deserving of our time and energy. Maybe we need more quality and less quantity, both in people and scheduled activities.

I also hope that this time–with its isolation, its anxiety, its uncertainty–leads us to put a greater premium on our mental health and self-care. I hope it becomes easier and “more normal” to talk about mental health and to understand that the issues that we have been hiding are so very common in our community.

I hope that it becomes more obvious–and more painful in the realization–that the poorest among us consistently bear the burdens of our crises to a far greater degree than the wealthiest. It is the poor who are both put on the front lines of exposure in times like this–cashiers, janitors, delivery drivers, etc.–and also more likely to lose their jobs, being in positions less likely to have a work-from-home option. I hope that in this time that we suddenly have to think more clearly and become more aware of the realities of our usual set-up, we find it in ourselves as a society to become more compassionate of those most in need and more aware of our own, typically-unearned privilege.

Along the same lines of this potential growing awareness, I have been increasingly hopeful that this health-crisis-turned-economic crisis might make it more clear to the average citizen how much more humane a single-payer, “Medicare for all” health care system would be. I think of the more than 22 million people who have lost their jobs in the first four weeks of this collapse, and how many millions of people that takes off of health coverage. I am up-front about the fact that I have long been in favor of a universal health care system in America, seeing health care as no less a natural right than a “free” public education or police and fire protection, as I have written to you about in the past. It has always seemed crazy to me that we don’t have this system in place and instead spend far more per capita on health care than other “civilized” countries for generally worse results, not to mention leaving tens of millions of our citizens uncovered and poorly covered to the point that they don’t take care of basic medical needs. It embarrasses me as an American. If we have to go past the idea that it is a basic human right–which we should not; that ought to be the start and end of the discussion as to the necessity of universal coverage–I have always found it sad and tragic that the reason so many people stay in jobs rather than quit or change or try to start their own business or pursue a dream is because of the loss of health insurance. The current system is, in so many different, insidious ways, breaking our spirit. And now we have tens of millions of newly unemployed, resulting in millions of families losing their health coverage. How many people lost their coverage due to the pandemic in the rest of the world? Zero. Because they have humane systems. I have been surprised and disappointed that we have not seen more spoken and written about this in the traditional and social media as the numbers of unemployed pile up. It is my hope that people will see that now is the perfect moment in our history to do right by each other. Health coverage for everyone would be a giant step in the right direction. I remain hopeful that hearts and eyes will open.

It is this and so many other structural, systemic issues that I am looking toward in this time, hoping we open our hearts and minds to find the compassion and the wisdom to see our “we’ve just always done it this way” as a compilation of attitudes and tactics that have simply not served us all as well as we may have hoped. But I see people doing right by others, helping and giving and supporting. And I see others who want to be a part of a better world, who want fewer people to suffer and more people to get along, who want the resources spread out more equitably. I see all of that good action and good intention, and they make me hopeful. They give me light in a time that could too easily turn dark.

There are so many good people out there. You know that. So many lights. So many silver linings to this storm. You can find them almost anywhere you look. It seems to me that with this many good people, we deserve to live in a world whose structures–be they social, political, economic, or otherwise–serve to provide or facilitate all of those positive intentions and gestures of good will. But the responsibility is upon each of us to both do better in our own little corner of the world and to raise our voices to demand better of our larger structures. We must use this collective, reflective moment to consider the ways that our religions, our education systems, our health care systems, our political institutions, our judicial systems, our use of science, our natural resource consumption, and our philosophy of diplomacy and warfare facilitate the kind of goodness that is in our hearts. If we deem that those systems are not representative of our goodness, we need to rise up and demand that changes be made. And we must do whatever is in our own power to see those changes through. We must be the bringers of our own light.

This pandemic era is difficult. It is angering, frustrating, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. But it is also so much more, and its potential for a positive outcome is massive. Even with the scars that we will no doubt carry from this era, we could actually come away with a more caring, compassionate, equitable, just, and peaceful planet, both the humans and the systems designed to help the humans live their best lives. I see the possibilities all around me. I see it in hearts and gestures. If you are having a hard time seeing that light in your world, I hope you will find it in yourself. It is there, my friend, just waiting to be discovered. I am happy to lend you some of mine in the meantime. I have hope for you, hope for us. With so many beautiful examples out there to use as a guide and this quiet moment to steel my resolve, I am inspired to find out just how high we right rise. Together.

How about you? Where do you look for hope and inspiration in this time of crisis? Open up your journal and your heart and uncover the source of the light shining in? Where are you finding your positivity these days? Do you see it in the people in your community and the actions–or inaction–that they are taking? Which profession seems to awe you the most at this time? Medical personnel? Grocery store clerks? Delivery drivers? Janitorial workers? Teachers? Are you inspired by people’s willingness to stay home to limit the spread of the virus? What acts of personal generosity have you witnessed or been a part of that remind you of people’s goodness? Which people–individuals or groups–have you come to see in a more positive light as a result of the their actions during this pandemic? Are your own actions worthy of someone else’s inspiration? What other sources of positivity have you used lately that are unique to our current situation? Are there live events that you “attend” online, whether workouts or concerts? Do you watch TED talks? Have you started reading any books that you might otherwise have neglected were we not in a pandemic? What sorts of hopes do you have in the “How We Might Grow From This Experience” category? What realizations would you like us to have about our ways of living? What personal “A-HA”s have you had about your own lifestyle and priorities? Which aspects of our society has this crisis exposed for you in a way that you never realized before? Do you believe in our ability to at least begin large-scale, structural changes to the way we do things based on the lessons we are taking from this period? If so, what part do you see yourself playing in the positive change? How much light do you have to share? What sources of inspiration will you use as your fuel? Leave me a reply and let me know: What positives do you see emerging from this pandemic?  

Bring the light,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. This is a team effort!

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

Bucket List For The Brain: What Do You Want To Learn Before You Die?

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” –Mahatma Gandhi

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” –Isaac Asimov

Hello friend,

One day in my twenties, I was suddenly struck by the idea that I simply must learn more about Western Europe, and that I must see it firsthand to do so. The idea would not go away. It had to be done. So, I stuffed my backpack, hopped on a plane bound for Amsterdam, and wandered around for a few months. The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium. It was a genuine mind-opener and heart-opener for me. Along the way, mostly to be a courteous guest but also out of pure curiosity, I learned the most elementary phrases in each of the languages: Good morning! Do you speak English? Good-bye! How much does it cost? Excuse me, but where is the toilet? What time does the train to Paris leave the station? Thank you very much! That kind of stuff.

I had Spanish in high school and was already okay with that, but the rest I had to start from scratch. I liked it, though, both the challenge and what it opened up in the interactions with the locals. Most of them spoke English–what a relief–but they appreciated my effort. It made me appreciate their effort to learn my language so well, and it made me envious of their knowledge. How lucky to have a mind with such useful information, like a key to a room with more Happiness inside.

Still, in my first few countries, the sounds of the Dutch, German, Austrian, and Swiss people on their own did not sing to my ears and draw me in like a siren’s song (the German language is pretty unpleasant for me, actually).

However, a magical thing happened to me on the morning that I descended the Swiss Alps into Northern Italy, bound for Verona. I happened to be sharing a train compartment with a young girl and her mother, as well as an old woman riding alone. We emerged from the majestic Alps into this lovely, rolling land and pulled into the station of the first town on the Italian side of the border. The mother, young girl, and I stayed in our seats, clearly pressing on to destinations further down the line. But slowly, the old woman rose from her seat and gathered her belongings. Then, just before she turned to go, she looked into the eyes of the little girl and said with such flavor, “Ciao, bella!” I swooned. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. And right there in those two words, I fell madly in love with the Italian language.

I walked around with a smile on my face for two weeks, repeating the phrases and the dynamic inflections–even the accompanying gestures–that I heard from the people on the street. I loved all the words, even when I didn’t know what they meant.

When I left that enchanted land, I was determined to do two things: 1) return to Italy as soon as possible; and 2) learn that beautiful language. I am pleased to report that I nailed the first one and loved it more each time I went back. I cannot, however, claim any success on the second.

I never learned Italian. But I still want to. It has become a life goal to speak it passably, much as it has been my aim to bring my level of Spanish from high school quality up to fluency. Trust me when I tell you: I have a loooooong way to go! There is so much to learn! I would like to achieve both of these before I die, however. They are just the start of a sort of “bucket list” for my brain.

I have decided that everyone should have one of these lists, separate from the regular bucket list that we are accustomed to talking about, the one with all of the cool things we will do before we die. For one, I find it so important to have plans and goals and things to dream about. These things give us Hope and Purpose. They put spring in our steps. However, whether hampered by age, fear, income, disability, or something else, we are not all going to be able to skydive, run a marathon, visit Machu Picchu, or swim with the dolphins. But we can all have adventures of the mind. And we should!

Learning gives us life in so many ways. It breeds empathy. It sparks our imagination. It helps us to better understand ourselves and how we connect with the world around us. It gives us Wisdom. It inspires us. It does all of that and more for me, so I am planning to stuff my brain full of new skills, ideas, and stories until my last breath goes out of me. These are some of the things–other than becoming trilingual–on the top of my endless list:

Quantum Physics. I may be attempting to swim in a pool that is much too deep for my capacity, but I have always been fascinated by the tidbits about this science that I have picked up in other books. Mostly I love the idea of confirming in a more technical and specific way the idea that I have always felt in my bones to be true: that we truly are all connected, all One. I have no illusions about how difficult the brain work required will be, but I am game for the challenge if it means I get to better understand human existence.

Photography. I have been taking photographs for many years, and my favorites are continually updated on the walls all over my home. But as much as I enjoy, and even admire, some of the images I have captured, I have always been aware of how much my best shots are due to luck instead of true skill with the camera. I may have an eye for light, but I lack the true knowledge to use all of the camera’s variables–aperture, shutter speed, etc.–to create the level of art that I am striving for. I will not be satisfied until I gain competence in the finer points, whether that is through a class or just lots of reading and experimentation. I want to feel like a “real” photographer. I plan to get there.

Photoshop. This one goes with the last one, but it is also its own animal. As much as I enjoy taking the actual images, I am fascinated by those with the ability to play around with the images and create separate works of art out of the original art. It is technical but still artistic. That combination appeals to me. I can tell by how tickled I feel inside when I think about it that it is a tool that I must learn the intricacies of.

Nutrition. I don’t know how deep I really want to go with this, but I want to know more than I do. It just feels like there is a book or person out there for every possible nutrition idea–many of them competing ideas–and I just want to know the real deal about what I am putting into my body and how it is affecting me. More specifically, I want to know if there is a way I can be leaner and lighter without getting extreme in my discipline. There has to be a teacher out there for that, right? I must find her!

Green Initiatives. I am passionate about the issue of climate change and the effects of human activity–especially our extreme dependence upon fossil fuels–on our world, but I don’t feel well-enough informed on all of the science or all of the options for us to move forward. Mostly I want to be better able to have the conversation with regular folks who don’t have the issue on their radar. I would like to be a better example to my kids, too, both by sharing the knowledge and by modeling a greener lifestyle. Before I can do better, I have to know better. I am determined to know.

Astronomy. Because everything out there is totally awesome.

Instant Pot Cooking. I cook for my family almost every night of the year, and yet my repertoire is limited. I only tried a simple crock pot thing that my sister schooled me on in the last year, and I can see the potential. But this Instant Pot sounds like a ticket to a whole new level. I even got one for my wife last year because she agreed that it sounds amazing, but it is not doing me any good in the cupboard. I know the task is as simple as me digging out the instruction manual, then going to the store and start experimenting. I am a bit intimidated, I must admit. But I want to be a better, more creative cook. I just have to learn.

Podcasting & Audiobook Creation. When I wrote my book, I was so into each step of the process of publishing. It was incredibly tedious, but also so engaging and fulfilling to learn all of the skills. I made the bound book; I made the e-book. The one I never got to was the audiobook. I wish I had. And it’s not too late to learn. With as many people that have podcasts these days, I figure that has to be even easier. It would be fun to put these letters out to you in podcast form, too, to speak the words that I write. This sounds even more fun to learn than many of the others on this list. Bonus!

Guitar & Piano. I know this is not exactly “book learning” in the way some of the others are, but it is certainly an enrichment exercise for the mind (and the soul). I own both of these instruments, so I just need to seek out the instruction. I can start with books or YouTube, but I envision myself someday actually taking lessons from a live teacher. It is very important to me to keep Art in my life, and I definitely need help with this one.

That use of an instructor is a wrinkle for me. I can see from my list that while I could certainly be helped by taking real classes in these subjects (hello, Quantum Physics!), they are mostly things I can learn on my own if I just supply the time and the discipline. I can usually summon the discipline, but I struggle with the time. I placate myself by saying that surely that time will appear when my kids grow up, and that then I will treat myself to a first-class education in everything that I feel called to. Will there be enough time to get to it all before I die? Probably not, because learning one thing tends to multiply the spark to learn more. But I promise myself that I will try. No matter how little time I seem to have now, I will chip away at these big learning goals, dabbling in those I have already listed and probably many more.

I love the power in knowing that I can do this without anyone else’s time or permission. It’s on me. Because even though I have let myself down before regarding my ambitions, I much prefer the option to bet on myself. I don’t know how many days remain in my lifetime, but I can guarantee that they will be spent expanding my mind. I will be learning new skills and sharpening old ones, trying out new ideas and testing my wits, opening my soul to allow for new ways to create and express myself through the arts, listening to people’s stories, and sometimes just plain reading. There are so many things I have to know before I go!

How about you? What are you determined to learn before you die? Open your journal and your brain and consider what it is craving? First, how much of a learner are you? Are you like me and feel compelled to understand just about everything in your world, or are you not very curious? How has your level of curiosity and desire to learn new topics changed as you have aged? Has it been fairly constant? Does it change with the amount of free time you seem to have? Is there a topic that you wish you had studied in school? Which types of learning are you more drawn to at this age? Practical skills, like cooking or car maintenance? Does technology interest you? Artistic things, like painting or photography? Would you like to learn a musical instrument (or two)? How about pure knowledge for its own sake, like the sciences or history? Do you like to keep abreast of the important issues of the day, like climate change or health care alternatives? Are you into self-help practices? Would you rather learn other people’s stories in order to be more empathetic? How do you currently study up on the things you want to learn? Books? Classes, like Community Education or a local college? YouTube? Will you actually do the work on your own, or do you need a teacher to keep you on-task and accountable for your learning? Have you shown so far that you are willing to invest in yourself? Looking to the future, what are the things you still most want to learn? How do you prioritize them? Which are absolutely essential? Are there some that will have to wait longer to begin? Which of them would you most regret not learning if you were to die tomorrow? Will you ever be content with how much you know? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is on your Brain Bucket List?

Go & Grow,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it with your community. The more you know….

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