Category Archives: Legacy

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.

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.

What Always Brings Tears To Your Eyes?

“Those who do not weep, do not see.” –Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Tears are words that need to be written.” –Paulo Coelho

Hello friend,

Last weekend I attended my first virtual funeral.  I don’t ever go to real funerals.  It is just not my jam, for many reasons.  However, this one had me especially intrigued, and since it was over Zoom, I figured that I could escape whenever I wanted.  My commitment was minimal.  I was drawn to this particular memorial not because I was so close with the deceased—indeed, we didn’t know each other well at all and hadn’t seen each other in years—but because of my sense of who he was (perhaps a kindred spirit) and the wide variety of lives I imagined that he had touched in his too-brief stay on this Earth.   I knew that he was special, and I wanted to see how that presented itself in this final farewell.  And honestly, I wanted a little more of him.  I am sure we all did.

Throughout the service, which was designed to pack in as many different voices and testimonials as possible from the lives he touched along the way, I discovered a pattern in my emotional state: when the speaker was dry-eyed, I was dry-eyed; when the speaker cried, I cried.  It never failed.  Oh sure, I cried at a few other times, too, like when they showed a picture of him and my daughter when she was a baby or a picture of him and my wife smiling together.  Those got me.  But otherwise, it was a pretty safe bet that when I witnessed weeping, I wept.

I have come to know that pattern about myself over the years.  When raw emotion is in front of me—especially crying but beyond that as well, even in Joy—I am an instant puddle.  After studying myself through my journals for this long, I have come to chalk this characteristic up to the same Empathy that has shaped so much of my worldview, including my politics and spirituality.  When I witness someone deep in feeling, it just seems to channel directly into my heart.  I am powerfully moved in an instant.  It can be a problem, but I mostly appreciate it.  I like to be reminded occasionally that I have not hardened myself too much against this world that is so full of slings and arrows.  I am still raw and affected.  That is alright with me, especially the part of me that wants to remain an artist and a warrior for justice until the day I die.  As long as I keep having authentic interactions with people and absorbing their genuine emotions, I am going to be a weeper.

But when else?  Other than diving headlong into others’ drama, what are the other moments that get my tears going?

If you have been with Journal of You for a while—whether through these regular letters or just the book—you know that I spend a fair amount of time obsessing about Death and Legacy, the importance of my impact and what I will leave behind.  I am so grateful that I have not yet had to face many deaths of those closest to me; I have always been lucky in that department.  But it doesn’t stop my active imagination from running wild with images of that loss.  I don’t mean scenes of graphic violence or horrific accidents; my mind does not go there.  It does, however, go often to thoughts of learning of their loss or having the difficult conversations about life without them.  I picture things like hearing about my child’s (or sister’s or mother’s) death or explaining my wife’s death to my children.  Vivid scenes that sweep me away and leave me tear-stained.

Those daydreams, however, are nothing compared to the ones in which I am the one dying  (usually of cancer) and have to communicate that with my wife and, even more often, my kids.  Somehow, I seem to fall into this awful habit when I am driving alone.  I think about making videos for them to watch when I am gone, on occasions like birthdays, graduations, or weddings, messages from their father who would be so proud of them and wish he were there.  I make big speeches, often out loud in my car, by the end of which I am full-on sobbing, hardly able to see the road through my gushing eyes.  By the time I realize what I am doing, I am practically panting in despair.  It is embarrassing.  It is that idea of leaving my family, though, that I simply cannot abide.  That is a guaranteed tear-jerker.

Speaking of leaving my family, I am pretty quick to get weepy in saying goodbye to my parents and siblings after our too-infrequent visits.  I try to fight it by rushing through the process, but by the time I hit the gas pedal to drive away, I am mush.  Even though we all get frustrated with my Dad for doing it, sometimes I envy him for his habit of just sneaking off before the goodbye part of the visits.  If we have gone to his house to stay for a holiday, he always manages to be “at work” when it comes time for us to leave town.  If we meet up with him at the cabin and we are all planning to leave the same day, he gets up early and gets on the road before anyone realizes it is time to go.  It’s pretty weasel-y, but at least he doesn’t have to face the emotion of goodbye.  He leaves that for the rest of us, most of whom are pretty teary about it.  I don’t really get that way with goodbyes with other people outside the family, but that is why family is family.  It’s just deeper.  I know I will be awful about it when my kids are grown.

I have a terrible time reading out loud, too, without crying.  This happens with sad stories, of course.  I still read to my daughter every night before bed, and it is highlight of my day, but I occasionally struggle to keep it together.  I can laugh now at my attempts a few years ago to get through Where The Red Fern Grows with her, but it was a choking, teary mess at the time.  Any sentimental message read aloud can get me, though, like a card or a Facebook post that I am sharing with my wife.  It happens with my own writing, too, especially things about my feelings for loved ones.  I sometimes read my work aloud to myself before publishing it, just to see if it flows, and I have definitely found myself in a puddle of tears on more than one occasion.

Likewise, I can envision wanting to say something at my parents’ funerals but just not being able to.  I am one of those criers who simply cannot speak through the process.  The emotion stabs me like a knife, and it’s like my air is just gone.  I tried to say a few words about my grandfather during the visitation the night before his funeral, and it was a sobby, chokey, mostly silent mess.

Strangely, I have occasionally fancied the idea of being a television news reporter or anchor, probably a poor fit for a guy who cries when sharing almost any impactful story.  It was more acceptable when I was studying to be an actor, which, now that I think of it, is probably how I fell into the habit of imagining all of those dramatic scenes I mentioned above that so regularly slay me in the car.  I guess I am drawn to sharing the Truth of any situation—whether my own or of those whose stories need hearing—even if that sharing brings me to tears.

As I come to recognize that realization, I am reminded of my tendency to tear up—not sob, but just get “watery eyes”—in just about any direct, intimate conversation (typically one-on-one).  I can recall so many conversations, especially ones concerning my loved ones or my own work—things like parent-teacher conferences and job interviews—when the eye-to-eye and the intimacy itself seems to draw the water involuntarily up to my eyes, even when seemingly inappropriate.  As I said, it is not weeping in the usual sense—I am not breaking down emotionally in these otherwise-normal moments, just tearing up a bit (which can cause the normal to become slightly awkward, though people typically pretend not to notice).  I chalk it up to sensitivity.  I am a bit of a raw nerve, prone to really feel everything.  It is just one of my idiosyncrasies.  I roll with it.

I am not sure what it says about me, the things that bring me to tears and the regularity of them in my life.  I tend to not judge it, not seeing it as either a particular strength or weakness.  But is it?  I kind of appreciate the cleansing nature of crying, but I don’t seek out opportunities for it (like I said, the dramatic driving scenes are not planned or even fully conscious, but rather just the result of getting swept up by my overactive imagination).  I don’t have a strong desire to cry any more than I do now, though I would prefer not to have so much of the “watery eyes” in mundane, everyday conversations.  I tend to see the source of my tears as an understanding of Love and the value of connection.

I also understand that I come at this topic as someone who is unusually blessed in my life circumstances and psychological make-up.  I have been lucky all my life, with a healthy upbringing, a pleasant nuclear and extended family, always enough food on the table, with things I enjoy doing and people I enjoy spending time with (and, as I mentioned, I haven’t dealt with much death yet).  My worldview is naturally optimistic, and I don’t struggle with anxiety or depression.  I am resilient and self-confident, and I understand, thanks to my daily journaling, the minute details of what makes me tick.  My mental health is in good shape.  For all of these things, I am extremely lucky.  I understand that if any one of them went the other way, my outlook on this topic of crying would likely be entirely different.  I am grateful that most of my tears to this point have been healthy ones and from situations I could choose.  I don’t ever cry because the world all seems too much for me, because I am stressed out or just can’t take one more thing working against me.  I don’t cry because I hate my life or feel trapped or overburdened.  I imagine those kinds of tears are pretty common in the world, and I know that Life still has many challenges remaining for me.  A run of good luck doesn’t last forever.

This is part of why this topic is fascinating to me, and why I want to know your answer.  It illustrates yet another way in which our stories are all different and thus why we need Empathy and Grace.  Our tears, whether of Joy or Sadness or anything in between, reveal something special about us.  No, reveal is the wrong word.  Maybe indicate.  The tears don’t tell the story.  They merely indicate that there is something special worth digging into.  Something deeper.  Something worth the effort to understand and appreciate, because it is soul-level stuff, the kind that makes us who we are.  For me, that means there is magic in those tears.   The magic of our Truth.  And I always, always, want to be a part of the Truth.

How about you?  What always makes you cry?  Open up your journal and your heart to explore the source and significance of those tears.  What predictably makes you cry?  Are your things specific events (e.g. a funeral, a break-up, a goodbye) or mental health-triggered issues (e.g. anxiety, depression, or the accumulation of Life just becoming too much sometimes)?  What are the events that trigger you?  Are they obviously heavy hitters, like death, or are they more subtle things?  Who are the people usually associated with your tears?  Has it been the same people all your life?  How often are the these “people tears” due to how much you love them, and how often are they due to these people wronging you?  Is that a healthy ratio?  How do you do with goodbyes?  What about books and movies (I’m a big movie crier)?  Do you have any memories that always bring tears with them?  Are those good memories or bad ones?  How often do you cry tears of Joy?  What other emotions make you cry?  How often do ordinary, everyday life situations bring tears to your eyes?  What kinds of conversations do it?  Do you cry at the sight of others crying or suffering?  How empathetic are you?  Do you think your Empathy rating dictates how much you cry in response to others’ pain?  Do you ever wonder about the source of your tears, their true trigger?  What do your tears actually say about what is going on deep down inside you?  Are they revealing of something you haven’t yet addressed and need to dig into?  Do you need help with that?  Do you believe your crying to be mostly a healthy sign, or a sign of problems?  Do you usually feel better afterward?  Do you wish you cried more often or less often?  Which topics give you your best cries?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What always brings tears to your eyes?

Be free,

William

P.S. If today’s topic resonated with you, please share it.  We could all use a release from time to time.

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

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.

So Much Left Undone: The Tragedy of Life Cut Short

“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made. Dreamed your dream. Written your name.” –Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book 

“You must decide if you are going to rob the world or bless it with the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you.” –Myles Munroe, Understanding Your Potential–Discovering the Hidden You

Hello friend,

I was at an arcade/sports bar for a kid’s birthday party when I heard the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash. I looked up at the bank of TV screens above the bar and there was his picture and the dates of his birth and death. I was stunned. I shook my head, recalling that I had just that morning read an article that mentioned him congratulating LeBron James on passing Kobe on the NBA’s all-time scoring list the night before. And now he was dead, just like that. It was a shock.

But the real pain for me came later in the day, when I learned that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, or “Gigi,” was also on the flight and killed. My heartache only grew when, in the following days, I learned that among the seven others who died in the crash were two of Gigi’s basketball teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. Kids. Kids whose brilliance was snuffed out in an instant and whose future contributions to this world we will never get to experience and appreciate. As iconic and mythical as Kobe Bryant was to millions of people across the world, it is the deaths of those girls that I can’t seem to shake free of. Even two weeks later, they hang like a cloud over my heart.

My daughter, India, is 11 years old right now, just two years younger than Gigi and her teammates. She is probably both the kindest and the smartest person I know. Her compassion knows no bounds, and she is always looking for ways to help people and make the world a better place. She is clearly on the path to greatness in one form or another (and knowing her, probably many forms). Her existence on the planet, when all is said and done, will surely be a net-positive. I cannot imagine the loss to the world–never mind my personal loss–if she were to die at the age 13. Oh, the wonder and brilliance that we would all miss out on! A loss so big that only those who already knew her could fathom because she had not yet been fully unleashed by the gift of maturity to do her special thing for us all.

So much potential. So many possibilities. So much still on the table. So much left undone. It is devastating to consider.

That is what I think about with Gigi, Payton, and Alyssa. What magnificence were they going to offer us? How were they going to illuminate our world with their gifts? Was Gigi really going to be a basketball savant like her father, as video suggests, and become the next icon of the sport? Would they become teachers, artists, scientists, or senators? Would they raise wonderful children? Would they raise our awareness? Would they break down barriers? What did they leave on the table??? To depart from us at that age, leaving us grasping fruitlessly to “We’ll never know…” as an answer, is truly devastating. It is the essence of tragedy.

But as I think about that condition, I begin to wonder: At what age is it NOT tragic? Seriously. What is the point when we can be satisfied that someone has emptied their bucket and given the world a satisfactory portion of their potential?

I look no further than Kobe Bryant himself. While I was never a big fan of his as a sports hero–though I had great respect for his work ethic and competitive will, I was turned off by other parts of him and more drawn to other athletes–I had, in the few short years since his retirement, become fascinated with his curiosity and his intellect, as well as his ambition for projects beyond basketball. I had known already that he was fluent in multiple languages, a trait which I respect. But he had also become a true storyteller, creating a series of books and even winning an Oscar for a short film he wrote, produced, and narrated called Dear Basketball. He seemed to want to keep expanding and sharing his light in as many ways as possible, including coaching his daughter’s basketball team. So, even though he had a very long, full career as a pro athlete, inspired millions of people around the globe, made a fortune, and had four kids and multiple successful business ventures–more than most of us dare dream of–I would say he had an unfinished life. At 41, it appeared he had a lot more to give. That is tragic to me.

It’s different, of course, than the loss of the three children. He got to live out his dream, at least. But still, with all of his potential–a bright, curious mind with burning ambition and the money to fuel it–he clearly left a lot on the table. We’ll never know…

It saddens me to see potential go unfulfilled.

This heaviness I have been carrying around with the losses of these young people and all that they might have been has inevitably led to thoughts of my own life and death. Beyond those awful visions of losing my children at this age and the world being deprived of all their potential magic, I have pondered my own death and the relative importance of what I would leave undone if I should go now, at 47. How much more do I have in me, and how valuable is that to the world? Can I still be a net-positive? At bottom, I suppose the question is this: How much of a tragedy would my death right now be?

My mind goes immediately to my kids and the thing I believe I have done best in my life: parenting them. They are only 11 and 9 now, so no matter how solid the foundation has been laid to this point, I still have a job to do. So many lessons to teach, meals to prepare, and hugs to give. Is there any age before adulthood when kids DON’T need all of the material and emotional support that a parent provides? There is just so much more I am going to do with them and for them? With them, I feel like an unqualified Good. It is the one spot in the world where I feel essential.

While I am less confident of my necessity in my wife’s life–she would be and do Amazing under just about any circumstances–I hope that my partnership with her can help her to rise even higher, do even more great deeds, and leave an ever-increasing impact on the world. I like to think that the supporting role I play in our duo allows the light to keep reaching her so she can amplify it and spread it out into her many areas of influence.

I hope I have some good writing ahead of me that will enrich the lives of my readers and those around them. I want to think that these letters to you continue to provide you with fodder for self-reflection and journaling that will lead you, like it lead me, to a greater self-knowledge and, in turn, a deeper sense of gratitude and thus happiness. I believe in the value of my purpose and my message, and I believe I have more to share on that front. I hope that includes more books and many more letters.

I know that I have more works of service in me as well, and also just more positive interpersonal communications. I plan to be a better human: more kind, more generous, more forgiving, more compassionate. And hey, I plan to have even more fun and adventure, making myself even more grateful and happy, which I know seems selfish on the surface, but I truly believe that happier people are a benefit to the world.

All in all, though I may not reach the millions that Kobe Bryant reached, I think I can be a net-positive to this place if Fate allows me to stick around. But especially for my kids. They are going to do magic here, and I need to help facilitate that. That is what saddens me so much about Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester. They were going to do magic here, too. I hope that any extra years I am granted here can be filled with such works of Good that I can make up for some bit of what we lost with them. I hope my life can do honor to theirs. And in the end, when it is my turn to go, I hope that I have wrung so much out of the years I was granted that it seems no tragedy at all that I have gone.

How about you? When you arrive at the end of your life, how much will you leave on the table? Open your journal and consider both your realized and unrealized potential. How have you done so far in your lifetime? Have you used your talents wisely and generously? Have you been of service to others? Do you feel confident that your existence has been a net-positive, that the world is better because you were here? Whether or not that is true, what would be the loss to the world if you were to die today? What more do you have left to give? In what specific areas of your life do you plan to be the most valuable? Family? Career? Volunteering? Sharing your voice? General personal kindness? Which people in your sphere of influence would miss out the most if you were to die now? How aware are they of that? Based on the life you have lived so far, could we make a pretty good guess as to what you have left to contribute, or do you plan to surprise us? How steeply can you raise your trajectory? Does the possibility excite you? How will your legacy differ if you live 20 more years from the legacy you would leave today? At what point in your journey–past, present, or future–would your loss be deemed a tragedy for the world (I mean beyond just being very sad for your loved ones, which is a given)? Do you mourn people differently depending upon how old they are when they die? If you had to pick an age when it no longer feels so tragic when someone dies, what is that number? 60? 78 (average life expectancy)? 90? Do you mourn people differently based on their talents and what they might have left to give, regardless of age? In the case of the helicopter crash involving Kobe Bryant, which did you find yourself mourning more: the 41-year-old, multi-talented celebrity or the 13-year-old kids? What do you imagine each of them left undone? Do the deaths of strangers shake you and stay with you? Is it because of their potential and what they never got to do? How about thoughts of your own “early” death? Do they rattle you? Is it because of what you might never do? Does that motivate you do better now so as to have fewer regrets about your impact and achievements? If you died now, what would you most lament having not done? How devastating is that thought? Leave me a reply and let me know: How tragic would it be if you were to die today?

Carpe diem,

William

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P.P.S. If this way of reflecting on your life feels important to you, consider purchasing my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

A Loving Reminder: Have You Kept Your Relationship Promises?

“Together again, It would feel so good to be in your arms, where all my journeys end.  If you can make a promise, if it’s one that you can keep, I vow to come for you if you wait for me.” –Tracy Chapman, The Promise 

“You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: it’s got to be the right wrong person–someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, ‘This is the problem I want to have.’” –Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe

Hello friend,

If you know me, you know I have just about zero desire to attend your wedding. Or your graduation or your funeral, for that matter. But definitely not your wedding. I don’t like ceremonies. The pomp and circumstance, the dressing up, all the make-up and hair products, the extravagant decorations, the cookie-cutter procedure, the religious decorum and forced reverence. None of that is for me. And that is just the ceremony. Don’t even get me started on the reception! Small-talk, over-served alcohol, and too much noise to have a good conversation. Even when I like the people there, I don’t want to be there. It is just not my scene.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when my wife informed me recently that we–just the two of us, no kids allowed–would be going to her friend’s wedding, set for this past weekend. I looked forward to it like a root canal.

But a funny thing happened in that glowing, well-appointed hall. Instead of the typical, stodgy affair full of artifice and repetition of the standards, it was highly personal and authentic to the bride and groom. The video looping on the big video screen as the guests made their way in was from one of those “one second a day” apps that showed highlights of their last year together, prompting lots of laughs, oohs, and ahhs, and just generally drawing everyone into the atmosphere of community and love. The officiant, a friend of theirs, was funny and sincere, and they were deeply grateful for everyone’s presence and full of tears at each other’s expressions of their true love.

I listened most closely to the vows that they had written together, the promises they were making to each other about the kind of people they wanted to be for each other and the kind of shared life they wanted to create in the years to come. At every turn, they seemed to hit the right notes in both the substance of what they were saying and the conviction of their delivery. I believed them.

Inevitably, as I sat there taking it all in–and yes, crying along with them–my thoughts swirled back to my own wedding and the heartfelt vows my wife and I made to each other. Through streaming tears, we promised each other our very best for all the days of our lives. It was deep. It was beautiful. And it was sincere. I meant every last, golden word.

That was sixteen years ago. Leave it to Father Time to add some dents and dull the shine of even the most heartfelt promises.

Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t failed entirely as a life partner. I sleep in my own bed every night. I cheer for my wife’s victories and lend an ear and a shoulder on her tougher days. I make her needs a priority. I co-parent with all my heart. Taken in broad strokes, I have kept my priorities in line.

But when I take a closer look–as I am prone to do in this journaling life–I cannot deny that I have also failed to live up to the idealistic vision I held of my vows on that magical lovefest of a day those sixteen years ago. I have too often failed to give my wife the benefit of the doubt and failed to assume positive intent when things haven’t gone as I had hoped. I have held onto slights–whether real or perceived–for too long after they happened. The same for arguments and other hurt feelings. I have often used my solitary nature to justify my silence and withdrawal when I needed to rise to a situation and communicate my Truth in order to clear the air and allow a storm to pass more quickly. I have been resentful when the parenting load has become excessive instead of recognizing that as part of the natural cycle and letting it go.

I haven’t been good at the little things that are really the big things, like being sure to say “I love you” every day, giving meaningful hellos and goodbyes, and just checking in to make sure everything is okay, with her and with us. I think I have simply too often made it about my wife and about me, individually, rather than about us. That feels like a pretty significant failure in the face of the vows I made and still believe in. I am not proud of that.

I was chatting with a woman at the wedding last weekend about the moving sincerity of the bride and groom’s love and the delivery of their vows. The woman, who has been married for several years and has a toddler, joked, “Yeah, I remember we made vows like that once. Ha!” Translation: “Good luck keeping them as Life pours it on year after year!” I laughed, of course, as I knew where she was coming from. I know the journey from heart-fluttering, tear-inducing professions of love and lofty promises to petty arguments and isolating silence. I have felt the slow, subtle erosion.

It is why the dreaded wedding was just what the doctor ordered. Seeing and feeling that young, mad love and listening to those sincere promises reminded me of so many things. It reminded me that commitments are beautiful and brave. It reminded me that a couple united and focused on the right things is all-powerful. It reminded me how amazing my wife is and how fabulous life with her can be. It reminded me of the unabashed joy of being in love. It reminded me that all that stuff is still in me.

Those reminders have lingered through the week. On our way home from the wedding, clearly caught up in these love lessons, my wife and I talked about how to create more quality time, both with each other and with our kids, in the midst of our busy lives, rather than only when we go on vacation. We have been better this week with greetings, hugs, and kisses. She even happened up the stairs last night as I was listening to a playlist and a song from our wedding came on. We embraced and had a tender slow dance. It felt like true love. It was beautiful.

It is a magnificent thing to learn a lesson from young people. Sometimes truths are just so much clearer to them than they are to us life veterans with all of our baggage and battle scars. They are better at identifying purity than we are. Ideals are livable to them. So we learn. I am learning.

But there was also a consolation lesson a few days after being humbled by the fresh love of the newly married couple. My wife had posted a photo on social media of the two of us out of the house for our rare date night at the wedding. The bride subsequently appeared in the Comments section down below: “….Your relationship is such an inspiration to us!” Whoa. Really? Hmmm. I was stopped in my tracks. I guess we all have something to teach, and we do that teaching whether we know it or not. I am deeply grateful to have so many sources of inspiration in my life, pleasant reminders of the kind of person I can be and the person I have promised to be.

How about you? Who is the person you have promised to be in your most important relationship? Open your journal and examine your commitments and how well you have stuck to them. Who is the person you have made your firmest commitment to? Was it a commitment made in public–like a wedding–or something just between the two of you? When you made your promises, what type of person did you imagine yourself being in the relationship? What ideals did you promise to hold to? Which actions did you see yourself taking? Have you had to be all that you promised that you would be? Have there been times and situations that don’t seem to have been covered by the promises you made? How did you navigate that? Which of your promises mean the most to you? What is it about that type of commitment that resonates with you? Are there commitments you have made that the other person doesn’t even know about, things that you silently hold yourself to? Which of your promises have you gotten most lazy about in the time since you made them? Has your slippage been slow and subtle–almost unnoticeable–or have you taken steeper falls? Have you completely broken any vows? How does that sit with you today? What are the biggest weaknesses in your relationship from your end? Has your relationship survived your worst? If so, what does it take to rise up from your lowest points? Are you inspired by other people’s relationships? Which people in your life have the strongest partnerships? What makes them so? Do you talk to them about it and seek guidance, or do you learn just by watching? What would you ask them if you could? Does young (or new) love inspire you? How about weddings? What can you learn from these people who are nearer the start of their journey together than the end? What do you have to teach them? Do you try? What one promise would you tell them is the most important one to keep? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you keeping the promises of your relationship?

Love big,

William

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Does Your Hometown Still Feel Like HOME To You?

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” –Pascal Mercier, Night Train To Lisbon

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and have never been before.” –Warsan Shire

Hello friend,

I noticed something this week as I was plotting my big Summer trip to the mountains, and it has left me wondering about my place in the world. And if I ever had one.

You see, in order for me to get to the national parks in Wyoming and Montana, I have to pass through the state where I grew up and have so many fond memories. It is a super-long drive, so we will need stopping points along the way, to stretch our legs and to spend the night and such. When I finished plotting a couple of preliminary routes for the adventure, including not just the trip highlights in the mountains but also the long paths to and from my current home in Minnesota, I sat back with some satisfaction of having covered everything I most wanted to see. I was giddy with the fantasies of all that we will experience. And then something struck me: We will be going right through my homeland–twice–and I never once considered stopping in my old hometown.

It was an unsettling realization. “What does that say about my life?” I wondered. “Have I so lost touch with the place that formed me and is the scene of so many memories?” That unsettled feeling has lingered. Why wouldn’t I be eager to go back?

To be fair, I still make it back at Christmas every year. We stay for at least a few days in the house where I grew up. I smile when I drive by my old schools and tell my kids stories of the crazy things we did and who lived in each one of the houses. I get a kick out of it. And I should get a kick out of it; I had a great childhood. My memories are nearly all positive ones from that place. My yard was the centerpiece of tons of neighborhood games. I enjoyed school and sports and had good friends. I even went back and stayed for a couple of years as an adult, and even though I was mostly engaged in internal pursuits at the time and didn’t get out on the town much, I still appreciated being “home”.

So, what has changed? Or has anything changed?

From this distance of years and miles, I wonder. Did I ever feel truly rooted there? Was I ever “at home” in my hometown? I can feel the doubts creep in even as I ask the question.

I have never done very well on belonging measures. Though I am a huge lover of playing just about any sport, my favorites are the more solitary ones (e.g. tennis). And though I have teams that I root for, you will not find me wearing their jerseys or otherwise identifying with the crowd. I have always felt myself to be the “black sheep” of both my nuclear family and my extended family, never quite feeling the same connection or acceptance that it seemed the others felt toward each other. And I suppose you could say the same when it came to the people of my hometown. Despite having friends that I loved and enjoying my time, I never seemed to fit in with the prevailing themes and attitudes. Relative to the town’s vibe, I was not one of the gang.

I don’t know how much of that can be chalked up to the old, “It’s not you; it’s me,” justification. Maybe I am just unable to fit in, to latch on and allow myself to feel welcomed and connected. After all, I have lived many different places on my journey, and I have kept in touch with very few people when I have left, and I have yet to find the one place that feels just right. So, there is a good chance it is not so much the issue of my hometown somehow forsaking me, but rather that I am just not the guy for it.

However, I can also now see some things from this distance that I could not see as kid, or even as a young adult, that undoubtedly played into this lifelong feeling of alienation in the place I call home. The town and I just have (and had then) completely different sensibilities, and even moralities. When I think of the things that I am drawn to or feel passionate about in my life, I think of things like social justice issues, diversity, the arts, free expression of our unique selves, the ocean and the mountains, healthy living, environmental protection, charity toward those who have less or have been otherwise cast out or discriminated against, and other “liberal” political issues. When I think about my hometown, I don’t associate any of those things with it. I would certainly be a fish out of water if I tried to live there now, and though I could never have articulated it when I was younger, I have little doubt that my unconscious or subconscious minds sensed the same disconnect.

In the last decade or two, I have been aware that when I go back to my hometown, I am really going back to my house and, to a lesser extent, my neighborhood. I love the house where my parents live, the one that I grew up in, partly because my parents are there and partly for all of the wonderful memories still waiting for me there, waiting to enchant me and make me laugh and smile and feel a little bit of everything else, too. I am a sucker for nostalgia, and that place has it in Spades.

It is why I walk through the parkland and the few streets surrounding my house every time I go back, too. I like to wander off alone and let my mind drift to those halcyon days of innocence and freedom. I loved those days and feel so grateful for my long-gone time both in my home and in those safe streets, streets that didn’t even have lines painted on them, much less curbs or streetlights. I didn’t need them; I knew the road home.

So I go back into those city limits at this age merely to get to my little cul-de-sac and that house that holds my parents and my memories. The last few years, I have been talking myself into letting that place go, too, increasingly aware that they could sell it any time or, worse, that they won’t be alive to keep it “home” for me anymore. I know that when they leave it, I won’t ever return to that town again. I won’t have a reason to. I will instead hold it happily in my heart and mind, thinking of it often and kindly, just as I do now. But I will know, deep down, that it is no longer mine, if it ever was. The connection will be lost. Only gratitude will remain.

How about you? How closely connected are you to your hometown? Open up your journal and uncover the ties that bind you. How would you describe the place where you grew up? What kinds of things did you do? Who were the people you hung out with? What were your favorite parts of your town or neighborhood? What did you do there? Did you feel safe? What were you involved in? Church? Sports? School stuff? Clubs? Did you feel intimately connected to your town? Were you proud to be from there? If you were in sports or other activities in which you represented your town, were you glad to do so? Would you say you were happy growing up? How much do you think that affected your level of connection to the place? Is your feeling about your particular house or neighborhood different than your feeling toward your town? Why and in what ways? How did your degree of connection and feeling of “being at home” in your town change as you aged through elementary school to high school and young adulthood? Did you feel that typical teenage sensation of wanting to escape the binds of your town–the rules, the people, the prospects, etc.–and move away somewhere where the grass was greener? In your young adulthood, did you feel any inclination to move back to your hometown if you had left it? What has kept you from going back if you are not there now, or what has kept you there if you are? How closely aligned are your sensibilities (interests, morality, politics, etc.) with those of your hometown in general? Given your answer to that question, as a practical matter, are you and your hometown a good fit? How much does that matter to you in terms of making you want to be there (even to visit) or not? Do you still have people there that keep you connected to the place? Are you able to visit the home(s) where you grew up? How closely connected are you to that place? Does the feeling of home–whether the town or the building–evaporate when the people you shared it with go away? Do you feel like you have yet found the place that feels like your true home? If not, do you expect that you will find it someday (asking for a friend)? How much does it matter, especially if you are with the people you love? Do you think that your hometown will always sort of feel like home, no matter how much you liked it when you were young or how good a fit it is for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Does your hometown still feel like HOME to you?

Rise above it all,

William

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P.P.S. If this way of introspection works with your sensibilities, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.