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Soul Sucker or Soul Stirrer? The Role of Screen Time in Your Life

“If you are losing your leisure, look out! It may be you are losing your soul.” –Virginia Woolf 

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” –Neil deGrasse Tyson

Hello friend,

It is no secret that I am seriously prone to guilt? Well, let me clarify that. I am not much for guilt from other people; in fact, if you try to guilt me into doing something, I will almost certainly withdraw from that situation (and you) entirely. Self-inflicted guilt, however, is an unfortunate staple of my personality. I can make myself feel bad about the least transgression, like skipping a day at the gym or not writing letters to you as often as I once did. If it involves me not taking advantage of every opportunity to live my best life, I am vulnerable to an internalized flogging. And anxiety. I get antsy when I am not obviously growing.

So it is that the other day, while taking stock of my current life and my degree of contentment and longing, I noticed a most interesting and unusual phenomenon: despite the absence of any “big rock” that I am progressing daily in the direction of my dreams, or any major soul-stirring new dream that I am forming in my mind, I am feeling uncharacteristically serene and accepting of my status. At least for the moment, my relative lack of “progress” is not freaking me out. And I am starting to wonder if that alone should freak me out.

Am I getting complacent in my middle age, losing my passion and idealism? Am I allowing my dreams to slip from my once-stubborn grasp? Is my spirit dying, its light snuffed out by laziness and busy-ness?

Possibly because none of those things are true, or, just as possible, because I am unwilling to allow those thoughts into my head, I have decided to take a look at my habits from a totally different perspective. I need these new lenses in order to make more clear to myself just why my mind and soul are feeling pretty engaged without one of those big, obvious dreams or achievements that I am usually striving toward and that put wind in my sails. What are these more subtle forces at work that have been invisible to my eyes until now?

Interestingly, it was–quite literally–right there in front of my eyes all the time. Media. Screens. All of the information and art that I absorb on a daily basis.

When I have finished working and then spending the bulk of my “free time” face-to-face with my greatest inspirations–my children, my writing (either to you or in my journal), and Mother Nature–there are these last few fleeting moments of the day. They are usually found on a cardio machine at the gym early in the morning or in my bed as my eyelids get heavy at the day’s end, but I am always on the lookout for moments to steal.

It is in these precious moments that you can find me with my tablet–I hardly ever use my phone–which holds my books and, for the special occasion, my Netflix account. In recent months, I have found myself in turns fascinated, inspired, devastated, and mesmerized by what I have learned through that screen. And that is exactly what it has been: an education.

Allow me to share of the marvelous gifts my favorite device has bestowed upon me in recent months, just in case you are in need of some ideas for your own enrichment and growth.

Believe me, I wish I could share tons of movie suggestions, but my schedule and priorities don’t allow for two-to-three-hour blocks of time to sit and focus (if it did, you would get many more letters from me, or perhaps news of my next book). I did, however, catch the film Bohemian Rhapsody on a plane ride, and I recommend it. It jelled nicely with the main focuses of my education lately: the 1960s and 1970s (though the film is actually more of the 80s), and the culture around the music of that era. I have been drawn to this era for an unusual reason: because, in theory, these are the decades that would shape my parents’ late adolescence and young adulthood, yet neither my mother or my father has ever seemed at all engaged with the politics and music of that dynamic time–the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Women’s Movement, rock ‘n’ roll, the Motown sound, drugs, etc.–a phenomenon that befuddles me. It is also the era that flowed into my childhood, so I am trying to better understand my upbringing and the world I came into (better late than never!).

In the absence of Hollywood movies, I have used my random and stunted Netflix time (usually once per week at the gym) on documentaries, often about musicians. I have been fascinated by The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke, Bowie: The Man Who Changed Everything, Keith Richards: Under The Influence, 20 Feet From Stardom, and Studio 54: The Documentary. The one that I am completely engrossed in now, that I can see will take me some months to finish its multiple parts, is Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War. It is eye-opening, blood-curdling, heart-wrenching, and infuriating. But so detailed and informative. It is a lesson I have needed, one that perhaps we all need. I hope you will give it a look.

Prior to this one, the “special” (not exactly a documentary) that truly captivated me was Springsteen On Broadway. The things that most interest me in the world are people’s stories, especially if told by the people themselves. Springsteen’s performance in this, from a storytelling perspective, is brilliant. The occasional musical numbers are just gravy. I highly recommend it.

Watching these documentaries has only increased my thirst for more of them. The ones on my wish list after I finish The Vietnam War are Planet Earth II, Brené Brown: The Call To Courage, The Seventies, Our Planet, Bobby Kennedy For President, The Story of God, How The Beatles Changed The World, Mountain, One Strange Rock, and Ken Burns’ The Civil War and The West. I think Netflix mostly exists just to tease me about my lack of time to watch its countless delights!

But there are even more books to read. I read with my 8-year-old son, I read with my 10-year-old daughter, and I read alone. And even though the children get the final say on the titles we read together, most of the books are enjoyable and enriching for me, too. My son and I have been reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which, mostly because it has inspired him to become a Greek Mythology expert, has taught me so much about a subject that I have long wanted to study. And it is entertaining. Another clever children’s series that an adult can appreciate is Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories. Last week, I also finished (alone) a sweet book by Alex Gino called George, about the experiences with cruelty and courage of a fourth-grader who is transgender. I then passed it on to my son, who read and enjoyed it this week. My daughter and I are currently quite engrossed in Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting By 7s, about a young genius dealing with the sudden death of her family.

I have in recent years come to appreciate books for middle grade kids and have no trouble recommending them to adults. I had earlier caught onto that feeling about adolescent/”coming of age” tales such as Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, both of which I strongly recommend. I find that a great children’s book is, without trying to be, also a great adult book.

But I still love to read my own grown-up books, which are usually something in the Biography/Memoir section but spread out into other areas of nonfiction and fiction as my intuition guides me. One recent, highly-detailed, biographical portrait that supplemented my study of the 1960s and 1970s–and the music thereof– was Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine. It is fascinating (if a bit tabloidish). I have also recently had a very personal look at both mountain climbing and rape culture through the eyes of one of my favorite authors, Jon Krakauer, in Eiger Dreams and Missoula, respectively. At the moment, I am in the middle of Azar Nafisi’s thoughtful account of the myriad devastating effects of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Reading Lolita In Tehran. It is opening my eyes in a whole new way, taking my heart and mind to places I had never imagined.

But that is just what good media does, right? That is the potential of these screens we are always staring at: to stimulate our brains, to open our hearts, and to inspire our souls. In short: to lift us up, to expand our lives. Growth.

This, I can see now, is the answer to the puzzle of why, in the absence of any huge dream that is currently propelling me forward by the power of its hold on my enchanted soul, I am still feeling the tingles in that soul and the stretching of my heart and mind as they open with new knowledge and inspiration. It points to something that I clearly needed a reminder of: not only am I, at my core, a dreamer and a follower of my dreams, but I am also a student. It is in my soul’s code. I simply love to take in what is new and different to me. I get excited to try what I haven’t tried, whether that is a foreign language or a physical skill or another person’s story. I want to see, feel, and do it all so I can know better how the world works and how everyone else experiences it. When I feel those things stagnating in me, I become anxious and irritable. Unhappy. This is why I am in constant search of enrichment opportunities. My radar is always up. Basically, I am addicted to Growth.

With that realization, I can see why I have continued to be buoyed without my usual life-saving device: the big rock.

I have no doubt that before long, the pendulum will swing back the other way, and I will need to do something that satisfies my other soul compulsion: to contribute. I will need to help others rise in a more obvious way than I am now.

But for now, it is nice to know that when I my tank is running low, I don’t have to feel so guilty about turning to my screen for inspiration. There is some magical stuff in there! I plan to mine it well and allow myself to be lifted.

How about you? How do you use your screens and your media? Open up your journal and assess your relationship to your devices and your leisure time. How big of a role do your screens play in your life? What percentage of your leisure time is spent in front of a screen or page? What do you do with them? Movies? TV series? Sports? Video games? Books? Articles? Social media? Word games? Other apps? How much of that screen time would you describe as relatively mindless? Do you feel guilty, as I do, if you reach your threshold of “just passing time?” How much of your mindless time is necessary (i.e. you need it to decompress from daily stresses)? How much of it is really just wasting time? Which screen-based things that you do are inspirational? Which are entertaining? Which are educational? Which grow your life in other ways? What are those ways? Do you gain more of your leisure time enrichment via screens and pages, or via other hobbies? By what margin? What are the best movies you have watched lately? Which one(s) stand out as being particularly enriching? Which have moved you the most? Do you have any documentaries that have changed your perspective on the world? Which TV series do you find yourself recommending to others? A few weeks ago I was moved to tears by the comeback of Tiger Woods, and I always love the human stories covered during the Olympics. Do you watch sports? How engaged does the “human drama” element of sports get you? How would you rate your level of enrichment and personal growth via social media? Does the negative ever outweigh the positive? Do you waste time there? What other apps would you recommend to someone looking to be inspired and/or educated? What have you been reading lately? Do you prefer books or articles? Which blogs do you read? What have you read in the last year that has really stuck with you? Has anything changed your life dramatically? What has reminded you of Who You Really Are? Are you satisfied with the role of screens in your life? What would you like to change about them (e.g. more or less time on them, more books, less social media)? How about your leisure on the whole? Is it not just relaxing, but enriching? Do your hobbies inspire you and make you a better person? Are they enough to round out your work life and make the whole package seem fulfilling, even if temporarily? Do you cycle back and forth from being passive and content with your free time to needing to do something truly “meaningful” and life-changing? What is the proper balance? Leave me a reply and let me know, What is the role of leisure and screen time in your happiness?

Grow and grow,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with someone who might be enriched by it. Grow your world!

P.P.S. If this way of introspection appeals to your sensibilities, check out by book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

A Life Sentence In Music: Choosing Your Only 5 Bands For Eternity

“To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.” –Aaron Copland

“People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.” –Taylor Swift

Hello friend,

I have had this question rolling around in my head for months. Months! Typically, if I get a question in my head, I do a little journaling and it works itself out. For some reason, though, I have not followed that path with this one, and it has most definitely NOT worked itself out. So, I write to you today not to share with you what I have worked out, but more to marvel at the process of working it out and how difficult (impossible?) some topics are to nail down and how likely they are to change at the very moment you think you have the answer.

It all started, as most troubles do, with a friend’s Facebook post. I love those people who post great questions that you cannot resist answering in the Comments or, even if you don’t have an answer on the top of your mind, you can’t resist looking at everyone else’s answers. He put one like that on there this week, too: something like, “What are your top five favorite movies, all genres included?” I took that question so seriously that I couldn’t put my answer down immediately because it required deep consideration, so I adjusted my settings so it showed me notifications any time someone commented on it (I love movies, and I love opinions even more!).

Anyway, the question he asked that night a few months ago that has been trailing me ever since is, “If you could only listen to five bands/musicians for the rest of your life, who would you choose?” I was stricken instantly by the difficulty of it. Even as I read my friend’s choices and the lists of the first few people who had already commented–evidence that it could obviously be done–I was overcome by the enormity of the challenge posed. It seemed a question as big as The Meaning of Life. An absolute stumper. As often as I have thought of it since then–almost daily–it remains just that to me.

You see, I am in love with music. It captivates my soul and moves me in a million beautiful ways. I am completely in agreement with the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who proclaimed, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” In the past decade of my life–ten years defined almost exclusively by heavily involved parenthood–I have often lamented that, for all of the magic and delight that my dotingly attentive Dadding has gifted me with, what it has kept me from is tons of hours under the cover of my big headphones, lost in the sway of this Divine language called Music. You don’t get that luxury when you are listening for babies crying or big kids squabbling. But oh, what a luxury! And there is so much of it filling so many different genres, each magnificent in its own way.

I find pleasure in a wide array of styles: Folk, R & B, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Classical, Blues, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Pop, Jazz, Broadway, Soul, Country (well, a few select old-timers, anyway), New Age, Gospel, Motown, and more.

I am not exactly sure what the proper name of the genre I listen to most is. To myself, I call it “Singer-Songwriter Music.” It is probably easier identified by the names of some of my favorites in that category: Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Glen Hansard, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, Indigo Girls, David Gray, Ben Rector, Ben Folds, Storyhill, Brenda Weiler, Ray Lamontagne, The Decemberists, Natalie Merchant, Joshua Radin, Marc Cohn, Amos Lee, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Jakob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bruce Hornsby, Five For Fighting, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Joshua Kadison. Basically, it is music that is mostly (or easily) stripped down to guitars (often acoustic) or piano along with vocals. I listen to a lot of that, and when I first considered this thought experiment of narrowing my lifetime musical choices to just five, I was tempted to pull from this list only (well, maybe this list plus Counting Crows, a longtime favorite band who nearly fits this genre but is probably more considered Rock). That list would probably be (subject to daily changes of mind): Counting Crows, Indigo Girls, Marc Cohn, Matt Nathanson, and Mat Kearney. Wow, that’s hard to narrow!

But just when I think of how much I love those artists and how I would enjoy listening to their catalogues over and over, it strikes me how much Joy and inspiration I would be missing out on by sticking only to my favorite genre.

I love R & B! I am a sucker for the 80s and 90s slow jams from my favorites–Keith Sweat rules–but also love the stuff I can dance to. All of the family tree of New Edition–Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, Bell Biv DeVoe–is amazing. But so many others, too: Luther Vandross, Johnny Gill, James Ingram, Keith Washington, Peabo Bryson, Hi-Five, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, Guy, Babyface, Barry White, Janet Jackson, SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men, Deborah Cox, John Legend, and more. As much as it is paining me to think of leaving these artists out of the rest of my life, I cannot imagine leaving out the entire genre. I have to keep at least one for my five eternals. Right?

And that is just my second favorite genre! Could I ever do without Classical or Jazz Piano from the likes of Keith Jarrett? Could I survive without at least a little Hip-Hop flavor in my life? And Reggae? How could I narrow my lists down to just five artists and not have someone from these genres?

And then there are those few artists who aren’t necessarily in my categories but are amazing and possibly necessary for the list. Michael Jackson. Prince.

As I was thinking about this topic the other day, I walked into the house and found my wife jamming to a Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child mix in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but start dancing. It struck me: How could I live without this, something that I would never call my “favorite” because the songwriting doesn’t touch me but that is so catchy and fun that it makes me dance every time? Was Beyoncé a candidate for the list, too?

It might also be some kind of torture to be alive and not be able to listen to the singular songwriting of Bob Dylan, the golden voice of Patti LaBelle, the blues guitar of Buddy Guy, and other such unique talents. Mozart. Marvin Gaye. Al Green. Bruce Springsteen. Ray Charles. Willie Nelson. Wynton Marsalis. Shirley Caesar. John Prine. Bob Marley. U2. Jay-Z. Johnny Cash. Billie Holiday. The Beatles.

It is enough to make my mind explode! How could one possibly narrow all of this magic down to just five? And yet, that is the challenge. I am so drawn to these thought experiments because they are so darn difficult, could go any number of ways depending upon my mood, and are open to such thorough debate.

In this case, there is the internal debate about the grounds for choosing. Do you go with the five you seem to listen to most? That seems the most obvious and it’s what I did first. But it left me feeling starved for variety. But when I start thinking I should spread out my genres, I end up with too few of my absolute favorites. And with R & B, I deeply love the genre but don’t necessarily have one artist that demands inclusion. Then I try to compromise by combining, like, “Maybe Michael Jackson can satisfy my R & B fix with some of his songs, even though he is mostly Pop.” Then I try my last desperate ploy: “I will take New Edition if you let me include all of their solo careers that came after the band broke up, pretty please.” I’m going to pretend that plea/caveat was accepted! Then you have to consider if some of your possible choices have a big enough catalogue of music or if they are still young enough that they are going to keep putting out new music, which makes it more exciting.

So, what if I started by narrowing it? That might make it seem more manageable than trying to just pull five from the 76 artists (and counting) I have already mentioned. Okay, here we go, legitimate options……Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Ryan Adams, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Indigo Girls, Storyhill, The Decemberists, Joshua Radin, Marc Cohn, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, Joshua Kadison, Counting Crows, Keith Sweat, New Edition (and ensuing careers), Babyface, Keith Jarrett, George Winston, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, The Beatles.

Okay, that’s 24. Not particularly helpful, but a start. It’s time to get tough. Next cut……Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, Tracy Chapman, David Gray, Indigo Girls, Joshua Radin, March Cohn, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, New Edition, Keith Jarrett, Michael Jackson.

Alright, now we have definitely reached the painful point! Twelve would be much easier to keep than five! Okay, okay, I can do this (with teeth gritted)…..Mat Kearney, Indigo Girls, Marc Cohn, Counting Crows, New Edition.

Hooray! And sob. I love these selections; they represent so much of my history and memories, with still some music left to be made. That makes me happy. It’s sad, though, leaving out the great diversity of artists and genres that I love and that continue to shape me as I push every year to stretch my musical palate. It seems a great tragedy. To try to limit the infinite power of music is a crime. No wonder this exercise has been so difficult!

It is a good thing it is hypothetical. Still, I love this kind of challenge! Once I get going, I plunge in headfirst and take the process seriously to the end, fleshing out the finer points and multiple possibilities. After so many years of journaling, my brain seems to especially enjoy topics that are ambiguous and multi-faceted, full of intricacies and forks in the road. I am drawn to nuance, depth, and grey areas that beg to be understood more fully rather than just the black-and-white answers that we are so often fed by politicians and social media trolls. I think that is what so intrigued me about this topic of narrowing musical choices. I knew it would require a period of uncertainty, of not knowing exactly what I think, and that I would have to wade through those murky waters and linger in that discomfort until I could come up with, through my own process of analysis and ultimately trusting my own judgment, the answers that feel right to me.

So, in the end, this challenge was rewarding almost as much for the mental exercise as for the trip through my music collection and all of the brilliant artists that have blown my soul wide open through the years. Almost! Truth be told, I could just climb into my music collection and let my heart bubble over with Love. As my guy Matt Nathanson sings, “I feel invincible with my headphones on!”

How about you? How will you narrow your musical loves down to just five for the rest of your life? Open up your journal and your album collection and play your way through to clarity. Do you like these types of questions that, even though they aren’t “serious,” force you to dig deep to come up with the answers that best represent you and your loves? Do you tend to comment on them when someone poses a question like this on social media? If not, do you at least tend to make a list in your head? Do you scan the Comments for other people’s lists? It’s interesting, right? It gives us insights into people we may not get another way. How about this particular question? How keenly were you drawn to it when you first heard it? Did you instantly start thinking of your list? What were the first names that jumped to your mind? Were they artists that you have always listened to, or were they more recent additions to your collection? As you started to expand beyond your top couple and considered options for your final selections, how big did the list grow? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? What were the biggest factors you considered? The pure joy the artist’s music gives you? The memories tied to that artist’s music? The number of songs in their catalogue? How many albums they are likely to release in the future? How self-conscious did you get in the process? Did you feel yourself succumbing to considering how other people would react to certain selections, leaning toward artists who would give you more cachet with “music people” over less sophisticated artists who just make your heart sing more? Did you feel pressure to diversify your list when you saw what it might be? What was your Top 10? How did you get from there to five? How painful was it? Who were your five? When you read through it, how much Joy do you feel? Any regrets? How fun was it just to go through your collection? Isn’t music amazing? How could we ever limit it, even to our very favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: How seriously can you take a hypothetical question about something you love?

Let your spirit sing,

William

P.S. If this got you thinking or made you smile, pass it on. The world needs more active minds and smiling faces!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself invigorates you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

The Accidental Haven: Stumbling Upon Your Peaceful Garden

“Having a place of sanctuary is very important for the mental well-being. No matter what happens in the outside world there needs to always be a place for you to balance out and recharge.” –Avina Celeste

Hello friend,

Last weekend I took my kids on a little getaway to their cousins’ lake cabin so they could have some fun and make the kinds of memories that I so cherish from my youth. My old man used to get together with his siblings at cabins often when I was a kid, and my cousins seemed almost like siblings to me. There was a range of ages–I was on the younger side–and personalities, and it made for some wild and lasting memories. Whenever I think of those halcyon days of childhood, I feel compelled to provide my own kids with those opportunities to bond and be wild with their cousins.

We usually meet up with my extended family at a lake house that has been in the family since I was a kid. My grandpa bought the land on the waterfront, and he let us kids help him build what would become the house. The process made for great memories, and all the wonderful times that we have shared there in the years since have made the place all the more special. It is familiar and relaxing, much like my childhood home is to me when I return for Christmas. I am grateful to have a couple of places like that in my life: where nostalgia meets good people and a pleasant environment.

I tend to think of those places as the ones that are my sanctuaries, places that I can return to at different points in the year to find my center, to be in emotional and spiritual harmony. At Peace. That’s how a home should feel. Just right.

That is what has my mind tied up this week. Not my fascination and gratitude at these feelings of deep Peace, but the unlikely spot that I happened upon that Peace.

I had been to my sister’s cabin once about 14 years ago when they first bought it, but honestly, I don’t recall anything from that trip other than playing with my nieces, who were very young then. In the last few years, my kids and I had casually talked about going for a weekend to see their cousins, but it didn’t materialize until late last Summer. Despite some cool weather, it was a wonderful, just-what-the-doctor-ordered kind of weekend for my soul. Saturday, in particular, hit all the right notes, and I shared about it in my letter to you entitled “The Best Day of Summer,” which it really was. On the drive home, I was determined that we would return to see if the magic was part of the essence of the place–some cosmic connection with my soul that cannot be adequately explained–or if it was a one-shot, perfect storm kind of deal.

So, when I packed the kids into the car last Friday, there was plenty of curiosity mixed with the usual excitement that accompanies a weekend adventure. I genuinely wanted to know how it would feel. It did not take long to find out.

I felt at ease from the moment we pulled into the driveway. Unrushed, accepted, inspired, calmed, cared for. Throughout the weekend, my inclinations were generally split between “I want to do that fun thing (swimming, kayaking, tubing, paddle-boarding, playing with the kids) right now and as much as possible,” and “I just want to sit here and enjoy this view (of the lake, the trees, the stars, the fire) and this energy.”

I understand that to be an ideal tension for me, because it is the same one I feel when I am at a quiet ocean beach or a mountain forest. It is an energized serenity, an engaged calm, a dynamic Peace. Like yoga.

And as the weekend progressed, I practiced a nice balance of that engagement and relaxation. I definitely had an agenda of all the things I wanted to do while we were there. Some were purely for fun (e.g. tubing with the kids), others to learn something new (stand-up paddle-boarding), and others that gave me a mix of exercise and spiritual communion (an early morning kayak trip around the glassy lake). I also had clearly chosen spots that I wanted to just be. These included the beach chair in the sand by the water, the hanging chair just off the beach, and the lounge chair up on the veranda looking out over the entire lake and encompassing trees. I wanted to be with the water, be with the trees, be with my sister, and be with the energy of the children. I had my spots for that being. They all seemed just right in the moments I sat there.

Everything about the place felt just right.

At first I was tempted to chalk up my unusual sense of Peace to the place itself: the cozy cabin and the little calm lake and the big old trees and the sandy beach. These are my kinds of conditions, after all. Put them in any travel promotion and I am in. But to attribute my profound serenity simply to those physical characteristics would be to miss a key ingredient in the magic potion: the people.

My sister has a way of setting the scene at the cabin with just the right blend of everything. It is engaged conversation but also sitting with you in silence to take in the beauty of the sunset or the songs of the birds. It is meals that are delicious but also low-maintenance and easily eaten anywhere. It is being up for fun and excitement but also up for quiet reading time afterward. It is filling the day but also making sure the kids get to bed at a decent hour. I guess I would describe the tone she sets at the cabin as a perfect balance.

It helps, too, that her husband makes no drama about anything, and her younger kids play easily with mine. The older kids are fun for me to talk with but also want their own space enough to also keep their presence low-key. They all come together to make it feel like a come-as-you-are, do-as-you-like kind of place. There is a goodness and sincerity about them that complements the simple beauty of the surroundings.

That sense of welcome and acceptance, I am seeing, are a key part in what makes their cabin a unique and surprising place of Peace for me.

You see, prior to last weekend, I would have told you that the four places that have always made me feel calm and centered are 1) my childhood home, 2) my family’s lake cabin, which I mentioned above, 3) my current home, where I have built my own family in the last eight years, and 4) in the grand beauty of Nature (e.g. an ocean beach or a mountain forest). As I see it, the thing those first three have in common (outside of a connection with family) is a sense that they are what I think of as mine. I feel some ownership there, like when I go there, I am not a guest and don’t have to play by someone else’s rules. I am welcome as I am. They are my homes. And while I don’t feel like I own Nature when I am out amidst its soaring grandeur and staggering beauty, I feel a part of it. I feel like it is where I am from and where I am welcome. And it is okay that I don’t own it, because there is a feeling that no one else does, either. I am not intruding there, and I have no need to temper who I am. Authenticity is welcome. That is a crucial connector to my other three long-time homes.

This is why my sister’s cabin–literally someone else’s home–seems an unlikely place for me to come upon this overwhelming Peace. The kind of Peace that makes me feel like home. After all, I am a visitor there, a guest playing by someone else’s rules. There is no sense that it is “mine” or “at least not someone else’s” like with my other soul homes. That is not typically a recipe for relaxation for me.

And yet, there it is. An astounding Peace. Two visits in a row.

And thoughts of that Peace stuck in my mind, demanding answers as to why.

Because it would be nice to be able to locate other places where I could feel this way. But I suppose that you feel just how you feel in a place and probably don’t have control of those forces behind that, or at least some of them. So, perhaps I will stumble upon another spot like my sister’s cabin and be melted by its Peace. Or perhaps not. But her brand of welcoming and acceptance is something that I can learn from. I can keep my sensors attuned to it in others, but perhaps more importantly, I can do better to try to foster that energy and those feelings in my own home, and even in my mere presence. I can work to help the people I encounter feel seen, heard, and accepted just as they are. I can make them feel welcome.

In a day and age when divisiveness permeates, I think that might be a welcome surprise.

How about you? Are there places in your world that aren’t home that somehow feel like an emotional or spiritual sanctuary anyway? Open up your journal and take a tour in your mind to all the stops on your journey through Life. Which places have felt the most peaceful to you? What is it about those places that brings you to that feeling of serenity? Is it the familiarity of the place, somewhere you know so well by the time spent there (e.g. your home, Grandma’s house, a favorite vacation spot)? Is it the physical beauty of the surroundings (e.g. a beach house, a mountain chalet, an opulent mansion)? Is it the personal safety you feel there? Is it the memories you have of the place? Is it the people with whom you share the space (e.g. friends, family, spiritual community, co-workers, social club)? Is it the proximity to Nature? Does it have something to do with your sense of the Divine? Is it your sense of ownership of the space? How many places do you have on your list? If you have more than one place where you feel that deep Peace, do they all have something in common? What is the theme running through them? Is there any place, like my new discovery of my sister’s lake cabin, that stands out for you as somewhere unlike the others on your list, a place that surprised you to feel that ease and contentment there? What about that space doesn’t fit the bill? How does it make it onto your list despite its differences? What is the magic ingredient or combination of ingredients? Do you believe it can be duplicated and that you might find it elsewhere? Is your home or your physical presence a place of unique Peace for someone you know? How can you become more of a sanctuary to others? Are you willing to try? Are acceptance of people just as they are and welcoming them into your heart the keys to a more peaceful world? How cool would it be to find Peace around every corner instead of only in your own home? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where have you stumbled upon Peace?

Be a haven right where you are,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your people. When we share our stories, we build bridges of empathy.

P.P.S. If the journey of self-discovery intrigues you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Goals, Goals, Everywhere Goals: Aiming for a Bigger Life

“The moment you put a deadline on your dream, it becomes a goal.” –Harsha Bhogle, The Winning Way 

Hello friend,

I have never been much of a goal-setter. Don’t get me wrong; I have always been a dreamer and driven to do great things in my life. I have taken risks and made sacrifices in my attempt to leave my mark on the world. But I have done all that without setting many specific goals. I can’t say why exactly. It just didn’t feel like me. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to feel contained, and goals can sometimes feel like fences to me. I have typically preferred to trust my intuition on how much of something I need, where I need to push, and where to pull back.

But in the last few years, as I have continued to examine my life in my journal and in these letters to you, I have had this creeping sense of disappointment and regret as it has become increasingly clear that I have failed to live up to all of those dreams and ambitions. Eventually, I was bound to ask myself why, and I have been slowly allowing those questions in. I wondered if maybe it was because I haven’t pushed myself hard enough and consistently enough to make the big strides I imagine myself capable of. But why? After all, I had the dreams. I had the drive. I began to wonder if maybe I just didn’t have the right plan. Maybe I needed a new method.

Enter Oola.

A couple of months ago, my sister, who is into self-help/personal growth books and always has her eyes open for things that can help her and her business grow, treated me to a new book that she had been raving about. It was called Oola: Find Balance In An Unbalanced World. In it, the authors, Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl, write about the importance of living in a way that is balanced and growing in all the major areas of life, what they call “The Seven F’s of Oola”: Fitness, Finance, Family, Field (career), Faith, Friends, and Fun. In my old Life Coaching classes, this resembled what is commonly referred to as “The Wheel of Life”.

I am always on the lookout for tips on doing LIFE better, so I plowed through the meat of the book, taken in by the stories of these two guys and how the seven aspects played out in their lives. I knew they grew up in my neck of the woods and were of a similar age, so I also wanted to glean some insight into how they became successful and which tips I might borrow for my own life.

A couple of weeks ago, as I approached the very last section of the book, I was thinking I wasn’t getting much that was soul-stirring or deeply inspirational out of it. I was eager to be done with it, hoping to find something a bit more life-changing from my next read.

But in those last pages was a challenge that would change the entire experience for me. Well, at least I hope it will.

Whenever someone tells me they read my weekly letters or that they read my book, I always want to know if they do more than read it. Do they write their own journal entry about the questions raised? Do they engage someone in a conversation about it? Do they at least take some time to ponder the issue and how it intersects with their own life? I tend to think that the only way to get anything out of my writing is to truly engage with it: to ponder, to discuss, and hopefully to write about it. I definitely hope that my words will be more than just read. Speaking as the sensitive author, I don’t feel like my work can be fairly judged unless you have done the deep diving.

So there I was, beginning to judge the Oola book, when it turned the tables on me. It asked of me what I ask of my readers: to get out my pen and dive deep into the way these “Seven F’s” could change my life. The only catch: I had to set goals. And not just a few, but twenty-one: three for each of the seven areas on the Oola Wheel.

What a predicament! Of course, the idea of setting twenty-one goals–specific, measurable type of goals–was immediately off-putting to my personality, so I was inclined to reject the challenge outright. But. (Oh, the BUT!) But it seemed like my integrity was on the line. How could I defend my own writing’s quality from people who didn’t fully engage it if I wasn’t willing to fully engage this book? That wouldn’t be right. And the other, bigger BUT. But how can I keep rejecting goal-setting if my usual, comfortable method of just going with my gut hasn’t gotten me where I want to be in life?

The writing was on the wall. It was time to get out of my comfort zone. And so it came to pass that I took my pretty-but-somewhat-blurry dreams and gave them some definition, some real numbers, some deadlines.

I made goals. Twenty-one of them. Here they are:

FITNESS

  1. Get my weight to 203 by December 31, 2018. (That is somewhere from 5-7 stubborn pounds to lose.)
  2. Do a full yoga practice at least once per week.
  3. Add rowing to at least one cardio workout every week.

FINANCE

  1. Make more money than we spend each month.
  2. Get a higher paying job with benefits.
  3. Put $250 into a vacation fund every month.

FAMILY

  1. Have one Family Game Night/Family Movie Night per week.
  2. Have one devoted couple activity (game, TV show, whatever) per week.
  3. Take the epic Montana Road Trip by the end of 2020.

FIELD

  1. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible.
  2. Spend time every week writing my next book.
  3. Join my wife full-time in her new business by January 1, 2020.

FAITH

  1. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  2. Take a weekly nature walk practicing mindfulness and gratitude.
  3. Develop a nightly gratitude “prayer” or practice.

FRIENDS

  1. Connect with Johnny in person at least once every two months.
  2. Engage one new person in conversation each week.
  3. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone call each month.

FUN

  1. Become a regular tennis player again–once a week–in the warmer seasons.
  2. Write my second book–spend devoted time every week.
  3. Practice the guitar at least three times per week for at least 15 minutes.

Of these twenty-one, the Oola guys recommend that while you can keep all of them and work toward them, it is helpful to pull out your top seven that would make the biggest impact on your life right now (it doesn’t have to be one from each area). I chose these seven:

  1. Make more money than we spend every month.
  2. Get a “real job” involving writing as soon as possible. (I also chose this as my “OolaOne”, the single thing that would make the biggest immediate impact.).
  3. Meditate 15 minutes per day.
  4. Write my second book, devoting time every week.
  5. Practice my guitar at least three times per week, at least 15 minutes each.
  6. Have one devoted couple activity each week.
  7. Re-connect with one different old friend by letter or phone each month.

There they are! It was a grind for me, I fully admit, but even my fluid mind is sitting here appreciating how concrete they all look in their tidy lists with all the details included. It definitely helped to use the popular goal-setting method called S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, Time-based), as that kept me from being vague and slippery. These definitely feel more like the opening quote: like dreams with deadlines. Goals.

Having just finished the exercise, I can tell that all of the specifics are very new to me and my usual processing. My inner world is trembling a bit, no doubt. My cheese has been moved. But I can also see how this will be really, really good for me. That is, it will be really good if I follow this up with the appropriate action steps, like daily To-Do Lists filled with items that work directly toward those goals. I am excited, both to start achieving these goals and just to see my world through a new set of lenses. I think I needed it. No, I’m sure I did. Now that I have some goals, I am charged up and ready for action. I’m off to get my Oola on!

How about you? How do you do with goal-setting in your life? Open up your journal and examine the role of goals in your world. Do you have specific goals in your life right now? What are they? Are they far away things–like an advanced degree or retirement–or something you will accomplish within the next year? How aware of your goals are you on a day-to-day basis? Do you use them to guide your behavior on a normal day, or are they just something you check in with once in a while to see if life is generally heading in the right direction? How specific and measurable do you get in your goal-setting? Do you have exact dates and numbers in mind so you can be certain as to when the goals are reached? Do you have someone in your life who holds you accountable for your goals, or do you count on your own discipline to get you there? Would an accountability partner help? How realistic are your goals? Do you have a strong chance of reaching them? Do you gain confidence when you reach a goal, no matter how small? Whether or not you currently have goals or are aware of how balanced and growing your life is, does the concept of setting multiple goals in each area of your life appeal to you? Have you ever done something like this? So, go ahead. What are three goals you can make for yourself in each of the seven areas: health & fitness, money, family, career, faith/spirituality, friends, and hobbies/fun? In which area are goals easiest for you to make? In which area are you most likely to achieve your stated goals? In which area are you most likely to fail? Is systematic goal-setting foreign to you? How does it feel now doing it? Does it make you more eager to make a plan to achieve them? If you had to choose one goal to pursue that would make the biggest impact on your life right now, which one would it be? Are you willing to commit to that? What small steps can you take today to move in that direction? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which goals can you set to move yourself in the direction of your best life?

Go get it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it on social media. Let’s go after our dreams together!

P.S.S. My new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth, is available in paperback and ebook formats from many retailers. To get yours on Amazon, go to http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten Thank you for your support!

The Movie Lines That Narrate My Life

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” –Martin Scorsese

Hello friend,

“BUONGIORNO, PRINCIPESSA!!!!”

If those words—and the image of Roberto Benigni’s effervescent spirit—bring an instant smile to your face, you just might be a member of my tribe. They come from the film Life Is Beautiful, one of my all-time favorites. And even though the movie’s dialogue is all in Italian, somehow that line has become part of the story of my life, something I quote regularly and smile about often. That is how a great movie is, and especially a well-written one.

I love writers and their words. Whether they come from a song, a newspaper, a novel, a blog, or a screenplay, I am captivated by the language that these talented people use to tell the story of our lives and times. While I definitely appreciate journalists and non-fiction writers—I include myself in this category—I am particularly envious and in awe of the writers who pull these amazing tales and beautiful words right out of their souls. It is an astonishing gift.

What makes movies such a transcendent art-form to me is that they combine the writer’s beautiful gift with the talents of so many other artists: actors, directors, cinematographers, lighting designers, costume designers, musicians, and on and on. All of these great artists come together for one thing: to bring to life the words of the writer.

And they live! Oh, how they live.

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I assess people is how well they incorporate movie lines into their everyday lives. Someone who can effortlessly insert a great quote into their conversation that fits the situation perfectly absolutely scores some points in my book.

It has been a while since I was fluent on the popular movies of the day—one of the many failings that I blame on having children—but I still cling to memories of my old favorites (and I have even added my kids’ animated selections to my repertoire). And since I spend much of my time alone or with children, much of my dialogue is contained among the many characters swimming around in my head. They seem to have fun, though, so I don’t judge. Let them talk!

These are some of the lines that regularly make their way into the screenplay of my life (I will try to give you the clean version, though truthfully, I have quite a knack for internal commentary that is a bit more, shall we say, colorful). Enjoy! 

“No pain! No Pain!” –Duke, Rocky IV. Perfect for pretending I am really working out hard. Otherwise, I just sing “Eye of the Tiger”. 

“Ah man, first The Fat Boys break up, and now this!” –Boney T, Boomerang. When something good ends, it is comforting to have Chris Rock’s voice in my head. 

“Ah, hon, ya got Arby’s all over me.” –Marge, Fargo. I have little ones, so I am muttering this one all day long. 

“My father stormed the beach at Normandy!” –Teddy, Stand By Me. I have this at the ready any time someone starts telling a potentially embarrassing story—as inevitably they all are—about a family member of mine. 

“South America. It’s like America, but South.” –Ellie, Up. I insert this into any conversation about geography. What? 

“What the hell is Goofy?” –Vern, Stand By Me. If your children spend any time watching Disney and Mickey Mouse, you need this line to keep you sane. Trust me. 

“I’m not a smart man….but I know what love is.” –Forrest, Forrest Gump. Because I have a lot of opportunities to remind myself that I am not a smart man. 

“You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.” –Buzz, Toy Story. Though this will come into your head often in this world, I recommend keeping the words inside most of the time. 

“It’s all happening.” –Polexia, Almost Famous. In one of those rare moments when everything seems to be coming together for me, this says it all. 

“I don’t sweat you.” –Paulie, Rocky II. I use this one as trash-talk when I am playing driveway basketball with my six-year-old. He has no idea what I am talking about. Whatever. 

“Supermodels are beautiful girls, Will. A beautiful girl can make you dizzy, like you’ve been drinking Jack and Coke all morning. She can make you feel high, full of the single greatest commodity known to man: promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow. This particular aura can be found in the gait of a beautiful girl. In her smile, in her soul, the way she makes every rotten little thing about life seem like it’s going to be okay. The supermodels, Willy, that’s all they are: bottled promise. Scenes from a brand new day. Hope dancing in stiletto heels.” –Paul, Beautiful Girls. Sometimes just quoting any line from this movie in any situation makes me giggle. But Paul is pure in his romantic buffoonery. So I love this monologue. If I don’t have it all in me, I go with his shorter version: “A beautiful girl is all-powerful, and that is as good as love. That’s as good as love.” Hee hee! 

“Chopper, sic balls!” –Milo, Stand By Me. This one works for any yippy dog in my neighborhood or in the car next to me at a stoplight. 

“I can smell you.” –Dug, Up. I have a sensitive sniffer, so I have to amuse myself when it gets offended . It’s either this or the Top Gun gem “Slider, you stink.” 

“Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!” –Celie, The Color Purple. My wife loves to break this one out on me. She’s usually joking. 

“Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!” –Christian, Moulin Rouge. Love is a deep topic; you might as well make a melodious montage out of it! 

“You’re the gourmet around here, Eddie.” –Clark, Vacation. Great for when someone wants to share cooking stories with me and I have nothing to add.

“Willie C!!! Stay cool, man. Stay cool forever.” –Kev, Beautiful Girls. This is enough of a goodbye for me. Sincerity makes the words become magic. 

“You want to get out of here…..GET RID OF THAT MONKEY!!!” Chatter Telephone, Toy Story 3. When my kids are asking over and over when we can leave, I throw this back at them. Or just anytime (some things are just fun to say). 

“You got to coordinate.” –Mr. Jackson, Boomerang. This just makes getting dressed so much more enjoyable. 

“Honey, I’m not an ordained minister.” –Clark, Vacation. I like to pull this one out whenever I am doing something out of my league (assembling something with tools, mathematics, etc.). 

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” –John Keating, Dead Poets Society. Because sometimes it is not a joke. Sometimes I need a reminder about what this thing called Life is all about. 

“Do you like apples? Do you like apples? Well, I got her number! How do you like them apples?” –Will, Good Will Hunting. When I need to rub something in someone’s face, I break out my thickest Boston accent for this one.

“This house is ours.” –Grace, The Others. When my wife is freaking out after hearing a strange noise in the house, I call upon the ghosts. It momentarily quells the fear. Or intensifies it.

“I will fight on!!!!” –William Wallace, Braveheart. When I am watching Roger Federer play tennis—totally stressing out—and he wins a huge point, I shout this, in my best Scottish accent, at the top of my lungs. My wife shakes her head upstairs. 

“Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?” –Clark, Vacation. My version of a compliment to the chef. 

“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.” –Ricky Fitts, American Beauty. You should be so lucky to have a few of these moments in life, quote or no quote.

“Double Burger. Double Burger. Chuck-I-had-a-Double-Burger.” –Morgan, Good Will Hunting. Always appropriate when waiting impatiently for someone. 

“The list is life.” –Stern, Schindler’s List. What did we need at the grocery store? 

“I wish I knew how to quit you, Ennis!” –Jack, Brokeback Mountain. Though this comes from a serious moment in the film, I like to pull it out when my wife is teasing me about something. It makes me laugh. 

“I’m sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.” –Forrest, Forrest Gump. Because sometimes just trying to imitate Forrest is enough to keep me going. “That’s my boat,” “Hey Bubba,” and many others work, too. 

“Now, a question of etiquette: as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?” –Tyler Durden, Fight Club. Though this was an airplane scene in the movie, I smirk as I think this line while scooching down any row anywhere in the world. School programs and church are particularly amusing.

Oh, I could go on and on! And I do, most of the day through. How else does a guy survive? I am not as funny as these screenwriters, so I must steal their lines. It keeps me smiling, anyway. And though we could banter all day, I will leave off with a final thought from my friend, Forrest Gump: “That’s all I have to say about that.”

How about you? What movie lines do you use to narrate your daily life? Open up your journal, and maybe your entertainment cabinet for a reminder. What quotes seem to flow out of you on a regular basis? Are there a couple that have become your staples? Do they come from your most favorite movies, or are they just great lines? Do your normal quotes come from movies you have seen a million times? Are they from your childhood or adulthood? Do you say them mostly in your head or out loud? In conversation, do you use them with people for whom the line is a shared inside joke, or with anyone at any time? How often do the people understand where the line comes from? Does that matter to you? Is it more fun when they get it or when they don’t? Why do you use the quotes? Do they say things better than you can? Do they just make conversation—internal and external—more interesting? Do they make ordinary events more tolerable, even exciting? Do they help you through the worst of times? Do they help you connect with others? Do they simply make you laugh? For me, all of those apply. I guess they just help me tell my story my way, simply through the lines that I choose, which vary by the day. How about you? Which quotes do you choose most often? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which movie lines narrate your life?

Smile at your world,

William

P.S. If this letter made you smile or think, I hope you will pass it on.

10 Places I Want to Visit

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –Augustine of Hippo

Hello friend,

Nineteen years ago, I was flying back from my second great European adventure. I had just spent some quality weeks wandering through the most beautiful and memorable places. I had ridden the train through the Black Forest of Germany and into the mountains of Austria. I had eaten authentic Weiner schnitzel and pure grape juice with the sweetest family at a small vineyard outside of Vienna. I had soaked in the healing waters of a Budapest bathhouse with a bunch of very old Hungarians. I had lost my soul while visiting the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. I had been charmed by the whimsical beauty of Prague and the Czech Republic, and meandered back through the simple beauty of Germany to catch my plane for home.

All of those life-changing places and adventures were swirling through my mind as the pilot’s voice came over the speakers: “Sorry to interrupt the movie, folks, but we are just reaching Greenland. It is out the right side of the plane. And believe me, it is better than any movie!”

Luckily for me, I was on the right side of the plane. When the woman next to me opened the shade, time stopped completely. I was spellbound. My breath was taken from me. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

When the enchanting, snow-covered mass was finally out of sight, I pulled out my journal and tried to find the words to describe a kind of magnificence that was truly indescribable. After doing my best to jot down some intelligible thoughts, I mostly gave up, fully aware of my limitations as a writer in the face of the Universe’s grandeur.

In reading back the final sentences of my journal entry from that day on the plane, it is plain just how awestruck and at a loss I was: “I don’t know. The picture, I suppose, is worth a thousand words, but I really can’t describe the wonder of it. It was a land of fantasy, a dream-like majesty. Or, taken from another side, an endless sea of desolation…..It just went on and on in infinite beauty. That is what I will remember about it.”  

Later, I wondered what it would be like to visit such a unique place. After pondering the prospects—visions of me trying desperately to stalk some wild creature below the ice while freezing to death in a land too cold for vegetation–I decided that Greenland is probably one of the few places on Earth best suited to appreciating from a distance.

But there aren’t many places like that. Mostly we need to be somewhere to truly appreciate it. I have always loved to learn, and one of the most important discoveries of my life is that traveling is the best form of education (I love Mark Twain’s quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”). Meeting new people, learning about different cultures, soaking up the wonders of nature, and finding Peace in the process. “All good things, all good things,” as my friend Olaf would say.

Thinking this week about that European adventure and the magnificence of Greenland, my old traveling soul got stirred up. I decided to come up with a list of places I would love to visit for the first time, whether to explore or simply melt into the beach and bask in the beauty. I am thinking of myself here, not taking into account that my kids never leave my side. And I admit from the outset that I am heavily biased at the moment, as the wind chill has been below freezing in Minnesota in this final week of April. So, don’t be surprised if we end up with a lot of tropical selections!

At any rate, here we go, in no particular order, with my Top Ten Places I’d Like To Visit:

  1. India. I admit that this one is cheating, since it is a huge country, but there are just so many different areas I would like to see, from sacred religious sites to crowded cities to secluded villages in the Himalayas. I named my firstborn child after this place—that’s how long it has been living in me!
  2. Bali, Indonesia. From everything I have read and seen about this place—the extreme warmth of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the pristine beaches—I feel a spiritual connection. I am enchanted!
  3. Yosemite National Park, California. This is a weird one for me. Don’t get me wrong, I imagine it is full of scenic vistas and wonderful hikes. But I can’t help but think that I am only intrigued by it because I want to see what all the hype is about (because I secretly think that my favorite, Glacier National Park in Montana, will put its more famous cousin to shame). Either way, I want to go.
  4. Belize.  This is definitely all about the quiet, peaceful beach vacation, with just enough adventure–via world-class snorkeling spots–to keep it interesting. Actually, Belize, even though it is on the mainland of North America, is kind of the placeholder spot for almost any beautiful Caribbean island beach paradise (insert Jamaica, St. Martin, Dominican Republic, etc.). I have some exploring to do in that neck of the woods!
  5. London, England. This giant is one of the few European biggies that I haven’t visited. And even though I am curious to check it out, its spot on my list is mostly about one particular neighborhood at one particular time of year: Wimbledon, early July. The shrine of Tennis. I would like to attend all four Grand Slam events, actually—amazing trips to London, Paris, New York City, and Melbourne, Australia (yes, please!)—but I would settle for Wimbledon.
  6. Alaska.  This one is a bit of a cheat, too, as Alaska is huge. But if I was in the neighborhood, hey! I would take a trip to Denali (maybe even try to find the bus from Into the Wild), “flightsee” over a mountain range, wander down the Kenai, and hopefully spot some whales and other creatures around the fjords. The Last Frontier!
  7. Kenya/Tanzania, Africa. These two countries get the slash because I would not quibble over an opportunity to take a photo safari through either one (and they are neighbors!). I have always dreamed of this. One day…..
  8. New Zealand. This just seems like good territory for taking a walk. A long walk. Remember The Lord of the Rings? It was all filmed here. The next time the hobbits go out for a wander, I am tagging along!
  9. Amazon Rain Forest, Brazil. I might be freaked out the entire time about being eaten by an anaconda or piranhas or some other invention of my mind, but it would also be so amazing to be amongst all of that Life.
  10. Bora Bora, French Polynesia. I couldn’t resist one more tropical beach! I love the idea of being way out in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from a continent. Of course, visions of those over-the-water bungalows on stilts are appealing, too! I get giddy when I see that clear, turquoise water.

That’s it! Well, of course that isn’t it. There are so many more new places I want to visit, even in my own state. But those ten are the ones topping my Wish List today. I love the feeling these fantasies give me. My adventurous spirit is absolutely tickled right now! I can feel the little perma-grin on my face, too; it hasn’t left since I started thinking about this. The world is such a magnificent playground. Fly me away!

How about you? What new place do you feel like traveling to today? Open up your journal and spin the globe. Where do you want your finger to land? Is there one place that comes immediately to mind? Is it somewhere you have always dreamed about? What has kept you from getting there? How disappointed will you be if you never make it there? How about the rest of your list? Are most of them places that have been on your radar for a long time? Which ones are the most recent additions to your list? What draws you to them? Are your places more about physical adventures (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal), learning about something new (e.g. Incan ruins in Peru), or a good spot to relax (e.g. the beaches of the Seychelles)? Are any about connecting with your heritage (e.g. a visit to meet distant relatives in Ireland)? What about a service destination (e.g. a friend of mine just volunteered at an orphanage in Sierra Leone)? A spiritual pilgrimage (e.g. Jerusalem)? How many of them are you seriously determined to get to? How many of them are out of your comfort zone? Will those be the most rewarding? Which one are you most likely to get to first? How soon? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your aspiration destinations?

Make your life an adventure,

William

P.S. If this got your daydreams into high gear or put a smile on your face, pass it on. We could all use a happy fantasy once in a while!

The 50 Words That Describe You Best

“The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, Stank, Stunk!” –Dr. Seuss

Hello friend,

I told you recently that the way I want to feel this year is BRAVE. After saying goodbye to my trusty old job at the end of the year, I knew that, in order for this year to turn out alright, it would have to be defined by my courage. So far, I would say it has been.

There are many passages in my journal that show me propping myself up, reminding me of both what is at stake and how I have stepped up before. Those journaling sessions have been invaluable, as I have used them to propel myself toward finishing a book and submitting it for lots of potential rejection. I have risen to the challenge. I have been brave.

I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to describe myself as brave! That adjective is hard won, and I am savoring it now. I have realized something else, though, in these days of summoning my courage: I wouldn’t need to be brave if I wasn’t so darn scared!

That’s the thing about courage: it doesn’t show up unless you are afraid.

So, while I am still proud of myself for being brave lately, I would be lying if I said I haven’t spent even more time racked in fear. Fear of going broke. Fear of failing as a writer. Fear of a future in a soul-crushing job. Fear of not being enough. Sure, I have stepped up and worked through it most days, but it has felt crippling anyway.

It was nice to use “brave” to describe what I am all about, but if I am being honest, the adjective “afraid” fits me at least as well. That seems weird, right? I have been wrestling with this seeming paradox this week, trying to understand who I really am. Am I brave, or am I afraid? If one of those words defines me, does it mean the other one shouldn’t? Am I a walking contradiction?

I decided that the best way to work this out is to come up with a bigger list of adjectives to describe who I am. That way I would know if I am being pulled apart on other issues, too (and if I am a good candidate for the loony bin!).

The list, I decided, should be long enough so I am not just a cartoon figure, but not so long as to cover every single thought or emotion I have ever experienced, making me a mere blur of every adjective in the English language. I went with 50.

So, without further ado, this is how I would describe myself, in no particular order:

  1. Brave
  2. Afraid
  3. Curious
  4. Sentimental
  5. Self-confident
  6. Impatient
  7. Sincere
  8. Optimistic
  9. Driven
  10. Altruistic
  11. Mindful
  12. Insecure
  13. Open-minded
  14. Spiritual
  15. Competitive
  16. Pacifistic
  17. Principled
  18. Kind
  19. Stubborn
  20. Unsocial
  21. Grounded
  22. Progressive
  23. Opinionated
  24. Passionate
  25. Compassionate
  26. Silly
  27. Independent
  28. Spoiled
  29. Intuitive
  30. Positive
  31. Non-confrontational
  32. Generous
  33. Grateful
  34. Introverted
  35. Selfish
  36. Happy
  37. Playful
  38. Unforgiving
  39. Wise
  40. Adventurous
  41. Inclusive
  42. Cerebral
  43. Demanding
  44. Nostalgic
  45. Sensitive
  46. Authentic
  47. Caring
  48. Self-isolating
  49. Wonder-filled
  50. Serene

Okay, that is enough! There are plenty more I can think of to cover all of my moods and my worldview, but this is good. It is a fairly clear picture, at least from my eyes. I know we don’t always see ourselves the way others see us, but I will not worry about the others for now. It is challenge enough to clarify my own view.

In looking at it now, I can see that the brave-afraid duo is not the only seeming contradiction in my personality description. I am definitely both selfish and altruistic. I am both cerebral and intuitive, passionate and serene, open-minded and opinionated. And I am certainly, depending on the moment, very often self-confident and very often insecure.

In those combinations, I can see how foolish we are when we try to put others in a box based on one thing we know about them. After all, if I am any indication, the opposite characteristic might be just as true for that person we have tried to trap in the box. So, making them into a cartoon character so that they can quickly fit into a box in my mind simply doesn’t tell the truth and shortchanges both of us.

Much like the contradicting combinations, there are some of these qualities that have both positive and negative aspects, and I can see myself covering the full spectrum. Sensitivity is one. It can be wonderful when appreciating art and being compassionate toward my fellow human beings, but it can also make everything sting more than it should and make me resistant to hearing criticism of all sorts. I can see this range of positive and negative outcomes with my fierce independence, too. As with the combinations, this broad-spectrum view reminds me to be more open-minded when observing someone else’s personality.

That, I can see now, points to the difficulty in gleaning any meaningful conclusions from the list taken all by itself. If I just looked at this list of 50 adjectives and didn’t know who it represented, I couldn’t be sure if I liked this person or not, precisely because each characteristic can show itself in a number of different ways. Sure, some characteristics are almost certainly more favorable than others—kind is better than unforgiving, right?—so we can get hints from the list. But, without the context of the actual person, it is a challenge.

So, though I wouldn’t necessarily use this process as the answer to finding your soul-mate, I found it immensely helpful for examining myself (and that is exactly what our journaling is all about). I learned a lot from those very first words I wrote in my notebook after I said, “GO!” And then later I learned a lot from the end of the process, when I had written around 80 words and had to narrow it down to 50. That is when I started digging harder: “Who am I REALLY?” My answers were revealing, more so than I would have guessed before I started the list.

In the end, I think my biggest takeaway is that I am complex, that I don’t fit very well in any neat box, not even one of my own making. That is an important lesson for me, not just for my own self-awareness, but in how it affects the way I need to walk the world. I have been journaling every day for 20 years, so I know myself extremely well and know that I have well-defined views and attitudes on just about everything. If I am still revealing contradictions and wildly divergent personality traits about myself–and if I am feeling more certain than ever that I don’t belong in a box–then I ought not be so quick to put anyone else in a box, either.

This process, then, has been a necessary reminder to make better use of some of the adjectives I listed in my 50: open-minded, curious, kind, compassionate, altruistic, generous, caring, and inclusive. Yes, I think I will work on those. If I walked out of the world tomorrow and could leave the people in my life with any words to describe me, I would be satisfied with those.

How about you? Which words describe you best? Open up your journal and your vocabulary. What are the very first words that come to mind about you? What is it about those characteristics that make them so prominent in your description? Are they things that you have always thought about yourself? Are they things that other people usually mention about you? How close are they to the core of you? Which of your words are ones that maybe only you think about yourself, words that would surprise other people to read? How much of your personality do most people see? How much of that is because you intentionally protect certain sides of yourself? If I gave a list of 200 words—including the 50 you wrote about yourself—to your three closest loved ones and asked them to pick out your 50, how many would they guess correctly? What if I asked your co-workers? Do you feel like you are honest and authentic about who you really are in most situations—e.g. at work, with friends, with acquaintances, with family, etc.—or do you mostly wear a bland mask until you are with your closest loved ones? How much has your list changed in the last 10 or 20 years? How different, if at all, will it look 20 years from now? How many contradictions are on your list, like my self-confident/insecure combination? Are you more or less complicated than most people, or about the same? How much do you cling to the boxes you put people in? Did this exercise change the way you think about that? Do you like who you are and what is on your list? Which words do you hope to get rid of? Which are your favorite characteristics? Which ones are not on there now but hopefully will be soon? Can you add a new one today? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words describe you best?  

Live free,

William

P.S. If today’s challenge made you look at yourself differently, please pass it on. Let’s all be our beautiful selves!

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

100 Loves

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

Hello friend,

Allow me to light up your day! Come along with me and play a game we will call “100 Loves”. The rules are simple. I will name a category, and all you have to do is quickly name ten of the things you love most in that category. There will be ten categories, so ten lists of ten. Hence, 100 Loves!

My one caveat/suggestion: Don’t try to get your list exactly right! In any of the categories, of course there will be many contenders to make your Top Ten. Don’t give in to the temptation to agonize over which ones get those last few spots and which get left off the list. Just write the first ten that come to you. [Secret from the game designer: no one is going to bust you for making your lists a bit longer. If longer feels better, go for it!] This is all about thinking of things that give you good memories, inspirations, warm fuzzies, giggles, and smiles. If you are feeling pressure to get your list right, you are playing the game wrong. And just because you are making a list from one to ten, this is not about dividing up your heart into exact amounts. As long as your answers make you feel good, anywhere on the list is wonderful. Don’t rank them! Got it? Good! Let’s play!!!

Category #1: Books

  1. Walden—by Henry David Thoreau (my all-time favorite piece of literature)
  2. Autobiography of a Yogi—Paramahansa Yogananda
  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—Robert Pirsig
  5. Into the Wild—Jon Krakauer
  6. The War of Art—Steven Pressfield
  7. The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger
  8. Conversations With God (series)—Neale Donald Walsch
  9. On the Road—Jack Kerouac
  10. The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini

Category #2: Foods

  1. Monster Cookies (the ones my wife makes are divine and so naughty!)
  2. Garlic Bread
  3. Root Beer Floats (A&W preferred)
  4. Giant Burritos from Chipotle (I like them all!)
  5. Caramel Rolls (the ones my Mom makes are the best!)
  6. Grilled Halibut
  7. Dr. Pepper (I am not really a soda drinker, but when I indulge, the Doctor is in!)
  8. Pizza (I am not picky, but a simple pepperoni is lovely.)
  9. Smoothies (the one that my kids call “Mango Pineapple Pink” is delightful!)
  10. Chocolate Malt (made by my daughter after school—heavenly!)

Category #3: Inspirational Figures

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Live your purpose. “The time is always ripe to do right.”
  2. Mohandas Gandhi—“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He was.
  3. Henry David Thoreau—Be unapologetically you. Don’t just exist; LIVE!
  4. Ellen DeGeneres—Be you, be kind, and be generous. Oh yeah, and be silly.
  5. Mastin Kipp—Follow your heart. Stick with your biggest dream.
  6. Barack Obama—With the audacity of hope and lots of work, anything is possible.
  7. Dalai Lama—Spread positivity to every corner of the world. Be happy!
  8. Jimmy Carter—Spotlight or not, do good for all of the days of your life.
  9. Van Jones—In the most contentious of times, reach out across that chasm to find that we are rather more alike than we are different. Lead with love.
  10. My daughter, India—A contented soul makes the best company. Kindness first.

Category #4: Music Videos

  1. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. Love that fight/dance scene!
  2. “Centerfold”—J. Geils Band. Those first bars were unmistakable and sent whoever was manning the family room TV into hysterics, yelling, “Centerfold’s on! Centerfold’s on!” so that the rest of the house would come running.
  3. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—Cyndi Lauper. With Captain Lou Albano as her Dad, how could this not make the list? It really was fun!
  4. “Her Mercy”—Glen Hansard. One of the few from my adulthood. My spirit rises with it. So beautiful.
  5. “She’s A Beauty”—The Tubes. I can’t explain it; I just loved this from the start.
  6. “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There’s no need to argue.
  7. “Headphones”—Matt Nathanson. A documentary set to music. Makes me smile through my tears.
  8. “I Love Rock & Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. This is everything about my childhood. The best anthem!
  9. “Brave”—Sara Bareilles. It is a masterpiece of inspiration and fun.
  10. “Thriller”—Michael Jackson. An absolute EVENT. Captivating!

Category #5: Actors

  1. Julianne Moore
  2. Don Cheadle
  3. Cate Blanchett
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis
  5. Emma Thompson
  6. Anthony Hopkins
  7. Kate Winslet
  8. George Clooney (man crush)
  9. Helena Bonham Carter
  10. Sean Penn

Category #6: Games

  1. Taboo—a highly amusing holiday tradition with my extended family!
  2. Ping Pong
  3. Mario Kart on Wii—I love this with my kids!
  4. Yahtzee—classic!
  5. Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo—my Mom bought one of the Classic Nintendo consoles at Christmas, and between my sister, brother-in-law, and my kids, that game was going continuously the entire holiday break. Ahh, nostalgia for the many hours wasted on that game in the old days….
  6. Foosball
  7. H-O-R-S-E (Basketball)
  8. Capture the Flag—My brother and I still get the kids going on this one at the lake every Summer. This was my backyard in the Summers of my youth. So much fun and so many memories!
  9. Rock Band on Wii—because, at one point or another, we all dreamed of being in a band, right?
  10. Scattergories—Great for a large group. Inevitably funny.

Category #7: People (Not immediate family to take the guilt out of it)

  1. Gabrielle
  2. Uncle Bob
  3. Aunt Caryl
  4. Ruby Red
  5. Karen a.k.a. lizzy
  6. Cousin Becca
  7. Aysun
  8. Phil
  9. Foley
  10. Uncle Lloyd

Category #8: Songs

  1. I Go To Work—Kool Moe Dee
  2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters—Elton John
  3. Rochester—Mat Kearney
  4. No One—Alicia Keys
  5. Shame On You—Indigo Girls
  6. Walking In Memphis—Marc Cohn
  7. Let’s Get It On—Marvin Gaye
  8. Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye—Counting Crows
  9. Stand By Me—Ben E. King
  10. Seasons of Love—The Cast of “Rent”

Category #9: Activities

  1. Sledding
  2. Rollerblading
  3. Surfing
  4. Building a snowman
  5. Playing catch
  6. Hiking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Swimming
  9. Yoga
  10. Slip-n-Slide

Category #10: Movies

  1. Dead Poets Society
  2. The Thin Red Line
  3. Stand By Me
  4. Cinema Paradiso
  5. Slumdog Millionaire
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Home for the Holidays
  8. Beautiful Girls
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Life is Beautiful

Whew! We made it to 100! That was just a ton of fun! When I was making it up and deciding on categories, it seemed like fun, but it was so much more than that. It was nostalgic. It was emotional. It was deeply gratifying. Truly, that is what I take away from it: an astounding Gratitude for all of the wonderful blessings in my life, past and present. I am grateful, smiling, and inspired. Hooray!

How about you? What’s on your list of 100 Loves? Which categories were the most enjoyable to list? Which ones were hardest to keep to only ten items (I had a tough time keeping my Movies list at ten and made an extra-long list for that one on my paper). Which categories were the most emotional for you? Which brought you the most smiles and laughs? Did you break out any music, movies, or YouTube while you wrote? Which list had your most favorite memories? Were there some lists that just didn’t do much for you? If we were to make a second 100 Loves, which categories should we add (I toyed with bands, writers, locations, movie lines, even apps)? Was this as fun for you as it was for me? I hope you are smiling, anyway. Thanks for playing along! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your 100 Loves?

Savor Life,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, please share it. We could all use more of those!

Energy Shots: The Little Things That Make Your Life Better

DSC_0381“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Hello friend,

It seems to me that the recurring theme of my mind, and therefore my life, is “How can I make this better?” I am constantly digging into all of the different ways I spend my time—at home, at work, at play—wondering what I can do to improve the situation and make my life the best it can possibly be. I do it with my thought processes, too. It is nonstop. How can I be more efficient with this? Is this serving my greater purpose? Could I be helping more people? Does this reflect who I want to be? How can I make this more fun? What can I do to reduce the stressful parts of this? Have I seen all sides of the issue? What is it about this that doesn’t feel quite right to me? What is the lesson here? Does this make my heart sing?

As a part of this routine of self-improvement, I find myself spending much of my focus on eliminating energy drainers from my life. I try to clean up all the little things that weigh on me and distract me from the things that matter most. I am trying to clear the path so that it is easier to deliver on my potential, to be my very best. These energy drainers take many forms. At work, it can be my psychological discomfort from not being in command of a certain system, technology issues, stress from being late on a project, an unorganized filing system, or a co-worker’s attitude. At home it can be things like my messy office, a family member’s negative attitude, my children’s maddeningly slow pace in just about every activity (it is the slow eating drives me the most crazy, I have to admit), lack of sleep, difficulty finding time in the schedule for my priorities, and so many more. In every area, it is often about a way of thinking that is not working for me: fear, a negative attitude about something or someone, self-doubt, envy, looking too far ahead, or a simple lack of focus and presence.

Most are little gnats. A few are closer to miseries on some days. But always there seems to be something to tidy up in my physical or mental space. The bottom line: there is certainly no shortage of energy drainers to address. And because I am so determined to clear my path to greatness, I seem to devote the bulk of my time and energy to defeating these drainers.

And then I was sorting through some notes a few days ago, and I came upon a page with some lists on it. These were lists I had made for a personal inventory exercise some months ago but had completely forgotten about. The top half of the page dealt with energy drainers, most of which I have spelled out for you above. My answers were all too familiar, and I kind of rolled my eyes at how I have not solved most of my issues in all this time. Just as I was chastising myself for my ineptitude at cleansing my life of these drainers, my eyes drifted to the bottom half of the page. What I saw there stopped me in my tracks.

There were two columns filled with my handwriting. The first was “Energy Gainers at Work.” The second: “Energy Gainers at Home.” The instructions were as follows: Now list the things that impact your life in a positive way (include activities, people, physical aspects of your environment). Before I even started reading through my lists, the impact had already been made. It was a total “A-Ha!” moment for me: “Of course! Energy GAINERS! Why have I been so focused on the Drainers?” It was like both of my eyes were finally open. I could see the full picture so much more clearly.

Yes, of course it is important to identify the areas of my life that suck my energy unnecessarily so I can try to minimize or eliminate those factors. That is still very important. But it is only half of the picture. And the dreary half at that! It is high time I turned my eyes toward the sunny side of my world.

So, I peeked down those lists of energy gainers and got a real boost. I realized that everything on those lists still exist in my life, and more. So much about my little world is conspiring to lift me up, to give me joy, to free me to be who I want to be!

In my working world, I am blessed with the opportunity to help people on their path to a healthier lifestyle, and I get a real kick out of that. It absolutely puts wind in my sails to watch someone walk away happy and excited to become better. I also have some time to work totally alone, and, as someone who skews toward the introverted side, that time also charges my battery. My schedule is amazingly family-friendly, too, so even on the days when crazy things happen, I never resent the job for the things it robs me of. That is important to me. Finally, and something that I have become more and more invested in, I get to use my skills to help my friends pursue their passion. Doing something for a cause adds life to it, and I feel that. For all of the little drainers that show up there, it is nice to remind myself that the tide is mostly rising.

Of course, life is so much more than work, and my world outside of work is, when I really look at it, a beautiful landscape dotted with springs of joy and inspiration. I am allowed—thanks again to my work—an abundance of time with my kids. When they are not at school, I get to be with them, and this means the entire world to me. They are the essence of the term “energy gainer.” But I have other delights, too, that I revel in when the kids sleep. Creating these letters to you each week in hopes of helping you to be your best—and getting responses from you—absolutely invigorates me. Working on my other writing–whether it is my daily journal entries or my larger work, The Journal Project—is like a meditation for me, putting my mind in exactly the right place of peace. And even though it comes in the wee hours of morning when sleeping would still be fantastic, I am revitalized by my daily exercise as well. Even the physical space of my home, especially having my own dedicated work space with lots of books nearby, is an energy boost for me. A few minutes of meditation work, too.  When all else fails, just going outside and being in the fresh air is an automatic revitalizer. I love that!

I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I write about these energy gainers. They are giving me life just thinking about them! The great realization is that they are here every single day, permeating my little corner of the world. How cool is that!

So, it seems the Universe is not, after all, conspiring against my progress with all of those little gnats that I see as perpetually slowing me down and weighing me down. There are, as it turns out, weights on the positive side of the scale, too. Big ones, and lots of them. My life is full of LIFE!

My task, as I can see more clearly now, is to keep those energy boosters front and center. I must be better at giving them my attention, at extracting all of the joy and inspiration I can from them. I must shine that light more brightly on them than on the energy drainers. And finally, I must be more grateful for them and for the way they allow me to be the very best me that I can be.

How about you? What are your energy gainers? Open up your journal and your mind, and shine a light on the aspects of your life that make your load a little easier to carry. Who are the people in your life that give you a boost just by being in their presence or trading messages with them? Do you spend more of your time with those people or with the people who drag you down? What can you do to spend more time around the lights? Okay, now look at your work situation. Which aspects of your job are meaningful to you and make you feel better? Is it your co-workers, the services you provide, seeing the difference you make, your schedule, or something else? Is it just your paycheck? With all of these things considered, is your work as a whole an energy gainer for you? Now think outside of work, to your home and hobbies. Is your actual space a positive one for you? Do you have a particular room or outside space that energizes you? Which activities make you feel better? Does exercise work for you? Being in nature? Do you do anything artistic? Does socializing energize you or deplete you, or some of each? Is there a musical artist or genre that makes you smile? An author? Where do the people in your home fit into the equation? Are you good at recognizing when you need a little pick-me-up? If so, what is your go-to energizer? Are you good at focusing on the positive aspects of your life, or do you spend most of your time and energy dealing with the negatives? All things considered, is your life well-stocked with energy gainers? More positive than negative? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where do you get your energy shots?

Find the good everywhere,

William

P.S. If this helped you see your life in a different light or reminded you of something you had forgotten, pass it along. Let’s help each other find the bright spots!