Category Archives: Work & Career

Have You Come To Terms With Your Age?

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.” –Andy Rooney

“How did it get so late so soon?” –Dr. Seuss

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” –Charles Darwin

Hello friend,

I just turned 50.  I am embarrassed to admit that it was hard for me to type that sentence.  I am still not quite there yet.  Fifty sounds OLD!  Whether it is or isn’t, I will leave that for you to debate.  It still sounds that way to me.  And I guess I am not yet at that place of acceptance or surrender or whatever you want to call it that will have me agreeing that I am OLD.  Because if I agree, what does it say about what I have left in me?  Not much time, and even less vigor to do what I need to do it with.  I need some time to sit with that one.  Sadly (or ironically or something), time is the one thing in short supply here.  It is tough turning 50!

I started processing 50 the moment I turned 49.  It was the first time I could no longer deny it.  At 48, I could still convince myself I was in my mid-forties.  Sure, it was a stretch, but I was in the mood for a stretch at that point.  When 49 came around, though, that was it.  I started telling myself I was already 50 just to get used to the idea.  I guess I wanted to soften the blow, to normalize the whole concept of being in my fifties.  I said it over and over.  I could tell it wasn’t really sinking in, though.

I blame my grandparents and my great-uncles and great-aunts.  My Mom’s parents, as was common back then, married in their early twenties and started having kids.  My Grandma had two sisters, and the three of them and their husbands were the best of friends and hung out together–though they called it “visiting,” which makes me smile now to remember, as they are all gone from this world except for these beautiful memories–as often as they could.  They were all great to us kids, and I loved them.  But they were definitely OLD to me.  They had things like false teeth and canes and pipes—genuine Old People stuff.  But they were in their fifties!  At least when I got to know them they were.  I’m sure they had jobs and mowed their yards and built stuff.  You know, regular adult activities, not senile, nursing home activities.  None of that registered to me, though.  They were OLD.  Period.  End of story.  I think that first impression of fifty-somethings being OLD really stuck.  I didn’t expect to ever get that old, but if I were to get there, then surely I would be OLD, too.  It’s logical.

Well, here I am.  Fifty-something.

Getting over the sound of it is one thing.  That will take its own time.  And hey, that’s the silly, unimportant part of this process.  The much more salient part for me is to figure out what being 50 years into my life means.  In essence, it puts the spotlight on the question: Where am I in my lifetime, and what does that mean I have left? 

Over the past year of processing this, I have probably approached it in almost every possible way.  At different points I have decided I am right where I need to be and also nowhere close to what I should have done; feeling great for my age and feeling like a rickety dinosaur; believing I have special things still to create and lamenting that I don’t have time to create them; and just about every other dichotomy you could dream up.  And I’ve not just ridden the extremes.  I have also slid subtly along the spectrum of any imaginable scale of optimism, despair, or acceptance.  Basically, I’ve learned it’s going to be a weird and complicated psychological ride on the way toward making any semblance of peace with my age from this point forward.  Ambivalence will be my constant companion.  That’s unsettling to me.  But whoever said this stuff was easy?

Although I have tested out every mindset and approach to turning 50, the one that seems to be settling in now that I am actually here is the sense of urgency to do the things now.  All of them.  As soon as possible.  It is an overwhelming sense of “I’m running out of time!”  I keep wondering: How many years do I have left?  And to put a finer point on it since I both work in education and naturally adore Summer, it usually comes down to this: How many Summers do I have left? 

This Summer I spent working hard to complete the first draft of my next book.  It felt amazing but also highly pressing.  I was keenly aware every day that Summer was short and I had to take advantage.  That is a microcosm of how I am feeling about what remains of my life at this stage: there isn’t much left and I better use every bit of it wisely.

I’m guessing there are lots of people out there who would look at it completely differently.  Like, “Hey, I’m only 50.  The average life expectancy is around 79.  I’ve got a solid three decades to go.  That’s plenty of time for accomplishment, adventure, and a relaxing retirement.  What’s the rush?”  I can see that point-of-view.  I get it.  It just isn’t me.

For one, I simply never pictured a very long life for myself.  I hope I have lots of healthy, happy, and productive years ahead of me, but the vision doesn’t come naturally.  The other thing is, during the process of writing this letter, one of my best friends from childhood died.  Forty-nine years old and gone.  He didn’t even make the 50 that I am bellyaching about!  In the midst of my grieving these last few days, a thought has occasionally slipped free of the fog in my mind: There are no guaranteed days left.  It could end any time. 

Of course that is true every day since your arrival on Earth, but it never feels true when you are young, right?  Today, though, when I am thinking about my friend’s kids who no longer have their Dad and his wife who no longer has her husband, it feels very, very true.  Life is so darn short.  And whether I make it to 51 or 81, I am well beyond the halfway mark now and the end will be here before I am ready for it.  That clarity is enough to make me feel older than I want to be.

The bottom line is that turning 50 has ramped up my urgency to be the person I feel I was born to be and to do the things that make me feel joy, fulfillment, and sure that my presence here was a net-positive for the world, especially for the people whose lives I have touched.  This sense of urgency and responsibility is something I imagine will only increase as I age, especially as I monitor and recognize my continued failure to reach the standards I have set for myself.  I simply must rise to the occasion that is this beautiful Life.  I will start immediately, because I have A LOT to do!

How about you?  Have you made peace with your age and where you are in the cycle of Life?  Open up your journal and sort yourself out in its pages.  How old are you?  When you say it, what feelings does it bring up?  Do you cringe, even just slightly?  How old do you feel in your mind?  Do you fancy yourself much more young and carefree than you actually are?  What percentage of people do you think actually feel OLD inside?  How does your physical health affect your perception of your age?  How does the way your body feels compare to the way your mind feels?  Do you imagine that gap will only get wider with age, or how do you see your disparity changing?  How much does age matter to you?  Is it something you think about often?  Does it stress you out at all?  Do you dread your milestone birthdays that announce to the world that you are in the next decade?  Has your view on which age is actually OLD changed as you have aged?  At this point, what is the age when you start thinking of people as OLD?  Are you included in that group?  If so, does that bother you, or have you come to terms with it?  If you are not yet what you consider to be OLD, how do you think you will handle your arrival there?  At your age, what is your best guess about how much longer you will be around?  With that number in mind, how urgent is the need to get going on things you plan to accomplish before you go?  What are the things you have left to do in order to look back with a sense of fulfillment and peace about your time here?  Which is the most pressing?  What is one small step you can take today to move forward on that goal?  I hope you take that step.  Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you come to terms with your age?

Wishing you the most beautiful life,

William

P.S. It today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Our awareness of our own journey improves the intertwining journeys of everyone around us.

P.P.S. If this type of self-reflection for the purpose of growth is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

What Is Your Next Great Challenge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then I got an idea.

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

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

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

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

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

“This is going to be hard and fun.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you so much courage,

William

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

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

How Many Different Careers Are You Meant For?

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live your Truth,

William

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

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

Are You Giving LIFE Your Best Shot?

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embody self-belief,

William

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

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

But should we ignore them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care of yourself,

William

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

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the dog proposition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it All beautiful,

William

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

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

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seize the day,

William

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

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

First-World Grieving: Sadness & Loss In The Wake of COVID-19

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” –Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore 

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” –John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Hello friend,

“It’s all over,” I thought to myself as I stood, shoulders slumped, by my bed in the dark. “The whole world is shutting down now.” Seconds before, my alarm had jolted me upright in the dark hours of morning. I had just climbed out from under the sheets and started for the bathroom so I could be at the gym when it was still quiet–my usual routine. The alarm had also stirred my wife, who, knowing where I was headed, rolled over and said, “The gym is closed. They sent out an announcement last night.”

It felt like all of the life went out of me. My window of escape was closing rapidly, and I knew it. I didn’t want to say it out loud, but I knew it. Just the day before, as the closures and cancellations were beginning to gather momentum, I was still willing our vacation into being, ignoring the signs and buying goggles and sandals for the beach and pool. The world just had to hang on for a couple more days so I could get to the ocean, then it could take away its concerts and large gatherings all it wanted. I would be in peace on the water with my little family. It just had to be so.

Thoughts of the beach and the pool were all that filled my quiet moments for the past three months, maybe more. We have been going to our special spot on Spring Break for the last few years, so the fantasies in my mind were crystal clear. It is just the right speed, just the right activities, and just the right vibe. For my liking, you cannot beat the combination of water, warmth, and sunshine. All the better that I get to see my parents and a best friend.   Every day and every place we go while there is perfect for me, for my wife, and for the kids. Everyone is giddy about getting there, blissful while there, and so sad to leave. For me, it is the trip I look forward to all the year long. It becomes an obsession the nearer I get to it. I needed this trip! So, needless to say, being only a couple of days away, I was downright manic in my excitement to get there when the news of COVID-19 started to become more ominous and the feeling of the window closing began to creep in.

Denial is a powerful force, though, and I was in no frame of mind to let my obsession go. My bag was already packed! I could practically taste the saltwater. I was not able to think clearly about anything. I was seeing friends on Facebook on their Spring Breaks. My niece was sending photos of her trip to the same place we were going. It was all right there. I was so close!

My wife, whose mantra over the preceding weeks was, “Just get me on that plane! You can quarantine me on the beach if it comes to that,” was constantly monitoring travel recommendations, and nothing was saying we couldn’t go. My belief began to crack, however, as the CDC recommendations for the size of gatherings hit 100 people. Even in my delusion and denial, it was not a stretch for me to start thinking, “There are more than 100 people outside the gate, and there are definitely more on the airplane.”

Still, my will to go was strong, and with no government directive to cease travel, I began this sort of desperate self-justification process, making a last gasp of trying to convince myself it was acceptable. “If we could only just get through the airplane stuff,” I pleaded, “we would spend the rest of the week on an open expanse of beach, far from other people and their germs. Isn’t that enough?”

When my alarm sounded that morning, though, and my wife told me about the gym closing, it was like my last breath came out of me. There was no fight left. The dangerous reality of the virus and its exponential spread were suddenly facts to me, and I could deny them no longer. Social responsibility, which had been the elephant in the room that I had been trying to ignore, grabbed me by the shoulders and made me look him in the eye. When I finally did, I knew: I would be a selfish, irresponsible jerk to get on that plane, and perhaps also a merchant of Death. The trip I had been dreaming of for months was simply not going to happen.

I was absolutely crushed. Devastated. That night when I called my kids into my room individually to break their hearts with the news, I wanted to cry right along with them. It was terrible. I wasn’t torn about the decision anymore by that point; I was certain that it was the right thing to do. But it still hurt like hell.

I moped around the house for the next few days like my dog had been shot. It was hard to find light. I was weak, slumped, and slow. It was in the air all of the day, thoughts of times in past years that I would be missing out on this time. The first face-full of saltwater as I raced the kids to be the first one into the waves. Frisbee in the sand. Ice cream at the splash pad with my parents. Swimming races against my kids in the pool. Walking the shoreline with my wife, the water chasing its way up to our feet and then receding. Watching the pelicans dive for fish and the dolphins rise to breathe. Just being there. All beautiful, happy thoughts that made me sad to think about.

There were moments that were particularly difficult, mostly the ones that confirmed the reality that I would not be living that much-anticipated journey, such as calling my parents and friend to speak the words out loud and going to the grocery store to stock the refrigerator that I had been working diligently to empty before we left. The most poignant one was unpacking the suitcase I had filled with swimsuits, t-shirts, and sandals. That felt like a burial.

I’ve come out of it, though, at least part of the way. I still have moments when I realize what I have been missing or think about what I would be doing if we were there. When my Google Photos or Facebook memories pop up on my phone from one or two or three years ago “On This Date,” and I get to see all the fun we had and the memories made: those are bittersweet parts of my day now. I am glad I have the memories, but they are kind of a punch in the gut when they arise this week. But that pain is easing, if ever so slowly.

I can feel other losses in the wake of COVID-19, too, though thankfully not as intense as the loss of the dream week. I miss starting my day at the gym. I am still exercising at home when I wake up, but it’s not the same. There is little variety in my basement, and no pool or basketball court. I am not social at the gym–shocker, right?–so I don’t miss that part, but I feel terrible for the many senior citizens who go there less for the workout and more for the coffee and fellowship in the community room and find a real home there. That is all gone now.

I empathize with my kids, for though they aren’t necessarily dying to be back in school just yet, they definitely miss playing with their friends and being on sports teams and running out to join the neighbor kids in the cul-de-sac for games. They were bummed when the earliest possible date to resume school got bumped out to May. Connecting them with their cousins and friends on FaceTime or ZOOM helps, but there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction: wrestling, hugs, baking, high-fives, Girl Scout meetings, basketball games, sleepovers. So much stuff. I am sad about them missing that. And though my own kids are generally happy and stimulated and fed and safe when they are at home with me and my wife, I have worries about so many kids at their schools (and every school) who I know are struggling without the structure, socialization, food, and caring adults that their school provides for them. I am sad thinking about those vulnerable kids.

I always feel a bit silly and self-absorbed when I am tempted to claim any exceptional quality, so I tend to balk at claiming to be something of an empath (because maybe everyone feels this way and we just don’t talk about it). But here we are telling our Truths, so I will just say that I most often feel my sorrows or have my tears when I witness other people having theirs. I am less inclined to cry over my own misfortune than I am of yours, especially if I can see how it weighs on you. My heart feels yours, and that is more depressing to me than any burden of my own. That is what I am feeling more of as these days go on. I feel other people’s anxieties, fears, and sorrows and desperately wish there were more I could do to alleviate their pain. I would rather take it on my own shoulders.

And hey, I know I have it easy compared to most. I have very little desire to get together with people for work or play; I can imagine that part being the most depressing for a large percentage of people. I don’t typically enjoy going out to restaurants, bars, or even stores. At least for now, I can still get to parks to walk around and be with the trees, the water, and the fresh air. That tends to satisfy my soul. I actually enjoy my wife most of the time, and extra time playing with my kids is a treat for me. I can hardly imagine how sad, frustrating, and scary this time is for people who are extroverted, who love going out at night to eat and drink, prefer to shop and run errands, enjoy the coffee shop and the gym, whose “family” is their co-workers, who live alone but long for company, or who can’t stand the people they live with. Then multiply that for people who have lost their jobs and dreams; I shudder to think about it.

It will be interesting to see how the losses and our grieving evolve as the pandemic goes on (and on and on and on…). I know that my psyche will be vulnerable as our income declines. That will change my concerns dramatically. And who knows how the people around me will change as the weeks drag into months. Solitude and distancing affects everyone differently, but so does living in close quarters with only the same few people every day. Will they grow irritable, or get cabin fever, or become depressed? Will I? And how will we deal with each other when that happens? Will we spiral together, or will the least affected help the others to rise again? What will happen when more people that we love get sick and possibly die? All of these things, and more, are on the table. Suffice it to say that there is likely more loss and grieving to come.

I don’t want this letter to come across as just a big list of complaints against the Universe and a search for “Poor Me” sympathy, as that is not my style. And maybe in the next letter, we will look at all the blessings that this crazy time has brought us; that deserves its own space. But I also think it is important for us, as people who are working to uncover our Truth and to live authentically, to acknowledge our losses and speak to our grief. We can own those things without qualification. My loss of a long-dreamt-of vacation, or your loss of going into work at a place that you love, or someone else’s loss of the convenience of their favorite gym class or coffee drink need not be apologized for just because we know others have it worse. It’s not a contest. (And let’s face it: even the worst of our hardships in this time are much better than what people in war-torn countries face in normal times.) If you are grieving for anything in this unprecedented time, it is your job to name it and process it and do your best to eventually come around to Gratitude for it, however long that may require. That is the job of Life, actually.

I wish I were swimming in that turquoise water right now, basking in the warmth and sunshine, and WooHooing at my kids as we ride the waves to shore. It breaks my heart that I am not. And that is my Truth.

How about you? What losses and sadness have you suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic? Open up your journal and your heart and share some of your low points from the beginning of a difficult time in our history. What is the biggest loss you have felt in this early phase? Have you canceled a vacation or important event that you had looked forward to? How disappointing was that? Enough to bring tears? Is it still bumming you out? How much does the current social distancing and isolation play upon your psyche? Do you miss your friends, relatives, and co-workers? Do you miss the people you serve in your life (customers, students, patients, clients, etc.)? If you still have your job, how has its meaning changed for you? Does it make you sad to work alone? How have your relationships changed with the (hopefully) few people you still have face-to-face contact with, especially those who live with you? Does the containment cause the relationships to deteriorate? How has your financial situation and outlook changed as a result of the pandemic? How much of a weight is that to carry around with you? What about the little things that have just broken your rhythm (e.g. the gym closing) or kept you from your usual treats (e.g. a favorite coffee shop)? Does that kind of thing get to you? How difficult is it for you to live with being aware of all the pain and suffering that people around the world are feeling right now? Are other people’s sorrows much of a burden to you? What do you grieve most about your changed life? How do you imagine your sorrows will evolve as the weeks and months go on? Do you need help? Are you getting it now, and are you in a position to get it when you need it? Does naming your pain help? Are you inclined to dwell on your sorrows or do you tend to move through them quickly? How is this experience different? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the losses you are grieving as a result of COVID-19? 

May your burdens be lightened,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with those you care about. Let us share each other’s loads.

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

So Much Left Undone: The Tragedy of Life Cut Short

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It saddens me to see potential go unfulfilled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe diem,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s all live our best lives now!

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

How Valuable Is Your TIME?

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.” –Seneca, On The Shortness Of Life

“No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.” –Seneca, On The Shortness Of Life

Hello friend,

I think I have finally reached the point in life when I understand that the worst thing you can do to me is take away my time. I see now that it was always true but that I just didn’t realize it. I was running around in denial or confusion, I suppose, never minding too much if you dragged me along somewhere on your agenda or if my time with you did not inspire or engage me. I was not much offended by that. I went along. “What else do I have to do?” I passed the time. I wasted it. I spent it. But I didn’t really use the time. I didn’t make the most of it. And I didn’t realize what a tragedy that was, what an abomination. I realize it now.

I don’t know when it started for me. I know I was acting on my repulsion to time-wasting before I was aware of it. Somehow my soul knew. It sent the signal to my body. I would get antsy and irritable.

I once worked as a low-end manager for a large corporation. It was part of my boss’s duties–as assigned by his boss and the boss above him–to have a weekly one-on-one meeting with each of the managers who worked under him. I should probably mention that I have never known a mentally lazier, less invested or engaged person in my life; the one and only reason he held his job was because of who he knew above him in the chain of command. It was like a character out of a farfetched movie. Anyway, in addition to the weekly management team meeting, he and I had our one-on-one meeting in his office. I would enter and sit in the chair in front of his desk with a pen and a notebook open just in case anything important came up (spoiler: it never did). He would say hello from his desk and then swivel in his chair and sit with his large back to me and look at his computer for several minutes as if he were engrossed in some deep reading and I were not even in the room. Then he might come out of his reverie and say something like, “Uh, I guess your numbers are looking pretty good again this month…” and then drift back into remote silence. (As I said, it was like a movie scene.) He would do that a few times over the course of a half-hour, then finally swivel back around and say, “Okay, buddy, you got anything for me?” By that point, even if I did have an issue that I could use some executive assistance with, I was too exasperated with the time I had just spent doodling on my note pad and looking at his large back that I was ready with a quick “NOPE!” and a sprint to the door. Beyond just the disbelief that this type of person could exist and be well-paid for his time, I always left that room thinking, “With all that I have to accomplish in my jam-packed twelve-hour work day, that part did no one any good.” That was when I also grew accustomed to the thought, “Well, that’s 30 minutes I will never get back!” I came to hate that idea.

I think my experiences in the wasteland of unnecessary–and unnecessarily long–corporate meetings probably ushered me directly into the next phase of my working life, when I downgraded my responsibilities and time commitments so I could be efficient when I was there, have hardly any meetings, and get out of there to do the things with the people (my wife and kids) that made every moment feel sacred and priceless. I didn’t care that I had to give up money and prestige to do it. I just wanted my moments to count.

It is from this vein that sprung my efforts to be the best and most present father I could be. That vein is also the source of this entire Journal of You experience, including a book and more than five years worth of letters to you. I want to make the moments–even the “spare” ones–meaningful to me and impactful to everyone whose lives I touch.

I see this sensitivity to time all over my life now. I have become highly averse to traffic and other unnecessary time spent in the car. I avoid most errands like The Plague, unless I can string them together into one trip. I chose a job that was about four minutes from my house and feel like I hit the logistical jackpot with how it fits into my children’s schedules (and I have almost no meetings!). I had a follow-up appointment after a surgery that ended up being basically a “How are you?” kind of deal that I could have handled with a one-minute phone call, and I was at least as annoyed with them for wasting my time to go there as I was for the crazy money they charged me for it.

As I write this and perform this scan of my life both past and present, it becomes so much more clear as to why I have always hated small-talk. I always thought it had only to do with a lack of depth and true connection, just making noise to pass the time–like watching television–and keeping everyone (except me) comfortable/unchallenged by keeping it all superficial. Because that alone would be enough to make my skin crawl. But I see now that the previously undiscovered part of my frustration with the small-talk experience that characterizes most interactions in this society is the time-wasting aspect. I think of all the times I have finished a conversation and thought to myself, “Well, that was a complete waste of time! Neither of us know each other any better now than we did five minutes ago. What a missed opportunity!” It is like death by a million cuts, all of these conversations that eat up the days and years of our rapidly-dwindling lifetimes. I have donated enough blood to that cause. I don’t want to die that way anymore.

I feel like I need to set up some sort of fence or filter through which every request upon my time must pass to make it onto my docket. That filter is probably just a simple question or two, maybe something like Does this make my life feel bigger? or Does this resonate with the Me I am trying to become? I imagine that keeping only the engagements and the people who can pass that kind of test would leave me feeling much less buyer’s remorse for the way I have spent my time.

I just want everything I do to feel like it is worth it. The people I hangout with. The work I choose. The media that I consume. The curiosities and passions that I pursue. The meetings I take. The conversations that I join. The causes that I take up. I want every last bit of it to feel like it was worth the investment of the most precious resource I have: time. From here on out, I will guard it with my life.

How about you? How ferociously do you protect your limited time? Open up your journal and consider the ways you pass your days. What are the things in your life that feel most like a waste of your time? Do you have hobbies–e.g. watching TV, Facebook, YouTube, drug or alcohol use, video games, etc.–that eat up large portions of time but don’t make you feel any better? Why do you continue to give them your energy? How about the people who aren’t worth your time or energy but still receive your attention? What is it about these people? Is it logistically impossible to remove them from your life? If so, how could you make your interactions with them more valuable? Are you too afraid to have the uncomfortable conversation that could help them rise or remove them from your life? Is that conversation more uncomfortable than keeping them in your life and dragging you down? Are there certain places that always leave you wishing you had never gone there? Can you stop? Are you aware of the things that waste your time as you are doing them, or is it only in hindsight that the recognition comes to you? How much of your job/work life ends up feeling like a waste of your time, and how much feels very productive and worthwhile? How much do you drag things out at work just to fill in your required hours? If it were left entirely up to you, could you streamline your workplace and significantly shorten everyone’s work week while maintaining productivity? What are the very best ways that you regularly use your time? Is it in communion with certain people? What makes the time with those particular people so valuable? How can you get more time with them or people like them? How about your best activities? What about that activity time distinguishes it? Is it the mere doing of the activity–e.g. I love the feeling of hitting a tennis ball–or is it the things that come along with the activity (the exercise, the camaraderie, the connection with Nature, etc.)? How can you work more of that activity into your schedule? Is there a different activity that you have been wanting to try that you sense would also be worth your investment? Is there some place that always nourishes you and makes you glad you went there? Can you get there more often or find those same feelings elsewhere? Better yet, can you bring its qualities to you? What would your life look like if it were filled with only things that felt like a good use of your time? Starkly different than your current life, or only subtly so? How close could you reasonably get to that ideal version? What would you choose as a filter question(s) to help you make better decisions about who and what to allow into your life and your schedule? Would that be enough? Can you begin to use that filter immediately? What is holding you back? On a scale of 1 to 10, how selective/picky are you about what you allow onto your docket? Does all of this really boil down to a question of your own self-worth, i.e. is this about believing that you are worthy of only things that lift you up and speak to your soul? Are you worthy (Hint: YES!!!!!)? Leave me a reply and let me know: How valuable is your time?

You are so worth it,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with loved ones or your social media network. It is a profoundly important topic with an answer whose deadline is pressing.

P.P.S. If you enjoy the challenge of questioning yourself and examining your life, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.