Tag Archives: Balance

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.

Hurricanes & Health Care, Russians & Racists: How do you deal with it all?

“Perhaps there could be no joy on this planet without an equal weight of pain to balance it out on some unknown scale.” –Stephenie Meyer, The Host

Hello friend,

I got a big jolt on Monday night right before I fell asleep. I was in bed doing a very quick perusal of the day’s news on my tablet before I was to begin my usual book reading that always knocks me out. I popped on the ESPN app and noticed a picture of the Dallas Cowboys kneeling in a national anthem-themed protest, the last of many that seemed to gobble up all of the oxygen over the weekend. Then I flipped over to Facebook, and one of the first things that came up on my Newsfeed was a post from Dan Rather, who was sharing his thoughts and a photo slideshow about the devastation in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. His thoughts are always poignant, and they led me to click on the link to the slideshow. What I saw was absolutely heartbreaking, an island decimated by the storm and so many of my fellow Americans without power, water, or help from a country that had just spent the last couple of weeks falling over itself to help the people and communities ravaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

It was quite a jolt, as I said. It was bedtime, though, so I forced myself to let it go and get to sleep. The jolt came right back to me the next morning, though, as I began my breakfast. My first, almost-panicked thought was, “Did I forget to share that slideshow??? People need to know!!” So I opened up Facebook on my phone, found it again, and shared it.

As the day went on, I was increasingly fascinated by my intense reaction to the images from Puerto Rico. Not my sadness or my empathy—that part was totally normal for me. The part that intrigued me was the terror I felt at missing this important news while it was happening. I realized that my panic at not absorbing the full extent of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on my fellow human beings was borne out of one thing: GUILT.

How could I have given those poor folks in Texas my emotional investment one week during Harvey, and those poor folks in Florida my emotional investment the next week during Irma, but then hardly notice when these poor folks in Puerto Rico were in even worse condition last week?  

I was very disturbed by this. My conscience was definitely eating at me. I felt like I had failed my moral obligation by not paying closer attention and lending my positive thoughts and my voice through my writing and social media posts, if not through direct monetary donations to the cause. I try to give voice when people are in need, to raise awareness and empathy, hopefully leading to both emotional and monetary resources being lent. But I had definitely let this one slip past me.

I started questioning my focus, looking for reasons why I had let my guard down and missed lending a voice to people who clearly needed all the help they could get. Maybe I was just looking for a good excuse. If I couldn’t get relief for my guilty conscience, I at least wanted an explanation to settle my mind.

I didn’t have to look far. It was right there in my journal entries and my social media posts and shares. I had spent the last several days deeply embedded in the controversy around the national anthem protests. This has actually been a pet project in my head for the last year, but it seemed to overtake the nation last week in the wake of the President’s incendiary comments and the reactions by football teams. It was a firestorm, at least in the view of the media that ultimately decides which topics will gain the most buzz and largest viewing audience.

I, of course, got into it. As I said, I latched onto this topic with Colin Kaepernick a year ago and have become increasingly invested, so I have read a lot about it, from both the historical and factual side of it as well as the many opinions swirling about. So, even though I think that much of the reaction from NFL teams was hypocritical and more of a response to the attack by the President rather than actual concern for injustice against people of color, I took advantage of the attention the topic was getting again and shared what I thought were some solid, helpful articles on social media. My attention and emotions were definitely on the topic, anyway. And since they were there, they were NOT in Puerto Rico. So, I missed it (or nearly so).

By way of excuse-making, though, it was totally obvious that nearly everyone missed it. The coverage on all of the networks and news outlets seemed as focused as I was on the national anthem and NFL’s response to the President. It was the media-driven firestorm that distracted us from the real storm in Puerto Rico and the desperate American citizens trying to survive in its wake.

I am definitely not trying to blame this on the media. They have taken more than their share of criticism this year, much of it unfair. Still, it is fascinating to me how completely dialed into the coverage of the previous hurricanes in Texas and Florida they were and then how clearly NOT dialed into this one they were.

I have no doubt that the NFL’s battle with the President over the national anthem is more sensational for the media to cover than the third consecutive week of hurricane coverage—is “hurricane fatigue” a real phenomenon?—but this situation in Puerto Rico is beyond tragic. I know that by the middle of this week it finally gathered some traction in the news, but we were all about a week late on this one. And when you are dealing with the health and welfare of fellow human beings—not to mention fellow Americans—that is a full week too long.

I know my guilty conscience was earned, but I think I am not the only one who should be feeling those pangs.

My point here is not to wallow in that guilt or to make you wallow in it—really, it’s not–but really to wonder about our responsibility toward the events of the world around us and how spread out our emotional energy amongst the wide array of issues.

Living in America in 2017 with the President that we have, it feels like one crisis or drama after another. We don’t need actual hurricanes to stir up our fears and our outrage or engender empathy toward people getting a bad deal; we have human-driven storms already (dozens of them) for that. We are living a storm! At least that is how it feels to me.

So, after I have used my journal or my wife or Facebook or whatever as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on for things like anti-Muslim travel bans, threats of the loss of health care, Nazis and White supremacists marching in our streets, Russian corruption of our government, the killing of another unarmed Black person by police, or the White House denying climate change, it is hard work to then add forest fires (the thing that no one paid attention to before they weren’t paying attention to Puerto Rico) and three consecutive hurricanes to the emotional load I am carrying.

I know some of those are things to be outraged about and some of them are things to feel empathy about—and some are definitely both—but what if my outrage and my empathy get emptied from the same barrel? It feels like I only have so much emotional energy to give these dramas, and whether it is my heart breaking for the people in Puerto Rico or my outrage at the government’s slow response to it, I feel like it is all draining that barrel.

I just don’t know what to do about it. I want to be here for my world, an active participant in fighting injustice and helping those in need. But, just like last week, I feel like if I keep my eye on one ball, the others all fall out of the sky. I hate the helplessness and guilt I feel when that happens. I just don’t know how to spread it out the right way.

How about you? How do you spread your emotional energy around in these turbulent times? Open up your journal and write about the issues that move your needle and your process for balancing them in your head and heart. What types of things in the world get you stirred up? Presidential tweets and character issues? Racial injustice? Health care? Humanitarian crises? Forest fires? Religious persecution? Terrorism? National anthem protests? White House firings? Hurricane damage? Congressional ineptitude? Climate change denial? Taxes? Potential wars? White supremacists? Are your hot button topics more things that make you feel sad and empathetic, or things that make you feel outraged? Do you think that these things draw from the same well of energy? That is, does depleting your supply of one leave less of the other, at least at the temporarily? Do you ever feel bad that you emptied your barrel on “outrage issues” rather than “empathy issues” or vice versa? How big is your capacity to spread yourself amongst all of the issues that seem to run roughshod over our world today? Are you able to stay updated and also engage with them all emotionally? If not—and you are human, so I am guessing you cannot—how do you manage your attention and distribute your emotions according to your priorities? Are there certain issues (e.g. politics) that you just avoid altogether? Do you take “timeout” periods when you basically bury your head in the sand to replenish your heart and mind for the inevitable next round of drama? Do you “tagteam” the issues with friends or family members so that you can share the burden and use each other for emotional support? Do you feel guilty for “missing” an issue—like my lateness to Hurricane Maria—or do you see that as necessary for survival? Are most of these issues as big as we make them out to be, or are we overblowing them? Has the news media gotten us all hooked in their web by making so many things seem so urgent and necessary for us to attend to (then immediately moving on to something else)? I would love to hear how you spread yourself out, because obviously I am struggling with it? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distribute your empathy and outrage in these emotional times?

Be Peace first,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it with others. Let’s support one another!

The Storm Before the Calm? Does BUSY Ever End?

DSC_1155“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?” –Cecelia Ahern, Love, Rosie 

Hello friend,

Busy. I cannot stand that word. Busy. Everyone is busy. Whenever you ask someone how they have been or what they have been up to, the answer is the same: “I have been so busy!” I get it. I see how scheduled up everyone is. I see how the kids don’t just play much anymore the way I did when I was a kid. Instead, they go from one scheduled activity to the next. Adults keep working more and more. It is a busy world. Period.

I guess I just don’t like it when BUSY is the reason that important things in our world get left out. I like it when kids get to simply play. I like it when adults get to relax and connect with one another. I like it when extended families get together for long weekends to continue traditions. I like the concepts of leisure and self-reflection. These things take sacrifices, of course. People have to step out of their busy-ness—the stuff everyone calls essential–to carve out this quality time for one another and for themselves. Important things require sacrifice. Life balance is worth that sacrifice.

So, why have I been running around like an absolute madman lately? I have put enough on my plate to fill ten tables! So, I have to occasionally remind myself, as I am going around like the chicken with his head cut off, that I actually chose all of this stuff. Let’s face it: I already knew I have two young kids who I want to shower with attention. I already knew I have a job. I was already trying to squeeze in this weekly letter to you with the last bits of my time and energy. So I can see why my sanity would be questioned when I decided to also return to school to become a Life Coach. It was a huge undertaking and cramped my already suffocating schedule. Then I began to actually start to build the business of it, too. Constructing websites, business cards, bank accounts, government filings. Then, while beginning to go underwater with trying to fit all of that into the day—and stubbornly not wanting to give up anything else from my priority list—this other great business opportunity came along. Any sane person would have either passed on the chance due to lack of time or cut something else from the priority list to make room for this new gig. Not me! Like a man drowning with a load of bricks in my arms, instead of letting go of them and swimming up for air, I simply grabbed another brick on my way down. I am swamped!

My journal entries of late are littered with commentary on this latest run of overwhelm. Every day I use the journal to unload thoughts and baggage from the day. It relieves me of stresses and things that might otherwise linger to disturb my sleep. Journaling is my therapy. Lately the most frequent comments are about “chipping away at this enormous To-Do List,” “I am in such a rush,” and “This is exhausting, but I have to stay focused and be efficient to keep afloat.” And on and on and on. It is a daily challenge, and I need that journal entry to both unload my fears and to remind me of why I am doing it all.

In paging back through the last week of entries, besides seeing those themes run over and over, I struck upon a passage that really sums up what is becoming my main concern in all of this busy-ness. After writing out the million things I had done that day to advance my new businesses, and then relaying my fears and stresses about when it was all going to start working, I wrote:

I just really want to change my life for the better. I want to DESIGN the change. I will keep plugging away. It can’t be this challenging and anxiety-producing, can it? I want to break into something that feels like a clearing, without the slogging, grinding feeling. I want to come up for air. Sure, I could do that now by not taking on so many things, but I feel like I need to in order to break out of this mire. I want to be on my time and my purpose. So, I keep plugging away, grinding in order to become free of the grind. I suppose it is a parallel to the argument that in order to have peace, we must make war on the bad guys. Fight so you won’t have to always fight or be oppressed. That seems to be me now, slogging away at a handful of big rocks so that I can get to the spot where I only need a few. I don’t know if it is logical or wise, but it feels like my best bet right now. I will keep at it, trusting in the sunshine on the other side. 

That is me right now in a nutshell: hoping that this crazy busy-ness that I have chosen is just the storm I have to pass through in order to see the rainbow. I guess I just want some assurance that it is 1) just a passing phase—that it won’t always be this busy and stressful; and 2) that I really am going to reap the benefits of all of this effort. I want to see that glimpse of sunlight at the edge of this storm, to know that there is an end to it, and a lovely one. I want to believe that the Universe is going to acknowledge my commitment and my deeds, that I really am going to come out on the other end of this with the thing I am doing this for: a chance to pursue my passions on a full-time basis.

Of course, I know that there are no guarantees in life. I may work and work and work and still never make that breakthrough. I may fail to move people as a writer. I may never make the connections to get my two new businesses off the ground. For all of my efforts to improve people’s lives and make the world a happier, more connected place, I may end up broke and burnt out from driving myself too hard. Maybe being this busy is my new normal, that there is no rainbow in the form of a balanced life to look forward to. Maybe BUSY never ends.

I can’t buy that. Maybe I am being too optimistic—or even delusional–but I really believe that good times are on the way. I believe in paying your dues and earning your way, and I hope that is what I am doing now with the gas pedal continuously down and juggling all of these big rocks at once. This is my storm, and there is a rainbow coming. BUSY is a phase, not a lifestyle. So yeah, I am going to keep chipping away at the giant To-Do List and doing without television or down-time. I am going to test my limits. I have to. The reward means too much to me, and the alternative is an unfulfilling life. I want to play a bigger game. So, I am breaking out the storm gear. Rain on!

What about you? Are you busy designing the life of your dreams? Open up your journal and think about how much you are willing to endure to live the life you have imagined. How busy are you? Is it busy doing things that you are passionate about and that are improving you, or just busy to be busy (e.g. busy on Facebook, busy binge-watching television series)? How busy does your career keep you? How much of that is up to you? Could you spend less time and be equally effective? Do you work as long and hard as you do because you want to advance, because you are just trying to keep your job, or is there something else involved? How much does it exhaust you? Do you allow yourself some true leisure in your “spare time”, or are you more like me and just drive yourself continuously? Do you have the right balance in your life right now? Have you ever created a storm like my current situation, where you took on too many projects—“big rocks,” I like to call them—at once in the service of making a major life move? How long did the storm—the busy-ness—last? Did you find the rainbow at the end? Was all of the hard work and sacrifice worth it to you? When you consider your current schedule, what sort of changes would be beneficial for you to make to improve your life? Is it being more efficient, setting better boundaries, changing jobs, removing yourself from a storm, or perhaps jumping into a storm in the service of a greater long-term good? How busy are you willing to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distinguish between a healthy challenge and running yourself into the ground? 

Be the light you seek,

William

Are You Wasting Your Life?

IMG_1196“Don’t die with your music still inside you.” —Dr. Wayne Dyer

Hello friend,

Did you ever read or hear something that completely stopped you in your tracks? I mean, totally stunned you, and in that instant gave you a smack-in-the-face reality check that made the state of your life crystal clear? I did.

I mentioned to you in my last post, “Falling Off The Tightrope”, that probably my greatest fear in this world is wasting my life, that I am not making the most of my time here. I also talked about how I am desperately trying—and failing—to do everything I possibly can to be productive and fulfill my dreams……after 8:30 P.M., when my kids fall asleep. I have enormous ambitions for those late-night hours: write these blog posts to you, write my own journal entries, work on “The Journal Project” to eventually produce the story of my life, study all of the many things I still want to learn, and on and on and on. That is my window of time available, and I am squeezing hard to fit it all in. It is a tall order, and no wonder that I have had such trouble finding the right balance.

That imbalance—specifically, the desire to accomplish more of the things that I love and feel called to do—creates a lot of tension in me. Turmoil. Stress. Anxiety. Quite simply, I want to do better than I am doing now. MUCH better. Even as I have recently become more clear about what is my soul’s calling and what lights me up, at the same time it becomes increasingly apparent how I am failing to make that positive contribution to the world in the scope that I feel capable of. I feel like I am running a losing race against my potential. That hurts my heart much more deeply than I can find words to explain. So, I keep rushing around trying to pack more and more in so I can make a greater contribution to the world before I die.

With all of this as background noise, I was, not so many months ago, going about my busy way. To ripen me even more for a wake-up call, I had just that morning had a situation at work that had gotten my blood pressure up and soured me a bit. I escaped for a quick workout in hopes of improving my mood, and when I hopped on the elliptical machine and turned on my e-reader, I found a “Quote of the Day” message in my inbox. Here is what it said:

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.” –Eric Hoffer

I was absolutely shell-shocked. Stunned. You could have just as well hit me over the head with a baseball bat. I stood there dazed for a few moments before I could do anything else, and finally I started reading it over and over to slowly dissect and absorb it. It was a total “A-ha!” moment for me. Suddenly my life situation was crystal clear to me. I wouldn’t be trying to squeeze in a book or a kayak ride or a nature walk or learning the guitar or even just watching an occasional movie if I were writing full-time. Those things get edged out because I have to write and do The Journal Project in the few “free” moments I get, always feeling rushed and compromised.

I like my job. I like teaching people and helping them to gain more confidence in themselves. I really like being a small part of one of the highlights of someone’s week; that never gets old. However, thanks to the clarity that has come from a lot of soul-searching, my career has become my version of “wasting my life” by not being what my true purpose is. And because it occupies the time that it does, I am trying to hurry to do the rest and never succeeding at that. Thus it feels, as Hoffer says, as though I have no time for anything else because I am not spending the bulk of my time and energy on my calling. What a glorious feeling it would be to live my purpose—to literally work on my calling—from nine to five instead of 8:30 P.M. to oblivion. I could actually use the evening hours for hobbies and rest, and not even be stressed or guilt-ridden by that. That is a happy thought.

And so, it seems that the gauntlet has been thrown down. What am I going to DO about this moment of clarity, this reality check? It is, after all, much easier to understand my situation than it is to change it. The time for thinking has passed; the time for doing is upon me. Starting Journal of You was a direct result of that “A-ha!” moment. It was my first step out of my comfort zone, and it was my announcement to the Universe that I am in the ring at last, ready to give my gift. I can see now that this was the first of many necessary steps. This one has kept me in the post-8:30 P.M. hours, though. I must take some bolder steps in the direction of nine-to-five. These are the steps that will take more courage, more audacity.

I am definitely scared of the risks required to make the next big move, but I am getting to that tipping point of being MORE scared of the regret I will feel if I don’t. Now is the time to engage my soul and my dreams with this world. It is time to give my gift. Along with the Wayne Dyer quote at the top, the other thought that keeps pecking away at my mind is, “This is NOT a dress rehearsal!” If not now, when? It is my time to act with courage, to embrace the uncertainty, to be radically myself. I can do it. I will do it. Onward and upward! Let me never again have to wonder if I am wasting my life.

How about you? How comfortable are you with the way you are spending your time on Earth? Open up your journal, and take a long look in the mirror. What is your potential? Seriously, how great can you be? How much can you contribute to the world? Don’t limit the meaning of “contribute;” it can be anything you decide (how many smiles you put on people’s faces, how well you raise your children, how honestly you share yourself with others, how professionally you do your job, and a zillion other seemingly invisible things are magnificent contributions). Does the difference between your contributions and your perceived potential bother you like it does me? How rushed do you feel? If you do feel rushed, is it because there is simply too much to do, or are you not spending your time the right way? How does your job and career path mesh with your dreams and your purpose? Is it integrally intertwined, totally unrelated, or somewhere in between? Is your work fulfilling? What one thing could you do today to more closely align your schedule with your calling? How can you live better? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you wasting your life?

Go boldly in the direction of your dreams,

William

Falling Off The Tightrope

IMG_1128“My world was delicately balanced, but the scales never hung even. When something improved, something else had to crumble.” –Rebecca Donovan, Reason to Breathe

Hello friend,

I have never been good at balance. Never. I tend to zero in on one thing and let it consume all of my time and energy, leaving the rest of my passions, hobbies, and pursuits twisting in the wind. However, because I am a man of many interests, with an insatiable desire to learn new things, my headlong pursuit of only one thing at a time—no matter how worthy of my attention it is–invariably leaves me feeling torn, restless, and unfulfilled. And sometimes, just plain burnt out.

This is exactly why I don’t have a Ph.D. behind my name right now. I started my doctoral program full of high-minded ideals and enthusiasm. The intensive education—not to mention the cache of being called “Dr. William Rutten”—was going to help me save the world, so I was eager for the commitment. Then, however, classes started, and my Perfectionism Gene reared its ugly head. I had to know everything and get every answer right, as I always had in school. As it turns out, thanks to this annoying trait, the only way I do school is to study every waking hour of every day. My life was the epitome of imbalance. All of my other passions were crowded out by school. In a moment of clarity, I realized that that was no way to live for six straight years. So I bailed out.

You might think that I was wise enough to never let that happen again. You would be wrong. Not long after I checked out of academia, my career path switched into tennis teaching and management. I moved into Tennis because it was my first love and because I love teaching. And hey, how busy or stressful could it be for a guy who gets to wear shorts all day? As it turned out in my case, pretty darn busy and stressful. It wasn’t long before 60 and 70-hour weeks became the norm. I hardly ever saw the light of day, was completely wiped out physically from all of the hours on the court, and was a giant stress-ball from all of the demands off the court. And, oh yeah, I had neither the time nor the energy to pursue my other passions. The job was all-consuming, and once again, I was off-balance. This time, though, the imbalance lasted for several years, not just a semester or two.

You would be astonished to know that someone stuck by me through both the school and the work addictions, each time on the wrong end of my imbalances. As though her love and loyalty through all of that were not enough, she also provided me the key to let myself out of my self-created prison of workaholism. That key was our first child. When my daughter was born, the reality of how little time I was spending at home and my overall imbalance hit me immediately, and it shocked my system enough to make me want out right then and there. I wanted the elusive home/work balance that I had heard about. So I quit my job. Well, not exactly. I quit the management portion of my job and cut my working days down to four, taking the evenings off as well. My daughter was my number one priority, and I wanted my schedule to reflect that.

Here might be a good time to admit the full truth. I didn’t actually want the home/work balance. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to go from 60+ hours at work directly to ZERO. I wanted to spend every single minute with my daughter. If my wife made more money, I would happily have been a stay-at-home Dad and removed myself entirely from the work force. Basically, I wanted my comfortable imbalance back, only I wanted the imbalance to be fully attached to my daughter, not my job.

This longing has never left me. My daughter is almost six now—my son is almost four—and I would still shake your hand right now if you offered me the chance to stay home with them every day. As it is, I have manipulated my life with them into a different version of imbalance. I still work when I have to, yes, but when I am not there, I spend their every waking minute with them. I have given up all hobbies—e.g., golf, hanging with friends, etc.–that happen while they are awake. My wife and I don’t even go on evening dates—EVER, I mean—because that would come at the cost of missing their bedtime. I don’t miss bedtime. Last year, for our 10th anniversary, I only very begrudgingly agreed to leave them for a night. I simply want to be with them all the time.

I know that probably looks like just another unhealthy imbalance to everyone else, but this is one imbalance that I embrace. I don’t know, I guess the other stuff just feels pretty unimportant compared to them. Spending so much time with them—even to the deterioration of the other things—has never caused me much inner turmoil. When I was in school and studied all the time, it pained me that I was not giving time to my other hobbies, interests, and loved ones. That tension eventually led to my break-up with school. When I was working like a maniac, I was keenly aware that it was an unhealthy way of being. My daily journal entries from that period are pretty pathetic, mostly describing the depths of my exhaustion and how, despite my happiness, I would not recommend my lifestyle to anyone. It took the birth of my daughter to give me the strength to change it, but I knew the change was long overdue. I was a model of imbalance, and knowing that bothered me. It is only the imbalance of spending so much time with my kids to the exclusion of other things that has felt tension-free for me. The other imbalances I regret; this one I do not. Does that mean, in some strange way, that I have actually found a balance? Not someone else’s version of balance, but one that fits only me? Maybe.

It has only been in the last year-and-a-half that I have felt much inner competition for my time and energy on this family-time front. Around the time I turned 40—can you say midlife crisis?—it became more clear to me that I wanted to do some things with my life that I was not already doing. Beyond just doing my job and spending the rest of my time with the kids, I wanted to do The Journal Project to revisit and re-create the story of my life. I wanted to help people in a bigger way. I wanted to learn more and create more and be more fully who I believed I could be. But I had to keep working, and I was not willing to give up time with the kids. My solution was to be the most efficient guy in the world…….after 8:30 P.M.

Since then, instead of winding down after the kids go to bed, I attempt to get all of my other projects taken care of. I go like a madman until I can go no longer. That worked pretty well the first year, when my main thing was The Journal Project. I didn’t sleep much, but the inner turmoil was gone. I was feeling satisfied with my efforts. But then I got greedy. I wanted all of my dreams to come true. So, four months ago, I started Journal of You. It has been a fantastic addition to my life, but—argh!—quite consuming of those precious post-8:30 hours. The Journal Project has been sitting on hold, and a couple of other projects I am itching to start are getting no love. I am also feeling like I am not allowed any leisure time for things like a sway in the hammock or a ride in the kayak, because I need the minutes to get it all done. Lastly, it is becoming increasingly clear that I cannot survive on this little sleep forever (those post-8:30 hours go quickly, and for some reason these darn kids don’t wake up any later just because I was writing into the wee hours). Needless to say, I am feeling that tension again. I have lost my balance.

I think my biggest fear in this world is that I will waste my life, that I won’t make the most of my time here. I am always aware—sometimes painfully so—of how “productive” I am being. I want to spend my time being a positive influence, giving my gifts to the fullest, and making my dreams come true.  When I am doing that efficiently, I feel at ease. The moment I lose my way, I feel tense. Imbalance strikes again!!!

How about you? How balanced is your life? Get out your journal and take an honest look at your life and how you are spending it. Does your schedule match your priorities? Are you like me, getting stuck on one aspect of your life to the detriment of all others? How many hobbies do you have, and how important are they to you? Do you work too much? Do you make time to recharge your batteries? Do you spend as much time with your loved ones as you would like? If not, are you willing to change your day to make it happen? What can you sacrifice from your current schedule in order to spend more time on your highest priorities? Do you have any areas that others would say are imbalanced—like me never getting a babysitter—that feel just fine to you? If you knew you would die in one year but had to keep earning a living, how would you spend your non-working hours? Would you become more balanced, or less? How important is balance, anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you falling off the tightrope?

Live a 100% self-approved life today,

William