Tag Archives: courage

Missed Connections: Are Your Conversations Deep Dives Or Surface Skims?

“Good conversation is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea 

“Sometimes when it looks like I’m deep in thought I’m just trying not to have a conversation with people.” –Pete Wentz

Hello friend,

At a recent holiday gathering with my immediate family, we were chatting outside on the deck when up pulled a crew of more distant relatives, many of whom I hardly know.  I am naturally reserved—probably ‘unsocial’ is more accurate—in such situations, inclined to disappear until the crowd passes through.  There was one cousin with them, however, who holds a special place in my heart, even if we don’t keep in touch beyond the photos on Facebook.  I am interested in her life and have always imagined that we could be close if the logistics of our lives matched up better.

In spite of my well-practiced social distancing precautions, I was pleased when she moved through the family and over to where I was observing the scene.  I greeted her warmly, and we proceeded to spend the next several minutes getting caught up on her family news.  Before long, my brother drifted over and started chatting with her, and our window together closed.  A few minutes later, she was gone with the rest of the visitors, probably out of my sight for a few more years.

It was a nothing conversation, but the moment seems to keep returning to my mind in these receding days.  We had a few minutes, a window.  Although it is, of course, the norm to do the standard check-in and small-talk—How long are you in town?  How is your Mom?  Do you like living in Anytown?  Blah blah blah…–we didn’t have to.  Knowing that she is an avid reader, the very first question I asked her instead could have been about the best book she has read lately, or her top five authors, or her favorite memoir (my go-to genre).  Now that would have been a good conversation!  Instead of lamenting her departure because we hadn’t really connected, as happened this time, I could have lamented being unable to finish a gripping exchange of ideas that likely would have ended with a promise to message me a list of suggestions.  Those are two very different laments.

I can tell that the reason this seemingly forgettable interaction remains unforgettable to me is that it was a wasted opportunity to feel alive.  Isn’t that what a good conversation is?  That deep connection to another human being in a moment, however brief, is the spark of Life itself.

I love Life.  I crave it in its various forms, including the ripple of the stream, the song of the bird, the breeze on my skin, and the rising of the sun.  Humans are in there, too, sharing their Life with me through their art, their compassion, their aspiration, and their acts of true love.

And yes, their conversation.  Real conversation.  Impassioned, curious, well-listened, and deeply felt conversation.  When it is fully engaged in both the give and the take, a conversation—whether it is silly or sad, with a stranger or a friend—is a priceless gem.  And like that gem, it is, unfortunately, too rare.  We just don’t take that deep, beautiful dive often enough.  Like me with my cousin, the window closes, perhaps never to be opened again with that person.

It would be easy and cliché to say that in this age of social media and texting, our faces in our screens preclude us from making those meaningful connections and having those heart-to-hearts.  But I don’t know that I believe that.  I have hung around plenty of people from older, less-techie generations and found their chatter to be nearly all of the small and space-filling variety.  And maybe these screens—provided we are willing to put them down from time to time—are so saturated with juicy information on every topic imaginable that everyone can find something that they are passionate about learning and sharing with someone else who is willing to lock eyes and listen.  Maybe these screens are the gateway to deeper conversation, not more shallow.  I hope so.

I believe in our ability to converse and to light each other up in the process.  What I am less sure of is our courage.  Let’s face it, when you attempt to go below the surface with someone, you don’t know what kind of reception you will get.  For one, these attempts are so rare, especially in traditional small-talk zones—sidelines of sporting events, walking in your neighborhood, pubs, grocery stores—so people can be taken aback by your probing and your full attention (sadly, something we also rarely seem to give).

But if you can catch someone in that perfect moment when you are both willing to be open, present, and vulnerable, Magic can happen. 

I am the first one to admit I don’t like talking with most people.  My soul sensors are fine-tuned to detect people whose energies align with mine and those who don’t.  I passionately dislike anything in life that feels like a waste of my time—errands, lines, traffic, meetings, small-talk, the list goes on—and that includes spending time with people who don’t ignite something special in my heart or mind.  Knowing that about myself, it crystallizes my challenge: to take full advantage of every moment to converse with these captivating people, to not waste any words on small-talk, but rather to plunge directly into a meaningful exchange of ideas and energies.

I have to be more opportunistic with these rare moments and more efficient about getting into the meaty portion of people’s minds.  I have to launch into my best questions from the outset rather than participate in the standard opening, anesthetic nonsense about the weather, the outfits, and the appetizers on offer.

And rather than just waiting around hoping that I happen upon one of my favorite people and that they happen to have time for me at that moment, I also need to be better about seeking them out.  This directive struck me hard this week as I was strolling through the Twitterverse.  Amidst all of the politics and pop culture, I stumbled upon this humble gem by the octogenarian news man Dan Rather (who happens to be a fountain of simple wisdom): That person you keep thinking, “I should call them.”  You should.  Do it.  Pass it on.

That seemingly innocuous little note had the effect of simultaneously slapping me in the face and kicking me in the butt, giving me a wake-up call about all the people I so often think about talking to but never make the effort to reach them.  Dan is right.  I need to do it.  My life would be infinitely richer for it.

I want that richer life.  I want those richer conversations.  I guess it all circles back to that issue of Courage.  If you want something—in this case, a richer life full of deep, meaningful exchanges with fascinating people who stir my soul—and you know what it takes to get it, you have to be willing to stick your neck out.  I have to be willing to feel awkward in order to feel energized and enlightened.  I have to be brave enough to follow my “Hello” with a question I really want to know the answer to, one that can stimulate a lively exchange.  I must set aside my anxiety about picking up the phone and calling someone who hasn’t heard from me in a long time.  I must display the same courage that I implore you to summon.  That seems only fair.  I can do that.

Hello, World, I am ready to converse!

How about you?  How open and assertive are you in your pursuit of good conversation?  Open up your journal and wade through your interactions with the people in your life.  How deeply are you reaching below the surface in your usual conversations with the people you are interested in?  Not the people whom you cannot avoid in the regular course of your day—at your job or in your neighborhood or your hangouts—but the people whom you would choose to interact with; nobody wants to take a deep dive with someone they can barely tolerate.  So, for those intriguing characters in your world, how aggressively do you pursue their true nature and interests?  In your encounters with them, do you make it a point to raise topics that will lead to a lively exchange and perhaps some personal growth for each of you?  Do you try to draw out their life story?  Do you probe for their opinions on important matters, whether the politics of the day or a life situation you are struggling with?  Do you ask them to educate you on something you don’t understand?  If they are natural storytellers, do you try to coax them into a fascinating or funny tale?  Do you request specific favorites or lists, such as favorite books, movies, music, vacations, games, foods, etc. that you know will spark a spirited discussion?  Which of these types of inquiries seems to work best for you to get the kind of feedback and deep connection that satisfies you?  How aware are you of the quality of the conversation as you are having it?  How much time typically passes after you have had a wonderful give-and-take before you realize its rewards and think to yourself, “I want to do that again!”?  How often do you find yourself in one of these discussions?  Do you usually arrive there intentionally or accidentally?  How often does an interaction end leaving you with some regret—like me with my cousin—that you didn’t make the effort to go deeper?  Do you think it is because you lacked the courage in the moment to probe them, or were you just not mindful enough of how shallow the conversation was until after it was over, stuck in the habits of our usual superficiality?  Why are we so superficial in general?  Is it just a matter of practicality, us being unable to take a deep dive very often due to things like time constraints and other people overhearing what we would like kept private?  Or are we afraid of being vulnerable, of exposing things about ourselves that will be open to judgment from others?  Or are we shallow?  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being shallow and 10 being deep, how deep are your conversations with the people you want to connect with?  How do you think that number compare to the average person?  How does it compare to the people you admire the most?  Who are those people?  Who in your life—whether it’s been 10 minutes or 10 years since you have spoken to them–would you love to get a phone call or a visit from so you can share stories, ideas, and passions?  How often do you think about calling or visiting them?  How much would it enrich your life?  What keeps you from doing it?  Does that fear or justification feel more important than the joy, the growth, and the inspiration that the connection would bring to you (and to them)?  If you could pick just one person to reach out to today for whatever reason, who would it be?  What would you ask them?  What would you share?  I dare you!  How much deeper do you want your connections to be?  How much richer do you want your life to be?  Are the two answers the same?  What is your next step to go further below the surface?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Are your conversations satisfying to your soul?

Take the plunge,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it.  Let it be another way to deepen your relationships.

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

The Joy Of A New Toy: Why Adults Need Fun Stuff, Too

“We don’t really grow up.  Our toys change with time.” –Nitya Prakash

“Life is more fun if you play games.” –Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald

Hello friend,

On a lovely recent evening, I was out in the yard playing with my wife and kids, when up to the curb zoomed a turquoise motorbike.  You know the kind: not quite fast enough to be on the freeway with the “real” motorcycles, but fast enough to give you a jolt of adrenaline and make you feel carefree as you zip around town in the fresh air.  Anyway, there it was in front of my house.  Just as I was thinking, “Oh, I bet that’s fun,” the driver pulled off her helmet and revealed herself as a friend who lives down the way a few blocks, smiling in the delight of her adventure.  She had only had her new toy for a few days, as we came to learn, and it was obvious that the novelty had not worn off.

She was clearly tickled by it, and her giddiness came through as she described the whole process from longing to owning.  She said she had wanted one for several years and told herself that if she made it to 40—she is a multiple cancer survivor and has a keen sense of how few and precious our days are—that she would treat herself to her dream ride.  So, a few weeks early (which is even better, I think), she picked out her favorite color, named it Shirley after her grandmother, and sped out of the dealership with a hoot and a smile from ear to ear (or so I picture it).

I loved everything about her story, and I could tell from her glow that the splurge was already worth it.  How do you put a price on pure Delight?  Joy and Freedom, though often hard won after years of psychological strain and slow maturity, sometimes also just come in a package.  Or off a dealer’s lot.  I absolutely love it when I hear of people—grown people–finding that toy that makes their soul dance and their heart sing.  Those are my favorite stories.  They show people displaying what I think of as Courage, a willingness to reach out and stake a claim to their own Joy, sometimes (though definitely not always) at the cost of their hard-earned money that some people in their life will no doubt say is being thrown away on childish silliness.  I say, “PLAY ON!”

I seem to spend most of my life in search of those toys that scratch the many itches of my soul.  I place a high premium on Delight.  I feel it deepest when I feel free.  I feel most free when I am creating or playing (outdoors), the times when I have cut myself free from the usual psychological chains around my existence.  So I seek those out those experiences.  And when I find a toy that facilitates that Freedom and thus that Delight, I fantasize (and often obsess) and save and, when I am lucky, make it mine.

I need only think of things I have had on my Christmas List or saved up “Birthday Money” for in recent years to see what lights me up.  Journals.  Guitar.  Kayak.  Computer and iPad.  Pens.  Tent.  Bike.  Camera.  Hammock.  RipStick.  Music.  Headphones.  When I look at these things that have been my splurges, I see a lot of escape.  So many different ways to be free, to play, to relax, to release my creativity, to let it all go.  Those are the makings of a good toy, right?

Freedom and Expression are wonders that we don’t necessarily allow ourselves on a day-to-day basis, whether because we get lost in our busy-ness and the tedium of our many tasks, or because we don’t feel worthy of “spoiling” ourselves with treats and Delight.  I wish we weren’t so much this way.  Life is just so short, and it is plenty difficult without us denying ourselves of the experiences that excite our spirits.  Aren’t these the real tools of Self-Care?  I appreciate someone who mines their sources of Joy and Freedom with a determined passion.  They seem to know a secret that eludes the majority of us.

I recall many years ago, as a young adult, an old friend asking how my brother was.  After I replied that he was doing well, the person said, “He always seems to be doing something fun.”  That struck me at my core.  I knew I wasn’t really doing it right, that people probably weren’t saying that about me.  I have been trying to do better ever since.

Speaking of my brother: he has the quintessential toy that keeps on delivering on the Freedom and Delight that define a toy’s purpose.  When he was 16, after pining for years, he convinced my old man to get him this old Jeep that had been rotting forever unused on the family farm.  He and his buddies spent months getting it to run and painting it Coca-Cola red with black trim.  It was the best kind of toy for a teenage boy: open air cab without doors or roof, big speakers, romping through mud with your buddies, attracting the teenage girls.  It had it all.  What makes it truly rule Toyland, though, is that it still has it all.  Yes, more than three decades later, when the weather warms up each Spring, I still get a text with a new video of him cruising around in the fresh air with his kids in “The Freedom Machine,” as it is so appropriately named.  Freedom.  Release.  Joy.  An expression of the soul.  That’s a toy!  And that’s what we so desperately need at every age.

I suppose everyone has a different idea of what will do that for them.  I think of things that are still on my list: a big-screen iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard, snow shoes, jet ski, a great bike rack and new mountain bike to go with it, Photoshop, and a ukulele.  In one form or another, they are all tickets to ride.  Means to adventure and to create, to be outdoors and to express what is inside of me.  Seeing that commonality is helpful to me, a map toward more treats, more fun.  In that vein, I can also understand my friend’s motorbike impulse, and my brother’s history of skis and windsurfers and such (and his recent dirt bike purchase).  I can also see anything artistic: paint sets, sketchbooks, musical instruments, journals (of course!), and apps for things like graphics and movie-making.  I once saved up for a fancy blender, so I can understand people for whom a toy might be an Instant Pot, a stand mixer, or cake decorating set.  I get anything that is a connector to Mother Nature, which could be a million different things, including a new pair of walking shoes, a headlamp, binoculars, backpack, gardening tools, swimming goggles, and a golf club.  I recently got Apple Music, and believe me, I have been like a kid in a candy store ever since, delighting in the wonder of such a vast library of transcendence and escape.  It is infinite Delight.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to conceive of a toy, too.  It can obviously be a splurge of a purchase, but it can also be something inexpensive that sets you free creatively or psychologically.  Whatever it is for you, the thought of it has to stir up your heart with butterflies and waves of excitement or longing.  The getting of it has to scratch a major itch of the soul, making you giddy at the Joy, Freedom, and Release it will provide.  It must bring genuine Delight.  It has to be your Freedom Machine.

I plan to keep playing and keep fantasizing about new toys until the end of my happy adventure through Life.

How about you?  What sorts of toys still light you up inside?  Open up your journal and your memory, and try to recall all of the things of your adulthood that have truly been a Delight for your mind and your heart.  What things come immediately to mind?  Are they adult versions of conventional kid toys, like bicycles or video games or dolls?  Or are they things only an adult might like, such as an Instant Pot or a chainsaw?  Do you gravitate toward artistic/creative toys, like cameras, musical instruments, paints, and journals?  Do you like things that will provide an adrenaline rush to an otherwise not-so-thrilling existence, things like motorcycles, snowboards, and sleds?  Are you a gadget person, preferring things like drones, tablets, and fitness trackers?  Are kitchen toys your thing?  Apps?  What about exercise toys, like home gyms, fancy bikes, or running gear?  How about outdoorsy stuff, such as tents, water filters, and trekking poles?  Is music a toy for you?  Books?  What is it that excites you about each thing on your list?  Taken as a whole, do you see common themes running through?  Are they similar to my Freedom and Expression themes, or quite different?  Do the things that bring you Delight tend to cost a lot of money, or are they rather inexpensive?  If you could splurge on one big-ticket item right now that would make you absolutely giddy, what would it be?  What else is on your current Wish List?  Do the themes of this Wish List mirror the themes of the list of adult toys you already have?  Are your soul itches still essentially the same, or have they evolved as you have aged?  What kinds of toys once appealed to you but no longer do?  What are your newest desires?  Can you pinpoint the reasons for your changes?  Are you clearer now about what tickles you?  Will you ever be too old to seek out toys and to play?  Which toy that you use now will you still be using decades from now?  What gives that toy its timelessness?  How well have you done throughout your life at treating yourself to toys and allowing yourself to play?  Is their enough Fun in your life right now?  What is one toy that you could reasonably treat yourself to immediately in order to give your spirit a boost?  Will you?  If not now, when?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you still feel a childlike Delight with a new toy?

Let your spirit fly,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with someone who might need it.  We could all use a little boost from our friends once in a while.

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

“But I’m Not A Racist!” And Other Things We White Folks Need To Do Better

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” –Benjamin Franklin

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hello friend,

What a week to have skin in America! In the wake of the tragic and wholly unnecessary killing of George Floyd by a police officer to start the week, Minneapolis, a city with a long history of racial injustice and inequity, has been consumed by protests and destruction as its residents process their understandable grief and frustration. I live a safe distance away in a suburb of the city but have felt the waves of emotion reaching my doorstep in a way that is deeper and more personal than the other seemingly countless and regular newsworthy occurrences of racial injustice in America.

Just in the last few weeks, we have been dealing with new revelations in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who, while out jogging, was tracked down in a truck by two white men who had decided that he was a burglar and shot him dead in the street. Also in the news has been the killing of EMT Breonna Taylor, a young black woman, by police who broke into her home–the wrong home, as it turned out–unannounced while she was sleeping and shot her multiple times while her boyfriend tried to defend her from what he believed to be a home invasion.

With the sadness and anger from those two tragedies hovering in the American air, joining the long list of unjustifiable killings of black people–Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and Terrence Crutcher, to name just a few off the top of my head–we woke up Tuesday morning to viral video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling for several minutes on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd as Floyd repeatedly says he cannot breathe. We already knew from the headline that, of course, George Floyd had been killed.

So began this week, a week that has continued like a dark cloud hovering over my home and, a little further up the freeway, my city. The mood in the house–which has white me, my black wife, and my two biracial children, ages 11 and 9, one who looks more black and one who could pass as white–has been at times outraged, depressed, furious, disappointed, appalled, apprehensive, curious, irritated, and thoroughly exhausted. Predicting it from hour to hour or nailing it down is impossible (though the exhaustion permeates). It’s like when I read the news articles about it on Facebook, and I have to choose the emoji to react with for the person posting. I tend to sway between angry and sad. I’m fully both.

Sadly, one thing I am not–and neither are my kids, which is truly horrifying–is surprised.

I have lived in this country long enough and done enough personal work to educate myself to both the historical facts and to the flesh-and-blood people and their stories that I feel like I somewhat know the score. It is plain to me that we live in a society based on white supremacy. We, especially we white folks, dare not to speak of it and deny it at every mention, which is how it has retained its power over centuries. But it is plain to an objective eye, if such a thing exists.

White lives are valued more highly than black lives. When doing the same job, white people get paid more. When convicted of the same crime, black people receive more severe punishments. A white person is believed in favor of a black person when their stories conflict. (And yes, I know there are other colors in this silly invention called race, but I trust that you understand the argument and the expediency of sticking with black and white for the moment. Thank you for your grace.) When fashion or language or housing or hair is compared between the groups, we work from the assumption that the white whatever is “just normal,” the standard, without distinguishing characteristics to judge it, whereas “black” things have ways that are different and can be judged (like when white kids do badly in school or break rules, they are considered individually–Timmy has anger issues or a lower IQ–or are “just being kids,” but when black kids behave badly it is taken as a reflection of their race, not of their individual difference). I could go on and on, but you get it.

Thus, it was not at all surprising to me to hear on Tuesday morning from a co-worker that an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer. She said that there was a bystander video that she couldn’t bring herself to watch. I knew it was about to be a challenging week.

So, when I arrived back at home later in the day, I immediately went to one of my news apps to learn more. While I was there gleaning information about the killing of George Floyd, a different article caught my eye. You have possibly seen the viral video recorded by bird enthusiast Christian Cooper, a black man, after he asked a white woman, Amy Cooper (not related), to leash her dog in an area of Central Park in New York City where leashes are required. This caused her to become very upset. A tense exchange ensued, during which he asked her not to come close to him and she then threatened, “I’m calling the cops. I’m gonna tell them that there’s an African-American man threatening my life!” She repeated that claim to the 911 operator multiple times in the video.

I could taste the bile coming up and could feel my blood boil. It wasn’t that I was any more surprised by this video that did not, fortunately, lead to more unnecessary violence, than I was by the video of George Floyd’s killing by Derek Chauvin. Rather, it was that this ordinary, everyday argument in New York City between Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper symbolized the entire culture of white supremacy–a culture that we are so deeply woven into that we don’t even recognize it or acknowledge it–that flows so seamlessly and inevitably to the death of George Floyd (or Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice or….).

The fact that people of color are seen as less than, worse than, not to be believed, of little consequence, and dangerous sets the stage for George Floyd’s tragic death and the deaths of untold millions of people of color throughout the sordid history of this country. Whiteness has a power that people of color can do nothing about. Amy Cooper knew that in the park that day, whether she had ever consciously formulated the thought. She laid bare America’s essence and gave away our secret in those few short words: “I’m gonna tell them that there’s an African-American man threatening my life!” Translation: “I can end your life right now. I’m the one everyone will believe. I own you.”

As I said, the video didn’t surprise me at all. After all, in the age of smartphones, we have become accustomed to seeing the kind of “threats” that white people call the police about regarding black people just trying to live (grilling in the park, having a lemonade stand, using the gym, etc.). Much like with the police killings of unarmed black people, we see them more often now not because they occur more often, but because there are cameras.

Outside of the video’s encapsulation of America’s signature theme and its perfect timing with the killing of George Floyd, I was, in fact, not so interested in it. What caught my attention more from the story was Amy Cooper’s apology. After all, her blatant racism had gone viral and her employer had suspended (and later fired) her in its wake. So, of course, she said she was sorry. No surprise there. The kicker, though, was her use of the now-standard line for anyone who is caught doing or saying something patently racist: “I’m not a racist.” It’s a classic.

Believe it or not, I don’t care whether Amy Cooper is a racist. My point today is not to make a case for what makes someone a certified racist and what makes someone else a good-hearted person who, in a moment of weakness, committed an obviously racist action (or how many of those racist actions it would take for that person to slide into the genuinely racist category). No, I mostly want to offer my fellow white people a suggestion or two about our racism (which is inevitable given the culture in which we live and our privileged position in it).

In your apology for your racist action, please don’t include, “But I’m not a racist.” And definitely don’t lead with it. It sounds so disingenuous after what you have just said or done to get yourself in hot water (I don’t want to list examples). Even if you believe that in your heart and even if you have a long list of examples to “prove” it, saying that is not the way to be heard. Maybe something more like, “That was a horribly racist thing I said. I didn’t even know I had something so vile in me, but clearly I do. I am sorry.” Or this: “Even though I was raised in a racist family, I thought I had moved beyond that. My racist action today showed me I still have work to do. I am so sorry.” If you still really, really want to say you aren’t a racist, the furthest leash you might stretch could be, “I truly don’t feel anything negative against black people, so I didn’t think I could do something like that. But I can see that it was a racist act, and I take responsibility. I am so sorry, and I promise to do better.” All of these apologies, of course, work better if you actually mean it and change your behavior. It is one small thing.

My other small suggestion today, my white friend, is to raise your voice and take a stand for people of color and against white supremacy. As I said before, people of color have no real say in whether the American culture of white supremacy (and therefore inequality, abuse of power, injustice, protest, riots, etc. in roughly that order) gets to continue. Black and brown people have been calling us on our abuses since we showed up on the land centuries ago, dragging some of them with us and slaying others in our wake. That has not changed us. It is unfair and phony of us to keep asking people of color to explain injustice and inequity to us, to tell us their experience so we can understand our own. They are tired of explaining (not to mention tired of the rest). The whole thing is exhausting for them, and it is simply not their job. People of color have borne the burden of white people’s culture of racism for centuries and been powerless to change it. Not because they are weak or stupid or unorganized, and certainly not because they are less than white people. They haven’t changed white supremacy because white supremacy is white people’s responsibility. It is our burden. It was created by us, and it must be undone by us.

So take a stand. Use your white voice, which is way more powerful than you understand it to be. This week I have been so moved to see a couple of my white friends on social media, whom I have never seen say anything about injustice or the need for anti-racism, actually speak up on their feed, with either a shared article or a heartfelt paragraph or two about how George Floyd’s death was wrong and how we must work to root out racism. I thought of these normally-silent white people’s respective spheres of influence–some small, others quite large–and the impact their voice might have to free up other silent-but-pained folks to speak their own truth about these matters. I thought, “What if everyone who was bothered by George Floyd’s death actually spoke up in a public forum?” That could be in conversation with others at a church or social event where they had never previously dared talk about such things, or it could be a social media site where they typically just watch silently or post only about “non-political” things. What if they raised their virtual hand and simply said, “This is wrong, and we need to change.”?

We are such a culture of people who need permission–from celebrities, trendsetters, the cool people in our social circle, our peers–to say what we really feel and what is hard. My goodness, we could change so much if a critical mass of white people would just speak up on behalf of people of color and the injustices brought to bear on them by our system of white supremacy. Equality would become cool. Anti-racism would be trending. Imagine that! Congress members would have to listen to their justice-minded constituents because there were just so many of them. The tide would turn.

It could happen. It really could. But it won’t happen just because black and brown people have had enough of our racism, just because they are sick and tired of being held back and held down and brutalized by the police and by unfair housing practices or racist bosses or neighbors. It won’t happen because they protest peacefully or because they riot or loot or burn buildings. We have already proven that none of those methods are effective. The only way our system is going to change is if we white folks take on the challenge ourselves, if we take responsibility for the job that should have been ours all along.

There are a million ways available to help the cause, and I hope you will take advantage of many of them. But even if you can just take one small step today, I hope it is by raising your voice in a way or in a space that you have not before. I guarantee you the world will be better for it. If you take my virtual hand, I promise to take that step with you. I’m here and ready.

How about you? What role have you been playing in the racial dynamic? Open up your journal and explore your relationships with the other humans on the planet and the systems and decisions that have placed you there. On a scale of 1 to 10, if one is an avid anti-racist and ally to people of color and 10 is an unabashed bigot, where do you land when it comes to your level of racism? If we asked the ten people closest to you about your level, do you think they would rate you higher or lower? How would you rate them? Do they exhibit more or fewer ignorant attitudes and behaviors than you? Are you aware of your specific weaknesses and failings, such as which groups you are particularly biased against and how those biases present themselves in the world? Are you ever shocked at how narrow-minded, even vile, a thought you have is? How about a comment or action? Have you ever apologized to someone regarding a racist comment or action? If you haven’t, should you have? Do you feel embarrassed now at some of the racist things you did or said in your past? In what ways have you changed? Can you point to incidents or reasons why you have changed? Are you now more open-minded and accepting (even celebratory) of other races, or have you views become more narrow and bigoted with age? How have the people in your friend group influenced your perspective on matters of race, equity, and justice? How have you influenced them? Are you able to speak freely with your friends on these matters? Do you? How about your family? What percentage of your loved ones would you consider to be a true ally to people of color? If you had to name percentages for the people in your circle, how many would you say are generally 1) racist, 2) not racist, or 3) anti-racist? In which category are you? How big of a stretch would it be for you to become anti-racist, to be an intentional ally to people of color and speak out against racist actions and systems? What would it cost you? Discomfort? Friends? What could it gain you? Greater self-respect? A richer life? Friends? What is your typical reaction when an injustice occurs, such as the murder of George Floyd? Do you ignore it? Do you shake your head and move on? Do you get a bit upset but not say anything? Do you talk about it with a loved one? Do you speak out on social media or in other large groups, such as church or social gatherings? Is it clear to the people around you what your position is regarding people of color and the injustices they deal with in our society? If not, why not? Are you trying to protect them–your people–or protect yourself by not raising an uncomfortable topic? Are you being brave or cowardly? Overall, how uncomfortable addressing this whole topic are you? Does the term “white supremacy” as a normal term for America’s culture make you cringe? Does it feel wrong to admit you are the beneficiary of white supremacy and a part of the group that keeps other groups down? How does it feel when someone says that doing nothing, staying silent, and staying “neutral” on these matters only aids the oppressor and does untold damage to people of color every day? Is there really no neutral? Do you think the discomfort around this topic is all the more evidence that we hide from it in our everyday discourse? Do you agree that keeping white supremacy out of conversation and out of our heads has only made it more difficult to root out? Why don’t you speak about it more often? If you have people of color in your life, do you think it comes across to them as a betrayal when you say nothing about these regular acts of gross injustice? Can you be a true friend to them and not say something? How much of an idea do you think you have about what it is to live in their skin every day? How can you do better for them? What will it take to get you to start on that? Is there something you can do today? I dare you. Leave me a reply and let me know: What will you do to bring more equity and justice into the world?

Be the light,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. This task will require all of us!

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

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

The 50 Words That Describe You Best

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live free,

William

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

Learning to Flex Your Brave Muscles

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time he can be brave,’ his father told him.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Hello friend,

I am attempting a new workout routine to start the New Year. Like any new workout, it is causing me lots of aches and pains. Lots of grumbling, too. It is hard to keep going every day. It’s even harder to step up to those crisis moments, when it feels too daunting to continue, when giving up is the greatest temptation. They say that’s just how new workout programs are. The muscles need lots of time and repetition to get accustomed to lifting the load over and over again. After a while, it will get easier, or so they say. Right now, though, it’s hard to believe them. It just feels like a lot of work and pain and doubt.

Which muscles am I working on, you ask? My Brave Muscles.

That’s what I call them anyway. The Brave Muscles are the ones you need when you feel the most self-doubt. They are the ones you need when you feel afraid, unsure, and embarrassed. You need your Brave Muscles when you feel alone and not up to the task ahead. You need them most when your dreams—the very life of your soul—are at stake and you feel like giving up and playing small.

I have felt all of those things lately. None of them are any fun, believe me. That is why I started my workout routine. I need to build up my Brave Muscles, because they seem to have withered over the years.

The place where I worked for the last few years just shut down, so I am out of work and hoping to avoid a family financial crisis in the coming months. When I started that job, I planned for it to be the last “real job” I ever had, before my writing career took off and I could work from home around my family’s schedule. Well, I wasn’t exactly up to speed yet when the axe fell, so now I am in a minor panic about my future, my dreams, and my family’s well-being. I desperately want to get to some writing projects that could be the transition to that career of my dreams, but the tension is rising as the clock—and my bank account—counts down.

Looming on the other side is the “safe route” of a real job and more money, but that translates to the loss of my dreams and a coinciding loss of my family’s charmed existence of maximum quality time together. I despise that safe route right now! Still, it sings its siren song of safety and certainty.

Needless to say, I am at war with myself. I know I am supposed to feel weak and embarrassed—and I do–about threatening my family’s financial stability by being without a guaranteed, regular income. I know I am supposed to feel guilty—and I do—about selfishly going after my dreams instead of settling for something more stable. The uncertainty of it has me feeling quite alone on my island. Those feelings—weak, embarrassed, guilty, selfish, uncertain, lonely–don’t sit well with me at all.

But on the other side of all of that weakness is this fire raging in me to burst upon my dreams with all the gusto I can summon, to demand from myself and from the Universe that THIS IS MY TIME!!! My soul demands that I seize this little moment—despite it being forced upon me—to lay claim to my purpose and Follow My Bliss. And of course, to make it work.

The path of least resistance—at least on the outside—is the safe route. There is such a powerful allure to that. It doesn’t require the workout routine. My soul can be a couch potato and sloth away the years of my life. When I am not guarding my thoughts closely, I fall prey to all of those self-defeating thoughts and emotions. “It’s too hard (or risky, new, unlikely to succeed, selfish…..). I’m not good (or prepared, talented, connected, wealthy, lucky…..) enough.” They spread like a gasoline fire through my heart and mind.

They come whenever I get stuck at a tough part while writing my book. They come when I am reading about how hard it is to get an agent or a publisher. They come when the bank statement arrives in the mail. They come when someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?”

This is where the new workout routine enters the picture. I decided, entering this year, that how I wanted to feel most this year is BRAVE. So, whenever one of those weak moments arises—it happens many times per day, believe me—and my confidence starts spinning away into oblivion, my job is to recognize it as soon as possible, before the devastation is too widespread. This early recognition is an enormous challenge, but I am getting lots of practice and learning the telltale signs: constricting chest, pit in my stomach, frown on my face, and that twisting, sinking mind. Once I recognize it, it is time for those Brave Muscles to go to work. I remind myself to take a deep breath. Then I clear those awful thoughts from my mind, replacing them with visions of what my soul is called to do. Finally, I speak some words of conviction and determination: “I’m doing this!”

And I am. One crisis moment at a time, those Brave Muscles are getting stronger and stronger. I know there will never come a day when I don’t need them anymore, so I might as well get lots of repetitions in now, to build that strength and endurance for the long haul. The biggest dreams need those things.

The workouts may be exhausting and the signs of progress frustratingly slow to reveal themselves, but I can already tell that it is worth the effort. These Brave Muscles are flexing, and every time they do, I can feel my soul begin to rise. I think I might just soar.

How about you? In what part of your life could you use more courage today? Open up your journal and let yourself feel around for your weak spots. In what part of your life are you operating out of fear? Is it in a relationship? In your career? Your finances? Your politics or spirituality? In what area is your self-esteem the lowest? Where are you in relation to your dreams? Are you following your Bliss? If you are not, why not? What would being more brave look like in your life? Would the changes be subtle or dramatic? How does that image of a Brave You feel in your heart? Pretty awesome, right? What specific things are keeping you from flexing your Brave Muscles and demanding that life? How good are you at catching and correcting your mind when it starts spiraling out of control with thoughts of fear and self-doubt? It’s hard! But your best life is worth the effort. What small act of bravery can you take today to better yourself? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How strong are your Brave Muscles?

Stake a claim to your greatness,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. And make sure you are signed up to receive every post in your email inbox right when I publish them. Make it a brave week!

Love It or Leave It? What Respect Do We Owe to Our Flag & Anthem?

DSC_0641“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” —Muhammad Ali 

This week has found me totally captivated by the story of Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and his decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem before a preseason football game. When asked after the game about this highly unusual action, Kaepernick explained himself: 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. …This is not something I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. …If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” 

BOOM! Fire started.

The backlash was instantaneous and venomous. Social media was flooded with videos of people burning their Kaepernick jerseys—this age’s trendy way to protest a player’s actions—images that were quickly picked up by the mainstream media. Memes slamming him were everywhere on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone seems to be weighing in. I have heard commentators in and out of the sports world, as well as other professional athletes, describe his actions as “ungrateful,” “unpatriotic,” “selfish,” and “pathetic.” There has not been a lot of support. That much is clear.

I have actually been pleasantly surprised, though, by the number of sports people who have at least acknowledged that the cause he is trying to stand up for—or, rather, sit down for—is an important one. But most of these same folks still think the anthem is the wrong way to address it.

Much of the pushback seems to be military-related, as in, “You disrespecting the flag/anthem is a slap in the face to all of the people who have ever fought for the freedoms you are exercising with this action.” Another argument seems to go more like, “How dare you disrespect the flag of a country that allows you to earn millions for throwing a football? This country has given you everything!” There are certainly others, but these themes are pretty constant.

Nobody seems to be questioning if he has the right to do it but just whether he is right to do it. The most common answer: No matter what your issue is or how big it is, you just don’t disrespect the flag or ignore the anthem.

But, really, why not? Is the answer that black-and-white? Should it really be that simple? I don’t know.

I suppose I grew up thinking of the anthem—and the American flag—as “sacred,” something that you just didn’t mess with. No matter what. Sort of like The Bible, I suppose: you could Pinkie Promise or swear on your life and maybe get by unscathed if you broke it, but you didn’t dare put your hand on The Bible and swear your oath unless you were absolutely certain. It was flirting with the Devil. I remember being in complete shock when I first saw someone burning the American flag on the news. I couldn’t believe it. I just didn’t know that was even an option. I suppose that for most people, something like that happened when they heard about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, like “What? No. You don’t get to sit for the anthem!” 

For some reason, though, I didn’t have that reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I was startled by it, because I knew it was taboo. But I wasn’t outraged. I wasn’t even really dismayed. More than anything, I was fascinated.

I think I was fascinated as much by my own reaction as I was by his motivations and how it would be received. I was aware that I was okay with what he did, but I felt really odd about being okay with it? I wondered if I should be as outraged as almost everyone else seemed to be. But I just wasn’t. I think it was because the more I considered the issue, and particularly his motivation for sitting out the anthem, the more I realized what a complex web of issues was involved. It was a lot more grey than simply black or white.

I know that much of the sentiment against Kaepernick and his statement can be summed up something like this: “He’s a disrespectful coward, and he has no gratitude to the country that has made him rich and famous. Pathetic!” 

I understand that sentiment. I really do. I think it’s the easy reaction, and if things were only black or white, I would probably end up with that reaction, too. But, as I try to empathize with him and really take the words he says seriously, I find myself feeling another way.

My guess is that Colin Kaepernick grew up a lot like I did, and probably like you did. He probably cheered “U.S.A.!! U.S.A!!” at the television during the Olympics like I did. He probably looked at the flag and the anthem as sacred, too, and was probably shocked when he first witnessed a flag burning. And because I am inclined to see him as more like me—just like most everyone in the world—than different, I have to believe it took some serious soul-searching, lots of inner turmoil, and finally some real bravery to take this bold action. That much I can definitely respect. I also figured out something important: that I can separate the fact that I respect him for his convictions from the entirely different issue of whether I think the final display of his convictions—sitting for the anthem—was a wise or foolish choice.

I also look at the flip-side of the argument that he has no grounds to sit out the anthem because he has made millions of dollars by living in this great country. The flip-side is that he actually has a lot to lose by making this statement. Endorsement dollars, potential job opportunities, fans, relationships. He didn’t ask any teammates to join his protest because he immediately felt the public backlash and didn’t want to subject them to it, too. But he was willing to kneel for the anthem for this week’s game, too. With all that he had to lose, he did it anyway to keep getting his message out there. I can appreciate that kind of courage.

Finally, he didn’t seem to be pulling this as some immediate reaction to an incident that happened to him. As far as we know, he was not recently a victim of police violence or profiling. So, it wasn’t obviously a personal thing. He has previously been outspoken on social media about civil rights issues. This is all just to say that I give some credence to the idea that he was actually using his large public voice to speak for the voiceless. He was taking a stand for others who had less power to stand for themselves. That, all by itself, is admirable to me.

In the end, I still can’t say for sure whether Colin Kaepernick sitting out the anthem is “right” or not. I definitely think the cause he is speaking up for is a worthy one, but I don’t know if sitting out the anthem succeeded in bringing enough of the right kind of attention to the cause or not. The issue of him sitting clearly blew up in the media, but did the issue of racism and police violence against people of color blow up as well? Are people talking seriously about that now, too? I hope they are, but I am not sure. I think the jury is still out and waiting for time to tell us if the protest will be successful.

So, would I do it? Would I sit or kneel for the anthem? I never have before. I like to think that I am quite aware of and sensitive to the way our country and our culture has systematically failed large groups of people, including the ones Kaepernick is standing up for. America has a history of deep, dark injustice that has not been well addressed and thus continues to be a cancer on us all. Those things are worth a protest. But America—and by extension, the flag that stands for it—is also about ideals. There are lofty philosophies—freedom, equality, justice, and more—that our nation strives to be a model of. The flag symbolizes those ideals and also the people who fought and died to give the rest of us the chance to keep striving for them. In my mind, of course I know we haven’t lived up to those ideals. Societally, we fail regularly and miserably at that. I get that, and I can see why Colin Kaepernick wants to remind us that we need to do better. But I also understand how, at least for me, it is important to stand for a couple of minutes sometimes and listen to a song that reminds me of the ideals that we all so desperately need to keep striving for.

How about you?   How do you feel about the idea of someone sitting out the national anthem in protest of America’s shortcomings? Open up your journal and see if you can flesh out the complexities of this very polarizing issue. First, what is your initial, gut reaction to hearing about this protest against the flag or the anthem? Is it a strong feeling, or just mild? On a scale of one to ten, how patriotic would you say you are? Do you think that patriotism dictates the severity of your reaction to this issue? Is Kaepernick’s cause—racial injustice and police violence against people of color—important enough to tread into such a volatile (though peaceful) form of protest? Has it so far succeeded in getting you and those around you to think about or discuss these issues? In your sphere, has the racial injustice discussion been overshadowed by the anthem/flag discussion? Do you agree with me that it required courage and conviction to protest in this way? Can you respect and admire those qualities in him even if you disagree with his actions? Would you sit out the anthem for this cause? Is there anything our country could do—e.g. enter into an unjust war—that could make you sit out the anthem or desecrate a flag? Should we honor our anthem and flag because of the ideals that we would like the country to stand for—and the people who fought for those ideals–or because of how the country actually is? Should the flag simply be out of bounds when it comes to protests, i.e. should Americans salute it no matter what is happening here or what types of conflicts the country is participating in? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do we owe to our flag and our anthem? 

Be your best today,

William

P.S. If this helped you to consider this difficult topic in a new light, please pass it on. Let’s spread the empathy around! Bless you.

Permission to Fail: Learning to Grow by Taking Risks

DSC_0678“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” –Henry Ford

Hello friend,

I have been faffing all week, and it is beginning to drive me crazy! “What in the world is faffing?” you may be asking. Good question! Well, it is not exactly a word in every dictionary. I think it is British. I heard someone explain it once, though, and I appreciated the concept so much that I have adopted it as a real word (with my own slant). Faffing, at least for me, is when you busy yourself with lots of tasks that, even though they may be somewhat important and productive, aren’t the primary thing you really ought to be doing. While faffing, you may be keeping yourself so busy that you aren’t even fully conscious that you are avoiding the important thing. You have an alibi, an excuse. It is a subtle form of procrastination or stalling, masked in productivity. And if you are not honest with yourself, you can really make a habit of it. Trust me, I know.

What sorts of things have I persuaded myself were important this week? It suddenly became very pressing that I take care of some long-neglected financial stuff. I just had to find out how to unsubscribe from a service that I have been a part of for too long. My desk area needed a re-organization. The old basketball hoop demanded to be disassembled. On and on. You get the idea. I was filling the time with tasks, checking things off the To-Do List. Good, right?

WRONG!

I have been slowly growing more anxious and irritable by the day. I feel like I have cabin fever. I am pent-up, ready to burst. You see, even though all of those things were important tasks that I have been needing to accomplish—I tend to put off all unnecessary tasks in favor of my absolutely most important pursuits, so these things tend to build up—they definitely could have waited for a different day. So, why was I doing them?

I was hiding. Scared.

I have recently made a commitment to myself to write a new book I. I wrote a quick opening last week, and just the feeling of being started was a wonderful relief. But, I also knew that the next phase of the book would be by far the most difficult for me to work on. I had a grind ahead of me. I was feeling insecure about so much of it—how long I should make this part, how much detail was just the right balance between being informative but not boring, whether I was skilled enough to write in a style that I was not accustomed to, how I was going to find the time to sink my teeth into the research—and that insecurity began to freeze me. I was afraid. Afraid that once I dove in, I might not be able to swim as well as I want to believe I can. So, unconsciously at first, I started looking for a way out.

Faffing was my way out. It allowed a psychological warm blanket. After all, I hadn’t quit on the project, so there should be no guilt. I was just too busy to work on it for a few days. That’s fair, right? Life is busy. It’s a great excuse.

I used to be able to faff for long periods of time. Years, even. I am not a good faffer anymore. Thanks to my daily journaling, the persistent call of my soul is too unmistakable now. I cannot shut it out for more than a few days without getting that anxious, pent-up feeling. I am too aware of it, even from the first day. I have, over the years, become an expert at recognizing things that waste my precious time. I cannot stand to waste time.

So why would I allow myself a string of days with no productivity on the thing that my soul is shouting so determinedly in favor of? Fear of failure is a powerful beast.

As I recognize my faffing for what it is, I am starting to see that perhaps the greatest gift I can give myself right now is permission to fail. If I continue to focus on how difficult the task is and how I might not have the tools and talent to pull it off, I will never dig in and try. I will just sit here with my fears and my excuses—always masking as BUSY-NESS—as my prime slips past me and my passion slips away. That sounds like a fate worse than death.

In my case, I think I need to just plow through what writers often refer to as “my crappy first draft” so I can get all of my thoughts out there, however jumbled and unclear. If I can release my fears and insecurities about how bad it could be and who might read it and just write the darn thing, I know that I will be able to see the whole project more clearly and learn what it will take to be better. Then I can set about to actually doing it better in the next draft. By the third one, I should have it.

Better than that, though, is that I will have the confidence of knowing that I stood up and acted in the face of my greatest fears, that I made a bold move on behalf of my dreams. I have to think that can only help me in calling upon my courage the next time. And the next time. And the next time. Exercising those “brave muscles” will make them stronger and more used to working, making it easier and easier to call upon them when the old fears creep back in, as I know they will.

I am bound to fail, of course. I will mess up. This first draft will be horrible. Probably the second draft will, too. Maybe I will even recognize later that it is just not going to be a book that will be as helpful as I had envisioned when I was starting, and I will trash it. Maybe. But even if this one works, my next idea might not. Failure is part of the deal. I like the inventor Thomas Edison’s quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This from the guy who is also known to have claimed, “I failed my way to success.” He sounds like a brave guy to me.

Of course, “failure” is a relative term. There are bound to be bumps in the road, missed marks, and rejections. If I can recognize them as parts of the learning process rather than finalities, I think I can do this thing. Or at least keep trying to. I will try to follow Einstein, who said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” I plan to keep trying—and failing—to make my dreams come true. That is the path for me. No more faffing. I am ready to get back to work!

How about you? What do you aspire to but often wrestle with your insecurities about actually doing? Open up your journal and get real about what holds you back. What do you want most to do that you aren’t currently acting on right now? Think big! What is it? Okay, now write down your list of excuses. What are the things you tell yourself about why you aren’t pursuing that passion? How many of those excuses are based in fear? What would you be risking in taking a shot? Would you look foolish if it didn’t work out? Would it threaten your financial future? How embarrassed would you feel if you failed? How many people know about the thing you want to do? If you could take the risk to try it without anyone else knowing, would that make it easier? How crushed do you think you would be if your first attempt did not work out? Is it important enough to you that you would keep trying anyway? Will you keep trying no matter what happens? If your big thing is too big for you to make a full go at it right now, is there a small step you could take today in the direction of your dream? How tough will it be to give yourself permission to take it? What is the worst that could happen? What is the best that could happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you willing to take a leap today?

Bet on yourself,

William

P.S. If this made you think a little bigger or had you feeling dreamy and tempted, please share it. Let’s build an audacious community!

Shy, Humble, or Totally Afraid?

IMG_1811“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” –Ambrose Redmoon

Hello friend,

I am an introvert. I never realized this critical fact while I was a child, or even as a young adult. I had friends. I socialized. To be shy seemed like a thing for “nerds” and the otherwise socially impaired. It never occurred to me that I might be shy or introverted. Never. As with everything else up through those years, I saw myself as having the characteristics that everyone else expected me to have. Shy was not one of those characteristics.

As I got into my twenties, found my voice, and struck out on my own, I started spending time alone for the first time in my life. Whether it was camping out in the mountains or navigating the anonymity of big city living, I came to know what it was like to keep mostly my own company. Before I knew it, I had grown to like being alone. It wasn’t long before I preferred it, even. Finally, I started demanding it. I roadtripped solo up the coast, hiked the mountains of Montana, and wandered for months across Europe, hardly speaking to anyone along the way.

I felt myself growing and thriving more than I ever had in my more social years. I loved solitude. I craved it. I also recognized that it was in solitude that my battery was recharged. It was in solitude that I built up my reserve to “act normal” in social situations, something I had never been aware of or had to work at before. In this realization, I was claiming my natural introversion.

Most of the jobs I have worked in my life have involved being “on” in public and speaking with groups big and small. I have had to teach, inspire, console, and take entrée orders. I laugh now about this with the realization of my introverted nature. I guess I needed all the alone time outside of work to charge my battery for the stage of work!

The other part about my past jobs—or at least the way I played them—is that in all of their social-ness, I rarely had to really put myself out there. I didn’t talk about myself much, because, whether it was educating someone who came to be educated or serving someone who came to be served, the unspoken expectation was that I should make it about the student/customer/person paying my rent. I find that people who do best in service industries have a way of making the client feel as though you are friends even as the focus is almost exclusively the client’s wants and needs. The service provider has to be present and empathetic to the client’s concerns and their story, but the client doesn’t need to reciprocate. For me, this worked into my personality just fine. Some of it played into my introversion, but there was more to it than that. I liked to think of it as me just being humble, neither requiring the spotlight nor thinking my feelings and my story to be worthy of the client’s time and attention. I didn’t want to impose upon them.

This is also why I was never a good salesman of my services. For many, many years, it was my job—in theory—to sell tennis lessons. I can honestly say that I don’t think I ever tried to sell anyone a lesson in all of those years. I figured that the benefits would speak for themselves and that I didn’t need to impose my will on anyone else. I especially didn’t like the idea of putting someone in the awkward position of having to say, “No, I don’t want your services.” I know that for most people, it is difficult to say no to a direct offer, and I never wanted to make anyone uncomfortable. So, in my combination of self-professed shyness and humility, I never sold my services or my story. I never asked anyone to believe in me or how my product could benefit them.

Fast-forward to now and the two businesses I have just jumped into: Life Coaching and skin care consulting. From one perspective, both are right up my alley. They fit with my mission of helping people to gain more confidence and lead more fulfilling lives. I get to work with people individually and get to make a positive impact on them. I get to make a difference. Perfect! Oh wait, I forgot to mention the other perspective. Both involve extensive networking and self-promotion. I have to ask people to take some time and listen to me. I have to share with them how my services and products can be of great benefit to them. I have to put them on that spot that I have spent my whole life NOT putting people on: The Are-You-Interested-In-Me? Spot. Ugh!!!

So of course, I am in a bit of a panic. Network marketing and self-promotion seem completely antithetical to all that I am. I have spent years justifying myself by clinging to, “I’m an introvert” and “I’m humble.” But, as the reality of these two self-chosen businesses settles in, I am beginning to feel those two comfortable, sympathetic sentiments be bowled over by what may be my greater truth: I am scared.   Scared to put myself out there. Scared to not do it well enough. Scared of making people feel awkward. But mostly, I am scared of rejection and failure. What if no one wants my help? What if they tell me I am not worth their time and money? What if my calling is something that no one answers to? What if I have to reset my dreams again? What if I am not as great as I believe I am? What if I have been fooling myself? What if…..?

I have had a lot of these thoughts in recent days as I try to gather the courage to announce myself. It is why Redmoon’s quote at the top resonates with me. In my strongest moments, I can see clearly that the difference I can make in someone’s life is worth acting on. Despite my introversion. Despite my humility. And, most importantly, despite my fear. Helping someone live the life of their dreams through my Life Coaching practice, or helping someone like what they see in the mirror for the first time through my skin care products—these things are more important than my fear. I am going to do my best to remember that and to be courageous. Will it still be awkward for me? Absolutely! Will I still need to go home at the end of the day and be alone to recharge? Sure. And will I still be afraid of rejection and failure? Almost certainly. But I am going to choose to follow that fear, to face it and conquer it, buoyed by a courage borne of a belief in a greater good. I am ready!

How about you? How willing are you to tell your story and share your importance? Open up your journal and do a little self-psychoanalysis. Where do you land on the introversion-extroversion or shy-outgoing spectrum? Has your position changed as you have aged or stayed pretty steady? Do you like to talk about yourself? When something new happens in your world, how willing are you to share it? Are you comfortable sharing it face-to-face and over the phone, or do you only share things in the relative anonymity of Facebook or other social media? How humble are you? How much of a part does that humility play in your willingness to tell your story or advertise your value? Is humility in this case just a cover for insecurity and fear? How about that fear? When you think about sharing your new ventures with people, to what degree does fear take you over? Beyond just sharing, how fearful are you of selling your skills or products to others? Is it more or less scary to sell to strangers? How much does fear paralyze you? I think that for most people, the answer is “A ton!” So, don’t be afraid to admit it. It’s your journal, so honesty is the only rule. Finally, what is important enough to you to face your fear and find the courage to act, to put yourself out there, to take the risk of rejection and failure? What in your life is worth it? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you courageous enough to share?

Do something that scares you today,

William

Making Friends With Uncertainty

DSC_1100“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” –Confucius

These last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind for me. My quiet, simple life has been shaken. First, I went back to school, finally starting on my official path to certification for life coaching. Big change! Then, as if juggling multiple classes per week amidst my other usual craziness were not enough, I just accepted a job offer for a totally new career. BOOM! Suddenly, it feels as though I have become the juggler who has just thrown all of the balls up in the air at once and is tasked with smoothly catching them all at the right time to continue the show. Except, instead of balls, maybe they are flaming torches.

In any case, it seems that I have found myself in one of those Life moments when nothing seems certain and I don’t have a clue how it will turn out, either next week or next year. I have moved to the very edge of the cliff, and then taken another step. Of course, I am crossing my fingers that it will be a “Leap and the net will appear” moment. But, it very well could be a Wile E. Coyote moment instead, with me doing a couple of mid-air strides before plummeting to oblivion. What have I done? Uncertainty rules!!!

I wrote to you last week about the mighty fear and self-doubt that I must overcome to make these kinds of life moves (See “Challengers of Change”). So, making two big ones in the blink of an eye is quite a feat for my psyche. But, before I can finish pinning on my Badge of Courage, the howling winds of change have blown the stark map of Uncertainty right across my face. Where are those old familiar landmarks? I used to know so well what the day ahead was going to look like, how much I was going to be challenged. Now, who knows? I have to wait for my cues from the day itself. It feels like I am on patrol duty in the middle of the night in the dark forest, completely on-edge in my vigilance because I have no idea what might be lurking out there. My adrenaline and cortisol are dialed all the way up. Every neuron feels alive and on fire. Hyper-awareness is the side effect of this drug called Uncertainty. In its own scary way, it is wildly scintillating and energizing.

One of the big self-help gurus, Tony Robbins, says, “The quality of our lives is directly related to the amount of uncertainty we can live with comfortably.” Basically, if you are good with Uncertainty, you are good with Happiness. I love this! I frequently tell my clients and friends, “Make friends with uncertainty!” and “Embrace the unknown!” Of course, it is easier said than done, but I believe in the message. I have a dear friend who is about to drop just about everything he knows for sure—his schedule, his paycheck, his home, his city, his career—and start again from scratch. Even as he has some grave doubts, he is still doing it. It is a beautiful move in my eyes. I have no small amount of both envy and admiration for what he is doing. It is a courageous leap, but I am certain he will be rewarded for his bravery many times over in both Happiness and confidence.

You see, I think that one of the primary components of Happiness is an atmosphere of growth. If we are to grow, we must stretch our limits, move past our comfort zone, live on what I call our “growing edge.” But when we go beyond our comfort zone, naturally we feel uncertain. Doubt creeps in. It feels like a risk. It is a risk! But embracing that uncertainty—indeed, making friends with it—is essential to the growth that is essential to the Happiness that we are talking about. It is like an equation in Mathematics, or at least Logic:

  • If you want Happiness, you must have Growth.
  • If you want Growth, you must have Uncertainty.
  • Therefore, if you want Happiness, you must have Uncertainty.

Well, I want Happiness, darn it! And I want to keep growing, keep learning, keep stretching my limits. I understand that the price of growth (and, by extension, Happiness) is uncertainty. I am going to have to live with some doubt. I will have to take risks and not know the outcome. That may feel like a heavy toll to pay. But hey, we are talking about The Holy Grail here: Happiness. Did I think it was going to be free? So, show me where the line starts. I am ready to pay. I am eager to take this amazing ride into What’s Next. I am already grateful for all of the magic to come. Uncertainty, you are about to be my best good friend!

How about you? How much uncertainty can you live with comfortably? Open up your journal and write about your dreams. What do you most wish you could do in your world? Are you living where you want to live? What about your career: is it the best fit for who you are as a whole person? Does what you really want require you to get some more training? Are you willing to both admit that you are in the wrong spot and do what is necessary to get on the right career track? How about your relationships? Are there any issues that have gone unaddressed for too long simply because you are afraid of what opening that can of worms might lead to? Is today the day you feel strong enough to take that risk?   Do you agree with me that one of the components of a happy life is an atmosphere of growth, or is that part unnecessary? Do people who play it safe with everything and never take any risks in their lives—never stretch themselves or make any big moves—really have any more control of the outcome of their lives than people who constantly challenge themselves and make a few mistakes in the service of growth? Is their safety real or imagined? Think of all of your friends and family members and try to place them in order, on one end the people who never take risks or try anything new or push themselves, and on the other end the people who challenge themselves and embrace new experiences. Which side seems more happy and fulfilled to you? Where do you fit on your spectrum? Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you made friends with Uncertainty?

Be unabashedly YOU today,

William