Tag Archives: Eleanor Roosevelt

Witnessing Magic: Which Historical Event Would You Experience?

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” –Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides To Die

Hello friend,

I have just had the most uplifting treat! I sat down to watch a documentary merely to learn some history and came away instead with a full heart and a smiling soul. And longing! Oh, how I longed to be swept away and taken back in time–a few years before I was born–to feel what those lucky people felt over the course of three long days on a farm in upstate New York. I longed to be with them at Woodstock.

That whole world of the middle-to-late 1960s is absolutely fascinating to me. I have done a lifelong, off-and-on study of this revolutionary era in American history, when norms and expectations were being questioned, challenged, and sometimes toppled, both by the groups who had so long been oppressed but also by the children of those who had created all of these norms and expectations in the first place.

There was a “counterculture” that did things like grow their hair out, oppose a war (relatively unheard of until then), resist racism and poverty, and yes, even take drugs. Music was a language they could share. Bob Dylan was one of many who sang for them:

Come mothers and fathers 
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Indeed, they were. There was a generation of people that were disillusioned by the America they had been sold and were actively bucking the establishment. And whether they were individually more focused on fighting for the civil rights of African-Americans, women’s rights, ending the war in Vietnam, or merely the conservative dress code and social mores of their parents, they seem to have each been buoyed by the progress on the other fronts. They were doing it together. The rising tide was lifting all of the countercultural voices, emboldening them to believe that real change could be made.

Young people with Freedom, Love, and Peace on their minds will make magic happen.

Riding that wave of idealistic unity and rebellion, and fueled by the music of their new generation, a few guys decided to put together an outdoor festival on a dairy farm in bucolic upstate New York. Billed as “3 DAYS of PEACE & MUSIC,” with the silhouetted image of a dove perched on the neck of a guitar on its advertisements, Woodstock became–and remains–the most epic music festival in our history.

But it was so much more than a big concert. It was a cultural touchstone. It was the subject of the PBS documentary I recently watched on Netflix called “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation.”

Woodstock was something I was vaguely aware of as a kid–it happened in 1969, a few years before I showed up in the world–kind of like Vietnam or the Civil Rights Movement. They were so near to my lifetime but, as a sheltered kid in a small town with parents who weren’t about any of that stuff, 1969 might as well have been in the Stone Age. I had no exposure and thus was left to rely only upon my natural curiosity, which kept vague notes regarding what I should remember to learn about one day in the future.

That note was still left unchecked in my mind when I opened up Netflix last week to see what was new. There on my screen was the key to one of my lifelong curiosities and what is now one of the events I most wish I had attended in all of human history.

Watching the images from the film–both the aerials spanning the sea of humanity in the natural amphitheater of the hilly field as well as the intimate shots of the peaceful, joyous faces–and listening to voiceovers from the festival attendees as they unpacked their memories from the magical weekend that changed their lives, I could not help but envy them and imagine how I would have fit into such a unique scene, not merely as a fly on the wall but as a full participant.

Indulge me, please, a few too many quotes from those lucky souls, expounding upon everything from the sheer size of the crowd to the palpable energy to the depth of the impact the entire experience had on them. To begin, the first impressions:

“As you walked in, it hit you. Suddenly it just all came into view at once: this whole, enormous bowl full of people. It was mind-boggling.” –Michael Lindsey, attendee

“Coming over the hill, the feeling, the energy of that crowd was something I’ll never forget. There was so much power in it.” –Joel Rosenman, producer

“It was indescribable, the feeling that came over me of warmth and ‘Oh my God, there are this many people in the world that think like I think. There are all these people; I never knew there were that many people in the world!” –Laureen Starobin, attendee

“We walked up that hill, and we saw, you know, all these people our age, looked like us, dressed like us. You know: Us. I mean, it was just, it was like meeting your brothers and sisters. It was really beautiful.” –Susan Reynolds, attendee

“We were 400,000 kids on a hillside who were all vehemently against the war and, you know, for me it was like, ‘These are our people! We found our people!’” –Susan Reynolds, attendee

When the producers realized that they could not erect the fence around the farm soon enough to keep out people without tickets, they made the extraordinary move of announcing that they would no longer be charging admission, effectively losing themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process and ensuring the festival would be a huge financial loss. The generosity of that gesture was absorbed by the swelling crowd and seemed to multiply from there. Everyone just seemed to take care of each other, passing around whatever food (and drink and drugs) they had with all of those around them. They sang and danced together, made campfires for all, and slept next to one another under the big night sky.

But it wasn’t just the concert-goers who seemed to find the best of themselves in the experience. The locals, who considered themselves hicks and conservative country folk and many of whom staunchly opposed the festival and the “hippies” from the outset, became swept up in the wave of Love and Good Will that washed over their rural county. When, upon hearing on the second day of the festival that the food had run out and that trucks could not get through because of traffic jams, they made sandwiches and emptied their home pantries, donating everything they could to be helicoptered to the site to feed all the hungry festival-goers. Similarly, when medical supplies ran out, doctors volunteered their time and flew in on Army helicopters full of supplies to treat the people in need. Something magical was happening.

“This was actually kind of a functioning city out in the middle of nowhere, and we realized it was functioning because of people pulling together. It just had this feeling that this was ours. This was the new city; this was the alternative city. And it worked.” —attendee

“I remember sitting in the mud listening to Crosby, Stills, & Nash, looking at the sheer beauty of the night sky and wrapped in a blanket of Music. It was the feeling of oneness with it All.” –Katherine Daye, attendee 

On the third day (Sunday), an older-looking gentleman walked onto the stage. It was Max Yasgur, the conservative owner of the dairy farm that had been taken over by this ocean of young people. He, too, had been moved by the experience and had donated tons of milk and yogurt so that everyone could eat. He humbly stepped to the microphone:

“I’m a farmer. I don’t know how to speak to 20 people at one time, let a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world. Not only to the town of Bethel or Sullivan County or New York state; you’ve proven something to the world. The important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids–and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are–a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have NOTHING BUT fun and music. And I God bless you for it!”

By the next day, Jimi Hendrix had played his iconic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the sea of people had risen from the mud and returned to the world, forever changed by the experience.

“If 400,000 people could get together and have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like if we could bring all that love back into society, we could change the world.” —attendee

“The festival became a symbol of intelligence and humanity and cooperation and love and affection. It was the start of a phenomenal change in a lot of people’s lives.” –attendee

“I felt like I had finally gotten to fully experience what I was hoping the counterculture meant. Woodstock was a very powerful confirmation that, yeah, this is what you are looking for and you are headed in the right direction.” —attendee

“Everyone looking after one another, everyone caring for one another. I mean, once I experienced that, I made it the basis for the whole rest of my life.” –attendee 

That is some powerful stuff. It captivates me, I think, because of the “wave of Love” that seems to have taken over the entire production. The vibe. The energy. The feeling that seemed to sweep over all involved. I think it was something transcendent, something bigger than the sum of each person’s contribution. It was bigger than anything.

When I think of other historical events I would like to have been a part of, I think that what draws me is this sort of wave that Woodstock had going for it, this momentum of Love and Good Will that swept up everything in its path. I imagine being a part of the Civil Rights Movement, riding the wave on buses and at lunch counters, at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King. I imagine riding the wave as one of Jesus’s followers in his last few months. I bet the people at the launch of Apollo 11 for America’s “moonshot” felt that unity and excitement. Similarly, I can imagine wanting to be swept up in the frenzy of a hometown’s ride to a Super Bowl or World Series victory, especially being in the stadium for the final win. I remember my Black wife flying our infant daughter across the country and going out in the wee hours of the morning in the bitter cold just to be in the same city as President Obama’s first inauguration, so momentous was that occasion in her life and the life of so many people of color. She had to be there. These feelings–and the memories they stamp on our heart hearts and minds–are irreplaceable.

This is how I picture Woodstock. That wave of love.

It is the only way I can explain to myself why I am so particularly drawn to it. Yes, I love music, and it had that. But music alone doesn’t explain it. Because, really, I: 1) dislike crowds and sharing germs with strangers, much less sleeping in the mud with them and using porta-potties, 2) have never been interested in drugs, and 3) don’t necessarily know well or care for many of the bands performing. It has to be the wave. That feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself. Something beautiful and pure. A unity of spirit.

Maybe this is the reason why the documentary hits me so hard right now. Maybe the profound Unity and Love that defined the festival leave me shuddering and longing to this degree precisely because these are the things so sorely absent from our country today, 50 years after those transformed young people wandered off Max Yasgur’s farm and back into America. I mean, can you imagine putting 400,000 strangers in a field together in our era and come away three days later with no stories of conflict, violence, or animosity? It is absolutely unthinkable. Our wave seems to be sweeping as forcefully but in the opposite direction that theirs was. Give me Woodstock over this nonsense anytime.

It was truly a singular event in human history. I wish I had been there.

How about you? Which event or era in human history would you like to be a part of? Open up your journal and allow your fantasies to run freely. What event comes first to your mind? Did it happen during your lifetime and you were just somewhere else, or is it from a different era altogether? Was it something brief (seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Kennedy’s inauguration, the March on Washington, the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Super Bowl, or even a family reunion during your ancestors’ time) or did it take place over a number of days or months (following Jesus or Dr. King or the Grateful Dead, a sports season, or living in Rome at the height of its glory)? What is it about that event or era that appeals to you? Is it the people involved? The place where it happened? Is it about what it led to? How historically significant is your event? How much of it is personal to you or your family? Was it a part of a wave of feeling or a movement that people were swept up in? Have you studied it in depth or, rather, do you not know much about it but just have a romantic vision of it in your mind? Is it easier for your mind to fantasize about it if you know more or fewer of the specifics? Speaking of your imagination, do you think that if you were actually able to time-travel to your special event, would it be as good as you imagine it, or would it disappoint? Do you think the people there knew it was special? How well do most people do at recognizing the significance of their biggest life moments while they are happening? In your own life, have you fully absorbed your biggest moments in real time and recognized them, or was it only later that it struck you how important and impactful those moments were? Does that even matter? Is there an entirely different era that you would prefer to live your whole life in? What can that era teach you about the kind of life you want to live now? What can you do in your little corner of the world to create more of the kinds of moments that you will want to relive in the years to come? How can you create that wave of Love or that sense of true Unity, that feeling of being part of something special and pure and bigger than yourself? How confident are you that there are magical moments like that in your future? Which past example do you hope it most resembles? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which historical event would you go back and experience?

Make your own wave,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Create a movement together!

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

Next Year in Review: How will your 2017 look?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

How do these New Years keep coming around so quickly? It is faster and faster every year, it seems. It feels like just a couple of months ago I was looking forward to 2016 as I wrote “A New Year’s Question: How Do You Want to FEEL This Year?” And wasn’t I just recently writing “New Year’s Excuses” as I thought about how 2015 would look? Oh, where does the time go? And why don’t I ever seem to accomplish as much as I hope to? Are my dreams too big?

I have been thinking about this lately, wondering if I am shooting too high. After all, I have a long track record of missing the mark. Perhaps I should be taking all of that evidence into account when I set my aspirations for the year ahead.

NAAAHHH!!!

I don’t believe in the concept of “aiming too high.” I look around and see a world full of people aiming too low and settling for less than what makes their hearts sing. I don’t want that. Not for them, and definitely not for me. I believe in dreaming big dreams. And I admire the people who dream the big dreams and have the courage to go for them with all of their heart. Those are the people I want to hang with. More than that, I want to be one of those brave people.

Maybe I ought to try a new approach heading into 2017. In years past, I have done the “Daily To-Do List” and the “Excuse Inventory” to nail down some habits of thought and action that I wanted to be disciplined about. I have always centered the exercises around the question, “How do I want to FEEL this year?” That seems wise; I will keep that. But for this year’s look ahead, I think I will try imagining myself looking back instead.

That’s right, I think it will be fun–and helpful–to write a letter from the person I am at the end of next year to the person I am today. Because honestly, I could use a little perspective from someone on the other side of this fear and uncertainty I am feeling now, even if he is only in my imagination. So, here goes……

Dear William from the start of 2017, 

Congratulations, my friend—you made it! I know that a year ago at this time, you could hardly imagine the grass looking this green. You had just lost your job. Your wife needed a new job. Your whole, beautiful lifestyle with your children, something you had worked so hard to cultivate, was seemingly about to slip away from you. Everything seemed uncertain. You were scared. Very scared. And hey, I don’t blame you. It was a lot to lose.  

And that is why I congratulate you now: because when it came time to ask yourself, at the end of the 2016, your usual, “How do I want to FEEL next year?” question, you gave the answer that shaped all of the days that have followed. “Brave,” you said. “I want to feel BRAVE!” The rest, as they say, is history. 

You have needed to respond with courage often this year—it feels like daily—as so many challenges arose that could have had you cowering in your shell, giving in and making choices from weakness and fear. Starting your year without a job probably ended up being the best thing that could have happened, as it backed you into a corner immediately and demanded a response. Your uncompromising determination and devotion to your purpose in that crucial period set the tone and built up those “brave muscles” for future challenges.  

And out of it came your first book! A lifelong dream accomplished. I know that you know it is only one small step in the direction of your dreams. But, just between you and me, it was also a HUGE leap and something you really needed. So, while I know your nose is still to the grindstone and plugging away at doing more and better, take a moment and accept this pat on the back for hitting a milestone. You have done something important. (Okay, now back to work!) 

Courage came in handy in all of those moments, big and small, when global and national events seemed to conspire to bring you down and made you want to crawl back inside yourself and be quiet. You chose to be brave. You used your voice where you could. And instead of blaming the President or “the system” or whatever and giving up, you took ownership of your own sphere of influence and tried to make a difference where you could. You made deeper connections. You found more reasons to care. You discovered a way to feel powerful instead of helpless, and you shared it with others. That took courage, and it was worth it.  

At home, you entered a year which promised to hold the most uncertainties yet—finances, career transitions, schedule changes—and reminded everyone, yourself included, how blessed and how fabulously capable you all are of dealing with life’s changes, all the while keeping a steady hold on what is most important to your family unit. You now walk out of that fire stronger and more connected than ever.  

It really was a wild year! Coming into it, I couldn’t (that is, you can’t) imagine all of the twists and turns your road would take and all of the fascinating new ways you would find to look at your journey. I can smile back on it now, but I don’t blame you for being scared from where you stand, at the edge of the cliff with only the dark of night around you, not sure if your next step will find solid ground. You will find yourself there more than once this year.  

Just remember how you said you wanted to feel. BRAVE. As long as you remember who you are and what matters most to you—and that you continue to choose BRAVE—things are going to work out beautifully. Trust me, I’ve been there! 

Your better self,  

William from the end of 2017  

Call it foolishness or denial or whatever, but somehow reading that note from that guy makes me feel a lot better about where I am right now and this cliff I am about to step off. Do me a favor: remind me not to forget the BRAVE part, okay? Yeah, something tells me that this year is going to bring some magic with it, the kind of stuff that is beyond my imagination. I am open to magic right now. Let the games begin!

How about you? How are you approaching the New Year? Open up your journal and get ready to write a letter. What are your defining thoughts and emotions as this past year draws to a close and a new one begins? At New Year’s time, is your tendency more to look back at the past year or forward to the next? What lessons from the past year will you use to take on the year ahead? Where are you on the Optimism vs. Pessimism spectrum about the coming year? Will it be better or worse than normal for you? How much of that is up to you? What do you expect will be your favorite parts of the year? Are you expecting any major changes? Big breakthroughs or milestones? What do you expect your biggest challenges will be? Are there major transitions in your near future, like in mine? How much uncertainty are you feeling about the road ahead? What do you fear? How powerful are those fears? Do you feel equipped to deal with them? How strong are your brave muscles? How do you most want to feel through the coming year? What kinds of actions will bring about that feeling? Is there something you can do immediately to give that feeling some momentum early in the year? Now write that letter from your end-of-2017 self to your current self. What does that future self know that you could really benefit from now? What could that self say to give you more belief in yourself about the road ahead? What would ease your fears? What single thing do you most need to hear? Write honestly. Write from the heart. And don’t forget that you made it through the year, so you must be about to do something right! What do you want to say about that? Leave me a reply and let me know: How was your 2017?  

Shoot for the stars,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you or helped you see yourself from a different perspective, please share it. We are all on the journey together!

Dear Past Me: a letter to my 18-year-old self

DSC_0140“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

I have been swimming in a pool of graduation-induced nostalgia lately. For one, I have both a niece and nephew graduating from high school in the next couple of weeks, and I am sympathetic to both the kids and their parents. Second, I just finished a book of collected college commencement speeches, so I have been thinking a lot about what I might say to young people who are making a huge transition into the world. To put a cherry on top, this week, while working on The Journal Project, I came across my entries for the week that my little sister graduated from high school. I was seven years out of school at the time, but her graduation stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Here is a little portion of a journal entry I wrote on May 28, 1998, recalling my own graduation week seven years prior:

“I remember how sentimental I was in my last days there. I wanted so fiercely for it not to end. I knew what a special thing we had going and what an incredible group of guys that were saying “so long.”   I can look back now and see that I wasn’t a fool in that regard. I don’t want to go back to eighteen again, because I live with the wisdom that brings me an amazing level of joy and peace. But I can still see those guys and feel exactly the way I felt about them then. I dearly loved them then, and I dearly love them now. I know that most people’s best friends are the ones they met in college. Mine are the ones I have known since high school and grade school.”  

I still feel that way, actually. I had an incredibly lucky childhood in just about every way imaginable, and as I approached my high school graduation, I knew that just about everything that made my life so free and love-filled was about to change. I was chosen to be the speaker at my graduation. It was kind of ironic that the guy who didn’t want that charmed life to end was the one chosen to tell everyone it was over and to offer some words of wisdom heading into their next lives. I don’t remember the words I said, but it was a lot of schmaltzy quotes read from a page and very little from my heart. I said the types of things they told me I was supposed to say, so I didn’t really think about making an impact.

Looking back now, I wish I had said something profound that day. Heck, I wish I had heard something profound that day. I needed at least as much guidance as everyone else did. I was an 18-year-old kid. What did I know? Instead of me giving out hurrahs and platitudes to my classmates, I wish someone who really cared about me and who had been down the road I was about to go down could have sat me down and given me some real advice.   I am not sure I would have listened—I was 18, remember—but maybe something would have sunk in and helped me in all the 25 years that have followed.

So today, I decided to write my 18-year-old self a letter—sort of a high school commencement speech to myself—and tell him all the things I wish he could carry with him on the journey through the circus that is early and middle adulthood. So, armed with 25 more years of experience, here goes….

Dear 18-year-old William,

When I wrote in your future niece and nephew’s graduation cards last week, I told them that my one piece of advice was “to understand who you are and what makes your heart sing. Then just be unapologetically you, forever and always.” Twenty-five years after I was in the shoes you are in now, that message pretty much sums up what I have learned. I suppose that sounds kind of vague and unhelpful to you right now, but it truly is the essence of what I wish I would have heard when I was sitting in your seat.  

But how do you do it? Well, that’s the tricky part.   There may not be an exact answer—you could start by getting a journal, I suppose–but these are some of the habits that have most helped me to know myself and live my Truth along this beautiful path called Life.  

First, be completely curious. Be open to all new ideas, and learn as much as you can about as many different people as you can. Find out who they are and what makes them tick. Learn about different professions, different hobbies, different lifestyles. The more you know about the way others live, the easier it is to choose wisely for yourself. (Oh, and don’t EVER stop being curious!) 

Trust your intuition. There is a still, small voice inside you, and if you listen closely and courageously to it, it will keep you on your path forever. This one is much more difficult than it sounds, though, because there are other voices trying to shout down the true voice. They are voices of fear and insecurity, of society, of family, of shame. It takes a discerning ear to focus on only the voice of your Truth. And it takes courage to own that.  

Be the one and only you, unapologetically. To deny the world your complete and authentic self—with all of its idiosyncrasies—is to give in to fears that you are not enough as you are. And you ARE enough! You are amazing, mostly in your uniqueness. So give us the gift that only you can give! 

Understand your value. You are a miraculous being, fully part of the Divine, and your presence in this lifetime is a gift to the rest of us. As much as you treasure and respect the people in your life, remember to value yourself at least as much.

Have an opinion about yourself. I know this overlaps with the last one—all of these really are different angles of the same point—but I cannot stress it enough. It is not only important to know your worth, but also to know what serves you and what doesn’t. When you have an opinion about yourself—a strong, positive one, of course—you act like it with the choices you make. You don’t allow the negative people and the drama queens into your inner circle. You don’t take jobs that don’t speak to your values. You don’t let people take advantage of you. You stand up to injustice. You use your time instead of wasting it. You give up being a victim. Basically, you become an active participant in your own life and assume responsibility for what is in it.  

Follow Your Bliss. If you are in the process of being curious, open, and trusting of that inner voice, you will undoubtedly come upon the things that simply light you up inside. These are the jobs, the hobbies, and the people that make your heart sing, the ones that “just feel right” in your gut. They are your dreams, your calling, your Bliss. And that warm, fulfilling feeling that overtakes you when you pursue it, that is your intuition telling you that you are on the right path. Follow it! 

Act like this is a one-shot deal. In other words, “This is not a dress rehearsal!” Even if you think there is some kind of afterlife or reincarnation or something else spectacular waiting for you after this dance, act like this lifetime is your only chance. Love wholly and completely. Dream big and go for it. Give everything your best effort and focus. Forgive. Agree to disagree. Move on. Say what you have to say. Take chances. Follow your fear. Just be sure that in the end, you have lived, not merely existed.  

Never settle. Don’t be lulled to sleep by the life everyone else says is enough for you. Don’t take a job that doesn’t mean anything to you. Don’t keep poisonous relationships just because it is inconvenient to cut ties. Don’t stop learning just because you have a degree. If your dreams are bigger than your current life, do what you must to go get them. Playing small only sucks the passion out of life. Play the bigger game for the stakes that YOU have determined are enough to fulfill you completely. That is living.  

Just make sure that whatever you do, you do it for yourself. Do it because it fascinates YOU, tugs on YOUR heartstrings, and stirs YOUR soul, not because it is what your parents or friends or society expects you to do. It is your life, not theirs. Pleasing them may seem to be the path of least resistance, but it will kill your spirit in the process, and that is not a good trade. Keep your integrity by living the life you were born to live, the one only your soul knows the way through.  

Above all, enjoy the ride! Be grateful for it. Life is a miraculous journey, every single step of it. You have a choice whether to see it that way. I highly encourage you to do so. It makes for a lot more Love and Joy in the process. I wish you all the Love, Joy, and Bliss you can handle. Carpe diem!

 Always, 

43-year-old William

P.S. Don’t lose touch with your best friends. These are the best guys you will ever know.  

P.S.S. About those girls that you are going to have the crushes on but will feel too scared to say so: get over yourself! Fortune favors the bold. Ask them out! 

How about you? What would you say to your 18-year-old self? Open up your journal and organize some thoughts. The easy part—especially compared to last week, when we wrote to our future selves—is that you know exactly who you are writing to. You know how you were at 18 and what types of things Life has thrown at you since. If you could sum up your message in a short sentence or two—like on my graduation cards—what would it be? Is that the kind of message your 18-year-old self would have taken to heart, or would it have gone in one ear and out the other? Now expound on that summary. Do you think your letter would have more general rules, like mine, or more specifics, like my P.S.es? What did you really need someone to tell you at the end of high school? If they had, how do you think your life would be different now? Do you wish it were? Is there one specific decision or time in your life since 18 that you wish you would have been warned about back then? Who was the person in your life back then—friend, relative, teacher–who was most likely to give you the kind of advice you would give yourself in this letter? What role, if any, does that person play in your life now? Is there someone that you can play that role for? Would you write them the same letter you wrote to yourself—is your advice universal—or something very different? Is there something that every 18-year-old would benefit from hearing? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would you say to your 18-year-old self?

Carpe diem,

William

P.S. If today’s letter got you feeling nostalgic or reminded you about all the lessons that Life has taught you, please pass it on. Wisdom is meant for sharing. Cheers!

My Favorite Quotes: The Words That Remind Me What Matters Most

fontcandy“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

Twenty years ago, when I first opened Thoreau’s Walden, little did I know that my life would never be the same. My mind had just begun to open to new messages, and Thoreau came in and absolutely blew the roof off the place. I had found my soul-mate! I was mesmerized by every last word, reading each passage over before moving on to make sure I absorbed it completely. It was as if he as writing directly to me, or, more accurately, writing right out of my own head. I wanted to highlight every paragraph, to quote every line. Some of my favorites:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”

“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Oh, I could go on and on! That book just melted into my soul. I tingled all over as those magical lines burned themselves into my brain, where I would draw on them many times in all the years that have followed. Beautiful words from beautiful minds have that way about them.

Over the course of my life, the three historical characters that I have gravitated towards most are Thoreau, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. I have been captivated by their writings, their speeches, and the lives they led. When I try to come up with my favorite quotes from them, it is very difficult, as nearly everything on record is compelling to me.

With Gandhi, if you forced me to pick two, I might pick the simplest ones, both of which spoke to the way he led. The first is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second echoes that sentiment. While visiting Bengal, a reporter asked him, “Do you have a message for the people of India?” His response: “My life is my message.” Oh, if we could all live up to that, just imagine our greatness!

With Dr. King, it is perhaps even more difficult to pin down a couple of favorites. One of them that has inspired me often with Journal of You, particularly when I have debated whether to write about a controversial or revealing topic—God, politics, sexuality, to name a few–is this challenge to the soul: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That one slays my fears every time.

A good quotation is unbelievably powerful. It strikes you right at your core, making your hairs stand on end or unleashing sudden tears or smiles or knowing nods. Some of the ones that hit me at my foundation are about simple life lessons that I need to be reminded of:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –Norman Vincent Peale

“You never fail until you stop trying.” –Albert Einstein

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” –Persian saying

“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” –Bill Keane (and others)

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.” –Anonymous

“If not now, when? If not you, who?” –Hillel the Elder 

All of these hit home for me in slightly different ways. They are the little reminders that I need to stay clear about how to navigate this world successfully. They are the random–but pure gold–nuggets of wisdom. I love them individually.

On the other hand, I find that there is one category of quotations that I am drawn to most, one topic from which I can easily churn out a big list of favorites. My soul-stingers are the ones that remind me to seize the day and follow the calling of my heart unflinchingly. They can be summarized by three words from the great Joseph Campbell: “Follow your Bliss.” Here are some of the others in my “Follow your Bliss/This is Not a Dress Rehearsal” category:

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” –Paulo Coelho

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot

“I am here to live out loud.” –Émile Zola

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!” —Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” –A favorite Pinterest meme

“Leap and the net will appear.” –John Burroughs

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it—don’t back down and don’t give up—then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” –Bob Dylan

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

“You know, we can’t get out of life alive! We can either die in the bleachers or die on the field. We might as well come down on the field and go for it!” –Les Brown

“Don’t die with your music still in you.” –Wayne Dyer (A spin on Thoreau’s line from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”)

These are like zingers right into my heart. I get that surge of adrenaline and clarity whenever I read them. I think that says a lot about what drives me, what is in my soul’s code. These words have magical powers. They are the wind that fills my sails. When I read them, I think they were written just for me. That is the essence of a favorite quote. I do love them so.

How about you? What are your favorite quotations? Open up your journal and start your own list. Is there one particular writer or speaker, like my Thoreau, whose phrases are burned upon your heart more than others? I think most of us just know our favorites when we see them, but are there any quotes that you recite frequently from memory? Are your favorites from all over the map, or do they tend to fall into a certain category, such as love, change, happiness, humor, motivation, family, leadership, or success? Why do you think you gravitate toward that topic? When you come across a quotation that strikes you at your core, what do you do about it? Do you see it as a message that was meant for you and allow it to direct your course of action, or do you dismiss it as mere chance and move on? Now that you have been creating your list, do you feel inclined to post it somewhere, or at least keep it in a notebook that you will open occasionally for a positive reminder? Which ones are your absolute favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words are yours to live by?

Do your best today,

William

P.S. If our search for quotes stirred your heart and mind a bit today, share it with your world. We could all use a little stirring!

A Life Well-Lived

IMG_2406“Happiness is not a goal….it is a by-product of a life well-lived.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

Heroes are hard to come by in this world. This week I have had the amazing good fortune of having two conversations with people I hold in the highest regard. The effect each conversation has had on me has been profound. My heart has been left so humbled and grateful to have both of these monuments in my life. My head, meanwhile, has been left spinning. At the age of 42, as I struggle to plot the course of my own life and to leave a legacy of value, these conversations put me face-to-face with two people whose marks have been made and whose life satisfaction seems real. I am left wondering, “What will it take to make ME a contented old man?” 

My Mom turns 70 today, and my siblings have all surprised her this week by showing up at the family lake cabin where we made so many fond memories as children. It is great for all of us, of course, but it is a real tribute to my Mom. She has done such a brilliant job of “doing Life,” especially of being a wonderful wife and mother. I knew I wouldn’t get much one-on-one time with her this weekend, so I called her earlier in the week for an interview. This was the essence of my questioning:

  • How do you feel about turning 70?
  • How has your life been compared to how you pictured it when you were young? How about compared to when you were 42?
  • What do you wish you would have done?
  • What have you done that you are glad about and would do again?
  • What do you still have left to do?
  • Are you happy? Are you content? Are you fulfilled?

The really cool upshot of the whole interview was that I learned much more than I thought I would. She was incredibly forthright and thorough, and I feel like I know her much better as a result. It was the kind of conversation almost every adult wishes they could have with their aging parents. I wish I had it all on video.

Speaking of that, this weekend I had another one that I wish I could have recorded somewhere other than in my fuzzy mind, though truly it will never leave my heart. My great-uncle Lloyd, who recently turned 90 and is easily one of my few favorite people from my lifetime and a true role model and hero to me, came over to visit my family and wish my Mom—his niece—a happy birthday. I pulled up my lawn chair right next to his and started gently grilling him with all of the same questions I had asked my Mom. He, too, was a willing interviewee and treated me to many wonderful stories and insights. I cried behind my sunglasses as we said goodbye. Until we meet again….

The common denominator from both conversations—and the thing that is really stuck in my mind—is the depth of their contentment with the lives they have lived. “I’m really happy with what I’ve done in my life,” my Mom said to me. “If this is all I got to do in life, I would be fine.” Those words keep ringing in my ears. They have resonated down through my chest and all through my system. Over and over I hear them. I can see the look in my great-uncle’s eyes, too, which said the same thing. He seems so clear about the fact that he has had a wonderful life and has accomplished the things he set out to do, and more. Satisfaction. That is the essence of it. Contentment.

How the heck did they pull that off??? How can I get a piece of that before my story ends? My next birthday will be 43. That leaves me a little over 27 years to get to my Mom’s age, and 47 to get to my great-uncle’s 90. I know that sounds like a long time, but I can already tell how fast the time goes and how it only seems to speed up as I get older. What am I going to do to change things? How will I achieve that level of contentment, that life satisfaction between now and then? Because, let’s face it, I am far from satisfied right now. 

I am happy. Wildly so, in fact. I wish everyone in the world could feel my kind of happiness. I am grateful every day for who I am and the countless blessings in my world. It is a delight to be me.

But I am NOT content. I am not satisfied with my life. As much as I am grateful for it all, I want so much more. I have so much more that I feel called to do. I want to change the world in a big way and use my blessings to their absolute fullest. I want my gifts to be given, to leave no stone unturned when it comes to using my talents for the greatest good. There are books that I want to write. There are speeches I want to deliver. There are hugs I want to give and faces I want to light up. There are dreams—my own and of others—that I desperately want to see come true. If I don’t do better than I am right now in terms of knocking things off my list, I will die a discontented old man. Happy? Yes. Satisfied? No way!

The thing is, I don’t know if I am even capable of contentment. That sounds sad, I know, but it is true. I understand myself and my mind. I am a driver. I am constantly trying to improve, trying to learn and grow and become better-equipped to handle all of the big things I want to do. My dreams are big—most would probably say too big—and I know that I won’t be satisfied if I don’t give my best effort toward achieving them. I hope that there will be some level of satisfaction if I know in the end that I did my best, even if I don’t reach all of my goals and dreams. The list seems endless, though, so I have my work cut out for me. I will definitely be the guy who has to be dragged to his grave kicking and screaming. “I just have a few more things I need to do! Please???” I play out a little version of that every night before bed and every Sunday night before the new week begins again. I don’t really know any other way.

So, when I get to age 70, will I face it with the same grace, gratitude, and acceptance that my Mom is facing it? How about when I get to 90: will I be rightfully proud of my path and my legacy the way Uncle Lloyd is? Will I get there and say, just like my Mom, “If this is all I got to do in life, I would be fine.” It is really difficult for me to envision that, frankly. It is the challenge before me, however, one that I must rise to. To put it mildly, I have A LOT to do. I better get started!

How about you? How content are you right now in your life, and would you leave satisfied if today was your last one? Open up your journal and reveal yourself. How well have you “done Life” to this point? Has your life lived up to your expectations for it? Are you proud of yourself for the way you have traveled your path? Are there specific accomplishments that you hang your hat on—e.g. career milestones or family successes—or do you think of this issue more in terms of what type of person you have been along the way? If you died today, how satisfied would you say you are with the life you have lived? Put a number on it from one to 100. Now picture yourself at age 70? How content with your life do you think you will feel then? How about at age 90? Did your projected numbers go up or down from your current number? Why? What would it take to get your satisfaction number to 100 before you die? What is the biggest thing you can do today to move in that direction? Are you willing to make a commitment to that? Who in your life is your role model or hero? What makes them so? How satisfied do you think they are? Leave me a reply and let me know: “What will make YOU a contented old man or woman?” 

Stake a claim to Happiness,

William

Start Before You Are Ready

DSC_0544“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Hello friend,

Start before you are ready. I first heard those words about a year ago from some self-help guru. I loved the idea! It sounded so brave and bold. Don’t wait until you get all of your ducks in a row. Just throw caution to the wind and go for your dream! I figured that if I was ever given the chance, there was no doubt I would do it. Of course I would! Or would I?

As much as I like to think of myself as totally laid-back and easy, I have some serious perfectionist tendencies. For things I take an interest in, I want to do them exactly right. I like to score 100% on everything. In school, if I had a test with 100 regular questions plus five bonus questions, I was not satisfied simply with getting an “A” or even a 100%. I needed that 105. I had many classes in which I could easily have skipped assignments or tests at the end of the semester because I was so far into—or above–the “A” zone, but my mind could not allow it. Looking back, it caused a lot more stress and took me away from a lot more fun than I care to admit. Such is the curse of the perfectionist mind.

I also have an obsession with competence. Perhaps my least favorite feeling in the world is an awareness of my own incompetence. I hate not knowing the answer! I am extremely uncomfortable and stressed when I start a new job and don’t know the solution to every possible issue a customer might have. If I ask a supervisor or experienced co-worker for specific answers or protocol, I cannot stand to hear, “Oh, you’ll figure it out as you go.” I want the answers. The EXACT answers!

One of the unfortunate side effects of these mind traits on my personality is that, in general conversation, I have a hard time just saying, “I don’t know.” I can get defensive and be like, “Why would I know that?” or make excuses—or even attacks on the inquisitor. It really is an unattractive quality. So is its cousin quality: NEEDING TO BE RIGHT. In any disagreement, I rarely admit that I am wrong. I am not much of a compromiser, either. I like to think that this is because the knowledge and opinions that I hold are based on my thorough study of the issue, and thus, my COMPETENCE.

So, imagine the fireworks show going on inside me when faced with the prospect of making some major, life-changing moves into multiple new careers at the same time. Could a competence-obsessed perfectionist really survive such a deep dive into the new and unknown? Could my ego withstand such uncertainty? Well, we are about to find out!

I made official plunges into two new career paths IN THE LAST WEEK!!! Early in the week, I signed on to become a consultant with a premium skin care company. Then, at the end of the week, I filed my papers with the government to form my Life Coaching company. BOOM! Talk about a jolt to the system and an electrifying infusion of new energy (i.e., chaos) into my life.

And while it is all kinds of exciting to embark on these fabulous opportunities for service and fulfillment, it is also more than a little unsettling (ahem, terrifying). I have had more than one occasion in the last few days to stop and ask myself, “What are you doing to yourself? Why TWO THINGS at once? Why not just get comfortable—and competent—in one thing before considering another? What makes you think you are READY for this, when you are not even trained in one field and have no marketing or accounting skills in the other?”

I have to admit, that Voice of Doubt has some good points. It is a lot to take on, and my perfectionist mind will be scrambling to obtain a level of competence that I can be at peace with. And if you look at it objectively from the outside, you might conclude that, indeed, I am not ready. I don’t know much about skin care, and I don’t know if I have enough connections to really make it work in selling it. Heck, I don’t even know if I have the time to sell it. I have been putting many things on hold until my kids get older, figuring—hoping and praying, really—that more time may magically appear then. As for my Life Coaching business, at least I feel competent as a coach. The business part, however, has me quite nervous. I don’t have my website up and running. I don’t have business cards. I don’t know the first thing about accounting or owning my own business. I only know how to coach. So yeah, Voice of Doubt, you may be onto something. In a lot of ways, I am not ready.

But I hear another voice, too, trying to get a word in around the persistent chatter of that Voice of Doubt. This voice says, “Start before you are ready! If you wait until you feel comfortable and competent with every last skill and detail, you will be waiting forever, stuck in the same unsatisfying rut rather than alive in the hot pursuit of your dreams. Your best life is out there, just waiting for you to take a little risk. To reach the sweetest fruit, you have to go out on a limb. Go for it! (P.S. Besides, you ARE ready.)” That voice comes from a much deeper, more grounded place. It makes me nod my head and whisper things like “Yeah” and “I got this.” It feels different, too. It feels real and true to me—it resonates. It brings me a magical combination of peace and excitement that makes me feel certain that I am on the right path. That was the feeling I had in signing my papers this week to start my business, and the feeling I had while talking with my sister about the skin care company. I have come to know that this magical feeling is none other than my soul confirming that I am in my Truth. When my brain and my ego conspire to keep me down and convince me that I am not ready, I listen for that small, still voice inside me that knows better.

So, sure, in some sense—the perfectionist’s, the critic’s, and the ego’s sense—I will never be ready. So be it. I can see now that “Start before you are ready” is a motto for people who are stuck at the mercy of the perfectionist, the critic, and the ego (the combined Voice of Doubt). It is a valuable sentiment. In this moment of clarity, though, I also see that if you can tune your ears to that still, small voice—call it your soul, your intuition, your sixth sense, you name it—you will know with complete certainty that you are ready. I’m ready. I’m starting NOW!

How about you? What is it time for you to be starting? Open up your journal and listen for that still, small voice inside you. What does it whisper when you think about unpursued dreams and risks not taken? What move—big or small—is long overdue in your life? Is it career-related? Regarding relationships, do you need to take a risk by reaching out to someone to see if they belong in your circle, or do you need to cut a cord that someone else is strangling you with? Do you need to move on from something or someone, or perhaps just have a difficult conversation so you can move forward together? Do you think you would be satisfied with only a small shift, or is your soul aching for something major? How much do you try to tap into your intuition when making decisions? How does it speak to you—physical symptoms, emotions, obsessive thoughts, “gut” feelings? Do you trust it? What is the one thing that you make a million “I’m not ready” excuses about, that, deep down in your heart, you know you really must do? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you going to start before you are “ready”? 

You ARE ready,

William