Tag Archives: Happiness

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grow and grow,

William

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

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

Re-Defining Your Best Life: Is It Okay Just To Coast & Be Happy?

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” –Mark Twain

“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor–such is my idea of happiness.” –Leo Tolstoy

Hello friend,

I have gotten myself into an emotional pickle since the start of the year. As last year came to an end, I began to think the usual New Year-type of thoughts: changes, goals, habits, resolutions, and the like. I started with my usual question: How do I want to FEEL this year? Even though I had figured out a couple of years ago that “BRAVE!” is always a fantastic answer, for me, to that question, I was feeling something else that had been growing inside me recently. I wanted to feel at Peace and connected to my soul, deeply rooted in contentment, like what I was doing was exactly right for me, playing all of the right chords of my heartstrings. I wanted to be in a state of active bliss, but not so driven by something down the road, some goal or milestone. I wanted to be happy and content in the present. At Peace.

But there was a catch to it, and that catch is what has me in this state of emotional flux: my personal pickle.

I am such a striver. I tend to exist in a near-constant state of assessment: Am I doing enough? Is my life making a difference? How could my gifts be of better use? Am I making the most of my time? What will my next letter to you be about? Is it time to write another book? Is this a good example for my kids? When I am not assessing, I am prodding and urging myself on, proclaiming and declaring my intentions and willing them into existence. There are lots of “I must…” and “I will…” statements in my journals. “I must be more efficient.” “I will have this letter ready by Sunday morning.” “I will get this book published by November.” My mind, left to its own devices, is a hard charger (sometimes a tyrant).

By now you are probably seeing the source of this year’s tension. In making feelings of Peace, ease, and soul connection my hope and my focus from the outset, I was basically disregarding all of my history and my habits.

As I mentioned, my New Year’s intention basically said that I wanted to shirk my ambition and shun the hard deadlines and goals in favor of walks in the sunshine, refreshing swims, music appreciation sessions, and lakeside meditations. I wanted to take my kids on more and longer adventures, into the forests and mountains that make me feel at home and whole. More than wanting that, I wanted to feel free to chase those things with abandon and bask in them without guilt. I wanted to be let off the hook that I seem to have been born upon.

That last part is probably the crux of the matter: to seek out avenues for Peace and Contentment without the strings of Guilt attached, without feeling like it was a decadent waste of time and that I had certainly shortchanged my dreams and my legacy in the process.

Because that’s the thing: I always have these dreams and goals, these aspirations and ambitions driving me. They don’t just stop. I want to do big things, make a difference in the world, be the best father ever, and leave a lasting impression with my writing. In order to fulfill those dreams, I have to produce. I have to be at the computer typing words and then getting them into the world by the self-appointed deadlines. That thought nags at me constantly, alternately inspiring me as I work and tormenting me when I take a break. I seem to be able to hide from it only rarely and in short spurts, and only then if I am doing other things that I deem to be enriching.

Given this almost crippling propensity to STRIVE, is this new resolution to consistently seek out Peace, present Joy, and soul connection even possible? Just laying it out in plain terms like this makes it seem quite illogical, but I feel the question keep scratching at my soul, gnawing at my heart, demanding a deeper hearing. It seems to want me to find a way, to make it make sense. It will scratch and gnaw until it gets what it wants. From 46 years of experience, I recognize that as my intuition talking, and I better engage.

So, could I make it my ambition to act as though I am without ambition? Or, perhaps all along the question needed to be about whether I could convince (con?) myself into believing the pursuit of Calm and Contentment is a worthwhile endeavor, perhaps even a meritorious use of my precious time. More pointedly, could I believe that, simply by living in Peace and Happiness, I could make a positive enough impact on the world to justify my actions (and my inaction toward more “normal,” measurable goals)? Could just BEING Peace emanate enough goodness from me to affect the lives of the people in my sphere of influence? Given my natural inclination to strive, answering affirmatively to that would seem quite a stretch.

I get a bit (sometimes a lot) jealous of people I see on social media who have decided that they are done with needing to run a marathon or work toward a promotion or improve their diet and exercise as part of a weight-loss goal in order to feel alive and happy. They have determined that those ambitions and challenges have come to feel more like weights to carry rather than inspirations, and that life is better without them. They are done striving. They are instead choosing to seek satisfaction in simple, “irresponsible” pleasures: good company, binge-watching their favorite TV shows, a glass of wine or delicious dessert, a walk with their dog. Things that make them feel good.

On first blush, that sounds absolutely wonderful to me. Freedom! A complete unburdening. A release of all that feels like a responsibility to produce, improve, and excel. It has all the allure of the Sirens’ song.

But like the sailors who were drawn to the Sirens’ island by the enchanting songs only to crash upon the rocks, I can tell by the poisonous feeling in my gut as I write about my pleasure-seeking Facebook friends that their lifestyle–specifically, the lack of “something bigger” to strive for–would almost certainly shipwreck my life. I just couldn’t go for long without my soul–my purpose–shouting that it needs work. It would need to grow and contribute and be challenged. It would need to feel like its gifts were being used for their intended purposes. It would need to feel not just massaged by the feel-good stuff I hope to add this year but also stretched and tested by new and difficult pursuits.

As I come to this realization about myself, I feel no criticism arise for those who are able to pull off the contented, unambitious life. I can see real value in “just being happy” and the benefits that that kind of energy puts out into the Universe. And I can tell that we don’t all have the same level of natural urge to create or learn or engage our environment. Not everyone is wired like me (probably a very good thing!). I am happy for people who find Happiness in any way that isn’t harmful to others. I just know that for me, I can’t pull off the unambitious way on anything but a very sporadic basis. To force it upon myself for any great length of time would, despite the enjoyment I would take from catching up on movies and music and such, feel a little too much like I was abandoning my soul’s call, letting go of the rope. In an effort to “just be happy,” I would inevitably become very frustrated and unhappy.

Maybe, in the end, the goal will be just to do the unambitious thing for longer periods, to make the ebbs larger between the waves of striving and “difference-making.” Maybe I will settle for being theoretically in favor of “just chill and be content” and cheer on the people who can pull it off, knowing full well that it works better for them than it does for me. Maybe I can somehow get my brain to re-define the terms in a way that I can ambitiously pursue less Ambition and more Contentment. Maybe I will learn to accept that for me, perhaps “engaged” and “content” are actually the same thing. Maybe one day I will even learn that I don’t always have to push the river, that it flows alright on its own. Maybe….

How about you? What is the right combination of striving vs. contentment for your personal happiness? Open up your journal and examine the ebbs and flows of your ambition. Right now, on the spectrum that runs from, on the one end, hard charging at goals, to the other end of just trying to chill and enjoy life, where are you? How long have you been in this mode? Has that been pretty consistent throughout your life, or have you gone through extreme periods on both ends of the spectrum? When your level of engagement wanes, what do you think causes it? How does your soul feel in those periods of calm and contentment? Do you get restless? How long do those periods last? How about in the periods when you are more ambitious and goal-oriented? How often are you fully engaged in that way? What causes those periods? Do you tend to return to the same types of goals over and over (you’re your health or career), or does your ambition bounce around? How often do your goals and dreams feel like yokes around your neck, the responsibility to fulfill them weighing you down and keeping you from ever being fully happy? Do you think you could ever decide to completely ditch your dreams and ambitions and “just be happy?” Does that even make sense? Is pursuing our soul’s calling–our deepest, truest ambition–the only thing that can lead us to real Happiness anyway? Can we be truly happy by disengaging completely from growth and improvement, or are those who are trying to merely fooling themselves? How much psychological tension does this question cause you along your ever-changing journey through Life? Back to our spectrum: where do the people with whom you most like to spend time fall on the scale? Where do you think your parents and siblings fall? Your significant other? How about your heroes? Who are you most like? Does that feel good to you? What would be your ideal balance? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is Happiness something you pursue with goals and effort, or is it something you ease into by letting go of ambitions?

Embrace your way,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s all find Happiness together!

P.P.S. If this way of challenging your thinking and investigating your soul feels important to you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Hello friend,

The year 2017, as told through the screens on my phone, tablet, computer, and television, was just about the most absurd, infuriating, and demoralizing year imaginable. I had the feeling so often this year that, if we were being studied from afar by alien scientists, they would report that we are clearly devolving as a species, degenerating into a lower state of intellectual and moral being. I suppose there are plenty of “Year in Review” types of shows airing this week, but I don’t even dare to watch. I don’t much care to relive anything that people were talking about this year. It was pretty darn awful out there. I fear that if I admit to just how awful or try to delve into it, I will make for a most depressing companion at the New Year’s festivities. No, I think I will pass on assessing the great big world this year.

But how about my personal year in my little corner of the world?

That doesn’t seem nearly as depressing or daunting a task. After all, as I sit here in these final moments of the year, I still have a smile on my face and a mind eager enough to learn and grow from the lessons this year has provided. It helps, I know, that I process it every day in my journal, so I have some sense of how my report card will come out–I guess I can sense it was not all rainbows and butterflies, but I know it was one I would not trade, either–but I am open to being surprised by my assessment of the various aspects of my existence and how they were shaped by the events of 2017.

Hindsight has a way of casting a new light on things, dusting off some of the emotions and baggage of the moment and revealing its true essence and its value in the grand scheme of our lives. I think I am due for some of that clarity after what has been a most unusual year in the History of Me.

So, how did I do?

Well, maybe it is healthy to admit to a failure right from the start. I know I deserve an “F” in the Finances/Career departments. I was horrible at that from start to finish, truly. Starting the year out having just lost my job last Christmas was certainly a harbinger of things to come. I struggled to find my way all year into something that both paid the bills and met my family’s other needs. Though I have tried to maintain my general positivity and my big picture perspective through it all, I admit to falling into moments of shame, frustration, and disillusionment regarding my aspirations and failings on this front as the year passed. I have chastised myself for both my failings as a breadwinner and my weakness in allowing those failings too much control over my emotions. So, definitely an “F” here.

Another thing I did not do very well with is my Friendships. It is true that as an unsocial and introverted cat, this has never been my strong suit. So, it isn’t as though I had a very high standard from which to judge myself. However, I found myself thinking more and more as the year went on that this is an area I want to do better with: both in making new friends and in staying well-connected with my old friends. Truth: I didn’t do very well with either. I am most disappointed in myself for doing a poor job of keeping up with my best friends, letting too long pass between visits and calls. Maybe a “D” here. Not good.

Okay, this report card is not looking so good at this point! I must have done something well….

How about Family? Yes, the family stuff was quite good this year on the whole. Though I again did poorly with calling my siblings and parents, I made a bigger effort to travel to spend time with them. That was immensely rewarding, both for me and for the children. Speaking of the children, the one thing I think I do consistently well is fatherhood. That was the case this year; we have had a great time, and my relationship with each kid is strong and loving. I wish I could say I did as well as a spouse, but I consistently fail to live up to my expectations there. Still, I have had fun with my wife and have tried to be supportive while enjoying watching her grow and blossom in her new endeavors. All in all, a good score here (let’s say “B+”).

As for my Health, I am grateful to say that I would give that a “B”. There are reminders everywhere of how dramatically one’s quality of life diminishes when health problems arise, so I feel quite blessed that my issues this year have been small. I have had little nagging injuries that have kept me from some activities, but no injury has shut me down entirely. As a guy who needs to be active to remain sane, I will take that as a blessing.

Looking back, I realize that I did not do quite as well as usual with my Spirituality, which also dictates my Psychology. I seemed to be less mindful during the day, less aware of the beauty and wonder of the Divine all around me. With that, I was somewhat less grateful than normal, having fewer of those bowled-over-and-humbled-by-the-absolute-magnificence-of-the-Universe moments than I am accustomed to. I have long believed that Gratitude is the mother of Happiness, so maybe I was a bit less happy this year than my usual state of Bliss. I can make lots of excuses for this distraction from my spiritual home base–joblessness, financial strain, self-induced pressure to finish my book, etc.–but the fact is that it is under my control, and I did not live up to my high standards this year. I would say “B-“.

As someone who spent all of his school years as a “Straight-A” kind of guy, these grades for 2017 are not looking very good to me. There is a ton of room for improvement! And though I am definitely disappointed in myself on multiple fronts, there is something that sneaked into the picture late in the year that softens the blow and even puts a smile on my face.

Is there a spot on the report card for “Fulfilled a Lifelong Dream”? If so, I want to give myself an “A” there. While I had worked on it for years, it was only in this year when I truly devoted my focus to not just working on the book but finishing it. It had been my biggest goal when 2017 started, and I felt the weight of that as Autumn came. The clock ticked loudly every day, and fears and doubts screamed at equal volume. But I reminded myself that, coming into the year, the way I said I wanted to feel all year was BRAVE. On I went. Then, finally, it was done.

Of course, there was relief for being finally finished, and there was excitement about seeing my creation out in the world. But the best part was the feeling it gave me way down deep inside, in a place that I would venture to call my soul. I guess I would describe it as feeling “solid” there, like a deep confidence at having done something substantial toward my life purpose. My foundation was cemented. That is quite a feeling. I hope that you will feel it one day if you have not yet. It will change your world.

I know that this effort and its incalculable reward came at the cost of some of those low grades in the other categories. And though I certainly wish they weren’t so low–I like to have my cake and eat it, too–I have to admit that, in the end, doing the work of my soul and cementing a foundation piece of my purpose made all the sacrifices worth it.

2017 was obviously not the year in which I sparkled across the board. It was, however, the year that I built a lighthouse, one that will keep on shining, providing me with a guide during the many storms that the coming years are sure to bring. I am at peace with the sacrifice and grateful for the light. Bring on 2018!

How about you? How would you grade your 2017? Open up your journal and ponder all of the various aspects of your life over the last year. Even before you dissect each one, how do you feel, generally speaking, as you sit here at the end of your year? Satisfied? Relieved? Stressed? Elated? Indifferent? If you had to describe your year in a word, what would it be? Okay, now look at the different areas of your life and build your report card. You can just go category by category, or you can start with all the good or all the bad. How was 2017 for your job and career path? Closely related to that, how was it for your finances? Better or worse than your expectations? Why? Did it have more to do with things under your control or out of your control? Did you remember that you are in charge of your attitude no matter what the circumstances were? How well did you choose that attitude? Okay, how about your friendships? Were you as good a friend as you want to be? Where can you do better? How about family? How happy were you with your relatives this year? Did you strike the right balance of time with them: enough to deepen your bonds, not so much to drive yourself crazy? How was your health and fitness this year? Did your body hold you back from doing things that you wanted to do? What grade would you give your spiritual life this year? How about your psychological state? Were you grateful? Did you feel connected? How much awe did you experience? Okay, big picture: how does your report card look? Do your scores in those main categories make it seem like a good year, or not so much? Now consider this: was there something else–some bigger event or accomplishment–that overshadowed the main categories and colored your view of the year, either for the good or the bad? Perhaps it was a major personal achievement that brightens the rest–like me with my book–or perhaps it is something like the death of a loved one, which darkens the rest. Now that you have considered the categories and graded your year in each, what grade would you give the year as a whole? Was it twelve months that you would gladly relive, or are you eager to move on? Leave me a reply and let me know: How does your report card for 2017 look?

Make each moment count,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s make LIFE together!

P.P.S. You can find my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten and many of your other favorite booksellers, including barnesandnoble.com and iBooks.

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

What A Difference 10 Years Makes! Revisiting Life A Decade Ago

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” –Robert Frost

I have been fighting off a lot of yucky feelings and negative self-talk this week. You know those feelings. They are always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce when your defenses go down. I usually have mine up. My defenses are 1) my attitude of gratitude, 2) my optimistic view of the future, and 3) my big dreams. When these things are intact, all is well in my world. I am sunshine and happiness. That is my normal mode.

This week, though, I have been dealt a few blows that have threatened my usual sunny outlook. Things just haven’t been going my way. My car needed a major repair. Then the furnace went down and needed to be replaced. The taxes brought their annual drama. Amidst all of this extra financial pressure, I have been beating my head against a wall trying to get my dreams going and figuring out the next source of income for my family. The weight on my shoulders feels like it has suddenly multiplied.

These simultaneous setbacks and struggles have created a storm inside my head. I have been all sorts of things I don’t want to be. Worried. Confused. Self-pitying. Stressed. Unsure. Pessimistic. Fearful. Doubtful. Disappointed. Defeated.

Yes, it seems I allowed my circumstances to ignite a pity party in my mind, and then I realized that the party had gotten a bit loud and out of control.   I needed an intervention.

One of the strategies that the self-help gurus often suggest for people facing some kind of drama or dilemma is to ask yourself, “Will this even matter in X number of years?” (you fill in the X: five years, ten years, twenty). Supposedly, that helps to put the problem in perspective, perhaps revealing that it is really no big deal at all.

So, I wondered: Would this little moment I am having now—this crisis of dreams, career, and finances—even matter ten years from now? Will I remember it? Or will it be just a minor blip on the radar?

Maybe Life is just a constant flow of these moments, some just less stormy than others, but all of them basically just blips, not so much blow-ups. Or maybe not.

I decided that I needed some perspective. Luckily for me, I have a few big storage tubs full of perspective in my storage closet. My journals. They are all there: keys to the past just waiting to be turned. I searched through the stacks to find the one that contained my daily entries from ten years ago at this time—Volume 36—to see what I was up to, how stressful and dramatic it was, and if it all even mattered in the end.

What did I find? Stress. Drama. Exhaustion. Happiness.

Ten years ago this week, I was in the middle of making a big decision about which of two job offers to accept at the company where I worked. I was also studying and taking some important exams for my career. There was also a lot of political drama going on at work that I was forced into the middle of. And in the background of all of that was a very real struggle to become a parent (which all by itself would have been stressful and dramatic enough). In between lots of visits to doctors’ offices in our quest to become pregnant, my wife and I were also interviewing to adopt a child.

Some excerpts from those days in late April of 2007:

Is my body supposed to be this sore so early in the week? My goodness!……I am wiped!….It is coming down to it on the job thing……There is so much to do every day. No wonder lifetimes just zip by and roll together. I will blink and be 50. It is crazy. I am happy, though, always happy. It is good to be me. La vita é bella.

 After all of this rollercoaster nonsense, I am actually pretty excited about it. I hope that it goes well and that I can report some good news in my next entry. I am optimistic. Come what may, I will be happy.

I accepted the job tonight. ….So, on we go. I hope it is tons of fun. I am excited about it. New challenges. It will be that. This week has tapped me. …It is a mad, mad world. The beat goes on. I am so very blessed. Life is beautiful.

Who ever thought there would be so much to do in this world? I really do not like being crazy busy, but it has certainly been that way in the last several years. …The extremes are there. I would love to get some balance. Some day. I am alright. I am Love. I am Joy. I am Peace. Life is beautiful.  

I am no fan of these political battles… I am optimistic. ….I am excited for the challenge. They never seem to be in short supply. …Let’s cross our fingers. Good things will come.

It is a busy time in the world. … What an adventure lies before me!. ….I am always optimistic. Good things are coming our way. Blessings abound. Life is beautiful. 

Whew! I really was running around like a crazy man in those days! Working long hours, and every day of the week. Stressing hard about my job. Basically, I was a workaholic. Thank goodness for a supportive and understanding wife! The only other saving grace was my attitude and worldview. Despite my circumstances—which I would not recommend to anyone—I remained so grateful and optimistic. So happy. I am pretty impressed by that (if I do say so myself!).

What can I learn from those days that will help me now? Is there really a gift of perspective?

On the one hand, I made it through that drama, which should give me hope that I will make it through my current crisis. On the other hand, that moment was not nothing. Those decisions and actions were important and had long-lasting effects.

Of course I survived, and I would have survived whatever came. But things could have gone in different directions had I acted differently, and especially if my attitude had been different. I could have let the pressure and the exhaustion get to me. I could have been less diplomatic at work and ruined my opportunities. I could have let the pregnancy/adoption stress drive a wedge between me and my wife. I could have given up on lots of things when it got so hard. I could have failed to enjoy it and be grateful for it all. I definitely could have made it worse.

So, is this current dramatic moment something? Or is it nothing? It certainly feels like something to me. It feels like there is a lot riding on the coming days. It feels like much could change in my story and the story of my family depending upon the way this all shakes out.

Does that give me any specific direction on my next action? No, not really. But what it does give me is a reminder of the importance of my attitude and outlook. I need to take a lesson from that guy I was ten years ago. No matter how uncertain or contentious things get, I need to be grateful for the wonderful blessings all around me. And I need to be optimistic and excited about what the future holds. I know that will help to guide my decisions to the outcomes that are best for me.

Ten years from now, I hope to look back at this moment with complete gratitude and wonder at what a magnificent life was brewing in the middle of this divine storm. I hope I will be proud of the way I rose to the challenge and acted with courage, kindness, and integrity. The lesson, after all, will be decades in the making.

How about you? What did your life look like ten years ago? Open up your journal and your memory. What was going on with you a decade ago? How old were you? Who were the most important people in your life? What kind of work were you doing? Were you heavily involved and connected with your job? Too much so? Where were you in relation to your dreams? How would you describe the state of your spirituality? How tired were you? What were the biggest issues you were facing? Did it feel like a lot of drama or crisis at that time, or were things flowing smoothly? How happy were you? Describe your attitude at that time. Were you grateful? How optimistic were you? Looking from today’s eyes, what can you learn from you and your life of a decade ago? What were the things you did then that have carried over and shaped your life today, for better or worse? Now answer all of the questions above as they relate to your life today. Do you prefer today’s version of you and your world, or would you take yourself back a decade if you could? Which parts would you do just the same again from that time? What would you change then to shape a better today? What is your biggest regret from that time? What was the best thing you did for yourself ten years ago? What can you do for yourself now that you will thank yourself for in ten more years? Leave me a reply and let me know: What can you learn from a look back at yourself in 2007?

Enjoy the ride,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please pass it on. We are here to teach each other.

Baby Steps Toward A Better Life

DSC_0941“But trust me on the sunscreen.” –Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, commencement address

Hello friend,

My wife had a rough second half of last year. A college administrator, she finished the school year by winning a major award for her distinguished and very valuable work. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a new position at her school, hoping it would make a positive impact on the campus community while also removing some stress and granting her a more “normal” schedule for time with me and the kids. Well, she got one out of three!

While she was clearly making a positive impact at her work, the benefits stopped there. She was completely stressed out, going 90 miles per hour all day and burning the candle at both ends. It was eating her up. Even when she was home, her mind was not. Her body was showing the signs, too: headaches, big knots in her shoulders, poor sleep, missed meals. She was winning great battles in her new job, but the job was clearly winning the war on her way of life and her happiness. Burnout seemed inevitable. Something had to give.

Never one to give up on a new commitment, the job wasn’t going away any time soon. During the semester break, though, she did some soul-searching and realized that, even if her basic circumstances weren’t going to change much, she needed to do a better job of caring for herself and bringing a better mental approach to her world every day.

As often happens, the Universe honored her new resolve by dropping a gift in her path. She discovered something called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, whose basic concept is that, even amidst your crazy-busy life, you can manage to carve out a handful of minutes just for yourself at the very start of the day, and those precious minutes can get your mind in the right space to create the best possible day. The idea is to spend a minimum of one minute on each of six tasks in this order:

  • Silence (or Meditation)
  • Affirmations (Reminding yourself what is good about you and important to you)
  • Visualization (Imagining how you want your day to look and how you want to feel)
  • Writing (A Gratitude Journal)
  • Reading (Preferably something inspirational)
  • Exercise (e.g. jumping jacks or push-ups)

After months of rebuffing my suggestions that she take some time to go to the gym a few times per week to relieve some stress—making the time seemed impossible to her—I was thrilled to see her latch onto “The Miracle Morning.” “Even I can take 10 minutes for myself,” she said. And she has, for more than a month now. Every morning while I am at the gym and the kids are still sleeping, she takes her ten minutes (adding a few extra in the Reading and Exercise categories).

What a difference it has made! Though her outer circumstances are much the same as they were last semester, this tiny change has made her a different woman. At the breakfast table, the dark cloud that I could almost see over her head before is gone. She is more clear-headed and optimistic about the day. She is more present. She is more aware of the need for self-care during stressful times. The best part: she smiles more.

My wonder at this fabulous turnabout has really caused me to look at my own little world in a new way. After all, I am the guy who is always prodding you to examine your biggest dreams and the deepest calling of your soul. I keep saying, “Follow your Bliss! Show us your Light! Make your life extraordinary!” I ask you to move your biggest rocks. Shake up your world if it is not authentically you. Change jobs. Change relationships if you must. Rock your world if it will bring happiness!

I think what I usually fail to see is that most people are more content than I am. Even though I am wonderfully happy, I am also deeply dissatisfied with a big part of the life I have created. I want to do more with my passions, achieve career success in my dream fields, and more. There are big rocks I must move in order to be content. Because of that, I often assume that everyone else is the same way. I am probably wrong about that.

More likely, I think now, is that most people are more like my wife. Not so dissatisfied with themselves and antsy to make huge changes in their lives to feel fulfilled. More open to subtle changes to give a little boost to their happiness, minor adjustments to their schedule to make their lives a bit easier and their burden lighter. I am guessing that most people aren’t interested in climbing their Mt. Everest today, but maybe they would climb the little sledding hill next door to their house if they thought the ride was going to make them a little bit happier and healthier. Hmmm…..

With this new realization dancing in my head and my wife’s “Miracle Morning” as my example, I am in the process of brainstorming some tiny ways that might help me and you feel a little happier today and every day. Knowing that you probably feel as busy as I do, I want things that will take little or no time out of my day and don’t require a lot of props or travel. We are talking baby steps here, friend. They should be easy, right? Well, here goes…..

  • Hug a loved one.
  • Say “Please” and “Thank You” more.
  • A “Gratitude Jar” to fill with scraps of paper—one or two a day—holding the things you are most thankful for that day (then, when you need a reminder, open up the jar and have a look).
  • Pray.
  • A five-minute (or two-minute or ten-minute) tidy-up at the end of the day so you don’t have to wake up to a mess each morning.
  • A “Song of the Day” that you give yourself permission to take in uninterrupted (or better yet, dance to!).
  • Find a reason to compliment one new person each day.
  • Find a new reason to compliment yourself each day (and mean it!).
  • Keep a picture of your “Why” (your kids, vacation destination, dream job, etc.) on your phone or at your desk or wherever you will see it daily, a reminder to keep plugging away.
  • Take a walk around the block, either alone or with a loved one, depending upon whether it is more important to re-connect with yourself or that person on that particular day.
  • Some simple exercises (e.g. squats, counter push-ups) in the kitchen while you cook.
  • Give a real greeting and farewell every day to your partner rather than just shouting “Bye!” and slipping out the door.
  • Sign up to a daily email or app that sends you an inspirational or thought-provoking message or quote each morning.
  • Use regular events of your day (e.g. stoplights, other people’s phone’s ringing, waiting in line) as “bells of mindfulness,” reminders to stop your busy mind and center yourself in the moment.
  • Write in a journal (of course!).
  • Say “I love you.”
  • Strike up a conversation with an acquaintance who intrigues you.
  • Admit to someone that you could use some help (whether that help is a hug, a loan, some advice, etc.).
  • If you are a Facebook or Pinterest person, find one positive post to share each time you are on (if you can’t find anything positive, change who you follow and what you subscribe to).
  • Drink an extra glass of water.
  • Smile!

Wow, this is fun! I didn’t realize that it would be. The options are endless, and they can all be the first step in the right direction. This is so good for me! Onward!!!

How about you? What simple, quick steps can you take in the direction of a better, happier you? Open up your journal and start your list. What is the simplest step of all for you, the one little thing that you know will make you feel even just a little bit better? Why isn’t that a habit already? As you build your list, is there one area of your life that seems to be the most fertile ground for easy improvement (e.g. relationships, health, self-awareness, gratitude)? Which simple practice is something that you know is important but always seem to fall out of the habit of, only realizing it later? When your list gets really long, does it start to feel overwhelming, even though the tasks are so short and simple? If you had to pick just two little things from your list that most appeal to you right now, what would they be? How much time and energy would they cost you? What would you stand to gain from making them habits? Are you willing to try? I would love your feedback on this one, as I could certainly use your help in building my list. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which baby steps make your life a little sweeter? 

Love the wonder that is YOU,

William

P.S. If the list has you thinking, pass it on. Let’s grow together! Many leaves, one tree.

Life On My Terms: Learning to Say NO & Loving It

IMG_1667“Time does not stand still. Make it your aim to create time for your dreams, your loved ones and your Creator. Design your life for what warms your heart and get good at saying no to everything else.” –Mastin Kipp

Hello friend,

I remember the days when I wasn’t so clear about what I wanted to do with my life. Things seemed to be going along pretty well. I enjoyed my relationship with my wife. Kids hadn’t entered the picture yet. I worked way too much, but there was free time on the weekends. If something interesting—or not—was on the television, I would plop down on the sofa and watch. Sometimes for hours, if I was tired or nothing was pressing on my mind. If I was invited to a party or event, I usually went, even though I am, by nature, extremely unsocial. If a suggestion to do something or go somewhere came up, my typical attitude was, “Sure. What else do I have to do?” I was easy; I rolled with it. I was happy. Happy, but not particularly driven. Not particularly clear.

My, how times have changed!

A portrait of my life right now looks a little different. Okay, a LOT different! The wife is still here; that’s a good thing. The kids are definitely here! Also good. I am not working way too much—at least not in the way I used to think of working—which is fabulous. Somehow, though, I have forgotten what plopping down on the sofa feels like. And television? The only thing I know about that anymore is that it shows cartoons. The invitations that come these days are for kids’ birthday parties.

Needless to say, on the outside, my world today looks like an alien planet compared to those bygone casual days! The strange thing is, these changes are just a drop in the bucket compared to what is happening on the inside.

The one constant, fortunately, is that I am still very happy. I am glad that even before all of these changes occurred, I had reached the point with my mind where my happiness is not dependent on circumstances. Things and people come and go, but my happiness remains. That’s a comforting realization.

But, as I said, that is the one constant, the one holdover from those days when I had no plans and my ambition was stuck in neutral. When I step out of my mind right now and think about how it works today compared to then, the differences are shocking. Today, I am being driven hard by my dreams and aspirations every day of the year. There is a reason that the sofa no longer remembers my body and I no longer know the names of any grown-up television shows or movie stars.

You might think it is the kids that did this to me. It isn’t. It is my purpose that did it. My passions. I finally woke up to them, and they have been driving me ever since. There is not a day that goes by that, when my head hits the pillow at night, I don’t wish that I had done more soul-stirring activities or had more time for advancing my mission. Never. Then I wake up the next morning with the itch to be more, to do better, to get closer to the fulfillment of my dreams.

I beg the Universe for more time. Time to write. Time to learn. Time to coach. Time to snuggle with my kids. Time to connect with positive people. Time to connect with The Divine. Time to be of service. These are the causes I want to advance, the ones I am trying to fill every free moment of every day with.

That is why the complementary themes that are driving a deep course through my mind as this new year gets into full swing are Efficiency and Clarity. I am trying to be absolutely crystal-clear every single day about the things that matter most to me so that I can put all of my time and energy into those people and causes. That is what I am about right now. It doesn’t allow for lapses of focus or for days spent in front of the television. It certainly doesn’t understand the possibility of me giving the “Sure. What else do I have to do?” response. I ALWAYS have something to do. Usually more things than I can handle. But always something. It has been a long time since I felt bored, and honestly, I am absolutely certain I will never feel bored another moment in my life. How could I? After all, every moment is an opportunity to better myself and the world around me, another chance to DO SOMETHING to fulfill my dreams and passions. How could I pass on that chance?

That is why my entrance into this year comes with a more serious conviction to spend my time wisely, to not waste any of it. And I mean any! Basically, I want to live entirely on my own terms. I want to cut out all things that don’t speak to me or feel “good for my soul.” I just want to trim off all of the excess—all of the distractions and the energy-drainers and time-consumers—and dial into my essentials. I want to do things that lift my spirit and speak to my soul. I want to spend time with people who I love and who inspire me. I want to feel connected: to myself, my maker, and my loves.

Anyone and anything that threatens to disconnect me from those essentials needs to go. Now! Of course, the more I become laser-focused and excited about this mission and visualize me living the dream, the more I realize how much and how often I am going to have to say, “NO!” to make it happen. I will have to be pretty tyrannical about it. Ruthless. That party I didn’t want to go to? “No, thanks!” Getting drawn into conversation with someone who spreads negativity or just talks about other people? “Pass.” TV? “NO!” I will have to get comfortable declining both invitations and my own inclinations, things I have always done but that simply don’t serve me or speak to my heart. That part will be difficult, no doubt. However, I think that with my priorities much more clear to me now, saying “No” should come easier. After all, if the things I am saying “Yes” to—i.e. only my top passions and pursuits—are enough to fill up my calendar (and they are), then it should be easier to say “No” to the rest. And that is what I will do. Eyes on the prize!

How about you? Is your life matching what you believe your priorities to be? Open up your journal and think about how you spend your time and energy. What activities fill up your typical day? Include both your “work time” and your “free time.” How much of that time do you feel is focused and efficient? How many of your activities and hours are tied to your goals, dreams, or things you deem “good for the soul”? How much of your time is casual, unambitious, not driven toward anything specific? How much of your time is spent doing things you would rather not be doing? How much is spent doing things you regret later? Okay, now reset your mind. Write about all the ways you would spend your time if your passions, your purpose, and nurturing your soul were your only priorities. What makes your heart sing? With that goal foremost in your mind, write out your ideal schedule (Remember, it’s ideal. Get greedy. Think BIG!). How would your week look? How many hours would each of these fulfilling activities get? (Side note: How exciting is it to visualize a life like this?!?) Okay, with this new, ideal life clearly in your mind, write down all of the things you would have to say “NO” to in order to maintain that life. This could include career opportunities that don’t speak to you, invitations to social events that you used to accept but that never enriched you, conversations about other people that you used to engage in but made you feel smaller, mindless hours in front of the television, or people that dragged you down. How long is your list? What percentage of your current life would you get rid of in order to make room for your more fulfilling, ideal life? Is there anything you are ready to start saying “NO” to today? If not today, what are you waiting for? Leave me a reply and let me know, When are you going to start living life on YOUR terms? 

Maximize every moment,

William

P.S. If this letter got you thinking, please share it. Our souls could all use a little stirring!

Sleepwalking Through Life, or Sucking the Marrow Out of It: What Will You Regret?

DSC_0148“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

Hello friend,

Isn’t it amazing how differently we see the other ages of our life when we get some years away from them? I think it is safe to say that we all look back at our high school years—the continuous flow of earth-shaking drama weaving its way through every day and every interaction—and think of how silly and insignificant it all was in the grand scheme of things. Most of us—myself definitely included—look at our old girlfriends and boyfriends and laugh at how wrong we were for each other, even though it seemed so right at the time. The years of separation provide fascinating insights (and hopefully some good laughs to go with the invaluable lessons).

I find myself now at a unique junction in the story of my life. The different chapters from past and future are converging in my mind. It is a perfect storm. For one, in The Journal Project, I am studying my daily journals from 1997, which was a truly revolutionary and magical time in my mind and, thus, my life. My foundation of deep and lasting happiness was being built in those days, and reading back through them is again making a deep impact on my current perspective.   The bar was set high.

The second thing brewing is that I am at a crossroads with the different jobs that make up the “career” portion of my little world. Even though it has been a year since I left my original career as a tennis coach, the job I transitioned to has been something of a holding pattern, meant not to fulfill my biggest career aspirations but instead to fulfill my parenting aspiration to give my kids the most of my time and energy. It has worked wonderfully for that, and I am so glad I made the move when I did. However, it is coming to the end of its run, forcing me to take a long look at what I have done and what I could do in the future. I am in one of those moments that will shape the long course of my existence. I want to do it right. I don’t want any regrets.

Needless to say, I have a lot swirling around in my mind these days. I think back to a time almost fourteen years ago when I had to make—and make quickly—a career move. I had just quit graduate school–deciding that it wasn’t the life for me–and needed to figure out what was next. I needed not just a job but something that might be a career. In brainstorming the options, I allowed myself a momentary fantasy of working as a writer, sharing my message with the world and making the kind of difference I hoped I was capable of. Fear and uncertainty squashed that fantasy in a hurry. I knew nothing about how to get into it, and I didn’t believe enough in my talent to bet my future on it. Instead, I turned to my first love and something I had always enjoyed (even though I had never considered it as a possible career): teaching tennis.

I loved it. I had always felt completely in my element when teaching others, and getting to be involved in the best part of someone’s day while sharing my love of the game was immensely gratifying. It was work I could see myself doing for a long time. And I did.

About eleven years down the road, though, my mind began to change. My love for tennis and teaching didn’t diminish, and I was still deeply happy in my life (which, by then, included a wife and two kids). But something that had been dormant was awakening inside me. A giant was stirring. Questions began arising: What is your Bliss? Are you giving your Gift? Are you doing the work you feel called to do? What would you do if money was not an issue? What would you do if you weren’t scared? What is your soul telling you? Soon these questions were all that I could hear? The sleeping giant had awoken. I had to face him.

I started by admitting that even though I enjoyed and appreciated my work as a coach, it wasn’t my true calling. It was a shadow career, something that fills many of the requirements of a calling but is not it. I also had to come to grips with the fact that happiness was not enough for me. I figured happiness was an achievement of the mind and that I was blessed with the ability to be happy in any circumstance. I wanted not just happiness; I wanted fulfillment, too.

I vowed then to listen to my heart. If something made my heart sing, I would follow it. I began The Journal Project with no idea where it would lead me. I just knew I loved it and that it resonated deep down in that place where the giant had been sleeping. And as I read through the daily entries from all of the years of my adulthood, I saw all of these signs that told me—sometimes in the plainest English—that writing and sharing my message was my dream job. I wanted to help people to grow and be their best, happiest selves. I was doing a version of that in my coaching career, but not as fully and directly as I envisioned it when the writing aspect was added to it.

The ship has been slow to turn. It turns out that rediscovering my Bliss did not necessarily make it much easier to follow. I still had two little kids and a job to put food on the table. Time was short, and though I worked hard at it, progress was slow. In trying to keep with my plan of changing lives in a bigger way, I started Life Coach training, which was right up my alley. Then I added the skin care business, hoping this would eventually lead me to more time and financial freedom to pursue my writing. All of this was happening while I transitioned out of tennis and into my current job around my kids’ schedule.   Hence, the slow-turning ship.

And now I arrive at this perfect storm of circumstances: lots of reflection about my past combining with my current job nearing its end. There are large decisions to be made, and uncertainty about the future is rampant. My biggest takeaway from all of this journal-reading is that when I had that moment fourteen years ago to make a career move and chose the more certain route—totally bowing to the fear and self-doubt around my writing prospects—I went into what I can now see was a long period of sleepwalking. Happy sleepwalking, but still sleepwalking. Only when I started questioning myself and the giant awoke did I start to listen to my soul and return to my passion. With The Journal Project and Journal of You, I am getting to the juicy, fulfilling stuff. I hear my friend Thoreau clearly: “It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.

So, can I really do it? Could I achieve the magic double of making a real paycheck AND fulfilling my deepest passions simultaneously? If I let go of my other business ventures and gave all of the available time and energy to the writing, I am quite sure of the fulfillment part. The uncertainty is in the paycheck part. Do I dare bet on myself if my family’s financial stability is the cost? If I don’t bet on myself by doggedly pursuing my purpose, can I live with the alternative? And, perhaps equally important, if I cannot afford to go all-in on the dream, can I keep enough of it alive that I don’t spend the next dozen years sleepwalking? I don’t think I could bear the regret if I re-awoke to this same feeling at age 55. I must get to the marrow!

How about you? How awake are you as you pass through your life? Open up your journal and explore your relationship with your Bliss. What is your Bliss? What lights up your heart and makes your soul sing? What role does your Bliss play in your everyday life? Are you doing it all day in your job or just squeezing it into your spare time as a hobby? It is in there somewhere, right? Whatever your current level of engagement with your dreams and your purpose, how can you make it greater? What kinds of things can you do to make sure it is included in your regular schedule? Is it enough for you to follow your Bliss as a hobby—e.g. writing a blog or volunteering with children on the weekends—or do you feel it is essential that you incorporate that calling into your primary pursuit or career? How big of a leap would it take to turn your passion into your profession? Which is bigger: the psychological risk, or the financial risk? Is simply “being happy” enough for you as a goal for life? And finally, how aware of your dreams and your calling are you on a daily basis? As you can tell, this occupies a lot of space in my thoughts—at least it has for the past few years since I woke up—but I don’t know how it is for everyone else. So leave me a reply and let me know: How conscious are you of your passion and purpose, and how well are you living it?

 This life is your big chance,

William

P.S. If this speaks to you, perhaps it would speak to your loved ones. Share freely.

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

How to Change and Still Be Yourself

DSC_0405“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

Hello friend,

I have been at war with myself lately. I seem to be constantly wrestling with these questions: “Should I or shouldn’t I???” “Do I dare?” “Is this overkill?” “Am I just being annoying?” “Are my friends and acquaintances losing more respect for me by the day?” You may be wondering what vitally important topic I could be feeling this much angst and drama about. What could be so troubling to my usually-easygoing mind? Is it Love? Money? Freedom? World Peace? No, it’s bigger. It’s much bigger. It’s FACEBOOK!

I have shared with you before that I have been embarking on some pretty major career changes in the past year. My “regular job” has entirely changed fields. In addition, I have embarked on two new career ventures on my own. You see, one of the things I have come to know about myself—it has become crystal clear in the last couple of years—is that I should not have a boss. I do much better working for myself: setting my own standards and not having to answer to anyone or be let down by anyone. I crave independence.

Of course, as much as I want to do my own thing, I also have no real entrepreneurial spirit. PROBLEM! I am not inclined toward sales at all, as I have no interest in making people uncomfortable or telling them how great I am. It just doesn’t feel like my nature. I am inclined to help people, to make their lives better, to give them more choices and more freedom. I am inclined toward partnering with people to reach their highest potential. That really lights me up. That is who I am.

This calling to help people live their best lives provoked me to start Journal of You and these weekly letters to you. It also led directly to my two new businesses. The first one seems an obvious choice for my skills and calling: Life Coaching. The second one takes a little more explaining. I have become an independent consultant for a premium skin care company. The wrinkle here—pardon the pun—is that it involves direct sales. I have to actually put myself out there and tell people about the products and business opportunity if I am going to achieve that financial freedom that I long for. Argh!

It is just SO difficult for me to do that! I do not like salespeople. Not at all, I mean. When I spoke to my brother last month about this job and told him it involved talking to my friends and family about these products, he said, “Whenever a friend of mine approaches me with anything like that, it just makes my skin crawl.” Me, too. I am super cheap. I hate spending money. Thus, it makes me doubly uncomfortable when someone I care about asks me to spend money, because then obligation and guilt enter the equation. It is difficult to say no, but if I don’t, I may resent the entire experience and the friend later. So, I mostly just avoid people selling anything of any kind. And now, that includes me.

It probably sounds like the easy and obvious answer is to just quit this business and focus on the Life Coaching and the writing. And sure, I might be less stressed if I did that. But there is a problem: I actually believe in it. I do. The products work like nothing I have ever seen before, and the way they improve people’s confidence is so uplifting and right up my alley. If it were only for those things, I would definitely still quit the business without a thought. However, there is something much bigger going on with this company. There is a chance to directly help people make astounding shifts in their future by joining as a consultant (a.k.a. salesperson). I have seen a few family members and friends, within a couple years’ time, change their lives to the point of having total time and financial freedom. I have seen others make smaller changes, like going part-time and getting to stay home with their kids, paying for college funds, going on dream vacations, or retiring their spouse. The examples go on, but the key is that this business, like Life Coaching, taps into my calling to help people live their best lives. I truly believe that it is a gift and a way out and up for so many people.

So, I am stuck. I have world’s biggest aversion to selling, and yet I really want to give the people in my circle this amazing opportunity. And frankly, I want to give myself the opportunity. I want to succeed in the way that I have seen others succeed, because I am desperate for that time and financial freedom for me and my family. The way I will get that freedom is by sharing this business with others. It is the beauty of it. It is also the curse of it in my case. Sharing it with others—educating them–is a huge deal, because people need the tools to make an informed decision that could be the key to their family’s future. It is big stuff.

So, on one hand, I have something that feels like it is completely not in my nature. On the other hand, it is exactly who I am. I am torn. This is my own civil war. And this is where Facebook comes in. I have vowed to myself to only ever post things that are authentic to me, that feel like a representation of who I am. The way my skin care business runs is by connecting to my network, most commonly through Facebook. So, I suppose the crux of my war is, “Can I post about my business—i.e. sell—and still be authentic?” This question causes me much stress. I guess that, for me, it represents a much bigger question: How do you “Be Yourself” while trying to grow and change your life? I think of the quote, “If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.” I know I have to go well beyond my comfort zone in order to achieve the goals and lifestyle I am shooting for. My challenge is stay true to my principles and my purpose while taking my activities past my normal limits.

Up until now, I have been very hesitant about posting about my business. Maybe once per week was all I dared to do for fear of feeling like a phony or having my Facebook friends think I was only on there to sell to them. What I am coming to see now, however, is that I have just been playing small. I haven’t been true to myself, because I actually want people to know about this company. I think it would be a great service to them to get involved in it. It could change their lives. Holding back for fear of their opinions of me was just me being weak and inauthentic. So, I am now beginning the process of convincing myself it is okay to share about the company, as long as that is not all I share. I want to put my other passions out there, too: my kids, Journal of You, and maybe even some Life Coaching ideas as my practice develops. As always, I want my posts to share who I am and also offer something that uplifts the people seeing them, whether that is the smiles of my children or an amazing story of transformation on one of my skin care posts. Happiness and positive change are central to who I am, and I am beginning to realize that it is okay for me to share that in whatever form it takes on a given day. In the end, authenticity must captain the ship.

Amidst all of this doubt and insecurity about posting and sharing transformation stories on Facebook, I received a message last week that put the wind back into my sails. It was from an old high school buddy whom I had not heard from in over twenty years. The essence of the message was this: “I noticed your posts and shared them with my wife. It is time for at least one of us to escape the rat race somehow. Do you have time to talk with her?” It blew me away, truly. One of these posts–that I had so tortured myself over–had gotten through to someone! A few days later, she became one of my business partners and was so excited about her future possibilities. I was absolutely thrilled to have had a small part in what will be a huge event in the story of her life. My purpose was being fulfilled! I could feel that. I was finding my bearings just outside my comfort zone. A new normal was being established. I was alive and well—and completely myself—at my growing edge.

How about you? Where is the end of your comfort zone? Open up your journal and think about the purpose of your life and the fears that keep you from living it. What makes up the real you? What do you believe is your life purpose? What is the best version of yourself? What fears or insecurities keep you from living that purpose and that best life? What gives those fears so much power? How much do you fear looking bad (or fake or dishonest or whatever) in the eyes of others? Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it? Name some examples of times when you have stepped out of your fears and into your purpose. How did it feel? Exhilarating? Liberating? How far out of your comfort zone did you have to go to get there? Was it worth the trip? I think it is true that the people who make it their norm to chase their limits and expand their comfort zone are the most vibrant and successful people. Do you agree? If so, why do you think most of us don’t dare go out on that limb very often? Do you? How true to yourself are you? On a scale of one to ten, how authentic are you? Do you think if you faced your fears and stepped out of your comfort zone more often, that your authenticity number would go up? What is one thing you can do today to take on your fears in the service of living your purpose? I dare you to do it! Leave me a reply and let me know: How can you make a big change and still be yourself?  

Be the one and only YOU,

William