Tag Archives: ideals

Can You Love Your Country But Not Your Countrymen? IT’S COMPLICATED!

“Asgard is not a place; it’s a people.” –from Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok 

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” –Edward Abbey

Hello friend,

Last month we passed the 18th anniversary of 9/11. When I woke up that ordinary day those weeks ago and started thinking about that extraordinarily awful day those years ago, I was transported instantly. I remembered it all so vividly: getting out of the shower to a phone call from my girlfriend, sitting transfixed in front of the little television in my office for hours, the emptiness inside me, the surreal feeling of actually going to a graduate school seminar that night and trying to have a discussion about something other than our completely changed world. The entire day was mind-bending and soul-wrenching. Nothing could ever be the same again.

Still, when last month’s anniversary came around, I struggled to fathom that 18 years had passed since that fateful day. So much water has flowed under the bridge in that time, and my country has revealed so much of its complicated nature.

I get nostalgic each September, first with those awful visions but then much more with thoughts of the beauty that followed. On this September the 11th, my attention was particularly drawn to the memes on social media about the way we, the people of America, came together in its immediate aftermath, with gestures big and small to show that we cared about each other and this country that we share. One example was a poster with imagery reminiscent of an American flag and these words: “I MISS 9/12. I would never ever want another 9/11, but I miss the America of 9/12. Stores ran out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. People were Americans before they were upper or lower class, Jewish or Christian, Republican or Democrat. We hugged people without caring if they ate at Chick-Fil-A or wore Nikes. ON 9/12, WHAT MATTERED MORE WAS WHAT UNITED US, THAN WHAT DIVIDED US.”

It reminded me of a book I read recently, an autobiography called A Dream About Lightning Bugs by the musician Ben Folds, who is several years older than I am but basically of my generation. He had made the difficult choice to keep touring in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, feeling that people needed the music and the release it provided in that devastating time. Of those months, he wrote, “Anyone who was in the United Sates in the wake of 9/11 might recall that, rising from the ashes of the tragedy, something magical was also happening. People suddenly acknowledged one another in the streets, smiled, opened doors, and helped with groceries. Everywhere. I think this is often overlooked. As I toured the country, I saw a sense of community and humanity expressed that I hadn’t seen in my lifetime.”

How sad is it that I miss what only a tragedy could incite?

We are one year away from a major election, so divisiveness is about to get extreme. Well, let’s face it: division and antagonism have been extreme for several years now. But I have no doubt that with the stink-stirrers who are going to be the central players in the coming show, America’s internal hatred is going to reach an all-time high. There will be tons of glorifying “us” and vilifying “them” for reasons real and imagined, despite the fact that we all belong here.

I know in advance–because I know how I feel here most days–that I will really detest the lows that we will have sunk to and the new “normal” we will have established in all this pettiness. “We” are America. As we enter the 2020s, the we I see in our collective mirror isn’t what I used to imagine we were. I say “imagine,” because maybe we were always this shallow and antagonistic. Maybe the modern age of cameras everywhere and social media and other perversions of media (hello, Fox News!) have not so much produced our lesser angels but rather simply revealed who we have always been. It was easier to imagine our country–the people and movements who make up our country and its character–as better, brighter, higher. You know, like the America that showed up on September 12, 2001.

Wrap your mind around this: the children who were conceived in those unified, harmonious months in America post-9/11 will be able to vote in their first election next year.

They wouldn’t even recognize the America that they were conceived into. That is really sad. As they are now beginning to raise their awareness of politics and our country’s position in the world, knowing only what they witness in these times, how lacking they must be in both hope and the confidence in our leaders–and our people–to do what is right and just.

There are just too many examples on all levels of our country doing things that we ought to be ashamed of. Why can’t we get some of this stuff figured out? Decent health care for all of us. Assault rifles that are unavailable to those of us not conducting military campaigns. Not caging children. Treating our politicians like public servants with whom we can agree or disagree on a policy-by-policy, action-by-action basis rather than like celebrities or deities to whom we offer our blind devotion simply because they belong to a designated political party. Acknowledging our role in the escalation of climate change and then taking actual steps to reverse our impact and to help make Earth habitable for our great-grandchildren. Ensuring fair elections. Simple stuff.

And it’s too easy to blame the government or the President or whichever political party is not yours. We–the citizens–are bad at this stuff, too. We create the toxicity. We tolerate the empty promises and shady dealings. We tolerate people getting rolled over by the system. We numb ourselves to the school shootings and the scandals and the record temperatures. We spout our own ignorance or hate or empty “thoughts and prayers.” We deny, deny, deny. We simply aren’t very good to each other.

That realization really, really aches to absorb. We are a hollow country right now.

How long can we last on just the founding ideals when we don’t actually act on them? Can we still be the shining city on the hill if we have dug ourselves a pit–or a “swamp,” as the lingo du jour goes–and dimmed our brightest lights? How do we become admirable, whether or not you think we ever were before? Short of our government suddenly making a bunch of wise, beneficent moves that might draw positive attention from the press and the rest of the world, how do we–the people–get back to that kindness and decency of September 12th? How do we get back to seeing ourselves, collectively, as occupants under the same tent, each responsible for all of our well-being, and believing that the person in front of or behind you in line deserves the very best of you?

I don’t want to have to wish for a “9/11 Version 2.0” just to get a 9/12 America. I feel like that is the weak way out of this and would only lead to a quicker and steeper return to our current shallow meanness. I believe we are better than that and should prove it the hard way: act by act, day by day, person by person. I have faith that we could pull this off. After all, we have done this before. That feeling that many of us remember, that sentiment that inspires the memes, those acts of simple decency that Ben Folds witnessed as he toured the country: all of that is evidence that we are capable of making each other’s lives–and by turn America itself–a better, more just, and more inspiring place to live. We just need to rise.

We need to. Because I am tired. I am tired of despising people who wear red hats, tired of feeling embarrassed by the actions of my representatives, tired of feeling isolated from my neighbors or family members based on which signs they put in their yard during election season, tired of the distance that we have allowed our screens and our busy-ness to create between us, tired of justifying my absence from the public square, tired of being disappointed in others but not doing anything to be a better example to them, tired of missing opportunities to take the first step to bridge these gaps, and, most importantly, tired of the shame I feel at allowing all of this to take place in my precious America. I am tired of being low. It must surely be time for me to rise.

How about you? Are you ready to rise up and be the kind of citizen and country that we can be proud of? Open up your journal and consider the best and worst of your country and what role you play in each. How do you characterize your country at this point in its history? Is it riding a good wave and showing off its best colors, or has it sunk to a place where all of its warts are showing? From your vantage point, are you more likely to notice and dwell upon the shortcomings of your government or of the citizenry? Does one group seem to rise and fall as a result of the other one, or do the people seem to operate independently of their leadership apparatus? Are you proud of your country? When you give your answer to that one, what does it actually mean to you? Do you mean that you are proud (or not) of the actions your government takes toward its people or toward other countries around the world–e.g. providing health care or good education to its citizens, joining a coalition military campaign to fight an evil dictator, providing humanitarian aid to war-torn or famine-stricken countries, etc.–or, rather, that you are proud of the way the people in your country act toward each other and proud of the causes that they stand up for at the polls and with their pocket-books? Do you believe it is important to examine the distinction between the two angles and flesh out your thoughts on each? How different are your answers on your pride for your government and pride for your people? Do we need to also add the layer of being proud of what your country theoretically stands for–things like Liberty, Equality, Justice–versus what it shows that it stands for in practice? How would you rank what you are most proud of in order from least to most: the people of your country, the government and leaders of your country as it currently stands, and the theoretical values that your country stands for? How disparate are these three categories in your country? Is that okay? At what point in your country’s history do you think the three categories were most in step with one another? How do all of these answers form your concept of patriotism and what it means to be a patriot? How patriotic can you be if you don’t have faith in the people of your country? Might it be of some benefit to your country to have a crisis–like a 9/11–to shake it out of the error of its ways? Does it require a tragedy to bring out the best in people and reveal our common humanity? What are some ways that you could be a better citizen? Are any of those things that you could begin to apply today? If everyone took on that challenge, how much better could things get? How do you imagine your country at its very best? What would the government be doing differently, and what would the ordinary people be doing differently? How would all of that affect your lifestyle and your outlook on the future? How can you rise to meet that challenge of creating a better place to live? Do you tend to look at the big stuff–government level–or the stuff that you can do interpersonally to make that difference? If we do the small, will the big begin to take care of itself? Can you start with the person across the street whose sign is different than yours? If not there, then where? Leave me a reply and let me know: Can you love your country but not the people in it, and what good is the first without the second?

Reach out,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with the world. Reach out and rise up!

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

Job Search: Go For Your Dreams or Whatever Works For Now?

“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” –Charles Bukowski

Hello friend,

I distinctly remember a conversation I had a few years ago with my cousin about his job. We were catching up after years apart, and I asked him to tell me about his work. He described it in very neutral terms, not at all glowing about it but not hating it either. It wasn’t anything he had gone to school for or aspired to, and it didn’t light him up inside. It was just a job. A solid one, though, that paid well enough and had benefits and flexibility and all of that good stuff for a guy with a young family. To sum it up he said, “It’s nothing I’m passionate about, but I don’t think anybody really gets to do their dream job.” I nodded and let the conversation drift to other topics, but as it did, I was quietly dejected and indignant at the same time.

I was sad both because I hated to see this guy I like and admire settle for something that he didn’t love, and because I hated to even entertain the idea that he might be right. I was indignant both because I was sure that he had to be wrong and because I was determined to never fall into a mindset that would let me settle for “whatever keeps the bills paid.”

For all of the emotions that short conversation stirred in my heart–and that I stayed quiet about–I have never been able to forget it. If you have read my book or have been reading these letters for a while, you probably know that I am very much about helping people to find their passion and their purpose and then to pursue those things relentlessly for all of the days of their lives. I think it is of the utmost importance that we immerse ourselves in the activities and the people that fill and expand our hearts and minds. That includes our jobs, where we spend such a large portion of our lives.

That is why that conversation got stuck in my heart. I hated that this deep, talented man was settling for less, but I hated even more that he might be right in asserting that hardly anyone is working in jobs that they love and feel called to do. I was determined that I would not only continue to nudge people to uncover and live their purpose but also that my own career path would align more and more closely with my own purpose as the years passed.

As I look at my present situation, I wonder, “How in the world could I have missed the mark this badly???”

I am in the midst of a job search. Actually, I have been in the midst of a search for a long time now. It started off more casually, as my wife still had a nice job with health insurance and such. But after she left all of that security behind in order to start her own business–and since her company hasn’t quite reached Fortune 500 status in its first several months–there is a sense of urgency about the search that increases by the week.

The thing that I have noticed lately, though–and that I am becoming increasingly alarmed about the more I allow it into my consciousness–is that as the urgency is growing, my standards seem to be shrinking proportionally.

When I started my search, I was idealistic and had at least a shred of confidence. I knew that my resumé was not the most attractive for the kind of job I wanted–basically I wanted to do things that were unlike my previous work experience–but I also believed in my abilities and figured I had enough crossover skills and adaptability that I could learn to do almost anything (e.g. a type of computer software) quickly. I could definitely land a job that, even if it wasn’t my dream job, at least let me use some of the skills that I enjoy using and make me feel like my talents are not being wasted. I just needed an interview and I would convince them I was their man!

Fast forward to the present to find me wallowing in the self-doubt that comes from being ignored by just about every company who seems to have an opening for a position that appeals to me. When I send the resumés out and hear nothing back, that silence eats at my confidence and makes me question my abilities and my career outlook. More and more lately, as I have been scouring the job sites, I have been horrified to notice my eyes wandering to positions I would not ever have considered before. I hear my brain justifying how “It wouldn’t be SO bad,” or “Maybe my back could get used to standing for that long,” and other such dispiriting arguments.

Clearly I am not the same person as the one who was offended by the thought of doing work that didn’t stir my soul but merely paid the bills and was convenient for my family!

But which guy was right: the Idealistic Me who believed I had to be passionate about my job, or the World-beaten Me who is ready to settle for anything that keeps things flowing at home, no matter how uninspiring? Or are they both right somehow, depending on life circumstances? Does my job have to be a perfect indicator of whether I am living authentically and following my passion, or can it just be a job?

When I coached tennis for many years, I loved that I got to share my love of the game with people, that I got to motivate and share life lessons, and that I got to share in the best part of my clients’ days. It was a good job for me. However, I came to realize that, while I loved it, it felt like a shadow career to me (see “Are You In A Shadow Career?”). That is, it looked like what I really wanted to do in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t it. I wanted to write books and give speeches and be a Life Coach. That was my ideal.

When I left coaching and took a job managing a store, I knew it had even fewer elements of my dream job. I, of course, found the parts that made it meaningful to me, but I knew it was not my passion. I did it because it worked well for my family’s needs at the time and allowed me to still give energy to my other passions. It was a compromise I entered into with a clear head, and I knew it was not permanent.

When I started my current job several months ago, it was basically the same deal. It was not related to my passion, but I hoped it would work out for my uncertain family situation (and again, that was a compromise I was willing to make).

Well, as I explained above, the family needs something different now. And now I see myself defining what “the right job for now” is and how vastly different that looks compared to “the right job for me” in my idealistic mind. It is amazing how necessity can twist a person’s standards! Because when I notice how I am thinking about this now, and then I compare that to how I would be thinking about it if my wife had the same salary and benefits as she did last year, the difference is shocking.

I find it interesting to follow the history of my mind on this topic. Regarding which jobs to go after, my level of idealism has taken a steep decline over the years, and I also have a much more complicated view of what “settling” means. As is almost always the case, the deeper I look into it and the more life experience I gain, the more I recognize the answers to be in the many shades of grey rather than so black-and-white. I now think life circumstances have a huge impact on this “Ideal vs. Right For Right Now” continuum. (And yes, I am also open to the idea that I may be conning myself by justifying my failure to live up to my career dreams by claiming that I just did what worked best for my family.)

Another thing that has shifted my perspective was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert (of “Eat Pray Love” fame) called “Big Magic.” I read it last Summer. It’s about continuing to do soul-stirring things throughout your life. In it, she talks about how she had three novels published by major publishers and was still having to work her day job full-time. After years of feeling like I somehow deserved to be making a living with my writing as long as I was working hard at it, Gilbert knocked me back into my place. She made it clear that creative types are not owed work in their art and shouldn’t feel entitled to a consistent income, but rather they should assume that they are just going to continue to have to make the time for their passion projects outside of their “regular job” hours. That was a tough pill for me to swallow, let me tell you. But, especially since it came when I was looking frustratingly hard for work and feeling a little bitter about the whole concept, I did swallow it. I have been more accepting of the idea of getting a “regular job” ever since (even if I still hate it).

In the end, I guess I don’t know what role my next job will play in my life. At the moment, it looks as though it will be this big thing that I will basically just tolerate for years and years. Ugh!! I hate that I even thought that sentence, much less wrote it down as truth. I can’t stand the idea of settling, especially when it is something that takes up so much of my limited time on this Earth. But maybe, as I have discovered over the last few years, settling for a job is not as bad in practice as it is in theory. Maybe, especially if I compartmentalize it well in my mind, it will make the rest of my life easier.

This would be an easier sell if I were not so naturally dreamy and idealistic. (Oh, and there’s also that thing about me never actually wanting a job. I suppose that plays a role in all of this.) I can tell that I will be vacillating on this subject for a long time to come. Welcome to Life: it’s kind of messy here! I will keep working through it, journaling and pondering and journaling some more. That may be the only job I am truly cut out to do!

How about you? Do you have 1) your ideal job, 2) the right job for right now, or 3) something entirely different? Open up your journal and flesh out the role your job plays in your life and how well that sits with you. Describe the things you do for a paycheck. Now think about the things in Life that move your soul, that lift you up, that excite your mind, that get you out of bed in the morning. Do any of the things on that “Bliss List” match up with the things on your Job List? On a scale of 1 to 10, how closely do the lists match up? Has it always been this way, or has your job history moved you at different times closer to and further from your purpose? Has your level of job satisfaction shifted accordingly? How about your level of overall Life Satisfaction? To what extent do you associate your job with your identity (i.e., you answer the “What are you?” inquiry with your occupation)? Are you happier when you do work that is meaningful to you? How important is a fulfilling job, anyway? Is “whatever pays the bills” sometimes the ideal job, even if it doesn’t at all resemble the job you dream about getting one day? Do you have to take a job that looks like your dream job–or at least feels like it will lead to your dream job–in order to be authentically living your purpose and passion? Do you have a clear idea of what “settling” looks like to you? Where are you now in relation to that? How does that answer sit with you? In five years from now–and ten, twenty, and at retirement–do you believe that you will be doing something closer to your dream job than you are today? For the creative and entrepreneurial among us, should we be content with doing a “regular job” to keep the bills paid and then squeezing in our art or our side hustle at night and on lunch breaks, or should that thought torture us until we are so determined to “succeed” in our passion that that we somehow make it into gainful employment? Is there anything wrong with working purely for the money if it lets the rest of your life (family, hobbies, stress levels, vacations) run smoothly? Overall, how tolerant are you of work that does not move you in any way that is not financial? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the role of your job in your life?

Light your world,

William

 P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your social media community. Let us live our authentic Truths together!

Thanks, America!

DSC_0061 2“Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.” —Wale Ayeni

Hello friend,

I love that quote by Wale Ayeni. As a proud American–but one who is often quick to point out the faults and idiosyncrasies of my government and my society–I have to remind myself sometimes to insert the word “country” in place of “life” so that the quote can read:

Be thankful for where you live. Your country, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.

And it is. America has been the fairy tale Paradise for countless people across the world for the last 700 years. The Land of the Free. The Land of Opportunity. These monikers are not to be taken lightly. People have killed and died for the opportunity to live here. They still do. This country is a beacon of HOPE in a world that desperately needs it.

“America” as a CONCEPT is truly magnificent. The philosophy that this country was founded and built upon is above reproach. It is tough to argue against the types of freedoms laid out for us in our Constitution. Conceptually, we are fantastically idealistic. Then you have the Oprah Winfreys, the Michael Jordans, the Bill Gateses, and such: all of these examples that show you that no matter where you start, you can hit it big in America. This place is, quite simply, bordered inspiration.

In contrast to the idealistic paragon of virtue and freedom that is “America the Concept”, the way we the people–as a society and a government–have acted has not always been so virtuous. Beginning with the European arrival in 1492, which was the start of a long and ongoing series of atrocities against the indigenous people of this land, the American people have often acted, well, un-American. We have enslaved and dehumanized others for all sorts of unsatisfactory reasons. We have been small-minded on social issues and pressured so many of our fellow citizens to silence their Truths—their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their political views—or be ostracized. We have not reached down to lend a hand to others in need, either across the world or in our own neighborhood. We have too often abused our position as the militarily strongest country in the world. In short, the actions of “We, the people”—and those of our government—have often come up short of the idealistic standards and philosophies that our nation was built upon.

As I mentioned, I am often the one pointing out our shortcomings. I want to be honest with myself and my kids about how we are doing–both as a society and as a nation–and that means owning our ongoing history of oppression. However, just because I can acknowledge the reality of our human failings, it does not mean that I cannot be truly inspired by the people of this country and the wonders that are available to us here. I am still totally in awe of “America” the concept. I love that I get to write these words without fear of my government censoring them. I love that I get to define my version of the Divine without repercussions. I love that I get to vote. I love that I was free to marry someone whose skin is a different color than mine, and I love that so many other people are recently being allowed to marry as well. I love that education is important here. I love that I can go anywhere. I love that I can dream big and have the audacity to think those dreams just might come true. But mostly, I just love that I can live my Truth. I love America!

Think of all the people around the world suffering under oppressive regimes, unable to express their opinions, practice their religion, embrace their sexuality, educate themselves to the level of their potential, and just otherwise live their Truth. America, at its best, is a Paradise in comparison. We have a long way to go as a society in terms of addressing our deep-seated “isms”—classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.—but there is nothing in our nation’s philosophy that prevents it. There is already a framework for greatness. It is ours for the taking.

I love our potential. It is truly mind-boggling. If we can begin to consistently align our actions with the ideals and liberties that America was founded upon, there is no end to the amount of good we can do, both for ourselves and for others. We might be the best thing going right now, but just think of how much better we could be. Think of what the nation’s founders believed we could be.

I have faith that one day, “we the people” will live up to the ideals that founded our borders. I am grateful for the ideals—they are wonderful guideposts–and grateful in advance for our ascent toward daily practice of those ideals. God bless America, sure, but please bless us, the people of America, and grant us the wisdom to act well. It is we, the people, who get to determine if this magnificent concept called “America” gets to transform into “America the Beautiful.” We have the opportunity to create our own fairy tale. Let’s go for it! Together!

How about you? How do you feel about your country? Open up your journal and write out your heart. What bothers you about your homeland? How has it stifled you and the full expression of your Truth? Do you ever feel embarrassed that you live here? Can you think of another country that you would prefer to live in? Which of our “isms” weighs you down the most? How can you play a part in producing a more inclusive and supportive society? What do you love most about your country? Which liberty do you enjoy most here that you know is restricted in other countries? Are you aware of how lucky you are? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you grateful for your homeland? 

Be a light today,

William