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So Much Left Undone: The Tragedy of Life Cut Short

“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made. Dreamed your dream. Written your name.” –Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book 

“You must decide if you are going to rob the world or bless it with the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you.” –Myles Munroe, Understanding Your Potential–Discovering the Hidden You

Hello friend,

I was at an arcade/sports bar for a kid’s birthday party when I heard the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash. I looked up at the bank of TV screens above the bar and there was his picture and the dates of his birth and death. I was stunned. I shook my head, recalling that I had just that morning read an article that mentioned him congratulating LeBron James on passing Kobe on the NBA’s all-time scoring list the night before. And now he was dead, just like that. It was a shock.

But the real pain for me came later in the day, when I learned that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, or “Gigi,” was also on the flight and killed. My heartache only grew when, in the following days, I learned that among the seven others who died in the crash were two of Gigi’s basketball teammates, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. Kids. Kids whose brilliance was snuffed out in an instant and whose future contributions to this world we will never get to experience and appreciate. As iconic and mythical as Kobe Bryant was to millions of people across the world, it is the deaths of those girls that I can’t seem to shake free of. Even two weeks later, they hang like a cloud over my heart.

My daughter, India, is 11 years old right now, just two years younger than Gigi and her teammates. She is probably both the kindest and the smartest person I know. Her compassion knows no bounds, and she is always looking for ways to help people and make the world a better place. She is clearly on the path to greatness in one form or another (and knowing her, probably many forms). Her existence on the planet, when all is said and done, will surely be a net-positive. I cannot imagine the loss to the world–never mind my personal loss–if she were to die at the age 13. Oh, the wonder and brilliance that we would all miss out on! A loss so big that only those who already knew her could fathom because she had not yet been fully unleashed by the gift of maturity to do her special thing for us all.

So much potential. So many possibilities. So much still on the table. So much left undone. It is devastating to consider.

That is what I think about with Gigi, Payton, and Alyssa. What magnificence were they going to offer us? How were they going to illuminate our world with their gifts? Was Gigi really going to be a basketball savant like her father, as video suggests, and become the next icon of the sport? Would they become teachers, artists, scientists, or senators? Would they raise wonderful children? Would they raise our awareness? Would they break down barriers? What did they leave on the table??? To depart from us at that age, leaving us grasping fruitlessly to “We’ll never know…” as an answer, is truly devastating. It is the essence of tragedy.

But as I think about that condition, I begin to wonder: At what age is it NOT tragic? Seriously. What is the point when we can be satisfied that someone has emptied their bucket and given the world a satisfactory portion of their potential?

I look no further than Kobe Bryant himself. While I was never a big fan of his as a sports hero–though I had great respect for his work ethic and competitive will, I was turned off by other parts of him and more drawn to other athletes–I had, in the few short years since his retirement, become fascinated with his curiosity and his intellect, as well as his ambition for projects beyond basketball. I had known already that he was fluent in multiple languages, a trait which I respect. But he had also become a true storyteller, creating a series of books and even winning an Oscar for a short film he wrote, produced, and narrated called Dear Basketball. He seemed to want to keep expanding and sharing his light in as many ways as possible, including coaching his daughter’s basketball team. So, even though he had a very long, full career as a pro athlete, inspired millions of people around the globe, made a fortune, and had four kids and multiple successful business ventures–more than most of us dare dream of–I would say he had an unfinished life. At 41, it appeared he had a lot more to give. That is tragic to me.

It’s different, of course, than the loss of the three children. He got to live out his dream, at least. But still, with all of his potential–a bright, curious mind with burning ambition and the money to fuel it–he clearly left a lot on the table. We’ll never know…

It saddens me to see potential go unfulfilled.

This heaviness I have been carrying around with the losses of these young people and all that they might have been has inevitably led to thoughts of my own life and death. Beyond those awful visions of losing my children at this age and the world being deprived of all their potential magic, I have pondered my own death and the relative importance of what I would leave undone if I should go now, at 47. How much more do I have in me, and how valuable is that to the world? Can I still be a net-positive? At bottom, I suppose the question is this: How much of a tragedy would my death right now be?

My mind goes immediately to my kids and the thing I believe I have done best in my life: parenting them. They are only 11 and 9 now, so no matter how solid the foundation has been laid to this point, I still have a job to do. So many lessons to teach, meals to prepare, and hugs to give. Is there any age before adulthood when kids DON’T need all of the material and emotional support that a parent provides? There is just so much more I am going to do with them and for them? With them, I feel like an unqualified Good. It is the one spot in the world where I feel essential.

While I am less confident of my necessity in my wife’s life–she would be and do Amazing under just about any circumstances–I hope that my partnership with her can help her to rise even higher, do even more great deeds, and leave an ever-increasing impact on the world. I like to think that the supporting role I play in our duo allows the light to keep reaching her so she can amplify it and spread it out into her many areas of influence.

I hope I have some good writing ahead of me that will enrich the lives of my readers and those around them. I want to think that these letters to you continue to provide you with fodder for self-reflection and journaling that will lead you, like it lead me, to a greater self-knowledge and, in turn, a deeper sense of gratitude and thus happiness. I believe in the value of my purpose and my message, and I believe I have more to share on that front. I hope that includes more books and many more letters.

I know that I have more works of service in me as well, and also just more positive interpersonal communications. I plan to be a better human: more kind, more generous, more forgiving, more compassionate. And hey, I plan to have even more fun and adventure, making myself even more grateful and happy, which I know seems selfish on the surface, but I truly believe that happier people are a benefit to the world.

All in all, though I may not reach the millions that Kobe Bryant reached, I think I can be a net-positive to this place if Fate allows me to stick around. But especially for my kids. They are going to do magic here, and I need to help facilitate that. That is what saddens me so much about Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester. They were going to do magic here, too. I hope that any extra years I am granted here can be filled with such works of Good that I can make up for some bit of what we lost with them. I hope my life can do honor to theirs. And in the end, when it is my turn to go, I hope that I have wrung so much out of the years I was granted that it seems no tragedy at all that I have gone.

How about you? When you arrive at the end of your life, how much will you leave on the table? Open your journal and consider both your realized and unrealized potential. How have you done so far in your lifetime? Have you used your talents wisely and generously? Have you been of service to others? Do you feel confident that your existence has been a net-positive, that the world is better because you were here? Whether or not that is true, what would be the loss to the world if you were to die today? What more do you have left to give? In what specific areas of your life do you plan to be the most valuable? Family? Career? Volunteering? Sharing your voice? General personal kindness? Which people in your sphere of influence would miss out the most if you were to die now? How aware are they of that? Based on the life you have lived so far, could we make a pretty good guess as to what you have left to contribute, or do you plan to surprise us? How steeply can you raise your trajectory? Does the possibility excite you? How will your legacy differ if you live 20 more years from the legacy you would leave today? At what point in your journey–past, present, or future–would your loss be deemed a tragedy for the world (I mean beyond just being very sad for your loved ones, which is a given)? Do you mourn people differently depending upon how old they are when they die? If you had to pick an age when it no longer feels so tragic when someone dies, what is that number? 60? 78 (average life expectancy)? 90? Do you mourn people differently based on their talents and what they might have left to give, regardless of age? In the case of the helicopter crash involving Kobe Bryant, which did you find yourself mourning more: the 41-year-old, multi-talented celebrity or the 13-year-old kids? What do you imagine each of them left undone? Do the deaths of strangers shake you and stay with you? Is it because of their potential and what they never got to do? How about thoughts of your own “early” death? Do they rattle you? Is it because of what you might never do? Does that motivate you do better now so as to have fewer regrets about your impact and achievements? If you died now, what would you most lament having not done? How devastating is that thought? Leave me a reply and let me know: How tragic would it be if you were to die today?

Carpe diem,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s all live our best lives now!

P.P.S. If this way of reflecting on your life feels important to you, consider purchasing my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

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

A Mother’s Legacy

IMG_1325“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” –Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

Hello friend,

“I have nothing fabulous to leave the world……..except for you guys.” That was my Mom’s response yesterday when I asked what she felt her legacy would be. I have been thinking so much lately about my own life purpose and the mark that I want to leave on the world when I am gone (see “Why Are You Here?” and “Re-Writing Your Story”), so I figured it was time to ask the woman who has made the biggest impact on me. That woman is definitely my mother.

Either not wanting to dive any deeper into the topic, or really thinking that was all there was to say, she moved on to a lighter subject. It left me wondering, though. Does she really have, as she said, “nothing fabulous to leave the world”? I suppose that in a conventional way of thinking, people’s legacies might be discussed in terms of groundbreaking feats or high-minded causes, or maybe even building a business that survives you. That is why we usually only talk about lasting legacies when it comes to people who are now on postage stamps or statues. But let’s face it: not everyone can cure polio or lead the Civil Rights Movement. That doesn’t mean, however, that regular folks like you and me don’t leave our fingerprints on the world, even if it is just our little corner of it. My Mom certainly has.

When I think about my Mom’s legacy, the first thing that comes to my mind is the way she grandparents her 14 grandkids. She has this beautiful way of completely getting down to their level and really interacting with them, forming deep bonds of friendship and love. It is a perfect mix of giggles and cuddles, playmate and caregiver. She has succeeded in becoming this uniquely special someone in every single one of her grandkids’ lives, which is completely astonishing to me even as I think about it now. She’s like the Pied Piper to them. I just think that whether or not these kids (and young adults) can put all of that into words right now, they will go on to be—or at least strive to be—that kind of grandparents when they get to that spot in their lives. For myself, I absolutely am studying her ways, trying to uncover her tips and secrets as to how she pulls off this magic trick, because I would give anything to have relationships like hers with my own future grandkids. Now, that is leaving an impression on the world!

I also think about the type of family atmosphere that she fostered and how that has trickled down to my generation and now my children’s generation. When I consider my siblings, I well up inside with the best kind of feelings. I just think so highly of them. It is an amazing family, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of it. I see, too, how my Mom has shepherded us all to a wonderful love, respect, and admiration for each other—I truly admire each of them—as well as a real enjoyment in being in one another’s company. I love being together with my family—all of them. How many people are lucky enough to say that? I don’t take that lightly. And what is even sweeter to me is to watch how it has trickled down to the next generation, that of my two kids and their cousins. The best days of my son and daughter’s whole year are spent at one of Nana’s houses with their cousins, either outside at the lake cabin or cooped up in the house at Christmas. They are thrilled either way. I marvel at how they all get along, and how the old ones, who could be excused for dismissing the little pest that my son can be, are so caring and inclusive. They are family, and they get it. They have learned from the best. The matriarch. My Mom. I can hardly think of a more worthy legacy than that.

And what about the one possible legacy that she considered even worth a mention? When she said, “except for you guys”, she was touching on the one thing that I think many of us find to be, by leaps and bounds, both our life purpose and our greatest legacy: our children. Before I had kids, I had no idea of just how proud one person can be of another. Sure, I had seen parents cheer for their kids and feel bad about their losses, but the sheer sense of pride—the “I made that kid” kind of pride—was something on a totally different level than I had ever imagined. It isn’t even that you feel like it was any of your doing that caused your kids to turn out so smart or creative or athletic (well, you sometimes do!); it is more just that “I created that; that is part of me; that is my heart living outside my body” feeling. Because it is our heart out there on that stage or in that cafeteria or on the court hoping to get picked instead of picked-on, we want to both protect that heart from all harm and also see it grow and thrive and be happy. So yeah, it breaks our heart when our kid loses, but we also feel proud of him or her every single day, win or lose. As parents, that comes with the territory.

So, does it seem rational that parents believe their children are their greatest legacy? Perhaps not, because maybe people are mostly going to turn out the way their soul steers them, no matter what we do. But, just because it is not rational does not mean that it is not completely fair and true. The “that is part of me” is stronger than any rational theory out there. Even if you just provided the sperm or the egg, you have done something amazing and Divine. And you have earned something of a legacy. When you have actually parented—been up all night with a sick baby, or run alongside that bicycle on the frightening first ride, or consoled the loss of a first love—then that legacy feels even more earned and authentic. So, when my Mom says, “I have nothing fabulous to leave the world……except for you guys,” it may come from a humble place, but it is pretty darn proud, too. Five happy adult children who are raising 14 happy grandchildren is no small legacy. I would dare to call it fabulous. We could all be so lucky to leave such an impact. For my part, I feel incredibly lucky to be that impact.

What about you? What is the legacy of your parents? Break out your journal and walk the ground of your mother and father. What kind of marks have they made on this Earth? Were they big or small impressions? If you polled 100 people who knew them, what would they say? Mostly positive, negative, or quite a mix? If it was a consensus that they were well-liked, do you think that would be a satisfactory legacy for them? What more would they want? How much does it matter whether or not they were well-liked, as long as they made a positive impact on the world? Is there a dark side of their legacy, something they (or you) would rather die with them? Are you—and your siblings—the most important part of their legacy? How does that make you feel? Is that an honor? A responsibility? A disappointment? Have you ever asked them about their legacy? Do you think they have asked themselves? How important do you think it is to think about legacy, either theirs or yours? In the end, how much different do you think your mark on the world will be than theirs? Are you okay with the idea that it might be very similar? Is one parent’s mark very different from the other’s, or do they mostly overlap? Are you glad to be a part of it? Is there pressure to live up to it? In your eyes, have they lived lives to be proud of? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your parents leaving behind? 

Share your light today,

William

Re-Writing Your Story

IMG_1212Hello friend,

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”  —Henry David Thoreau

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the name “Nobel”? If you are like me, it is the Nobel Peace Prize, won by such notables as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Flashback to the 1880s: if I had asked the people of the world the same question, the answer would have been entirely different. TRUE STORY: Alfred Nobel had the unique experience of reading his own obituary in the newspaper, and it changed the rest of his life and his legacy. It sounds like a great premise for a movie, right? Farfetched, but intriguing. And in this case, true. Nobel, who was a scientist from Sweden, had earned a vast fortune for inventing, among other explosives, dynamite, earning the nickname “The Merchant of Death” for his efforts. He was traveling in France in 1888 when his brother, Ludvig, died. When the French newspapers heard that Nobel died, they assumed it was Alfred and headlined his obituary with “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. It went on to say “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”   When he read his own obituary, Nobel experienced a wake-up call regarding the path he had chosen and the legacy he would rather leave to the world upon his actual death. Apparently, the message was received. In short order, he devoted the bulk of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature. The rest is history. I bet when I asked you what comes to your mind when I say “Nobel”, you did not say “dynamite”.

I have lately been pondering the idea of my own obituary, or at least of my eulogy and the things people who know me would say if I died tomorrow. These eulogy thoughts have stemmed from my recent obsession with identifying my core values and life purpose. After naming my core values—personal growth, self-knowledge, spirituality, family, service, purpose, teaching, and authenticity—I tried to nail down my Life Purpose Statement: “I am a catalyst of Growth, Self-Awareness, and Authenticity.” With those in place, it seemed the natural next step to put them to the test by asking if I was really living in line with my core values and life purpose. Part of that asking involved a sort of inventory of my life. I went through the main areas on the “Wheel of Life”–Career, Family & Friends, Finances, Romance/Intimacy, Health & Self-Care, Social & Fun, Personal & Spiritual Development, and Physical Environment—and wondered how well I was incorporating my core values and life purpose in each.

The answers were revealing and helpful, of course, but nowhere near as helpful as when I began to question the potential content of my eulogy. I wanted to compare what I think people would say if I died tomorrow with what I would want them to say. I also considered what people who knew me best would say versus those who only knew me a little. I wasn’t really concerned about whether I was going to be found to be well-liked or not, but rather about whether or not I made a positive impact. These are some of the things I thought and hoped people would say:

  • “He was an awesome Dad.”
  • “He was always trying to be better, to keep growing.”
  • “He reminded me of my magnificence.”
  • “He was the happiest person I ever met.”
  • “He was intensely curious, always wanting to learn more about everything.”
  • “He wanted people to be their best, and to be happy.”
  • “He challenged you when he thought you were sliding or settling.”
  • “He was honest, but he delivered his honesty with love.”
  • “He was always positive, always optimistic.”
  • “He dared me to disregard opinions and be exactly my Truth.”
  • “He wasn’t afraid to try new things or make mistakes.”
  • “He inspired me to play a bigger game in life and kept me on it.”
  • “He shared his love relentlessly.”
  • “He knew exactly who he was and owned that completely.”
  • “He desperately wanted to make the world a better place to live.”
  • “His family meant everything to him.”
  • “Even as he tried to improve everything, he was so grateful for his life.”

As I write these things, it strikes me that maybe this isn’t what other people would say about me. Maybe it is only what I would say about me. I realize that I probably don’t do a good enough job of communicating who I really am to most people. Even though I want to get out and change the world and change lives one by one, I am an introvert, and sometimes I shy away from sharing my passion for life and for helping people. I tend to lock myself down, to hide my light. Because of this, I know a lot of people who know me would probably say that they had no idea that I had all of these thoughts in me and no idea of who I wanted to be to the world.

For all of my talk of authenticity in my purpose, I surely do my share of hiding myself. I am not faking anything or saying that I am things that I am not. I am just not showing up all the way for most people. It is like the old “Lies of Commission vs. Lies of Omission” issue. I have definitely been clear in my head and heart about who I am and what I am passionate about. In private, I have acted it out. I have made the big decisions and life moves in complete personal integrity, fully aware of my motives, strengths, and weaknesses. I go through my day full of passion for my dreams and projects, such as writing these letters to you every week. But in public, I have generally clammed up. I have not, in my everyday interactions, named and claimed the messages that I am driven to share with the world. In that way, I have fallen out of integrity and authenticity. I have been acting in some situations unlike the person that I know I am inside.

I can see from this that if I am to leave the legacy that speaks truthfully to who I am at my core, I must put myself out there more. I must learn to manage my introversion and recognize that if I truly do think my message is important for the people of the world to receive, it is worth me being a little uncomfortable in order to deliver it. I need to make myself less of the “Oh, I didn’t know that about him” and more of the “Yes, I knew that from the first time I met him” kind of guy. Basically, I need to stop hiding my light. I need to not just know who I am, but also to show who I am. Putting myself and my purpose out into the Universe will draw the right people and circumstances to me, and our lives will change because of it. In that way, I can leave a different legacy and be the author my own obituary and eulogy. I can re-write my story. A better story.

How about you? What is the legacy you want to leave? Get out your journal and think about the impression you have left on your little corner of the world. Whose lives have you impacted most? How much of that impact is positive? What would those people say about you? How different is that than what you would like them to say? Is there something you could do in your remaining time on the planet that could bridge that gap, that could cause them to put new words to your eulogy? How would you change your ways to change your obituary? Would it help you to read your obituary or hear your eulogy now, in the way it helped Alfred Nobel? Consider the things you regret most from your life, or the people you may have impacted negatively. How many of these are wrongs that cannot be made right? If there is still an opportunity to make something right–or even just better–are you willing to do what it takes? In the end, does it really matter to you what other people are going to say or feel about you, or does it only matter how you feel you did? Or perhaps how your God judges you? Which matters most? If you could write a eulogy or obituary about your own life and legacy as it stands now, what would it say? What if I guaranteed you twenty more years here to make a new one with the way you live those years—how would that change it? Leave me a reply and let me know, How would you re-write your story? 

Live the way you want to be remembered,

William

The Legacy of a King

IMG_1669“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” –Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

About 25 years ago, I walked into the library of my high school. Well, walked may not be accurate. I felt like I was pulled in, guided there as if by some magnetic force. I was on a mission. I needed to understand who Martin Luther King was and what he really stood for. And, more importantly, why he seemed to draw me to him even though I knew practically nothing about him. It wasn’t for a class assignment or anything related to school that got me into that library. I just really needed to know. I was compelled. There are some things that are just inside of us; we fall to the Earth this way. I was drawn to Dr. King, even before that library mission, and certainly every day since. Along with a guy you might have heard of by the name of Gandhi, Dr. King is my hero. Perhaps unfortunately for me, however, he is also my measuring stick.

I LOVE books and movies, but I tend to be a bit forgetful of the specifics of the story. I watch intently, and I passionately dissect and discuss them afterward. However, if you ask me, years later, what a particular book or film is about, there is a decent chance that I will have no recollection. But, if you ask me how I felt about it, I will tell you with absolute certainty. It is like that quote about how people don’t remember what you say or do nearly as much as they remember how you made them feel. So, there I sat in the movie theatre last week watching “Selma”, being touched and moved by the experience and by Dr. King’s impact on the United States and on me, when a fact rolled across the screen as the end credits began. It reminded me that he was a mere 39 years of age when he was assassinated in 1968. This fact hit me like a giant club upside the head. Thirty-nine!! And it was four years earlier that he had won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Thirty-five!!!

These numbers had my head spinning. First, it was, “How could they take him so young? Just imagine what he would have achieved with 30 or 40 more years on the planet.” That is mind-boggling. After that thought rattled around my brain for a minute, though, it lead right into a follow-up that got me into a near-panic: “He did all of that by 39—even 35. Shoot! I am running behind! I better get going on changing lives and leaving my mark on the world. NOW!!!” 

Like I said, for me he is not just to marvel at; he is my measuring stick. You are probably thinking to yourself, “Why in the world would you choose one of the most accomplished change agents the world has ever known as your standard to live up to? Why not just take an average person—or even a moderately successful person—and try to do a little better than that?” It is a fair question and quite reasonable, actually. After all, isn’t comparing myself to Martin Luther King a direct path to failure and disappointment for me?

Maybe so. Maybe I am aiming too high. And let’s face it, my track record doesn’t quite shout out, “Hero! Difference-maker! Inspiration! Transformational leader!” I am a 42-year-old guy who has bounced around, taught a few people how to hit tennis balls, and sells shoes when I am not raising my kids. It is not exactly the resumé of Dr. King, who had a Nobel Peace Prize at 35 and was a hero and role model to people in all corners of the world. So, what gives?

Potential. That’s what. I am betting on my potential, on what I think I have in me. I think it is a lot. And I think it is special. Heart-changing. Mind-changing. Maybe even world-changing. I have thought about this concept of potential often. I think that in almost all cases, people overestimate their potential. They think they are capable of doing better—and indeed, fully expect to do better—than they actually are or do. I think it is part of why there are so many deathbed regrets. People think idealistically, especially in their younger adulthood, and dream big dreams for themselves. Unrealistically big, in most cases. (Well, as I write this, my mind changes. It is not our potential that we misread; I think those ideals are possible. We just lose our focus and fail to execute. Hence, the regrets.) I certainly may be in that unrealistic category. I am trying to measure up to Martin Luther King, for goodness sake!   Logic says that I am definitely in that category.

But don’t tell me that. Delusional or not, I am going to believe exactly what my heart and soul are screaming out to me.   They are telling me I am destined for greatness. They are telling me that I will change minds and change lives. Last week, I wrote to you that my Life Purpose Statement reads “I am a catalyst of Self-Awareness and Authenticity.” I believe that I was born with that purpose, that it lives in my soul. With that, I believe I am destined to help people know themselves better and live more authentic lives, honoring their gifts and their purpose. And the kicker is this: I believe I will do all of this on a grand scale, not just in the random few who happen to cross my path. I have a vision of publishing books that help people all over the world, of speaking in front of stadiums full of people, and yes, even of coaching people one-on-one. I want the work I do to touch all levels, from the personal to the global. As Dr. King said, I plan to do “small things in a great way” (as in my private coaching), but I also plan to do “great things”.   I believe that it is all in me.

So, while I am obviously running behind schedule on the standard set by Dr. King, I am still willing to bet on myself in the long run. I am working on my coaching practice every day, beginning to help people to live their best lives. I am writing to you every week, polishing my skills and hoping to make a more grand-scale difference as we go. And I am always, in my head, practicing the speeches I will give to you when we meet in those stadiums on some distant day. The foundation is being laid. I have to think that if I keep plugging away at these missions, constantly trying to serve others, one day my potential will transform into results.   Nothing is guaranteed of course—this is still Life, after all—but, as one of my other great idols, Henry David Thoreau, said, “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I am betting on me. Watch out, Dr. King, I am coming!

How about you? What do you expect from yourself in this lifetime? Open up your journal and write about what you are going to do before you die. What is your potential? Do you have the ambition to match your potential? Are you ready to dig in and do the work that it will take to live up to that? Do you use someone as a benchmark or standard that you feel you should live up to? Is it someone you know, or a celebrity or historical figure? Is it a realistic guide? Do you think people tend to overestimate, underestimate, or be pretty accurate when it comes to assessing their potential? Where do you fit? When it comes to yourself, do you tend to temper your dreams or go wild? How about with others: are you the friend/confidante who tends to suggest “Dream big!” or are you in the “Be realistic” camp? When you get to the end of your days, do you think you will be more satisfied or more disappointed with yourself and your journey? Do you think that setting your sights lower takes the pressure off and leads to greater happiness and fulfillment? Or, perhaps setting high standards and expecting the most of yourself brings out your best self and helps you play a bigger game? Where do you fall on this spectrum of expectations? Are you okay trying to do small things greatly—being a light in your little corner of the world–or do you feel destined for grander things? Leave me a reply and let me know: How big is your life and legacy going to be? 

Carpe diem,

William