Tag Archives: Letter

Next Year in Review: How will your 2017 look?

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

Hello friend,

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

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

NAAAHHH!!!

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

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

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

Dear William from the start of 2017, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your better self,  

William from the end of 2017  

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

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

Shoot for the stars,

William

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

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

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

Hello friend,

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

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

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

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

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

Dear 18-year-old William,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Always, 

43-year-old William

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

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

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

Carpe diem,

William

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

Dear Future Me: a letter to myself 25 years from now

DSC_0550“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

Hello friend,

Twenty-five years from now—if I am blessed to be here that long—I will be 68 years old. I can scarcely begin to imagine how much our world will have changed by then. What will our energy sources be? Will cars fly? Will polar bears be extinct? There are way too many questions to consider; I get dizzy just thinking about it. Twenty-five years ago, I had never even written in a journal; twenty-five years from now, I will probably have filled up 100 or more. In any case, I am guessing that the world I will be chronicling when I’m 68 will be vastly different than the one I write about these days.

But what about the chronicler? ME. How different will I be as I navigate that different world? Hmmm….that is a stumper. Theoretically, the bulk of the upheaval and “finding yourself” parts of life happen in your early adulthood: 20s, maybe some 30s. I’m 43 right now. Does that mean I am supposed to be in the settled, stagnant part, and that nothing very crazy happens after this? Just a bunch of “getting old”? I am not so sure about that theory, because it seems like I have a LOT left to do!

Whatever is ahead, and because I am basically a loner (and don’t really foresee that changing much), I thought that my 68-year-old self might appreciate a note from an old friend. ME, the 43-year-old version. So, here goes….

Dear Future Me,

I am glad you made it this far! As you well know, for much of your life, I was quite sure you would not. I had you pegged for the guy who dies young, leaving a lot of “What might have been…” thoughts behind. But here you are, alive and well. That is something to appreciate.

Look at your family! What truly extraordinary people you have been blessed to call your tribe. You completely lucked out with that wife of yours. She has done so much good in the world. I still don’t know how she puts up with you, but I am glad that she does. You better be, too! And your children have grown into such unique and authentic adults, giving their gifts to the world in ways that only they can. I know you believe that we all come to Earth with our personalities and our callings mostly determined, and that you take no credit for their successes and the class with which they handle them. However, I wish you would remind yourself once in a while that you played your part well, too, giving them the love, support, and guidance that allowed them to authentically take their leaps, knowing that you had already done what you could to soften the inevitable falls. If you have done one thing right on this journey, it is that. Knowing how hard on yourself you are about making enough of an impact during your short time on this planet, I hope you at least take some comfort in that contribution. You’ve been a good Dad. And yeah, they really are amazing.

Speaking of your impact and how you have tried to make it, I can sum it up this way: I am sorry, and I am proud of you. Like you, I really wish you would have been able to reach more people with your message and helped them to live their best and happiest lives. I am sorry for that, as I know how it pains you, and I know they would have benefited from hearing you. I hope you will continue your efforts for all the days that you live. The task is worthy of your time and effort. On the flipside of my sympathy, I truly am proud of your mission and how you have gone about living your purpose. You have, if nothing else, stayed on task these last 25 years. Just this morning, I was writing graduation cards to your niece and nephew, and my message to them was this: “If I have one piece of advice for you, it is to understand who you are and what makes your heart sing. Then just be unapologetically you, forever and always.” I am glad that, on the whole, you have stuck to your own advice. Of course, I know you have made some compromises to keep the bills paid and such, but in all these 25 years, you have never lost sight of your passion and your purpose. Remember that Life Purpose exercise you did way back when, when you decided that at your core, you were a catalyst for self-awareness and authenticity? If that is so, then you have done okay in living that purpose. I know that you wished for a bigger audience on a broader platform, but you haven’t stopped being yourself and delivering your message. And though I know your journey with this is not over and that you will keep fighting the good fight, even if you never sell another book or give another speech, I hope you will find some peace in having made the attempt. You have lived with the idea that “This is not a dress rehearsal,” and I hope you can see that as its own version of Success. So, as you hit the home stretch of the last 25 (or so) years of your journey with your message, I hope you can somehow balance the seemingly conflicting ideas of NEVER SETTLING for the amount of progress you have made and still APPRECIATING the difference you have made in people’s lives.

 I can safely say that the part of my vision of you at 68 that makes me feel the best—most relieved, frankly—is that you have remembered to be, above all else, grateful for the countless gifts that you have been blessed with. Your thoughts are centered around a theme of Gratitude, and that has undoubtedly been the thing that has kept you consistently happy for all of these years, no matter how the world has turned. In whatever years you have left, as perhaps some of your physical and mental gifts may leave you, it is my great hope you never lose that precious Gratitude.

 It surely has been a magnificent ride! Keep on marching your path to the beat of that drum that only your ears can hear. And remember to always reflect the Truth that you have known all along: Life is beautiful.  

Always,

43-Year-Old William

P.S. I almost forgot. It’s time to forgive yourself for getting old (and looking old). It’s part of the deal, so deal with it!

How about you? What would you like to say to Future You? Open up your journal and lay the groundwork for a very important letter. I think it would be easier to write a letter to Past You—maybe we will do that next week—because you know exactly what that life was. It seems the hardest part of this task is to come up with a reasonably clear feeling and visualization of what your life and worldview will be in 25 years. But I urge you: do that work! It is important. Making this visualization requires a blend of honesty and hopefulness about how you will navigate the next quarter-century: mentally, physically, spiritually. The habits of mind and body that you carry into that distant future day dictate the letter you are about to compose, so consider them fully. What is central in your life today—for example, your purpose, dreams, family—that you are certain will still have importance 25 years from now? How old will you be in 25 years? Where will you be in your career cycle then? How about your family cycle?   What will Future You want/need to hear from Present You? Encouragement? Consolation? Empathy? Congratulations? Instructions? Thanks? A kick in the butt? A reminder of what she has believed in and what her purpose was? A reminder of her value and who loves her? Permission to die? It could be any or all of the above, and so much more. I know I encourage you every time to write it down, but sometimes I mean it more than others. This exercise was very helpful for me. Emotional, too. It taught me some things I need to remember today and tomorrow, not just when I am 68. So, answer the questions above, of course, but then take that final, crucial step: WRITE THE LETTER! I won’t even ask you to leave me a reply this week (though I always appreciate it more than you can imagine). Instead, leave yourself one, and start it like this: “Dear Future Me…..”

Live your whole life,

William

P.S. If this letter and this exercise were good for you, I hope you will share them with your friends and family. It is about improving the quality of our lives, and to my mind, that should be a universal hope. Blessed be.

The Magical Power of Holiday Cards

DSC_1170“The history of your happiness is the history of your feeling connected.–Vironika Tugaleva 

Hello friend,

My favorite Facebook post of the whole week was the simplest one. It was my friend Veronica, who doesn’t post very often, and all it said was, “I LOVE getting Christmas cards! Don’t you!? Love the pics, love the notes, just love it! My heart lit up, and the biggest smile came across my face. All I could think was “YES! Absolutely yes! I am not the only one!” I have wondered if anyone else out there still felt the same blend of giddiness and peaceful nostalgia that I do with a holiday card in my hands at this special time of year. If they do, no one seems to mention it anymore. I don’t know how many people still send them, or if digital versions and regular social media posts have overtaken them in popularity. I think it was that sensation of my perhaps-solitary enjoyment of a dying tradition that made me react so strongly to Veronica’s simple but spectacularly positive post. I completely lit up at the thought. I have been so grateful ever since.

What is it about this little piece of mail? Why does it have this magical hold over me? And what is its place in the modern world? Is it just me and Veronica, or does this tradition have other loyal lovers who will keep it alive for future generations? I wonder…

One of my favorite hours of the year comes on a lazy morning at my childhood home on my annual Christmas visit. I grab the basket that my Mom keeps all of that year’s holiday cards in—dozens of them—and find a comfortable chair in a quiet corner to settle in for a while. Even as I love hearing what all of these old family and friends are doing these days, the very reading of it is a wonderful trip down memory lane. I think of the days of old and our time together as I grew from boy to man. It feels good to me in so many ways. I am a chronicler by nature, so I love to hear other people’s accounts of their own lives. And I delight in the thought that these old companions still find it in their hearts to share their journey with us each year. I understand that it may not take much more effort to stuff one more envelope and sign one more card, but it would be easier not to do it. So, I appreciate them sparing us a thought, even if this is the first correspondence since last year’s card.

I was taking a class several months ago, and somehow in his ramblings, the teacher landed momentarily on the topic of holiday cards. He declared that he cuts everyone off his list that he hasn’t spoken to somewhat regularly during the previous year, dismissing the idea of sharing his photos and family updates with people who are virtual strangers from lack of recent personal contact. I was floored! Cut people off just because you don’t talk to them? That would cut my list down to single digits! And those aren’t the people I really want the cards from anyway. I want them from the cousins and old family friends I spent my weekends and Summers with as a kid. I want them from my uncles and aunts who have nicknames for me and whose images fill my golden childhood memories. I want them from my high school buddies, who I still love like brothers but almost never speak to. The truth is, without an old tradition like the holiday card, all of these precious connections could be lost.

Sure, I understand that Facebook and other social media platforms make something that arrives through snail mail seem archaic and useless. After all, you can keep much more up-to-date simply by peeking at a friend’s page, if they are active on the site. Judging by their photos, comments, and shares, you can sometimes get a pretty good sense of what folks are up to and who they have become in the long years since you shared the good old days together. In the less than two years I have been on social media, I have been so pleased at how much better informed I am on the lives of my cousins and old friends and acquaintances, and I’ve been downright tickled at how some online relationships have popped up or flourished out of connections that had long since died out.

Still, there is something not entirely fulfilling about the digital relationship. Something impersonal. Distant. It’s almost as though the messages are cheapened because they are so easy to send, and it’s all done in public view. It’s a little superficial, even when it’s genuine.

And then there is the holiday card. Even though you know the letter and the photo collage are sent to all of their friends, they are also sent to you. Your loved one selected you for their list among all of the people in their life. They wrote your name on the envelope. They spent money to mail it to you. Maybe they even wrote an extra little note on your card. In any case, a real effort was made by someone you love to share themselves with you. You were chosen. That means something.

It’s a simple gesture, and it’s once a year, but there is a special power in the gesture. It gives me the warmest feelings knowing that people from a distant past are still carrying on and at least sparing a thought for me on occasion (enough to keep me on their list, anyway). I am well-aware of how deeply nostalgic I am, so sometimes I think it is only me who remembers fondly so many special characters from my youth. The holiday cards remind me that I am remembered, too.

Such a big part of the magic of the holiday season is gathering with your loved ones, many of whom we see only for this annual celebration. Holiday cards go hand-in-hand with that sentiment: it is a communion with loved ones that happens but once a year. It brings a special kind of joy to the season. Heck, even going out to the mailbox is fraught with excitement and anticipation each day at this time of the year. The MAILBOX! Perhaps that is an indication of how starved we are for connection and communion in this digital world, a world that has made the “old” types of communication—talking to each other and reaching out with a letter—awkward and uncomfortable for most of us. It takes something as archaic as a holiday card to get us to make the effort to reach out, as though we only dare to bridge that social gap when we have the excuse of tradition to make it acceptable. It is a fascinating social phenomenon.

I am so glad that many of us still hold on to that last vestige of the letter-writing age, enough at least to fill the basket at my Mom and Dad’s house and make a small pile on my countertop. It is what drives me to make the time every year to both make the photo collage and write the letter. As I write, I picture in my head all of the people on my list, the faces of friends and family members from a long and beautiful life. It warms my heart and reminds me of the one thing I am so lucky to be: connected.

How about you? How connected are you at this time of the year? Open your journal and explore the way the holidays remind you of your connectedness—or lack thereof—and how that gets expressed. Who do you gather with at this time of year? Is it always the same people? Do you choose this group because you want to or because it is expected of you? Who else would you like to join you for the holidays? If you could wipe the slate clean and choose exactly who would gather at your table, whom would you choose? What is it about the people at your ideal table that brings them there? Are they connected to each other, or are they all just individually special to you? How often do you communicate with these people currently? Do they all know how much they mean to you? What, if anything, keeps you from making that clear? Do you like getting holiday cards and letters? Whose are your favorites? Does a card in the mail mean more to you than an email, text, or Facebook message? Why do you think that is? Is technology on its way to making mailed holiday cards obsolete? Do you send holiday cards? Photo, letter, or both? If you are a sender, what is your motivation? Are you like me and have a desire to stay connected to loved ones from your past–even if it is just the once-a-year tradition–or do you do it more out of obligation? If you don’t send a card, why not? What would it take to get you to send something to more people? On a scale of one to ten, how connected are you to other people? Are you satisfied with that number? Would you be happier with a higher number? What can you do to change it to a number you would like better? The holiday season offers us a good excuse to reach out. A simple card can be the olive branch, the bridge to communion, or the reminder that your love is always there. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who will you connect with this year? 

Trade in your walls for bridges today,

William

P.S. If there someone in your life you need to reach out to, share this letter with them. Then let them know how much they mean to you. You will not regret it.

The Letter I Wrote To Never Send

DSC_0543“A letter is always better than a phone call. People write things in letters they would never say in person. They permit themselves to write down feelings and observations using emotional syntax far more intimate and powerful than speech will allow. –Alice Steinbach

Hello friend,

I love letters! You remember letters, right? They were written on paper and you got them in your mailbox. They came from people who thought enough of you to take the time to not just write to you but also to buy a stamp and put them in the mail. You could save them in a special shoebox under your bed and bring them out when you were in the mood to feel that person again. In that way, letters achieved something we all long for: timelessness.

I have only one problem: I never send them anymore. Email came along and brought a convenience and immediacy that letters couldn’t compete with. Then social media took that convenience and immediacy to a whole new level. Like Main Street small businesses when Wal-Mart comes to town, letters have withered and died on the vine in our digital age. One thing that instant messages will never have, however, is the thing that letters had in spades: timelessness.

On a picture perfect afternoon in Rome, eighteen Autumns ago, I emptied myself wholly onto several pages in blue ink. It was a letter to my brother, Jacques. He and I, quite frankly, hadn’t been very close for most of my life, but he was nonetheless a hero figure to me. He had a magnetic personality. He was always doing such cool things in the outdoors. And, he was a writer, which I highly romanticized. We had only just begun in recent months to connect in conversations, and I truly revered him. Quite simply, he was a mythic figure to me, and I fancied the idea that he might be interested in my journey, both on the map and in the landscape of my soul.

I was in the midst of my epic journey across Europe–my first and greatest–and my mind and spirit were absolutely on fire with growth and discovery. Although I had been journaling for a few years by then, it had been very sporadic. The start of that epic adventure with my backpack, however, marked the start of my daily practice that has continued all these years. And I was filling up the pages like a madman. It was almost as though I had opened up the top of my head and was simply pouring it all out in the white pages of my new best friend. I was the embodiment of “high on life,” in the midst of a full-blown spiritual revolution that had me nearly unable to catch my breath several times per day. It was a truly extraordinary time, as I was seemingly communing with God.

God, and no one else. I traveled alone through strange lands and languages, and I spoke to my parents only occasionally for a few brief moments as the phone card ran itself out like water down a drain. My outlet was my journal. But on that beautiful Italian afternoon eighteen Autumns ago, I wanted to write a letter. I wanted to share what I had been experiencing. I wanted to tell my story. But I also didn’t want to share my story. I wanted to keep it close to my heart, where the journey really was taking place.

So, I compromised. I wrote the letter to my brother, but I wrote it into my journal, where it would remain forever. I realized that I just wanted to write the letter to clear my mind, like the way a storyteller wants to unload the latest baby of his imagination, just to get it out there and let it go. And so, on a Tuesday in Rome, with my brother squarely in my thoughts, I opened my second journal to its last handful of pages, and I began:

3:54PM Tuesday October 21, 1997 Roma, Italia

Dearest Brother

I am sitting here on the Spanish Steps, and Bob Dylan is playing in my head: “Oh the streets of Rome are filled with rubble…From the Spanish Steps to the….” I have not and probably will not write a letter or postcard on this trip, but it seems like the one I am always talking to when I pretend to write one is you. For whatever that means, here is my letter. It cannot be put into words what an amazing adventure I am having. The feeling I have each day is really quite indescribable. I believe it is what is commonly referred to as “unreasonable happiness.” Honestly I do not know where to begin. I suppose a chronological trail might be best. After my excellent stay in New York, Amsterdam was where the plane dropped me first. It is said that the best trip to Amsterdam is the one you don’t remember, but it was still pretty cool in a sober state, though the smell from the coffee shops was enough for a bit of a buzz. I didn’t go so far as watching a “real live sex act,” but I did go to the Sex Museum and through the red light district , where all the whores lean out of the doors and their two-high glass apartments wearing only high heels, bra, and panties. I laughed my ass off. After less than a day in Minneapolis-like Hanover, I headed down to Munich and those crazy German stein-hoisters decked out in the full Clark Griswald get-up, as it was Oktoberfest. It was damn wild as both men and women slugged down massive amounts of beer in mugs that looked like they weighed 50 pounds, empty. Germany is a lot like Wisconsin in the north and central parts, while in the south it reminds me a bit more of the eastern states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Itching to get down to the sea, but not wanting to miss anything, I took the rails down to Vienna. It is a majestic old city, with all evidence from its days as the capital of a great empire still intact. I walked the amazing lawns of a castle and took in an opera for two bucks. Salzburg was next. Set in a Bozeman-type landscape, check out “quaint” in Webster’s and you might find a picture of this beautiful city. Westward through the Tirol region and on to Switzerland I rode, through clearly the most beautiful landscape I have found here. It’s like the most beautiful part of Montana everywhere. Perhaps “Paradise Valley with steeper, more beautiful mountains” is a better description. Switzerland was beautiful and expensive, and the Great Sea was calling, so I ascended and descended the Alps into this amazing land called Italy. I was in love immediately and vowed to learn the language when I returned to the States. And the air was so thick, with the sea, the passion, the garlic, and the love. I was intoxicated. The boat landed me in Greece, and I was wondering if the correct spelling wasn’t actually Grease. It is essentially a desert, with only its history and the Great Sea as attributes. I was glad to see the ruins of Athens, but more happy to hop on that boat bound for the islands. If you have ever seen a postcard of Greece, with the brilliant blue sea as a backdrop for little whitewashed dwellings with blue shutters and doors, it was not the mainland. The islands are essentially deserts as well, but the villages are charming and that amazing water is all around. It is clear like the waters at Glacier, and the sun portrays your shadow on the bottom, even in deep water. The first night I got there, the surface was ripe for waterskiing and I just had to take a dive through the cool night air. I was whooping and howling at the moon, my version of whistling zippity-doo-da out of my asshole. It was a welcome relief from hauling my pack around and sleeping in a different bed every night. And I was a savage within a few days. Oh, was I peaceful. I laid on the black sand and listened to those light waves gently lapping at the shore. After my ten-day “vacation” on three islands, I spent three dreary nights on boats and trains to get me here to Roma. But what a reward for my troubles. It is a wonderful city. Though I believe Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, I hear that my next two stops, Florence and Siena, give it a run for its money. That was a pretty superficial brush-over of it all, but it is not the places that are most important but rather the experiences and growth the journey offers. And I have had much of both. What I am most happy to report is that I have written an incredible amount. When I left I didn’t even conceive of finishing this book before the trip was done, but here I am with two pages to go and a month left of travels. I have written a minimum of two pages every single day since I left home, and it seems to increase with each day’s passing. I have put down my first three short stories, thanks to the inspiration of one Mr. Ernest Hemingway. They are so damn fun to write! One night in Vienna I was writing an essay on withdrawing from the world to draw closer to God, and some remarkable ideas came into my mind. It was an unbelievable experience. I was sweating. My heart was racing. I couldn’t get the pen to move fast enough. It was a true revelation. In the end I had the idea for my first book and a depleted supply of adrenaline. I have felt for some months now that I am growing closer and closer to God. I have really ceased using my mind for the intellectual, in the controlling manner I once did. I use it now as a channel to the higher world. I shut up and listen for the way. I find myself increasingly in tune with the Lord. There is no tension, no obstruction in the channel. Everything feels so very right at every moment in my life. All of the energy that flows is of the positive nature. The secrets are showing themselves to me more clearly with each passing day. The result of it all is that “unreasonable happiness” I spoke of earlier. But that’s the whole thing. I have realized this “unreasonable” thing is the one to which we are intended to feel always. This is the will of God. In our world we have made it seem so unreachable, but it is right there for us. All we need to do is change our minds! It’s not easy, but it is truly simple. Enough of the sermon, but I just want everyone to be feeling the way I do. My time is coming and is here now. The world will be a better place for my time here. This much I know. The guy I stayed with in New York said I could choose three paperbacks for the trip. On The Road, Hemingway’s Short Stories, and The Portable Emerson were the winners, and I because of them. In barely over two weeks I had finished the Kerouac and the Hemingway. I couldn’t put them down. I was so in love with Sal and Dean in the Kerouac. This is raw life. It was so romantic. And the Hemingway was simply brilliant. As soon as time permits I will be into his novels. Now my guidebook of Europe, the Emerson, and my 900-page History of Western Philosophy keep me fully occupied. Mostly I’m writing now though. I love it more than I can say. It feels like my avenue toward helping the world. Who can say? I am just so happy to be who I am and doing what I am. And I am so very happy for your presence in my life. I love you so much, Jacques. You may never physically see this land called Europe, but you will have been here, because you travel always with me. God bless. Always, Willy

That letter was therapy for me somehow. It was therapy on the day that I wrote it, and it was therapy again this week, when I came across it while working on The Journal Project. I think all letters are therapy in a way. Like the quote at the top says, we allow ourselves to express things in letters that we would not—or could not—otherwise express. And so, whether I actually decide to send them or not, maybe it is time I sat down and wrote my words for someone specific. Maybe it will even be worthy of a shoebox under a bed far, far away, there basking in its most treasured state: timelessness.

How about you? Is there a letter inside of you, dying to get out? Open up your journal and think about the people you are compelled to share yourself with. Who is on your short list? Are they mostly people whom you have lost contact with? Or, rather, are they people currently in your life—perhaps family members—whom you would like to have a deeper relationship with? Is there someone you should write to strictly for therapeutic reasons, even if you never intend to send it? Perhaps it is someone who has hurt you deeply and who you need to forgive in order to find peace. Perhaps it is someone you have long needed to thank. Perhaps it is God. Why do you think we express ourselves so much more clearly—and daringly—in letters rather than conversation? Is it the time to prepare the words precisely? Maybe it is the distance away from the audience, knowing we are safe from the initial reaction? Is it the intimacy of immediate feedback that we fear? I know that I am much braver with the pen and keyboard than I am with my mouth. Do you save old letters? Whom would you most like to receive a letter from now? Imagine going to the mailbox tomorrow and finding a letter from that person: the warmth and gratitude you would feel knowing that you were deep in their thoughts and in their heart. Who might be the person whose day you could make by writing to them? Are you ready? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who will get your letter? 

Give your gift today,

William

P.S. If you were touched by this, I encourage you to share it. We need each other’s best!

A Lifelong Love Letter

DSC_0880 2“Say what you want to say, And let the words fall out honestly.  I want to see you be brave”             –Sara Bareilles, Brave

Hello friend,

There is something so nostalgic and heart-tugging for me about reading a letter. Not a text or an email, but a real letter on actual paper. It is somehow more romantic if written in ink rather than typed, but as long as the signature is hand-written, it has my heart. I love to dig through old piles of random life stuff and come across a letter from long ago. It doesn’t matter who it is from—childhood friend, sibling, lost love–it suddenly takes on enormous emotional power. Maybe it is because I love to write, maybe because I really want to share my Truth with those I love, and maybe just because I often have a tough time saying just what I want to say in person. But whatever the reason, I have always been captivated by letters.

I don’t write them often enough. It always seems like such a great idea in theory, yet I never seem to make the time (I am beginning to think this is the story of my life—ugh!). So the people who have meant so much to me have not always been aware of their impact and my gratitude. I have a lot of regret about that. I have, however, developed one redeeming habit that I hope to never break. Ever since my daughter turned one—she will be six this week—I have written my children a letter on their birthdays. I just spill out what they have been up to and how I feel about them. At some undetermined point in the future—maybe when they turn 20 or 25 or when they get married or have their own child—I will give them the letters. It may sound small and silly, but gosh, what I wouldn’t give to read something like this from my own parents! I am a nostalgic guy and a natural chronicler of events. If my kids are anything like me, maybe they will appreciate what their old man was thinking about them as they moved along their journey through this wonderland called Life. So, here is what I wrote to my son last week on his big day:

30 July 2014

To my Isaiah on his 4th Birthday,

Happy Birthday, Best Man! My Prince is four years old! I suppose I am supposed to say, “Where did the time go?” But it really feels like you have been with me forever, so thinking of my baby as a 4-year-old doesn’t make the old parent in me feel sad or like I am losing time. I think what makes that the case is that you and I squeeze the most out of every day together. And we spend SO MUCH TIME TOGETHER. We are pretty much stuck together like glue—you and I—and that suits me just fine. I cherish every moment with you.

Someone once asked me if I could name the characteristic that really stands out in your personality. I told her, “He is the funniest and most fun-loving person I have ever met.” That is totally true. Once you get past your crusty-crabby state right when you wake up in the morning—you are no fun at that hour—you are the most fun-seeking, fun-having person in the world, always trying to find something to amuse yourself and anyone else who is around. That gets you into just about everything, of course. It is tough to get mad at you even when you are causing trouble, though, as I know your underlying intention is good (just sometimes misdirected!). And when I am giving you the angry Daddy look for being a little rascal, neither one of us can keep a straight face for long, because you shoot me that little glance that says, “Yeah, I am just playing the little menace role right now, but I am really just messing with you, Dad!” Then we both giggle and move on, as neither of us wants to miss the fun stuff in the next moment.

And what fun we have! One of your favorite games is “Shoot the Ball at Somebody!!!” which involves you and I getting out all of our million balls in the playroom and then throwing them at each other over and over(and, of course, laughing all the way). You also love “Dino-Fighting” which is basically just you and I pretending to be dinosaurs and wrestling each other in the yard. I may be bigger than you, but you make up for that by never getting tired. You also love to have bike races up and down the street (and yes, you beat me in that every time, too). Almost every time we go out to ride, you are totally unwilling to go back inside until you have taken at least one ride to the end of the street and back in each of your favorite vehicles: bike, Big Wheel, balance bike, and scooter. The neighbors all know to drive slowly, because you drive amazingly fast but don’t always look where you are going! It is so fun to do all this stuff with you.

You were busy away from the house this year, too. You love playing with your cousins, at Minot for Christmas but especially at Pelican Lake in the Summer. You all play together so well and have the best time in the lake and on the trampoline. Those are my favorite times of the year, when I get to bring you to a place that has always been special to me and see you love it as much as I always did when I was a kid. When you are not terrorizing your sister, you are glued to her and think she is the coolest thing ever. The zoo is another one of your favorite spots, as you are a great explorer. This Winter, you got into your first class ever: Swimming! After spending the entire first class period being held by the teacher while screaming for me—one of my toughest half-hours ever–you were a champion the rest of the way. It is such a treat to watch you enjoy the water. Just last week, you and I were the only ones in the outdoor pool at the gym right when it opened, the only two foolish enough to be out there on a gray, 65-degree morning. We had a blast, though, as always! Just a couple of weeks ago, you also got to start Soccer. And while you haven’t gotten into a Tennis class yet, you and I have spent a lot of time on the court together (most days you don’t want to hit anything but overhead smashes, which is how I know you are my kid!). It is such a treat to be your best buddy for all this.

The one hobby that I wish you did less of—but that totally mesmerizes you—is watching television and movies (your big favorites this year have been “Monsters Inc.,” “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “The Incredibles, to name just a few). What amazes me always is how perfectly you memorize all of the scenes. And because you are a born actor, you entertain us nonstop with performances of the scenes the rest of the day, or you just throw movie lines into your regular conversation. It is genius and completely hilarious. Since just before your last birthday, you have been into superheroes. You were Superman for Halloween last year and are already trying to decide who to be this year. Superheroes, balls, dinosaurs, cars & trucks, wrestling—yeah, you kind of seem like a stereotypical boy in a lot of ways.

But you are also so unique and extraordinary. You are amazingly intelligent and so sweet, and somehow you manage to balance all of that with your superhuman energy and joy of life. I am in awe of how you can contain all of this in one little four-year-old body. It is a testament to the power of your spirit. You are surely destined for magnificent things. I can’t wait to cheer you on every step of the way. I am so, so proud of you and so wildly grateful that I get to be your Dad. I couldn’t imagine a better son, and I thank you for sharing your magic with me every single day. These are the best of times. Happy 4th Birthday! I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

Always, Dad

What about you? Is there anyone you want to write a letter to? What do you want to say? If you feel a little weird about it–or scared or whatever–sometimes the best place to start is in your journal. Open it up and just start writing to the person from your heart. Don’t judge it; just say what you want to say. If you think they don’t know how you really feel about them—most people don’t, precisely because we don’t tell them—then really lay it out there. Say what you have always wanted to say, what you have always really wished they would know about you and what they mean to you. Who in your life do you need to deliver this letter to? A parent? Sibling? Childhood friend? Teacher? Hero? The one that got away? The one who doesn’t know they are the one? How about someone right under your roof who you have been unable to get on track with for awhile, e.g. a child or spouse? Maybe the letter you need to write is to someone no longer living, someone you never got to say all you wanted to say to. That is a wonderful letter, a healing letter. What about my habit of the annual letter to someone, whether you save it for later or deliver it each year? Is there someone you might get in that habit with?

In the end, it makes me feel better about myself—more honest and more fully who I am—when my Truth is out there and my loved ones know where they stand with me. I can feel how it deepens the relationship. Actually, that is how journaling has made me feel about me. I am authentic because of it. I know myself, warts and all. Telling on yourself—whether to yourself or to others—is the best way to rob shame of its power. Then you can just be you. Authentic, beautiful you. So, write to someone! Expose yourself and experience how liberating that is. And please, write in your journal. Give yourself the gift of a lifelong love letter. 

You are worth it,

William