Tag Archives: passions

Plan A, Plan B, and the Truth: What Are You Really Doing With Your Life?

DSC_0548“Don’t have a Plan B, get rid of it, throw it away, toss it aside…Plan B is a dream killer, Go all in on Plan A and don’t look back.” –Mastin Kipp

Hello friend,

I am officially a student again! After nearly a year of uncertainty, busy-ness, and self-doubt about what lies ahead for me in the mysterious waters of Life, I finally plunged back in.

A few years ago, when I started my re-awakening to my dreams and my deeper purpose, I got into The Journal Project and was reconnected to my passion for connecting with people through words—theirs and mine—in order to help them know themselves better and live their happiest, best lives. Journal of You was spawned from that period, as was the realization—the remembrance, really, because I once knew this important truth about myself—that I am a writer.

You see, in my mid-twenties, I had come to admit to myself that my deepest, most closely protected dreams involved me being an agent of positive change. I believed I was meant to be a transformative teacher, using the tools of writing, speaking, and counseling to spread my messages of self-knowledge, gratitude, and Love to the world.

But then I forgot. I got busy with school, then transitioned headlong into a career that, while it involved teaching and being a positive influence, did not make full use of the qualities that meant the most to me. It didn’t tap all the way into the depths of my soul, didn’t mine my finest gifts, the ones my soul secretly longed to give. I lived this way—“sleepwalking” is how I think of it now—for many, many years. I was happy, but not fulfilled.

So, when I began to awaken a few years ago, my greatest dreams began to seem clear to me again. They were the same as they had been all those years before, so I knew they had a timeless, authentic quality. They were absolutely me. When you have a realization like that—as though God has personally delivered a message to you—how can you turn your back on it? Not twice!

With that awakening, I began a slow but certain return to my Plan A, at least in my mind. It was such a slow turn, of course, because my “real life” was going on all around me. All that time that I had been sleepwalking, I was also taking on responsibilities—you know, little things like a spouse, children, a mortgage—that dictated how much of my time and energy was to be spent. It wasn’t like the old days when I first became clear about my purpose, my Plan A. In those days, I was allowed to become a penniless hermit or wander around the globe with a backpack full of journals or hole up in my parents’ basement to study and write. It was easy to devote myself to my Plan A. It’s no wonder my soul was on fire then, and that I have never before or since felt so tapped into what I am supposed to be doing.

As I mentioned, when I awoke again a few years ago, my first baby steps back toward myself were The Journal Project and then Journal of You. Recognizing that neither of these was going to make me any money in the near future, I started thinking about how I could keep my purpose front and center, but make a living at the same time. I knew that no matter how many nights I could sneak downstairs for a little writing after the kids finally went to bed, I was never going to get very far if that was all the time and energy I could give it. It struck me that the only way I would eventually be satisfied—fulfilled—is if I was spending all day on my greatest passions.

That moment of clarity triggered a lot of pain in me, actually, because I was fully aware for the first time of just how much of my life I was wasting by not acting directly on what I knew to be my purpose. Truth be told, it still hurts me greatly and daily, as I have become extremely sensitive to anything and everything that wastes my time. I have become very protective of my moments, knowing how fleeting they are and how many I have already wasted doing things that don’t speak directly to who I am and what makes my heart sing.

With that motivation, I started my education to become a Life Coach. While it wasn’t writing, it was helping people to find their own clarity of purpose and use their time more wisely on things that speak to their soul (the irony is not lost on me that I am here to teach what I most need to learn). It was going to be my new, fulfilling day job while I worked hard on my writing, which would eventually supplement my Life Coaching income and then finally become my primary income source. I knew it would all take a while to happen—years, really—but I was into it. However, when my first round of classes ended after several months, I told myself I was too busy to register for more at the moment. I would come back to it in a few months, I told myself. With that, I totally put the Coaching on the back burner. There it stared at me with quiet disappointment every single day.

Well, a few months turned into several. I was writing more, which was great, but I still felt guilty about my Coaching education and business start-up, which I had left in the lurch. As Autumn deepened and Winter loomed, I knew I had to make some sort of move toward not just my Plan A, but toward a Plan A with an income source. When I forced myself to name the one thing I most wanted to do if all the money was equal, the answer was easy: writing. Life Coaching was fun for me and very, very meaningful, but writing was still better.

My problem was that once I started talking about the concept from the quote at the top—basically, think only of Plan A, throw out Plan B entirely—I translated that simplistically and figured I must throw all my efforts into finding writing jobs (that will pay me, of course!). As I started spending hours researching the market for writing, the thoughts of Life Coaching continued to enter my mind, though. In my greed, I want to do everything I am passionate about, not just one thing. Still, I was clinging to this single-minded approach, seeing the Coaching as the forbidden Plan B. Eventually, though, and with the great help of my journal, I remembered that old vision I had for myself, the one that still rings true: Writer-Speaker-Coach. The people who are role models to me—such as the quoted Mastin Kipp—are occupying all of those roles simultaneously. They aren’t compartmentalizing them, because that would exclude essential parts of themselves unnecessarily.

That “a-ha! moment” was such a relief, and it is exactly why I am back in Life Coaching classes again. I am not selling out to my Plan B; I am just opening my eyes to the broad beauty of my Plan A and giving the whole picture my attention, not just the brushstrokes in the center of the frame.

Of course, I still have the job and the family to squeeze it in around, and I know that doing the classes will mean I have less time to write. I hate that! But I also feel that much more committed to keeping my biggest dreams—my Plan A—front and center in the midst of this life of bills and obligations. It will be a struggle, but I cannot return to sleepwalking again. I am only my true self when I am wide awake to my dreams.

How about you? What is your Plan A? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your heart. What are your biggest dreams? Does one jump out at you immediately? Do you have more than one really big passion? If so, do they complement each other and work together–like my writing and coaching–or are they completely distinct from each other? How hard is it for you to admit to yourself what you really want most from this life? I am guessing that for most people—myself included—the real circumstances of their lives probably don’t closely resemble the life they have been dreaming about. That has to be hard to admit, right? Or doesn’t it? My thinking is that if we are not living what we believe to be our purpose—especially if we aren’t even making an effort to pursue it—we are in some way admitting that we are giving up on ourselves, settling. That seems like a bitter pill to swallow. What do you think? Are you living your Plan A now? If not, are you in hot pursuit? I think you can count yourself as lucky if you can answer “Yes” to either of those questions. How clear is your Plan A to you right now? As I said, when I went from my mid-twenties and being clear about my biggest dream, to my long sleepwalking phase, I was simply not aware of how plainly I had dropped the ball on that dream. Has that ever happened to you? Might it be happening now? It is my theory that I blinded myself to the harsh realization that I had given up on my Plan A, my big dream, during that sleepwalking phase in order to protect my ego. It was self-preservation by denial. After all, as I said, once you feel you have received this clear message from your soul or your God about who you really are and what you are meant to do here, how can you turn your back on it and maintain a clear conscience? Denial might be all you have left. Where are you in that process? Do you think you know what you are here to do? Do you know what makes your heart sing? Have you ever known? Have you always known? How loyal to it have you been? Are you all-in, or have you allowed Plans B and C and D to distract you from your purpose? Leave me a reply and let me know: How committed are you to your Plan A? 

Do what you LOVE,

William

P.S. If you know someone who should hear this message, pass it along. Let’s support each other!

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

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

Hello friend,

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

My, how times have changed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maximize every moment,

William

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

Swimming Upstream: My Inability to Go With The Flow of LIFE

DSC_1074“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” —Lao Tzu

Hello friend,

That Lao Tzu was one wise dude! Just look at that quote above. “Natural…don’t resist…let reality be…let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. It all sounds so easy and relaxing. Heck, it calms me just to read the words! It is completely rational, too: resisting the realities of Life definitely makes things harder (or “creates sorrow,” as the sage would say). I am in complete agreement with the concept of letting it go and letting it flow. Acceptance of what is. It’s a philosophy I can get behind….theoretically. Put it on my bumper. Sign me up!

There’s just one little problem: I simply cannot do it!!! 

I am hopeless! I really am. I like to think I am the guy who is absorbed in the moment–very present and centered–and completely grateful for everything about my life. I am happy, too. Very much so. I wish everyone I know were as happy as I am. And yet, in the midst of all of this happiness and gratitude, I must admit to an undercurrent of tension that I have become increasingly aware of recently. I feel myself straining against the realities of my life. I am in a constant state of striving. And while striving all by itself is not a bad thing—it’s how we take the next step and grow and achieve—in my case, striving carries along with it my old friend Strife. Definition of strife: “1. Heated, often violent dissension; bitter conflict. 2. A contention: struggle between rivals. Whom, you might ask, am I struggling against? Who is my bitter rivalry with? LIFE. Yes, LIFE itself is what I seem to be always battling. The normal flow of things and the general rules of how things go seem to be always at odds with what I want and how quickly I want it.

I want more. More time. More money. More of the freedom that comes with time and money. More time with my wife and kids. More people to read my blog. More clients. More writing gigs. More impact. More Peace. More fitness. More knowledge. More hobbies. More skills. More leisure. More of the outward and inward signs of career success. MORE!

I have a problem with patience and tolerance. I am spoiled! I really am. I simply don’t endure things very well that are not exactly to my specifications. I want the world to go a certain way. MY way. I want my dreams to come true. I want the world to see in me the greatness that I see. I want the Universe to go out of its way to align circumstances in my favor so that I can give my gifts and have them be received and appreciated by great masses of people. I want to live big and leave a lasting impact in the ways that I choose. When all of that is not happening—you know, like today and all of the other days—I become very frustrated and annoyed with the Universe. “Why are you making it so difficult for me??? 

Maybe my issue—well, one of my issues—is that I don’t just want the Universe to cooperate with my dreams; I expect it to cooperate. I expect it will put that right person in my path who has read my blog and is dying to publish it in the form of a book. I expect my wife will get some huge pay raise at work so I will no longer have to work for anyone else and can focus on my own pursuits. I expect that when I finally finish my other book, people will be dying to buy it. I expect my consulting business and coaching business will catch on like wildfire.

Of course, my brain is well aware of the potential pitfalls of high expectations—especially when they are grounded in fantasy—and thinks it would be wiser to play it safe with my dreams in order to avoid being let down by the world. “The world,” after all, is full of examples of unfairness, unfulfilled dreams, and plain old bad luck. They seem to far outnumber the examples of amazing good fortune and dreams fulfilled. And Heaven knows I could avoid all of this existential angst by listening to my brain on this one. But I don’t seem to listen to my brain. It’s too logical most days. I prefer to listen to my heart. I want to follow my Bliss.

I have a lot of passions and interests. I am deeply driven toward self-knowledge, which is how my daily journaling practice began almost twenty years ago. I am perhaps even more passionate about helping others to know themselves and fulfill their potential. This is where my drive to write and speak and coach comes in. I am also insatiably curious. The list of topics that I want to study is endless. I could live happily in a library (especially if it had a well-equipped gym, because I am also passionate about health and fitness). I could read autobiographies forever. I am addicted to fresh air, too, and adore the outdoors. I am a student of religions and spirituality. I love sports, too. And travel. I am also dying to learn the guitar and the piano. Oh, and did I mention that I have these two amazing little kids that I try to spend every waking minute with (I only write these letters to you after they go to sleep)?

I REALLY want to do all of that stuff. With all of my soul, I do. Thus, I feel like I must. I don’t want to betray the callings of my soul by neglecting any of them. I feel like I wasted too much time earlier in my life by working too much instead of listening more closely to my heart and soul. I am unwilling to do that again. I have drawn the line in the sand. But how can I do all of that stuff I just listed? How do I fit it in, especially with the kids in there (believe me, I have tried to eliminate sleep from my schedule, but I just couldn’t sustain it)?

This is where the strife comes in. This is where I butt heads with LIFE and all of its normal rules and rhythms. The Rules step in and say, “Life is tough. Who ever said it was easy? Get a job that feeds your family. Pick a hobby to do one night per week. Maybe you can squeeze in one other thing to read about before bed. But don’t get greedy. Be realistic. There just isn’t time for more. You can’t improve everything all the time. Be like Lao Tzu: just let things flow. 

I get that. It makes total sense to me. And sometimes, I can convince myself to follow along for a night, or even a few days at a time. I pull out a book and start to read for some leisure, or I do some mindless web-surfing some night after the kids go to bed. It seems okay at first. I tell myself, “See, this is what normal people do. I even think about finding a television series to follow.

But I don’t. I start feeling itchy. My soul intervenes. “Fit it all in! Carpe diem! Seize the day! MAKE YOUR LIFE EXTRAORDINARY!!!! 

That’s all it takes for me. I am back to swimming upstream again, grinding hard against the grain of LIFE, trying to fill a five-pound bag with ten pounds of my passions. I can’t help myself. It seems clear that my speed and the speed of the world will never match up. Heck, our roads don’t even go in the same direction! I am quite sure I will never be content. I will be striving for more, for better, for extraordinary. What can I say: I gotta be me!

How about you? How well do you go with the flow of LIFE? Open up your journal and bleed a little of your soul into it. Are you able to take Life as it comes and comfortably roll with it? Does the world allow you about as much time as you need to feel satisfied with your day or your week? Are there things that are important to you that you feel like you must consistently leave out of your schedule? What are they? How badly does that bother you? Is it just mildly disappointing or irritating, or does it pain your soul (my neglected passions pain me in a way I cannot even begin to describe)? Are there hobbies or interests—or even a career—that you would like to pursue before you die? Is there time available for you to begin? What is stopping you? If you have more passions than you have time to pursue them, do you think you simply have a time management problem, or do you really have an overabundance of interests by any measurement? What could you cut out of your day to make room for more of the stuff that makes your heart sing? How much do you accept the idea that LIFE is difficult and that you simply don’t get to do all of the things you want to do? Are you okay with that? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you struggling against The Rules of LIFE, or do you go with the flow?

I wish you Peace,

William

P.S. If this post resonates with you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with your family and friends via social media or old-fashioned word-of-mouth. My hope is to positively impact as many people as possible every week, and I need your help to do that. Thanks in advance for your support.

What Choice Do I Have?

DSC_0893“We are the choices we make.” —Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Hello friend,

When I was a kid, I heard the same thing you did: “You can be anything you want to be.” But, as my youth passed and young adulthood emerged, it seemed that everything was preordained, that I was powerless to Destiny. I would go to college, just like they always said. I would become a doctor, just like they always said. And that’s pretty much how the rest of my life would go. How much of a choice is that, really, when everybody said I was going to do it since elementary school? At 21, I felt like I was stuck in a trap that had been set before I had even hit puberty. My life was on rails going only one way.

And then, I jumped off the track. The straight-A, destined-for-doctorhood guy quit school altogether. It felt like the first time I had ever made a real choice in my life. It scared the heck out of me! It shocked everyone—including me, frankly—and I don’t pretend that I wasn’t a big disappointment to those I loved the most, especially my parents. And yet, as outcast and alone as I felt after making that fateful decision, it was also strangely liberating. There was a freedom in finally ignoring the “shoulds” of all of them—whoever “they” are—and taking the reins of my own life. Yes, in the midst of all of that fear and anxiety about how I could succeed while going against the grain in this world, I felt powerful. I had given myself the greatest gift I had ever known: CHOICE.

That gift emboldened me, and after that I spent a good number of years marching to the beat of my own drummer, choosing a path rich in experience and enrichment. I was floating, really, quite blissful in my empowered state. Years later, I fell in love and found myself feeling enormously conflicted about what to do with that. I feared that making the big commitment to a life partnership would once again trap me into being a giant expectation and that I would spend the rest of my life “shoulding” all over myself. Eventually, I made my peace with the idea, and I instead found some freedom within the form that is Love. It was a good choice.

However, the next phase of adulthood showed me the other way people get out-of-choice in life and get lost. I became sucked into working way too many hours and exhausting myself. My other passions went completely out the door, and the years passed by in a mindless fog. I was well on my way to being one of those guys who was going to blink and be 65, wondering where my life went (if I hadn’t already had a heart attack). I was on autopilot. I was living by default, not by design.

I am so thankful to my daughter for bringing me back to life. Her birth was my re-birth; she woke me up. I got my priorities straight. Work became secondary, mostly just a means to take care of my family. My time and energy suddenly felt very valuable. I wanted to give it all to her. And for the most part, I did. I cut down my work hours drastically, and all other outside interests as well. I was family only. Everything else went to the back burner.

And so, the pendulum swung back the other way. Any foray into marriage or parenthood brings its own set of shoulds, and one’s dreams for himself can become tempered by the dreams of others, or for others. Sometimes you willingly give away your choices. The big decisions to enter these relationships become obligations that both fulfill you and bind you at the same time. I would not go back and choose anything different on the family front, but it certainly has changed the arc of my pursuit of my dreams.

I was really at peace with that trade—some might say “sacrifice”—at least until a couple of years ago. Turning 40 very much changed my perspective and got me back into the mindset of my dreams and my purpose. It literally “re-minded” me. And now I continue to make the choice to put my kids and family first—they are, after all, deeply entrenched with my purpose here on Earth—but I don’t do it mindlessly. I don’t just drift into it without thought. It is also not because of someone else’s “should”. I choose it because I want it. But I am simultaneously aware of what I am giving up in order to prioritize these people so highly.

My other dreams—to be a writer, speaker, and coach—are not allotted much time in my day. That is difficult for me to swallow, I admit. But it is still a choice. And that is also why I choose to drive so hard when I am not doing family stuff. I have chosen to give up most leisure activities and social engagements in order to use what little “spare time” there is to press on with my mission, to follow my Bliss. So, I write my journal every day to know myself better so that I can be more grateful and thus more happy. And I write this letter to you every week, because it means a great deal to me to help you know yourself better and feel more grateful and happy, too. And I take my coaching classes and do my homework to prepare myself even more to help people.

I do all of that so that one day, instead of trying to squeeze my dreams into a couple of hours of spare time to the exclusion of other things that might help me lead a more balanced life, I will actually have a profession of these passions that I can do during the normal work day, leaving the “spare time” for such bucket list items as teaching myself the guitar or creating movies of my kids’ lives. Or, maybe I would just let myself dive into leisure, such as my beloved books or movies. Leisure. Yes, I like the sound of that. That would be a nice reward for some good choices made and executed. Some day.

That is my vision. That is what has driven my recent choices, including the big-picture moves—job changes and a return to school—and the daily choices to fill my schedule and go hard at my passions. I am trying to ignore the shoulds of other people’s plans and expectations for me, trying to listen to the drum that is beating inside of me (in the back of my mind, I always hear my old pal Thoreau saying, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”). I hope I am choosing wisely. I am heartened by the fact that if I fail today, I can wake up tomorrow and choose again. Life is beautifully generous that way. The challenge for me is to accept the offer. Every. Single. Time. That is the best choice I can make.

How about you? Are you living your life by choice? Open up your journal and think about why you do what you do. How much do the expectations of others and obligations—“the shoulds”—play a role in your life? Is it only in certain areas—your career or where you live, for instance—or does it go across the board? How different do you think your life would look without those shoulds? A lot or a little? Do you see marriage and parenthood more as chains that bind people and limit their future choices, or rather as choices they make to express their love and their passions more freely? How much is on each side of that spectrum? To what extent is your life just a mindless routine that you go through the motions of without really making choices anymore? This numbing is, I think, at least partially what Thoreau is referring to when he says, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Does that resonate with you? Are you living by default, or by design? If you woke up tomorrow and decided to design your life from now on, what would be the first choices you would make to be more authentic and purposeful? Are you ready to commit to that? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What choice do YOU have? 

Your life is now,

William

Falling Off The Tightrope

IMG_1128“My world was delicately balanced, but the scales never hung even. When something improved, something else had to crumble.” –Rebecca Donovan, Reason to Breathe

Hello friend,

I have never been good at balance. Never. I tend to zero in on one thing and let it consume all of my time and energy, leaving the rest of my passions, hobbies, and pursuits twisting in the wind. However, because I am a man of many interests, with an insatiable desire to learn new things, my headlong pursuit of only one thing at a time—no matter how worthy of my attention it is–invariably leaves me feeling torn, restless, and unfulfilled. And sometimes, just plain burnt out.

This is exactly why I don’t have a Ph.D. behind my name right now. I started my doctoral program full of high-minded ideals and enthusiasm. The intensive education—not to mention the cache of being called “Dr. William Rutten”—was going to help me save the world, so I was eager for the commitment. Then, however, classes started, and my Perfectionism Gene reared its ugly head. I had to know everything and get every answer right, as I always had in school. As it turns out, thanks to this annoying trait, the only way I do school is to study every waking hour of every day. My life was the epitome of imbalance. All of my other passions were crowded out by school. In a moment of clarity, I realized that that was no way to live for six straight years. So I bailed out.

You might think that I was wise enough to never let that happen again. You would be wrong. Not long after I checked out of academia, my career path switched into tennis teaching and management. I moved into Tennis because it was my first love and because I love teaching. And hey, how busy or stressful could it be for a guy who gets to wear shorts all day? As it turned out in my case, pretty darn busy and stressful. It wasn’t long before 60 and 70-hour weeks became the norm. I hardly ever saw the light of day, was completely wiped out physically from all of the hours on the court, and was a giant stress-ball from all of the demands off the court. And, oh yeah, I had neither the time nor the energy to pursue my other passions. The job was all-consuming, and once again, I was off-balance. This time, though, the imbalance lasted for several years, not just a semester or two.

You would be astonished to know that someone stuck by me through both the school and the work addictions, each time on the wrong end of my imbalances. As though her love and loyalty through all of that were not enough, she also provided me the key to let myself out of my self-created prison of workaholism. That key was our first child. When my daughter was born, the reality of how little time I was spending at home and my overall imbalance hit me immediately, and it shocked my system enough to make me want out right then and there. I wanted the elusive home/work balance that I had heard about. So I quit my job. Well, not exactly. I quit the management portion of my job and cut my working days down to four, taking the evenings off as well. My daughter was my number one priority, and I wanted my schedule to reflect that.

Here might be a good time to admit the full truth. I didn’t actually want the home/work balance. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to go from 60+ hours at work directly to ZERO. I wanted to spend every single minute with my daughter. If my wife made more money, I would happily have been a stay-at-home Dad and removed myself entirely from the work force. Basically, I wanted my comfortable imbalance back, only I wanted the imbalance to be fully attached to my daughter, not my job.

This longing has never left me. My daughter is almost six now—my son is almost four—and I would still shake your hand right now if you offered me the chance to stay home with them every day. As it is, I have manipulated my life with them into a different version of imbalance. I still work when I have to, yes, but when I am not there, I spend their every waking minute with them. I have given up all hobbies—e.g., golf, hanging with friends, etc.–that happen while they are awake. My wife and I don’t even go on evening dates—EVER, I mean—because that would come at the cost of missing their bedtime. I don’t miss bedtime. Last year, for our 10th anniversary, I only very begrudgingly agreed to leave them for a night. I simply want to be with them all the time.

I know that probably looks like just another unhealthy imbalance to everyone else, but this is one imbalance that I embrace. I don’t know, I guess the other stuff just feels pretty unimportant compared to them. Spending so much time with them—even to the deterioration of the other things—has never caused me much inner turmoil. When I was in school and studied all the time, it pained me that I was not giving time to my other hobbies, interests, and loved ones. That tension eventually led to my break-up with school. When I was working like a maniac, I was keenly aware that it was an unhealthy way of being. My daily journal entries from that period are pretty pathetic, mostly describing the depths of my exhaustion and how, despite my happiness, I would not recommend my lifestyle to anyone. It took the birth of my daughter to give me the strength to change it, but I knew the change was long overdue. I was a model of imbalance, and knowing that bothered me. It is only the imbalance of spending so much time with my kids to the exclusion of other things that has felt tension-free for me. The other imbalances I regret; this one I do not. Does that mean, in some strange way, that I have actually found a balance? Not someone else’s version of balance, but one that fits only me? Maybe.

It has only been in the last year-and-a-half that I have felt much inner competition for my time and energy on this family-time front. Around the time I turned 40—can you say midlife crisis?—it became more clear to me that I wanted to do some things with my life that I was not already doing. Beyond just doing my job and spending the rest of my time with the kids, I wanted to do The Journal Project to revisit and re-create the story of my life. I wanted to help people in a bigger way. I wanted to learn more and create more and be more fully who I believed I could be. But I had to keep working, and I was not willing to give up time with the kids. My solution was to be the most efficient guy in the world…….after 8:30 P.M.

Since then, instead of winding down after the kids go to bed, I attempt to get all of my other projects taken care of. I go like a madman until I can go no longer. That worked pretty well the first year, when my main thing was The Journal Project. I didn’t sleep much, but the inner turmoil was gone. I was feeling satisfied with my efforts. But then I got greedy. I wanted all of my dreams to come true. So, four months ago, I started Journal of You. It has been a fantastic addition to my life, but—argh!—quite consuming of those precious post-8:30 hours. The Journal Project has been sitting on hold, and a couple of other projects I am itching to start are getting no love. I am also feeling like I am not allowed any leisure time for things like a sway in the hammock or a ride in the kayak, because I need the minutes to get it all done. Lastly, it is becoming increasingly clear that I cannot survive on this little sleep forever (those post-8:30 hours go quickly, and for some reason these darn kids don’t wake up any later just because I was writing into the wee hours). Needless to say, I am feeling that tension again. I have lost my balance.

I think my biggest fear in this world is that I will waste my life, that I won’t make the most of my time here. I am always aware—sometimes painfully so—of how “productive” I am being. I want to spend my time being a positive influence, giving my gifts to the fullest, and making my dreams come true.  When I am doing that efficiently, I feel at ease. The moment I lose my way, I feel tense. Imbalance strikes again!!!

How about you? How balanced is your life? Get out your journal and take an honest look at your life and how you are spending it. Does your schedule match your priorities? Are you like me, getting stuck on one aspect of your life to the detriment of all others? How many hobbies do you have, and how important are they to you? Do you work too much? Do you make time to recharge your batteries? Do you spend as much time with your loved ones as you would like? If not, are you willing to change your day to make it happen? What can you sacrifice from your current schedule in order to spend more time on your highest priorities? Do you have any areas that others would say are imbalanced—like me never getting a babysitter—that feel just fine to you? If you knew you would die in one year but had to keep earning a living, how would you spend your non-working hours? Would you become more balanced, or less? How important is balance, anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you falling off the tightrope?

Live a 100% self-approved life today,

William