Tag Archives: Priorities

Silver Linings: In Search Of The Positives In A Pandemic

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone 

“In a time of destruction, create something.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Hello friend,

I have had moments of anger during this pandemic, such as when I see my neighbors having yet another play date with their children’s friends and parents, ignoring all science and government warnings and putting the rest of us in danger (and keeping us home even longer) because they lack either the will power to resist their social nature or the moral fiber to care about their potential damage.

I have had moments of deep sadness, too, such as when I read the social media post of the nurse who had flown to New York to help in a hospital, who had just had her patient die, and she reported that they had 17 deaths in their 17-bed unit that night. How does that NOT break you?

I have had moments of fear and anxiety as well, each week when I go to the grocery store and when I think about the possibility of my wife losing her job or a family member needing a hospital visit.

I have felt at least some degree of all the negative stuff that I am guessing you and your loved ones have felt during this unusual time. And though currents of them dash in and out of my atmosphere like phantom winds, I can say with some certainty that–with the notable exception of the first few days following the cancellation of my vacation, as I shared in my last letter–I have not let the negative overtake me. Some of that, I am sure, can be chalked up to the fact that I have been lucky. My family has money coming in, food in the refrigerator, health insurance, and none of my loved ones have contracted Covid-19. Relative to what other people are dealing with and will deal with, I have a dream gig going here right now.

The rest of it, though, seems to be attributed to my psychological make-up. I am a glass-half-full kind of guy by nature, and I tend to have my radar up and tracking the potential blessings in any situation. In the course of my day, I tend to find the fun, the kind, and the beautiful that is available to all but seemingly noticed by few. I have been blessed by an inclination toward those things and a willingness to train my eye to find more. It leaves me uncommonly grateful and, by extension, happy.

So, amidst the throes of the rampant sadness, frustration, anger, fear, and anxiety that seem so common and expected in this unprecedented age, I have found myself all the more determined to uncover the blessings and the good that might come of it. In this storm of storms, I am looking for silver linings.

It is easy to latch onto the most popular ones, which start with the frontline medical personnel. These people are just amazing to me. I look at me, not wanting to so much as leave my yard because I don’t want to closely interact with anyone and risk getting the virus and subsequently passing it to my family members. Then I look at the emergency room staff and first responders, going into work every day nearly certain that they are going to get it, if not today then tomorrow. There was the video that went viral a few weeks ago of the man in scrubs coming home and his tiny child running to greet him. It broke my heart to watch him have to suddenly keep her from excitedly running into his arms for a hug. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that is probably the single greatest feeling in the world. To think that there are people like that all over the world, voluntarily eschewing the proximity and affection of their loved ones in order to continue serving the sickest among us, well, that is simultaneously both deeply saddening and incredibly inspiring.

All of the other frontline workers are so uplifting for me as well, even as I fret for their safety. I go out to the grocery store once a week and, as I am standing in the long, spread-out line for my turn to pay, I am absolutely spellbound watching the employees–these folks barely, if even, making a living wage for their services–ringing people up. It boggles my mind how they keep doing it day after day. I am so grateful for them.

Obviously there are very few people who signed up for this gig, whatever it is they are doing in this new age. Nearly everyone’s job, if they still have one, has changed. So many public-facing difference-makers–the teachers, the coaches, the therapists–can no longer do their jobs in a way that they can feel the daily difference they are making. There are a lot of teachers in my life, and I know that it pains them to have to “only” deliver educational modules to their students through a computer every day rather than their usual nurturing of the whole, complex person for the 25 or 30 growing souls in their classroom. They don’t get to directly help them through their challenges and witness that spark in the eye when the light bulb comes on or the hug of gratitude and love when it is most needed. I exchanged a message with one of my colleagues about this, and she lamented, “Distance learning is like planning, shopping, wrapping, and sending the perfect gift for someone you adore, but never getting to see them open it or know if they even like the present.” But teachers keep pouring their all into it because our children depend on them even in their absence. Those kind of people inspire me.

There are so many others, of course, whether they work on the front lines or are struggling because so much has changed behind the lines but they keep putting one foot in front of the other because the world needs them. I am even inspired by the people who, unlike me, are so wildly social at their core and need company like they need oxygen, but are choosing to be good humans and stay home. There are admirable sacrifices all around if your eyes are open to them.

One thing that tickles me these days is seeing so many people out walking, running, or bicycling in their neighborhoods. I have always loved visiting “active” towns–usually in places embedded in the mountains or by the ocean–where it seems like everyone is an outdoors enthusiast and people are moving their bodies wherever you look. My community is not typically one of those hubs of energy, but it sure has become one in the last month. I have never walked so much in my life, and I get the sense everyone else could say the same. I love seeing them all out and active. It energizes me. I hope we can keep that outdoor momentum going even when gyms and stores open up again. There is new life in the fresh air.

I also take great joy and inspiration in some of the new opportunities that people, especially artists, have created and made available online during this time. The actor John Krasinski’s YouTube broadcast from home, Some Good News, has been a delight, and I highly recommend it. I have also loved the “quarantine concerts” that so many musicians have put on their social media, whether it is a daily song (I have been digging Michael Franti on Facebook) or weekly concerts (I adore Matt Nathanson’s weekly events from his home office on YouTube, during which he sings songs and reads beautiful passages from books of poetry or wisdom that inspire him) or those big sing-along collaborations that artists have been putting together through ZOOM. There is nothing like music to lift the spirit, and these times ought to give us a greater sense of the necessity of the arts in our society. I have also appreciated those virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest museums and our national parks, both the sights themselves and the thoughtfulness of the people bringing them to us.

Though all of these inspirations have flashed regularly across my radar throughout the pandemic, the one ray of Hope that has grown exponentially in my mind as the weeks have passed falls under the theme “How We Might Grow From This Experience.” I am enchanted by the possibility of some sort of simultaneous mass realization of the errors of our former, “normal” ways and a subsequent move toward a more highly idealized society, perhaps even to the extent of an evolutionary leap in the behavior of our species. Might we take advantage of this collective pause in our society–one that is unlikely to ever happen again in our lifetimes–and use it to gain wisdom in the direction of a world that is more peaceful, equitable, and just? Might we come to value each other more? Might we come to value our time more? I desperately hope so.

What kinds of things might this translate to? Maybe it is as simple as choosing our commitments–whether to individual people or activities or groups–more discerningly. Now that we have been pulled out of our sports, clubs, churches, stores, meet-ups, coffee shops, restaurants, classes, and gyms, I hope that we are using the time away from them to better understand how much we (individually) need each one of our diversions. Even though most of us are going stir-crazy in our homes, we may also be realizing for the first time that perhaps it would be wise to begin prioritizing some downtime at home when “real life” resumes. As we have been removed from nearly all of the people in our usual routines, I hope that we are realizing which of those people are really not a positive influence on us and perhaps which are more deserving of our time and energy. Maybe we need more quality and less quantity, both in people and scheduled activities.

I also hope that this time–with its isolation, its anxiety, its uncertainty–leads us to put a greater premium on our mental health and self-care. I hope it becomes easier and “more normal” to talk about mental health and to understand that the issues that we have been hiding are so very common in our community.

I hope that it becomes more obvious–and more painful in the realization–that the poorest among us consistently bear the burdens of our crises to a far greater degree than the wealthiest. It is the poor who are both put on the front lines of exposure in times like this–cashiers, janitors, delivery drivers, etc.–and also more likely to lose their jobs, being in positions less likely to have a work-from-home option. I hope that in this time that we suddenly have to think more clearly and become more aware of the realities of our usual set-up, we find it in ourselves as a society to become more compassionate of those most in need and more aware of our own, typically-unearned privilege.

Along the same lines of this potential growing awareness, I have been increasingly hopeful that this health-crisis-turned-economic crisis might make it more clear to the average citizen how much more humane a single-payer, “Medicare for all” health care system would be. I think of the more than 22 million people who have lost their jobs in the first four weeks of this collapse, and how many millions of people that takes off of health coverage. I am up-front about the fact that I have long been in favor of a universal health care system in America, seeing health care as no less a natural right than a “free” public education or police and fire protection, as I have written to you about in the past. It has always seemed crazy to me that we don’t have this system in place and instead spend far more per capita on health care than other “civilized” countries for generally worse results, not to mention leaving tens of millions of our citizens uncovered and poorly covered to the point that they don’t take care of basic medical needs. It embarrasses me as an American. If we have to go past the idea that it is a basic human right–which we should not; that ought to be the start and end of the discussion as to the necessity of universal coverage–I have always found it sad and tragic that the reason so many people stay in jobs rather than quit or change or try to start their own business or pursue a dream is because of the loss of health insurance. The current system is, in so many different, insidious ways, breaking our spirit. And now we have tens of millions of newly unemployed, resulting in millions of families losing their health coverage. How many people lost their coverage due to the pandemic in the rest of the world? Zero. Because they have humane systems. I have been surprised and disappointed that we have not seen more spoken and written about this in the traditional and social media as the numbers of unemployed pile up. It is my hope that people will see that now is the perfect moment in our history to do right by each other. Health coverage for everyone would be a giant step in the right direction. I remain hopeful that hearts and eyes will open.

It is this and so many other structural, systemic issues that I am looking toward in this time, hoping we open our hearts and minds to find the compassion and the wisdom to see our “we’ve just always done it this way” as a compilation of attitudes and tactics that have simply not served us all as well as we may have hoped. But I see people doing right by others, helping and giving and supporting. And I see others who want to be a part of a better world, who want fewer people to suffer and more people to get along, who want the resources spread out more equitably. I see all of that good action and good intention, and they make me hopeful. They give me light in a time that could too easily turn dark.

There are so many good people out there. You know that. So many lights. So many silver linings to this storm. You can find them almost anywhere you look. It seems to me that with this many good people, we deserve to live in a world whose structures–be they social, political, economic, or otherwise–serve to provide or facilitate all of those positive intentions and gestures of good will. But the responsibility is upon each of us to both do better in our own little corner of the world and to raise our voices to demand better of our larger structures. We must use this collective, reflective moment to consider the ways that our religions, our education systems, our health care systems, our political institutions, our judicial systems, our use of science, our natural resource consumption, and our philosophy of diplomacy and warfare facilitate the kind of goodness that is in our hearts. If we deem that those systems are not representative of our goodness, we need to rise up and demand that changes be made. And we must do whatever is in our own power to see those changes through. We must be the bringers of our own light.

This pandemic era is difficult. It is angering, frustrating, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. But it is also so much more, and its potential for a positive outcome is massive. Even with the scars that we will no doubt carry from this era, we could actually come away with a more caring, compassionate, equitable, just, and peaceful planet, both the humans and the systems designed to help the humans live their best lives. I see the possibilities all around me. I see it in hearts and gestures. If you are having a hard time seeing that light in your world, I hope you will find it in yourself. It is there, my friend, just waiting to be discovered. I am happy to lend you some of mine in the meantime. I have hope for you, hope for us. With so many beautiful examples out there to use as a guide and this quiet moment to steel my resolve, I am inspired to find out just how high we right rise. Together.

How about you? Where do you look for hope and inspiration in this time of crisis? Open up your journal and your heart and uncover the source of the light shining in? Where are you finding your positivity these days? Do you see it in the people in your community and the actions–or inaction–that they are taking? Which profession seems to awe you the most at this time? Medical personnel? Grocery store clerks? Delivery drivers? Janitorial workers? Teachers? Are you inspired by people’s willingness to stay home to limit the spread of the virus? What acts of personal generosity have you witnessed or been a part of that remind you of people’s goodness? Which people–individuals or groups–have you come to see in a more positive light as a result of the their actions during this pandemic? Are your own actions worthy of someone else’s inspiration? What other sources of positivity have you used lately that are unique to our current situation? Are there live events that you “attend” online, whether workouts or concerts? Do you watch TED talks? Have you started reading any books that you might otherwise have neglected were we not in a pandemic? What sorts of hopes do you have in the “How We Might Grow From This Experience” category? What realizations would you like us to have about our ways of living? What personal “A-HA”s have you had about your own lifestyle and priorities? Which aspects of our society has this crisis exposed for you in a way that you never realized before? Do you believe in our ability to at least begin large-scale, structural changes to the way we do things based on the lessons we are taking from this period? If so, what part do you see yourself playing in the positive change? How much light do you have to share? What sources of inspiration will you use as your fuel? Leave me a reply and let me know: What positives do you see emerging from this pandemic?  

Bring the light,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. This is a team effort!

P.P.S. If this type of introspection stirs something in you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

Misguided Saints or Friendly Villains? Assessing Loved Ones In The Age Of Trump

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” –George Carlin

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” –Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” –Deb Caletti

Hello friend,

If you and I meet up any time in the next year–or maybe forever–and I don’t seem to remember how to act, it’s because I don’t. Truly, I don’t. I’ve forgotten. I may be dying to interrogate you, rip into you, gloss over you, or lavish you with empathy and good will–or all of the above simultaneously. What you get? I don’t know! Never in my life have I felt so torn about how to interact with people in general, but especially the people I have always known and loved. Ninety percent of my interactions are a form of torture. And I blame it all on Donald Trump!

Just kidding. Not about the torture, but about the Trump. (I am not here to litigate the President, really. We all know where we stand on him already, and I don’t expect to change that. My question today, as always, is ultimately about YOU.) I know he is only a symptom of a deeper disease–and I generally don’t even mention his name–but he makes the arguments stand out in bold, cartoon-like form, making it easier to highlight our differences of morality. So let’s go with it for the moment.

I suppose I have been tortured by a version of this syndrome all my life–a liberal, “bleeding heart” kind of soul born into a family, community, and region of the country that oozes conservatism–though most of my years were spent in happy denial of it. At some level, I could always say that I felt “different,” as though I didn’t quite belong, but I didn’t ever really do the work to crystallize what it was. I was blissfully unaware of politics and the ramifications of political beliefs on the lives of the people around us and the people of the world. I casually accepted the idea that all of those politicians in Washington were pretty much the same: White men who agreed on the problems but just had slightly different views on the solutions. I suppose I figured the rest of us were pretty much the same: it wasn’t our politics that separated us or showed some to be “good” and others “bad,” but rather our day-to-day actions and our morals. Politics seemed to be a separate thing and far less important.

And then I opened my eyes and started paying attention. It all changed pretty fast from there. Me, I mean. I changed. Not me, as in, who I was. But me in how I understood the world and its workings. The curtain got pulled back for me, and I couldn’t un-see what I had seen, though it would have saved me a lot of torment in the ensuing years.

Politics is morals put into policy form.

The policies–and, by extension, the politicians that espouse them–that you support tell so much about your character and your moral compass. At bottom, your politics reveal exactly what (and whom) you value. Simultaneously, they tell about what you are willing to swallow in order to make your values win. It is a crystallization of your priorities.

So, why do so many of the people from my past–people I have liked or loved, people I played with or share blood with, people who raised me–support a brand of morals that makes my skin crawl? How could we come from the same home and seemingly be moral opposites? And should that make us, if not enemies, then at least cordially not-friends? Are we deluding ourselves by thinking that the bonds of old friendship or family should endure even though we realize we are thoroughly incompatible morally? Should I be cutting ties, or do I have to just shine it on at reunions for the rest of my life, keeping my conversations agonizingly superficial in the service of tolerating each other? Or is there something more, some level of wisdom or grace that I can reach that allows me to fully embrace them again, the way it was before I could see these things clearly?

I want to know how to interact! Maybe more so, I want to be able to think better of the people I have been feeling hurt by and angry with, people who have been a big disappointment to me since I opened my eyes to the stark differences in our beliefs. I want that, but at the moment, I admit that it’s hard to see a path to the bridge.

This may seem random, but I think we need to talk about Jesus. As I have shared with you before, I am not a Christian but am a huge fan of the man. His example and his teachings are wonderful. In this era, though, I feel as though I have to defend Jesus from his followers. It truly makes my blood boil to listen to certain high-profile religious leaders as they not only cover for the despicable acts and policies of our current President but celebrate him and lean on their congregations to do the same.

But, as I said, I do not want to make this seem like it’s about Donald Trump. As easy of a target as he is in any discussion of morals, I would rather pull it back to a party level, but still stick with my guy Jesus. My pet theory–perhaps incorrect, but still mine and sure to offend even more people, but hey, I’m already in the deep end on this one–is that the “Christian coalition” (or “Evangelicals” or once upon a time the “Moral Majority” or however you would like to name the right-wing Christian movement) was willing to hitch their wagon to whichever political party was going to side with them on the issue of abortion. The Republicans signed on and have happily won a ton of easy elections out of the deal (hence the “Bible Belt” also being called the “Solid South” to signify that it votes solidly Republican).

But what policies did the Christians–and just so we are clear, I am not suggesting this applies to every Christian but rather to the movement and leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham) that try to speak for the religion–wed themselves to for the sake of abortion? How do they look after this deal? And, more importantly, how do you imagine Jesus would see it?

I have studied this guy Jesus fairly seriously, both as a kid and as an adult, and these are some of the traits and principles that stand out to me about him: generous, nonviolent, empathetic, welcoming, charitable, open-hearted, peaceful, forgiving, an ally to the outcast, opposition to greed, caring for the poor and the sick. When I look at the issues of the modern world that our political parties disagree on, I always shudder to think how he would feel about the side taken by the leaders and followers of the religion that bares his name.

Tax breaks for the wealthiest, leading to greater income inequality and a greater number of people suffering and impoverished. LGBTQ discrimination. Separating immigrant families who are fleeing war or cruelty at home–hey, like Jesus!–and caging children at the border. Gun laws. Expansion of the prison-industrial complex and military-industrial complex. Civil rights and righting past wrongs to African-Americans and other minority communities. Guaranteeing health care for all. Protecting the environment. From what I can tell about Jesus, he would land on the exact opposite end of the political (i.e. moral) spectrum than the people who are supposedly carrying his banner.

Whenever one of these issues comes up and I ask myself that famous question, “What would Jesus do?” the answer inevitably turns out to be so different than the Republican/”Christian” response. That is deeply disturbing to me. I wish it were to them, but judging by the election results at all levels, it plainly is not.

Just look at the President. We will pull him into the discussion for a moment. I have no need to write the laundry list of his moral failings, but suffice it to say that in both his policies and his social (e.g. Twitter) messages to the world, he would seem to me to be a glaring embarrassment to not just his country, religion or political party, but to humanity. Horrifying things are said and done, and yet who in his party–whether a politician or an ordinary citizen–ever says, “Yikes! This time he crossed the line. That is unacceptable.”? As my wife is fond of exclaiming when at her wits’ end about these silent enablers, “How do they look themselves in the mirror? How can they live with themselves?” I would like to know.

Because I have Republican family members who practically spat in disgust when Donald Trump was a candidate for President. Until he became their nominee, that is. Ever since, I don’t hear a single negative thing about him from them, no matter how egregious the latest lie or slander or tantrum. All is well in their world. I would like an explanation for that.

But what I also want from them–and I know this sounds extreme and self-absorbed at first blush, but it is my truth–is an apology. I have been highly sensitive to racism my whole life, even growing up White in a thoroughly White community. And now I have a Black wife and two biracial children, as well as dear friends of color. Any neutral account of this President’s history before and in office show him to be plainly racist. You, as a supporter, can say all day long, “I am not a racist. I am not a racist. I am not a racist.” But if you pledge your support to a racist, what does that make you?

And I get it, there are more things about a politician than whether they are racist or not . So maybe you love your politician’s foreign relations philosophy or immigration policy or health care plan so much that you are willing to overlook their racist statements and actions, but does that mean you should not even acknowledge that aspect of it to someone who is hurt by your vote? Especially if you love them? Something along the lines of, “You know how I voted, and I know that must feel like a punch in the gut to your family because his racism is truly ugly and harmful. But the other issues are ones I couldn’t compromise on, so I felt compelled to vote for him despite serious misgivings about his character. I really do apologize for the damage his racism causes; I can only hope I am right about the rest and that our relationship survives it.” From my own experience, I will say that the votes of my family and friends for Trump have deeply hurt my feelings on this issue of racism. The possibility that they are blind to their hurtfulness doesn’t do much to salve the wound. It mostly makes me feel the moral divide between us is that much greater.

That divide tends to feel like a gulf, because, as I said, this is not just about Donald Trump, and I am sure it won’t disappear when he leaves office. This is about political issues that are shows of our moral character and thus our priorities. After all, conservative media spent decades portraying Hillary Clinton as, alternately, morally weak for sticking with a cheating husband, then frigid, calculating, ruthless, and finally, as corrupt and untruthful as Trump himself. But in the end, whether any of those cartoon-villain descriptions were accurate or not, she still stood for policies that revealed a morality far, far different than the policies of her opponent, never mind his well-chronicled character flaws.

So let’s be clear, I don’t think anyone in Washington is a saint. They play in an ugly game, and to rise to the top, they have probably done things that they don’t want to tell their mothers about. But you and I aren’t playing an ugly game. We are living this one life, and I, perhaps naïvely, presume that means we are trying to be good people and leave the world better than we found it. In this one life, we get to choose how we come down on every issue, and we get to step privately into that voting booth in every election and vote with our moral compass as guide.

But that’s the problem I am having and why old relationships have become so awkward and challenging. I get to see the election results and know the values and priorities of the people in my community. In the case of family members and some friends, I already know the way they vote, so there becomes no way for me to deny their moral positions. When I do the old, “What would Jesus do?” test and their votes come out on the opposite side of me and Jesus, it creates a crisis of conscience for me. Not because I doubt my political positions, but because I doubt my relationships.

I begin to wonder whether, in staying loyal to the person, I am betraying myself. Am I taking the high road with them but low-balling myself? Their presence in my life–at least on some level–feels like a violation of my principles.

But then they go and muck up my righteous indignation by doing what they have been doing all my life: being kind to me and my family or doing other good works for their neighbors or the world. They tell me funny jokes. They enjoy a walk on the beach or in the woods with me. We play sports together. Our kids are best friends. We take each other’s suggestions on great books and movies. We have an intellectually stimulating conversation or commiserate about our children, all of whom we love and want the best for. They act like friends and family are supposed to act. In effect, they make it complicated.

Humans are so darn messy! The so-called Good and the so-called Bad. It turns out neither is exactly what we call them. None of us are. We are all grey, all wearing one angel’s wing and one devil’s horn, showing them off alternately depending upon which angle someone is looking from. You are this to me, but you are also that. I can therefore not put you in a box. Knowing you requires nuance and perhaps a sacrifice, some boundaries, or even some cleverly placed blinders. That is frustrating because it is a lot more work. It’s so darn much work!

But what is the alternative? Solitude? That is tempting to me on many days, believe me, but I have mostly made peace with my decision to be a (somewhat) social animal. I know that I will have people in my life, and that means I must accept some degree of compromise of my many principles (I do like to have things my way!). It doesn’t mean I will accept just anyone into my life or that my current relationships have not changed from my end. As I said at the top, now that my eyes have been opened to the ramifications of political positions, everything has changed, but most especially my boundaries. But it is a murky task. I thought maybe in the course of this letter, I would come to a hard and fast conclusion on this. Like, “I can no longer commune with these people, even in our superficial way! The moral gulf between us is too wide.” But my heart does not seem ready for that extreme lockdown, even if it has narrowed the pathway in. I guess I have to learn to be okay with a little more messiness, a little more grey than I would like. I have to learn Grace. Grace is hard. But I suppose that is Life, isn’t it? It is not easy, and it isn’t clean. It resists boxes and absolutes.

The entrance of politics into my life has done so much more to muddy the waters. It is no wonder that new studies show that the more people pay attention to politics, the more stressed they are. But I cannot go back to denial. The cat is out of the bag. I have allowed the complexity into my life, and I want to be responsible with its ramifications. So, if you see me on the street and I seem a little wary, forgive me. In all of my balancing between assessment, acceptance, rejection, and practice of Grace, I no longer seem to know how to behave in public. It turns out I am a work in progress.

How about you? How well do you balance your natural feelings for the people in your life with the new information you gather about their character as time goes by? Open up your journal and take a deep dive on this enormous and so-very-pregnant topic. How open and honest are your communications with family and friends on sensitive topics such as politics and religion? Are you able to really say how you feel and challenge them on their beliefs and your differences, or do you remain silent on these topics and pretend your differences don’t exist in order to keep the peace? Whether or not you talk about them, are you aware of the political differences you have with your loved ones? Do you know where they stand on the various issues and how they vote in elections? How much do you think about that? In what ways does it shape your relationship with them? Do your differences, even if unspoken, cause you to keep them at more of a distance than you might otherwise? Do your political similarities bind you together more tightly? Perhaps the dictating factor in all of this discussion regards how much weight these issues–and politics in general–carry in your life? Are you like me and feel very passionately about things like health care, the environment, or gun control, or do you not think much about any of these issues and not care to allow them to shape your relationships one way or another? If you are in the latter camp of not caring, does this idea of politics making or breaking relationships seem silly? Do you believe that politics are really just our moral values put into policy form? If not, then how do you see politics? But if so, why aren’t more people more invested in them? Whatever your level of investment, how do you deal with people you care about who have very different politics/morals than you do? Do you try to change their mind? Does it affect the quality of your time together, or the amount of it? Have you cut anyone out of your life for their political/moral beliefs? If these moral issues are as important as I think they are, shouldn’t they cause more relationships to break up? Do you feel weak or somehow in betrayal of your principles when you allow people with starkly different beliefs into your life and/or the lives of your children, especially if you take their positions to be detestable and their influence a negative one? How do you deal with a racist in your family? What other moral/political characteristics are hot triggers for you and cause you much tension at family reunions or other gatherings? Does a lot of this depend on how long someone has been in your life and how late in the game you learned of their moral shortcomings? For example, if your father is severely racist or your sister nasty to the poor, but you didn’t fully grasp this and gain footing in your own convictions until more recently, do you feel as though it is impossible to change your relationship dynamic with them because they have been with you–and good to you–for so long? Are you able to merge the new information you have with the old and manage the good and the bad, or do you tend to keep focused on only the good or only the bad? How about with new people in your life, like a co-worker whom you have become “work friends” with but then, upon getting closer, learned you were politically opposite? Now put specific political parties or politicians to all of those questions. How do you react to someone when you learn how they voted in the last presidential election? What if you were planning to meet a friend or family member somewhere socially and they showed up wearing a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat (or an Obama T-shirt)? Would your blood curdle? Would you say something? Would it instantly change your relationship? Think of the loved one who is farthest from you politically but that you still allow close to your heart. How do you pull that off? How much of it is denial? How much is it that you have witnessed them doing so many other good things interpersonally–being kind, generous, or compassionate–that you let the bad stuff slide? How much is that you are wise enough to see everyone as complicated and messy and that you have learned to just see through to the good and be more accepting of everyone? How do you think this whole issue varies between liberals and conservatives? I once wrote you a letter about my theory that conservatives tend to see liberals more as foolish and overly idealistic–but not morally lacking–whereas liberals tend to see conservatives as morally corrupt. What do you think? Are liberal-minded people more likely to keep the conservative at arms’ length and/or break off the relationship entirely because of perceived moral failings, or the other way around? Or equally likely? Is your tendency to see your politically opposite loved ones as good people who are just misguided, or do you tend toward seeing them as bad people who have done good things for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do your relationships change when politics are revealed?

Do your best,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Let us try to better understand ourselves and each other so we can beautify the world!

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

Do You Have A Busy Life Or A Full Life?

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” –Henry David Thoreau

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” –Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

Hello friend,

I returned to my job on Monday after a wonderful, relaxing vacation. Everyone at work also had the previous week off for Spring Break, so it was a fresh start for all, back to the grind of our hectic work days and schedules full of activities, events, and errands. It was obvious from the beginning of the week that this transition from the ease of vacation–whether it was an actual “vacation” on a beach, water park, ski slope, etc. or just a bunch of days of “I don’t need to be anywhere” at home–to the hectic Normal was jarring to people of all ages. There were a lot of stunned looks in the hallways as people tried to find the groove of that very fast lane that we all seem to occupy in our usual routines.

I found it fascinating to listen to people summarize their respective weeks off, especially the ones who didn’t “go on vacation” but rather stayed home without working. There were so many comments to the effect of, “It was just SO NICE to not have to be anywhere!” or “We didn’t do much of anything, and that was just perfect!” Everyone seemed to be in agreement that having no big agenda, To-Do List, or time commitments–whether in town or out of town–was just what the doctor ordered.

I felt that way on my vacation, too. Even though I was out of town and staying at someone else’s house–in theory, not completely on my own terms–every day was very much a No Schedule/No Obligation operation. It was my desire to be at the beach for part of the day, but I wasn’t very particular about which part. I wanted to be at the pool or playing outside with my kids, too, but that could be worked out around the beach trips. I could write in my journal any time. The only things I set a clock for all week were my morning trips to the gym, which I did just to leave the rest of the day wide open for whimsy. Every day eventually became filled with fun, peace, and the people I love most.

Full. Not busy.

It made me wonder what I could do to bring a little (or a lot) more of that vacation sensation to my “real” life. I mean, I realize that I can’t just stop having commitments and obligations. I go on vacation–and get that liberated vibe–because there is no job to go to that week. There are also no piano lessons to drive to. Or basketball practices. Or band practices. Or volleyball. Or track. Or soccer. Or Girl Scouts. Or play dates. Or grocery stores. Or library. But that’s not real! I can’t just unschedule everything that we are committed to doing every week. Can I?

I have had the conversation with my kids more than once about priorities and trying to narrow down the extra-curricular activities to what is most important. But the truth is, everyone at my house struggles with this one. My kids don’t say no to any organized activity. For my part, I think of all the choices for sports and activities that they have now that I didn’t have when I was a kid, and I hate to deny them of any of these wonderful opportunities. Perhaps I am living a little bit vicariously though them, or maybe I just want to have no regrets later about how much I exposed them to and how strongly I encouraged them to engage their world. In any case, between their appetite for activities and my weakness for indulging them, they are scheduled up and thus, as their chauffeur, so am I.

And here arises the question I often find myself hashing out in my mind: Isn’t it okay to be busy if you enjoy all the things you are doing? I use this argument constructively when I start to feel sorry for myself about not being able to fit all of my priorities into my schedule. I lament that I have stopped meditating and haven’t picked up the guitar in months because all I do outside of work is play with my kids, take my kids to their activities, and write. Then I retort to my disappointed self: “But I love writing and being with my kids!” So, how bad can it be? Is my life really so tough if my biggest problem is that I have to decide which of my most favorite activities I have to leave out of my schedule?

This dovetails with my parenting challenge and how to help organize my children’s lives. Everyone says that kids these days are being ruined by being overscheduled–“They don’t know how to JUST BE KIDS anymore!”–and that we parents would be better doing our duty if we gave them less to do and more free time to figure out how to make their own fun (“But NOT with screens!” So many rules….). But what if my kids really want to do all the things they are signed up for? What if, despite enjoying a day of lounging around in front of the TV and reading and playing Legos and having friends over and such, they love even more to have basketball practice or piano lessons or a Girl Scouts troop meeting (or all three!)? They prefer the busy life.

My life is different, though. Whereas they want to be involved in things mostly because those things involve other kids and the making of friends, with the exception of playing with my wife and kids, the things I want to do tend to be solitary pursuits. I want to fill my hours writing, walking in Nature and taking photographs, learning the guitar and the piano, meditating, and reading in my hammock. Those are the things that make me feel full.

I guess I want to be busy feeling unhurried.

I want to end each day thinking, “Wow, I was going nonstop at my favorite pursuits all day long! It was fun, enriching, fulfilling, and exhausting. And my only lament is that I didn’t have time for more of these things. I can’t wait for tomorrow!”

That kind of busy has to be good! It may be tiring and may still appreciate a slow vacation, but it is undeniably good.

What I am beginning to see as I write this is the difference one’s approach and attitude regarding this busy-ness makes. “Busy” can show up as deeply engaged and present in meaningful tasks that continue one after another, but it can also show up as rushed, strung-out, and frazzled. Both people may have a full schedule, but one moves through it in Peace, and the other does not. The first person is gaining from her experience; the second person is losing.

A life cannot be full if it is being depleted. That’s simple logic.

While I definitely think being busy can make it more difficult to feel fulfilled by one’s life, it doesn’t have to. It depends upon what is keeping you busy and how much Peace you find within your many activities. That Peace is the difference between doing many things quickly and being in a rush.

I despise being in a rush.

In some of my years as the manager of a tennis program, I was in a mad rush. After teaching my 45 enjoyable hours per week on the court, I would rush into my office and do all of the other things necessary to run the club business and take care of my personal clientele. Twenty or more rushed and ragged hours per week later, I was feeling nothing but burnt out. I had neither the time nor the energy to engage any of my passions or interests in the scant moments that remained. My life was very hectic, and while I enjoyed most of my work, there was way too much of it to feel satisfied by the entirety, and not enough of everything else to feel fulfilled. I was out of alignment, lacking Peace. Busy, not full.

In most of the years since then, I have kept very busy, but at a different mix of activities. As soon as my children entered my world, I cut out the crazy hours and most stressful aspects of my work life. Those hours were filled to overflowing with all the love and chaos that babies and toddlers provide. I was blissfully ragged. Busy, but full.

When the kids got near the end of the toddling, Journal of You began and filled every spare moment. There was still no breathing room in the day and no full nights of sleep, but I did meaningful work, spent lots of high quality time with my kids, and pursued a dream that made my heart sing. Busy? Oh yes! But very, very full.

I am mostly rolling that way now. I write to you less often now than I used to, only because I work more and couldn’t keep going on so little sleep. I find that to be a bummer–I want to write much more–but it is a compromise I have agreed to (for now) in order to maintain that sense of balance and Peace. I am also very protective of my time and don’t say yes to things that don’t align with my priorities. The activities I have carefully chosen keep me very busy, but each one is done with a sense of Peace and intention. I am clear that I have chosen this life. I may be constantly tinkering with it in hopes of improving it because I am never satisfied, but I am also wildly grateful for it. I have never been bored. In fact, I wish there were 24 more hours in each day to add those Nature hikes, guitar lessons, and letters to you. And yes, I fully appreciate each one of those No Schedule/No Obligation days of vacation that I get. But there is no doubt that despite the busy-ness of my life–and perhaps to some degree because of it–I feel very, very full.

How about you? How busy is your life, and how does that busy-ness affect your happiness? Open up your journal and walk through your typical week. How crazy is your schedule? How long is your normal work day? Does it cause you to miss things that are important to you? Is your job stressful while you are there? How much do you love the work? Do you feel a sense of Peace and fulfillment while doing it? Do you have to bring the work home with you? Do you bring the stress or joy home with you? What occupies your time outside of work? How much of that time is devoted to children or other people that depend on you? What percentage of that time is personally enriching and a source of great joy? How much is stressful? How much do you begrudge these people depleting your stores of time and energy? How much of your time gets eaten up with the regular tasks of living (e.g. grocery shopping, preparing and eating meals, medical appointments, traffic)? Do you go to the gym? Do you have any classes that you attend or clubs that you belong to? Do you have self-imposed deadlines or practice times that you must stick to for things you are passionate about, like my writing? What other things fill up your time and have the potential to make you feel rushed? With all of the things you have mentioned so far, how full is that schedule? How much of that time fills you up? How much depletes you? How much time is left for leisure? What do you do with that “just for you” time? Does it make up for the more stressful and depleting parts of your schedule? However busy you are, is there enough Peace in your activities or downtime that, on the whole, you are able to feel balanced and full? Do you ever get bored? Why or why not? Is boredom a symptom of having not enough to do, not being interested in the things you do, not having enough passions or curiosity, or something else altogether? Whose schedule would you like to trade with? What is it about theirs that you envy? How can you put some of that into your schedule? Would it make your life more fulfilling? What would you include if tasked with drawing up a schedule for your ideal normal week? How has your degree of Busy changed across your journey? How has your degree of Full changed? Is there a correlation? What conclusions can you draw? Are those conclusions universal, or do they seem to apply only to your personal path? What is the right balance for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is your life busy, full, or some degree of both?

May Peace be with you,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it on your social media channels. Let’s all be full!

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

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

What Are You Willing To Struggle & Suffer For?

dsc_0435“You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

I was talking recently with an entrepreneurial friend of mine whose new business is failing. She was wrestling with different options for how she might save it, or whether just letting it go was the best choice. It is a horrible spot to be in, to have to consider giving up on something you believed in and very much wanted to succeed.

I am not very good at advice—I tend to think people are the experts on their own lives–so I don’t give it often. Instead, I usually just ask them questions. My hope is that my questions will help them think more clearly about their situation so they can come up with the answer on their own that feels right with both their brain and their gut. I think that when you make your own decision rather than just doing what someone told you to do, you are more likely to take responsibility for the result. There is no one else to blame.

So, when she asked me what I thought she should do, I had no sure-thing strategy or any story about the times when I have had to make a similar decision. The only thing I had was a question.

Is it something you are willing to struggle and suffer for?

In other words, is it so important that this dream succeeds that you are willing to make big sacrifices—your time, money, emotions, etc.—to see it succeed?

Let’s face it, we all want our stuff to succeed. You want your new business to flourish. You want your relationship to be healthy, happy, and lasting. You want to make more money. You want to go on vacation next year. You want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You want to be fit and healthy. You want to be self-aware. Right?

But which of those things are you ready to truly sacrifice for? The proof is almost always in the pudding.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to begin the transition out of my career coaching tennis. I knew that if I had a gun to my head, my answer for what I really wanted to do was be a writer. However, my confidence for achieving tangible success (i.e. a regular paycheck) doing that was low, so I was open to other avenues. But those avenues had to work around my kids, because giving my time and energy to them was my true top priority. I started taking classes to become a Life Coach, which sounded like a career right up my alley: fulfilling and flexible. I took a job out of tennis that wasn’t fulfilling but kept money coming in while meshing perfectly with my kids’ schedule. And I kept writing.

While in pursuit of the coaching avenue, a business opportunity doing something I wasn’t interested in was basically handed to me. I made a deal with myself to give it the minimal amount of time and effort to see if it would “magically” produce clients and dollars, crossing my fingers and hoping to strike it rich, at least until it no longer made financial sense to keep the experiment going. And I kept writing.

So, basically I had a job and three things I wanted to work out (under the condition that they let me be with my kids most of the time). That’s not asking for much, right?

What happened? Well, it was pretty straightforward. With the business that I didn’t care about, as soon as it looked like I had to work and get uncomfortable to turn a profit, I pulled the plug. Because I knew my conditions for that one going in, I was at peace. The next one to fall was the Life Coaching training. That one was much more painful to let go of, because it really would be both fulfilling and convenient as a career for me. And I loved it. But it would be a lot of work. More classes, trying to scrounge up clients from scratch, marketing, etc. Struggling, scraping, sacrificing, and suffering. If it was the only horse in the race, I would have kept at it.

But there was the writing thing. That was the longest shot of all of them, the one with the most uncertainty, most likely to fail, most difficult to gain steady employment, and generally most tormenting of all (as creative ventures are prone to be). I would have jettisoned all thoughts of a writing career, except for one small detail: my heart was set on it.

I knew with what little time I have when I am not at my regular job or busy with the kids, I simply could not attempt to press on with the Life Coach training and the writing simultaneously. Push had finally come to shove, and, as I said, the proof is in the pudding. The writing is all that remains. It is the only career-related enterprise I seem willing to struggle and suffer for.

There are bigger tests to pass with it, though, as it won’t be long before I will have to challenge myself to replace my safe day job with some form of actually being paid to write. It remains to be seen how much I will be willing to sacrifice, how much I will compromise, and how stubbornly I will take a stand for “writing or starvation,” as it is much tougher to be principled when there are other mouths to feed.

Will I truly be willing to suffer for my writing, or will time bear out that I only really like the idea of being a writer but not the actual writer’s life and work? Inevitably, the proof will be in the pudding.

The only other area of my life that I have shown the willingness to make sacrifices to make it work is mentioned above: that demand to spend my children’s childhood with them rather than consumed by work. Before my daughter was born, I was in a position of some authority and made a comfortable amount of money. But I worked a ton. If I had kept that schedule, I would have hardly seen her or her future brother. So, I stepped down, taking a lower position and a much lower paycheck. But I staked a claim to my schedule. I have hardly compromised it in the eight years since.

And yes, I have wanted to make more money in those eight years. And I have wanted to go on vacation. But I haven’t been willing to do the necessary struggle and sacrifice for the money or the vacation, because that would mean compromising the time with the kids. The proof in the pudding, see?

So, I guess I have two stories for myself. I would say I am passing the test on the kids priority, not just saying I want the time but actually struggling to protect it. But I am willing to say that the jury is still out on the writing priority. I want to think that it is a done deal, that I will make all necessary sufferings and sacrifices for it and will go down swinging rather than compromise again, but that test has not been completed. I feel it coming to a head very soon and am gathering my strength and resolve for it.

But I also have the sneaking suspicion that these tests are never completely passed, that we have to step up to them and stake our claim over and over again as we continually define who we are in this life. I think sometimes we ignore them, though, and go sleepwalking through our little worlds for a while. But other times, the battle lines are crystal clear: you know the very value of your life is on the line, how hard it will be live it the way your heart knows you should, and that this is the moment of truth. I feel one of those crystalline moments approaching in my life. It is scary yet exhilarating, this opportunity to define myself by laying claim to what I value. I go willingly into the struggles. En garde! 

How about you? What in your life is so important that you are willing to suffer and struggle and sacrifice for? Open up your journal take a look at the pudding. What does the way you live your life say about the things you value most? First, it might be more helpful to begin with a rundown of the things you think you value or say you value. What are they? Now take a look at your history. What are the things, at different points in your life, that you have genuinely struggled for? As you look back now, how did those struggles shape you? Do you still value those things that you once struggled so hard for? What about now? Is there anything in your life right now that you are making the big sacrifices for, grinding so hard in the service of something you value so highly? What are the sacrifices and struggles and sufferings? How sure are you that it is worth it? Is it worth so much to you because of the struggle or in spite of the struggle? Okay, so now compare what you said you value with the things you are actually sacrificing for, if there are any? Do your mouth and your actions tell us different stories? Are you prepared to do something to correct that? Is there something in your life—a long-held dream, perhaps—that you want badly but have simply not had the courage to pursue because of all of the struggle and sacrifice involved? What small step can you take today in the direction of that desire? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you willing to struggle and suffer for?

Let your life be your message,

William

P.S. I hope you really climbed inside yourself on this topic, as I know that for me, that good, hard look in the mirror is so helpful, even if difficult. If it helped you, I hope you will share today’s letter with your world. Go and grow!

Free Time: Imagine the Possibilities!

DSC_0042“If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time.” –Willie Nelson

Hello friend,

A week ago, I came up with a wonderful new idea to write a book about. I was so excited! Immediately I started brainstorming and working on an outline. Next I had to do some hard bargaining with myself as to whether I am willing to temporarily suspend the other project I am working hard on now, a project that means so much to me. But this new idea is time-sensitive and must be addressed now. As I started to buy into the new project more and more and got to the point of committing to write the book, it suddenly struck me: How am I every going to find the time to do this?

 Sneaking in a few tired minutes of writing at the end of a full day of work and kids is not the way to take a deep dive into a topic, not to mention finding the artistic inspiration to make it all come out right (trust me, I’ve tried it many times!). I need several hours in a row of focused work for days and days on end. Hmmm. Those hours don’t seem to exist in my upcoming calendar of events. If I want to sleep at all, I simply don’t have the time.

This is when my escapist fantasies begin. These daydreams typically come in bunches over several days—usually a few different times per year–when I get really excited to take on a new project and then am hit with the reality of my schedule. Usually these fantasies take the form of me winning the lottery and never having a care about money again. That, of course, means I would never have to hold a job ever again. That, for me, would be absolute BLISS.

I always thought this extreme anti-job thing I had was that I simply didn’t like working. I mean, hey, who likes working, right? I just thought I had an extreme case of it. I have marveled about this many times in my journal, wondering how I got so spoiled. Lately, though, I have realized something about myself. I realized that, more than anything else, I just don’t like to work for someone else. I don’t like my work polluted by other people’s agendas, and I don’t like to be told what to do and when (and certainly not how). Simply put, I have never, EVER wanted to hold a job. That is, until the day I realized I just wanted to be my own boss.

I want to work—I’m dying to work—on my own projects on my terms. I want to choose the things I take on and how the work is performed. For those conditions, I am willing to work hard every day until my life ends. I don’t need retirement because I love what I choose to do.

So, it turns out I am not as lazy as I thought. Spoiled maybe, but not lazy. What a relief!

But that still doesn’t solve my problem. I work my current job because it brings in just enough money—combining with my wife’s income–to keep my household running and allows me to be here for my kids whenever they are here. It is a busy lifestyle, but our arrangement manages to just keep the bills paid and all of us happy and grateful for the time together.

But still pent-up and wishing for more.

More time and more money would be ideal, of course. That is where my usual fantasies of winning the lottery come in. But this week, as my soul was stirred up into a frenzy by this new book idea and my eagerness to dive into the writing of it, I realized something different about the tone of my fantasy hypotheticals.

The pleas suddenly became much less greedy, much more sensible. Instead of “If only I had 500 million dollars, I could really do what I want!” my visions have been more like, “If only I could keep my simple, paltry income but not have to put in the time to do the job and commute, I could do enough of what I want to keep me fulfilled.”

Maybe I thought that if my request wasn’t so gigantic, the wish-granters—there is a local branch of the Wizard of Oz in every town, right?—might somehow find a way for me. I am not asking to be rid of my usual financial balancing act and the tension that comes whenever I spend money. I will happily carry those burdens if only I am granted the TIME.

Yes, TIME is what I am really after. I just want those hours that I spend from the moment I leave for work to the moment I arrive back at home. If I could have those hours, along with my current income, I would not ask the wish-granters for any more wishes (I say now).

What would I do with the hours? WORK! My work. I would spend every one of them writing. In the short-term, I would write the book whose idea is burning in me right now. In the long-term, I have many other things I want to write, too, including more of these weekly letters to you. Believe me, I could keep myself occupied with the many ideas that inspire me to help make the world a better place.

I feel like the painter who has the perfect painting in mind and his paints and brushes ready to go, but he is waiting for his canvas to arrive. Waiting impatiently.

Every artist needs a patron. I started saying that when I was a young actor, having first realized how much energy it takes to create and perform one’s art consistently well. I experienced how that energy and inspiration can get muted in the drudgery of making a living doing something that is not your passion for most of the day simply to get a small window of time to pursue that passion. I am convinced that most of the world’s great art has gone unproduced due to the world’s artists lacking the requisite time and energy to create. Because I dare flatter myself by calling what I do a type of “Art,” I feel this pain. I ache for that time and energy. And thus my fantasies.

Those obligation-free hours are so alluring to my imagination. Of course, there are a million ways to use them. I know it would be wonderful to use the time to read all of the books I have on my list and take up all the hobbies I have ever aspired to. I can see myself easily passing the day between guitar practice, yoga, and some Hemingway in my hammock. It is a vision that warms my heart.

It wouldn’t last, though. What drives me is the writing. Trying to string together words that will make a difference in people’s lives. I can’t make it very long without returning to that.

So yeah, at the end of the day, if you let me keep my current income but allowed me to quit working, what would I do? I would work! (MY way.)

How about you? What would you do if you were guaranteed your income without the time commitment? Open up your journal and imagine this amazing opportunity. How would you use it? Maybe this essentially becomes a question of what you prioritize at this point in your life, not just what you like to do. Is there something that you highly value but that you have not had time to devote to with your current schedule? Is it something that you can see yourself making a habit of and keeping in your life long-term? Would you use the time to cultivate a hobby or rather something that would become a new career for you? How widely would you spread your wings? How much would you simply kick back and take life easier than you have been? Would you intentionally have no agenda at all for a while? How long do you think you could go without any job before you became either bored or stir crazy? Is this even a deal that you would take? Perhaps you would prefer to keep doing your current job, whether for social reasons or connections and opportunities to keep climbing the career ladder in your field and building a bigger income than you have now? Whatever your choice, I hope that the things you prioritize—the things you might fill your newfound window of time with—are things that will leave you feeling fulfilled. I would love to hear what you choose. Leave me a reply and let me know: How would you fill the time that is truly free?

Think big,

William

P.S. If this letter had you re-thinking about what you really prioritize at this point in your life, pass it on. A little clarity could do us all some good!

Enjoy Life or Improve It: What should we do with ourselves?

DSC_0819“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” –E.B. White

Hello friend,

Last month, I received a note from a dear uncle that scraped an open sore in my psyche. His words: “I worry about you—not that there’s anything wrong, but that I know you’re a person who is continually trying to make sense of the world, how you fit into it, and seeking to improve it. By my reckoning, those are all admirable traits. I mostly hope that you will be happy and fully enjoying each day of your life.” It was part of a very sweet and complimentary letter, and I very much appreciated his kindness. He means a great deal to me, and I believe he understands me better than most.

This is why the subtext of those words has lingered and festered in my mind over the ensuing weeks. The subtle message: If you spend your life trying to improve the world, you miss out on all the fun. Just enjoy the ride.

Don’t think that the concept of “Just Enjoy Life” is not appealing to me. It is. We should seek to be happy, to enjoy both the simple pleasures of this life and also the more elaborate ones. Life is to be enjoyed. Spending your precious time on things much bigger than you—and perhaps beyond your sphere of influence—can be reasonably considered a waste. I get it.

But I don’t really get it. Not in my soul, in my spirit, in my daemon, in my calling, in my Fate, or whatever you want to call this thing deep inside me that seems to be driving the bus. It has its own set of demands, and they seem to trump anything that my logical mind sees as reasonable.

Once in a while, I talk myself into “killing time” with something mindless or gratuitous. Maybe it is watching television or surfing the Internet, something purely for leisure. I might go for a bit without any repercussions, but before long, the boss notices that something is amiss. I start to remember all of the other, “more important” things I could be doing to advance my dreams and make my world better, and then I get anxious, antsy. It is like cabin fever for my brain. I am dying for an outlet of “productivity.” And even though I know leisure is part of a healthy lifestyle, it has to be the right kind of leisure for me. It has to also fulfill a need, like physical health (from going to the gym) or self-awareness (from writing in my journal) or peace (from a walk in the woods or a ride in the kayak). When I stop and smell the roses, it has a purpose.

My inner control panel has very sophisticated instruments to detect activities (and people) that don’t serve my greater good, and it is quick to alert me of things that waste my time. I just don’t tolerate these things well at all. They make my skin crawl, truly.

So, I do my thing. I stick to my priorities. I deal with people who are meaningful to me and spend my free time only on things that speak to my deepest passions. And I trust the control panel to alert me to anyone or anything that will distract me from my highest priorities. I am extremely protective of my time and energy.

I admit that I have high aspirations, both for myself and for the world. High aspirations require a higher level of dedication, a deeper commitment. I understand that one of the trade-offs of that commitment is less time fooling around and “taking it easy.”

It is tiring, though. I admit that, too. Every day the tasks of aspiration bark their orders at me and don’t much allow me to let up. Moments are not to be wasted. I sometimes get a little burnt out.

That is when I have one of those aforementioned evenings of forced leisure. I try to restore the proper balance. But, as I said, I never last long in leisure mode. I hear the ticking of the clock like firecrackers going off in my brain. I feel the time wasting. I start to go stir crazy. My projects call out to me. I ache to get back to them. So, the cycle continues.

I suppose I just have to surrender to my internal wiring. I am almost certainly never going to be the guy who doesn’t have at least one thing he is aching to learn about or improve upon in any given moment. In spite of everything that is happening in our world today, I fully hope and expect to live a lot longer, and thus I expect to accomplish a lot before I leave this place. So, on the surface at least, I may never come across as the “just relax and enjoy” guy.

But that is not to say I don’t enjoy my life. I do. I love it, actually. I find myself often counting my blessings regarding my regular need to juggle so many high-priority tasks that I truly love. I love spending tons of time with my kids. I love writing in my journal. I love writing these letters to you. I love working on The Journal Project. The only thing I don’t love is the pressure of trying to squeeze all of these wonderful things into every day. It is a huge challenge, and even more so when I try to mix in some other, more “pure leisure” activities into the schedule. So, even though I am doing all of these things under the stress of deadlines and sleep deprivation, I am thoroughly happy and grateful that I get to be the guy who juggles them.

Sometimes I compare my kind of grinding happiness to the way a pro athlete goes through the wringer in a very tight and important competition. It is high drama. You see him tortured by his own errors or the luck of his opponent, totally dejected after the loss of a critical point and cursing himself in the process. It is like a Shakespearean tragedy. And yet, even after the worst of dramatic losses, when it hurts like his dog has been shot, if you asked him if he still likes to play and still wants to practice, he would look at you like you were insane. “Of course! I love it! Let’s go play it again right now!”

That’s how I see myself most days. Yes, trying to improve myself and the world every day is taxing and often frustrating. Sure, I have to pass on more leisurely activities that I know would be lots of fun. But do I regret the bargain I have made? Heck no! I get a great rush when I make a personal breakthrough or learn that I have made a positive impact on someone’s life. It feels like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.   And hey, I gotta be me!

How about you? How do you balance striving and leisure in your life? Open up your journal and give yourself an honest assessment. How driven are you? What is the thing that keeps you striving to be better? What is your level of obsession with that task? Is the growth you seek to gain from it purely personal, or does it also have an element of a greater good, of service to others? Do you allow yourself to take a vacation from it sometimes, to let yourself totally off the hook? Are you like me and get a little antsy when you are not doing something productive? Do you set aside time for fun and leisure? What do you do to “Just Enjoy Life”? Is it your primary goal? Is it more about an attitude, or is it about finding lots of activities that are enjoyable? Is it okay to be entirely about enjoyment, with no thought to self-improvement or the greater good? Isn’t being happy a type of gift to the world, too? Is there a proper mix for how to spread one’s time–such as 90% enjoyment, 10% service/improvement—or is the answer as individual as we are? Do you think someone like me, who is a little bit obsessed with the service/improvement part, is doing it wrong and likely to end up unhappy (and perhaps not even impactful anyway)? Does the world need a few people bent that way, anyway, so that the majority can be more pleasure-focused? Where do you fit? Leave me a reply and let me know: What drives you? 

Do your thing,

William

P.S. If this helped you to see yourself, share it. Encourage everyone with the light that you radiate!

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!