Image

Jar of Marbles

Jar of Marbles

When it comes to school, my biggest motivator is the deadline. No matter how difficult the task, my schoolwork expands to fill the time available for its completion. This makes those easy two-hour tasks seem a lot more daunting and stressful when I give myself a week or two to complete them. It wasn’t until this summer that I learned that assignments without deadlines are a lot like goals without a plan; if you don’t have a set time frame for the end result it is much easier to procrastinate. That’s why as of recently, I decided to set a deadline for completing my bucket list, and began applying a new strategy to help me conceptualize the time that I have left.

According to the calculations, I have 143 Saturdays left before I reach my deadline and graduate from college. Rather than crossing off days from the calendar, I carefully counted 143 marbles and put them into a jar. Each Saturday I pull one marble out and am reminded of the importance of investing my time in the places that matter. It is inevitable that I will lose my marbles, but this way I get to decide where they go. One of the aspects I love most about this deadline is that it brings order in awareness. With a visual reminder, I have become much more focused on the journey and pursuit of my goals rather than on the goals themselves. Another great attribute of this deadline is that it has caused me to look hopefully towards the future and it has kept me from binging on all but one thing—life itself. We always hope for the easy fix; the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke, but few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other, just like my 143 Saturdays. As soon as the small steps start adding up, we begin working with time instead of against it.

It is not enough to be busy…the question is: what are we busy about? There is no use being “efficient” if what you are doing lacks meaning and some sense of importance. Do something that adds value to who you are and inspires you to appreciate your ordinary day. One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from this jar of marbles is that we cannot fully inhabit the life that we live unless we start developing a sense of urgency. It is my belief that everyone should have some sort of reminder to measure their days and encourage lifelong curiosity. Some use calendars; some use journals; I use a jar of marbles. How will you measure your life?

“When one has much to put into them, a day has a hundred pockets.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Gratitude

The quest to find happiness and meaning in life is not new. Whether we pursue it consciously or not, most of us are constantly searching for happiness, and as a result we direct our words and actions accordingly. One of the reasons I initially became obsessed with bucket lists was because I knew I could find a great sense of satisfaction in ticking off each item on my list, though it be a momentary happiness. Fortunately, one of my close friends introduced me to a different approach of seeking out happiness about six months ago, one that really made an impact on my life.

Rather than focusing on saying or doing things to bring happiness, this new approach focuses on looking at the world with a new pair of eyes and concentrating on things that already bring happiness. Though she never used the word ‘gratitude’ directly, she showed me how she was living a life of appreciation by keeping a list of simple things that made her happy. She was living with such respect and reverence for life that it almost made me jealous. So as I studied her strategy, I did my best to approach each day with a sincere “thank you” poised on the lips. I compiled a small list of my own, constantly looking out for small reasons to be grateful on a day to day basis. From what I learned, our attitudes also operate somewhat like magnets. We’re pulled in the direction of our thoughts, whether they’re positive or negative. As the sun makes ice melt, gratitude caused much of my animosity, hostility, and bitterness to evaporate. I also learned that everything can be taken from a man, except for one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances.

I’m giving you the beginning of my list in hopes that you will find, as I did, that happiness comes from noticing and enjoying the little things in life. My list extends into the thousands now so if you would like to have the rest of the list, please email me at alexwagman@utexas.edu. I often flip through this collection myself as a reminder to be more grateful, or to give myself a reason to cheer up. It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or whether you are experiencing intense hardship, because with these small blessings there will always be something to give thanks for. I hope that you will see, as I did, that by studying little things, we attain the art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible. “Every good and perfect gift” is already yours; it’s only awaiting your recognition.

      

                    Gratitude List

 

1.      Witnessing the winning touchdown first-hand

2.      Playing hooky to do something you don’t ordinarily have time for

3.      Returning to your warm bed after getting up in the middle of the night to pee

4.      The first scoop out of a jar of peanut butter

5.      Arriving at the destination just as a great songs ends on the radio

6.      Perfectly toasted toast

7.      A “where did you get that?” item

8.      High-fiving babies

9.      The last pickle in a jar that resists being captured

10.   The universal French fry-sharing policy

11.   Grabbing a tissue at the last second before sneezing

12.   The moment on vacation when you forget what day of the week it is

13.   The sound of a solid crack from a good break in billiards

14.   Going for a “walking meal,” and stopping for different courses along the way

15.   Bobbing in an old inner tube lazily down a river

16.   That one square in the waffle that’s the most loaded with butter and syrup

17.   Health, love, wealth, and time to enjoy them

18.   Americanisms

19.   When your plugged up nostril just suddenly opens up with no warning

20.   That separate compartment in your stomach for dessert

21.   Finally getting a piece of food that’s been stuck in your teeth all day

22.   When you’re really tired and about to fall asleep and someone throws a blanket on you

23.   Hot cream and a straight razor on your neck at the barber shop

24.   Blowing your nose in the shower

25.   Wearing underwear just out of the dryer

26.   Helping a child find unexpected ways of playing with household objects

27.   Butter on every bite

28.   Sliding back and forth in the bathtub to mix the too-hot water with the cooler water

29.   Knowing all the answers to a game show while confined to your living room

30.   Getting the answer you want from the magic 8 ball

31.   A three-year-old’s imagination

32.   Drive-in movies

33.   Windshield wipers keeping time to the song on the radio

34.   An unexpected “yes”

35.   Just happening upon a parking spot in the right place at the right time

36.   The first sip of a coke

37.   Party sounds behind a door you’re about to open

38.   A bed left guiltlessly, spontaneously unmade

39.   Back doors: the ones best friends enter by

40.   Handcuff-size onion rings

41.   The position of your head as you bite into a taco

42.   Using the dog to remove crumbs on the floor

43.   The do-something-you-haven’t-done-in-years plan

44.   Walking barefoot on the golf course

45.   The moment at a restaurant after you see your food coming from the kitchen but before it lands on the table

46.   Squeezing one more brushful out of the toothpaste tube

47.   Stars and stripes

48.   Smell of freshly cut grass

49.   Waking up and realizing its Saturday

50.   Waiters and waitresses who bring free refills without asking

51.   Sleeping in new bed sheets

52.   Being unreasonably happy

53.   One of those lucky days when there is a ton of stuff in the refrigerator

54.   Digging a hole in the mashed potatoes to keep the gravy in

55.   Hitting a bunch of green lights in a row

56.   A basket of tender, flaky, fresh-from-the-oven biscuits

57.   Crossing something dreaded off a list of things to do

58.   Sunshine pouring down through the overhanging branches of a grand old oak

59.   Places heavy with history

60.   Cocooning in a blanket

61.   Savoring a lake by canoe

62.   People-watching from a park bench

63.   Strangers you see so regularly that you feel they’re almost friends

64.   Riding  a motorcycle on the open road

65.   Eating a free sample of something you have no intention of buying

66.   The sound of ice cubes cracking in a drink

67.   The smell of the coffee isle in the grocery store

68.   Sleeping naked

69.   Picking the perfect nacho off someone else’s plate

70.   The art of knowing what to overlook

71.   Putting potato chips on a sandwich

72.   A Texas flag flying

73.   The first weekend back to college

74.   Catching the breeze in a hammock

75.   A reawakened curiosity about nature

76.   Sitting in the kitchen with your hands wrapped around a cup of coffee

77.   Starting a relationship with a feeling of wonder at the uniqueness of the other person

78.   Beating the odds

79.   When that first cup of coffee kicks in

80.   Feeling the heat of the sun while sitting in a cold car

81.   Spontaneous road trips

82.   Eating dessert first

83.   Sleeping on the porch in the summer

84.   Free concerts in the park

85.   Diving headfirst into the ocean

86.   21st century explorers

87.   Sun-drenched houses overlooking a bay

88.   Tasting a dish while it’s cooking

89.   Acclimating oneself to a cold swimming pool, one body region at a time

90.   When all of those little stringy things come off with the banana peel

91.   The groceries staying upright when your car turns a corner

92.   Three-day weekends

93.   Going to sleep with a line through every item on the to-do list

94.   Leaving spaces in your day to do something spontaneous

95.   Going out on a Saturday night and coming home sober, having had a great time

96.   Answer pages in the back of textbooks

97.   Effective stress management

98.   Sunday naps

99.   A wont-leave-you-hungry meal

100.  Nightlife in Austin, Texas

Help Needed

               I’m going to ask a pretty big favor of you today. Rather than posting a motivational speech demanding that you jump out of a plane or throw yourself onto the back of a bull, I’m asking YOU to help ME live a more gratifying and fulfilling lifestyle. There is nothing I love more than witnessing other people reach their goals firsthand, but as of recently I’ve been selfishly caught up with crossing one thing after another off of my own list. I am in dire need of a change of pace, and as a result, I have made it my latest goal to focus on helping you cross something significant off your bucket list for every one thing that I cross off on mine. I don’t care how difficult or trivial it is, I just want to help you do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Don’t hold back just because you think it might be too hard, nothing would ever be attempted if all possible objections had to first be overcome. To make it clear, I want nothing from you except to share the delight that will come when you finally reach your goal. I understand that I will not be able to help every person meet every item on their bucket list, but I also understand that I do have a chance to reduce a number of these unmet goals. I am in no way a master of bucket lists, I do not have any unusual talents, and I have never done anything that you are not capable of doing yourself. What I do have is drive, and passion, and an undying desire to help anyone who asks. So if there is still something on your bucket list that you might need help with, send me an email at alexwagman@utexas.edu or text me if you already have my number. Please help me out with this one.

Image

Cohorts and Comrades

Cohorts and Comrades

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival. It provides fellowship, dependability, camaraderie, collegiality, and community. Without these things, we’d not only be helpless, but hopeless.

Friendship is something which nearly everyone agrees is worthwhile in life. It’s like we were born with an instinctive urge to communicate, to speak about life on the edge, life in the shadows. With my two best friends, the conversation is never over. Before them, I can be sincere and think aloud without guarding my thoughts. They are the ones I take on the world with, the ones helping me achieve my dreams, the ones that bring out the best in me. There’s a lot of ‘why’ people in this world, but my best friends are the ‘why nots’. We became friends not because of perceived advantages but because of our admiration of each other’s virtues. But over the years, I have found that there is not one type of friend that is best on all occasions and in all situations. I have some friends who I’ve known since we were wearing braces and knee-high socks. I have some friends who I met last week, who I’ve shared beers with, laughs with, or challenging times with. Some are like brothers and some are my ‘sit around and contemplate life’ friends. The great thing about friendship is that no two friendships are ever going to be exactly the same. Different people are in our lives for different reasons, and our relationships with them are reflective of that, so don’t resent a particular characteristic in one friendship, or attempt to make a friendship something that it’s not. Instead, appreciate that friendship for exactly what it is. With that said, many of us have gotten used to living without “friends of the heart” and instead passing our time with “friends of the road” — friends that are good for a laugh and a beer, but not much else. Everybody should be searching for a friend of the heart; someone who—if you just admit that you don’t know how to do something—-will fall over themselves trying to help. Some people spend their entire lives looking for these people without any luck. In your search do not be short-changed by choosing personality over character, and in a group of friends, make sure that every voice is heard, every question is asked, and nothing is taken for granted.

My friends know that I am always out looking for the next adventure or the next opportunity to get myself into trouble, and as a result I’ve ended up with some pretty great stories. I love to tell stories; stories about experiences, accomplishments and all kinds of failures, and for some reason I always figured my best friends would be the ones who were willing to listen. I finally gave up that philosophy when I realized it wasn’t true. The truth is, my good friends already know all my best stories, but my best friends don’t need to be told, because they were the ones that lived them with me.

Image

The Little Things

                          The Little Things

        Given the hectic nature of our lives, it’s easy to overlook the little things that make it all worthwhile. Sitting with a family dog on a hillside, listening to music on a back porch, fly-fishing in the middle of the Colorado River, and being un-regretfully lazy. Life is many-sided and there are infinite ways of experiencing it, but many times we are blind to these blessings. We should insist on playing life to the fullest, but play it based on our own sense of value. Ask yourself what the ingredients of a good life are and make a point to focus on those things.

        If you haven’t noticed already, life can get away from us even while we are still living it. Too often we act as if the world lost its luster when really we just stopped giving it our undivided attention. Sure, there is always work to be done around the house or in the yard, but finding enjoyment in life is so much more important, healthy—and fun. People don’t put enough emphasis on the joy of everyday living, and we rarely pause to savor the gifts of our present moments. Eating a home-cooked meal, being outdoors, wearing clothes softened by age, reading all day, running in a familiar neighborhood, and breathing deeply are all simple pleasures that satisfy our longings for liveliness. Happiness isn’t in the future, but in this afternoon’s meal with a friend, in this evening’s bedtime story with a child, in tonight’s curling up with a good book. We need to appreciate the things which help us stay balanced, which keep us from being crushed under the weight of seriousness, and which we can use to maintain our sanity.

        I will always encourage setting new goals and searching for the next bucket list adventure, but in between goals is a thing called life, and it must be appreciated and admired with all of the simplest amusements. The tricky part is mastering the happy art of attending to things temporal with a mind intent on things eternal. Try embracing happiness as a moral obligation and you will always have an abundance of it; seek out the good in life and you will soon find it everywhere. If you don’t listen to anything else I say, please just remember this: the secret to life is simply enjoying the passage of time. Don’t let this lifetime pass you by.

Image

Extreme Sports

Extreme Sports

         Most of us never dare to act on our dreams and we scarcely even admit to greater inner yearnings. It’s as if we are addicted to security and terrified of risk. In my eyes, the most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later. Anybody who is close to me knows that I’m always seeking out an adrenaline rush. When the dust settles, I want to have three lifetime’s worth of memories, friends and great experiences.

        When it comes to extreme sports, it’s hard to tell if the adventure seekers are crazy or enlightened. In my eyes, they’re wired to experience life a little bit more. Pushing the potentials of the body is a natural fit in a world that is turning people into sedentary and slothful creatures. It’s almost a reaction to the fact that our human existence is inside a box staring at a computer screen. Seek to escape the tedium of the daily grind by tackling a marathon or jumping out of a helicopter with a pair of skis on your feet. Lust for experience. Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. 20 seconds of brash bravery. Remember that courage is one of the most essential human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others. No one is born with it.

        I like to think that when the time comes, God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars. From what I’ve learned so far, it is the experiences, the memories, and the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. Part of loving life is doing everything you can to appreciate it while you’re here. No, I do not have a death wish, but I imagine that I have known too much of the depths of life already, and would prefer anything to an anticlimax. When your time is up, two dates will be chiseled into rock and separated by a dash. A whole lifetime reduced to one glyph (-) carved in stone…one uncomplicated dash. Make sure you have no regrets when that day comes. Be bold and up for adventure. Opt for the good life. Live out the dash.

The 100 Thing Challenge

“I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” –Henry David Thoreau

        Nearly six months ago, I noticed that my desire to live a meaningful life was getting forestalled by many of the petty, day-to-day demands of my possessions. For some unknown reason, I was purchasing anxiety, fitful sleep, and more work at the expense of unnecessary items. I decided to put my materialistic dependency to the test by limiting myself to only 100 “things” for half of a year. I wanted to prove to myself that I had the strength to empty out the rowboat until only life preservers remained.

        I boxed up clothes, needless decorations, and excess belongings, took them down to a nearby homeless shelter, and said goodbye to a lifestyle of indulgence. From the vantage ground of my voluntary poverty, I learned that most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only frivolous and futile, but they are also linked to unnecessary concerns that sap the spirit from our lives. By limiting our possessions, we yield less stuff, but we also produce richer relationships. Never have I been so poor in outward riches, never so rich inward. Now, six months after starting this challenge, I have more space to enjoy at home, more money to bless others, and more time to invest in everything else.

        Many of us are determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it. The truth is that real faith cannot be bought at a store. We cannot pay money for it. Faith is the means by which we take our incomplete and imperfect lives and do something astounding with them. We cannot use a credit card or even cash for something so wonderful. Remember that nothing in life has any meaning except the meaning you give it. I challenge you to discover the freedom that comes from needing little, and I assure you that you will notice an alleviating emancipation once you are no longer pressured to keep up with the Joneses. If you don’t think you can limit yourself to only 100 things, I dare you to prove yourself wrong from day one. If this challenge is just not for you, as a general rule I encourage you to spend as little as possible and prioritize everyday deeds. As for the future, I plan to keep going in what I am grateful to say is a ridiculously simple and amazing life. Isn’t that all anyone really needs?

St. Thomas Aquinas: “Man should not consider his material possessions his own, but common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.”

                             Image                               

The List (100-199)

The constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. The problem is, you have to acquire the happiness yourself. Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more. Our culture doesn’t normally encourage you to think about such things until “it’s too late,” but when you finally come to this realization, hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence–the lapses of conscience, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes–all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose and by the seriousness of the task at hand.

Dying is only one thing to be sad over. Living unhappily is something else. So do something you love every day; write it out and make your own bucket list. I encourage you to view these accomplishments from God’s point of view and to make your bucket list matter eternally along the way. Pull out and borrow what speaks to you as you read through some of the things in which I have found fulfillment and adventure. Be intentional and be contagious in your quest to live a life that is more than a bucket list.

#100-199

Train Hop

Go bowfishing

Backpack through Europe

Become an organ donor

Race in a color run

Partake in a 6-month sabbatical

Do donuts in a parking lot

Become a foster parent

Start a food-fight

Sell time-shares in a different country

Deep-sea fishing

Attend an all-black church service

Live on a ranch

Donate $10,000 anonymously

Front row tickets to a concert

Climb one of the 7 summits

Hunt and kill at least one of the Big 5

Get a business degree

See all ‘501 must see movies’

Fly an open cockpit airplane

Quit something every Thursday for a year

Visit 20 different countries, 7 different continents

Take up fly fishing

Live an entire week homeless

Bike ride through Nat. Geographic’s 10 Best Trails

Live to see my great grandchildren

Create a website

5:59 minute mile, 50 pull-ups, and 100 pushups

Learn to play lacrosse

Fill a gratitude journal with 1000 entries

Learn to play guitar

Take a cruise

Feed a wild animal from my mouth

Memorize a bible verse every week for a year

Date someone who is 10 years older

Create a multi-generational family tree

Charm a snake

Hitch-hike

Help make an independent film

Hit a homerun

Buy a Polaroid Camera

Own a pair of bongo drums

Start a bonfire

Expand human knowledge in an area of expertise

Join a rugby team

Learn to sing well

Two-week long camping trip

Graffiti

Go to a monster truck rally

Wall flip

Moon someone out of a moving vehicle

Have a beer with a homeless man

Kiss a total stranger

Learn to play ‘Claire De Lune’ on the piano

Milk a poisonous snake

Drop into a 15 foot skateboard ramp

Mardi-Gras in New Orleans

Throw the most badass party ever

Learn how to prepare a flaming Dr. Pepper shot

Ride an ostrich

Become a bounty hunter

7 day religious fast

Learn to tie a cherry stem with my tongue

Become Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Flash Certified

Attend Bonnaroo music festival

Learn how to give a full body Swedish massage

Start a business

Own a strange animal for a pet

Light a match with a .22 rifle

Go mudding

Play the ultimate prank

Complete the milk challenge

Sneak backstage at a concert

Go couch-surfing

Finish an Ironman Triathlon

Learn how to count cards

Volunteer as a fireman

Be in a flash mob

Red paperclip challenge

Design a new product with a 3D printer

Build a church

Give a TED talk

Backflip on a wakeboard

Catch a live fly on a leash

Swim with sharks

Run a 100 Mile Marathon

Join a biker gang

Eno from at least twenty feet up

Grow an epic beard

Attend Glastonbury Festival

Perform stand-up comedy live

Buy a last minute plane ticket to “the hell outta here”

Go whale watching

Become immersed in another culture

Sand Boarding

Become a member of a foreign-exchange student organization

Fall in love

Tickle a fish

Practice anthropomorphic taxidermy

Adopt a child financially through worldvision.org

He gets the glory, I get the joy

 Image

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “action expresses priorities.” Hearing this quote made me think about the items on my list that I have been putting off for quite some time, and after reading Matthew 5:16 one special goal of mine immediately came to mind.

#14. Perform an act of kindness every day for a year.

I have heard many people talk about “random acts of kindness,” but I would much rather leave out the word ‘random’ in hopes that it will bring more consciousness to my living and teach me to give more sincerely. Attempting this challenge by no means suggests that I will limit myself to only one act of kindness per day. Instead, I intend to practice kindness the best way that I know how; in teaspoonfuls, bucketfuls and floods, week after week.

We were made to enjoy God with overflowing praise, so what better way to simultaneously praise and enjoy Him than by serving his people. We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise does not merely express but completes the enjoyment. Because the task is so daunting and requires infallible persistence, I am confident that this challenge will also lead me to a joyful dependence on God’s help.

Regardless of whether you attempt to do this every day, my hope is that you all will join the pursuit of good deeds, acts of generosity, works of kindness, and ways of love, not just in your day-to-day motions but in your attitudes and your motivations as well. The truth is that your life is one big advertisement of who you are and what you stand for, so be sure to give without hesitation, lose without regret, and acquire without spite. Wherever there is a human being there will also be an opportunity to serve someone with kindness. The power of kindness is immense. Really, it is nothing less than the power to change the world.