Monday, November 3, 2014

12 Steps for Living Free - Introduction

I’ve been on a personal quest to live freer and happier all my life. But, for the last three and a half years, at this writing, it’s become the main focus of my life. I’ve learned much during this period. I guess I could say I’ve minimally “earned” another masters degree and, possibly, a PhD in Living Free. The path has been interesting, exciting, challenging and, often, difficult and, sometimes, painful. We live in a very complicated world and I dare say that it will only become more complicated in the future.

Fifty to sixty years ago, when I was a youngster and a young adolescent, life was pretty peaceful, relatively speaking. I was born just before World War II ended and the following year the Baby Boomer Generation began. It was a time when the economy began to boom as a result of the war effort, finally ending the Great Depression. There were programs like the GI Bill to assist service men and women returning from the war to gain education and to buy homes they could have never afforded before the war. The job market was expanding as technology began a rapid developmental period. Then we had the Korean War followed by the Vietnam War that I participated in as an active member of the U.S. Air Force (and as a result of the Selective Service System draft). Faster and faster our world was getting smaller and smaller and becoming a more and more global society. The U.S. became the wealthiest nation in the world and one of the few Super Powers, ultimately to become the only surviving Super Power. Change was constant and rapid. Technology accelerated the changes by leaps and bounds. 

Somehow, I became a non-conformist. No! I was not a “hippie” or “beatnik.” But, I was an entrepreneur and entrepreneurs are, by their very nature, non-conformists. We don’t see things as they are. We see things as they can be with the innovations each of us adds to a capitalistic society. I became a “serial entrepreneur,” always restless and always looking for new ways to do things that moved business and society ahead. Early in my business career I bought into the idea that it was the small businesses that would lead the world by embracing new technologies. My chosen field was electronic media and more specifically, the growing recording and video production industries.

I began my interest in electronic media when I was about 11 or 12 years old starting with photography (actually, a graphic-visual medium at that time, now an electronic medium), then discovering short-wave radio, becoming a licensed amateur radio operator just after my 14th birthday and going on to found both the amateur radio club and the on-campus broadcast radio station at my undergraduate college. I discovered the recording and sound industries during the first month of my freshman year at Montclair State College (now, a university) in Montclair, New Jersey. What a ride my life has been since that time.

But, here’s the rub. I went into business to secure my own freedom and happiness and, ultimately, created my own form of enslavement. As I went through the four years of my Air Force enlistment, I met my future wife. I began to conform more and more to the traditional values that most people embraced and, in so doing, gave up more and more of my personal freedom and, with it, much of the happiness I was seeking.

Please! Do not misconstrue my meaning. We still lived a fairly non-conforming lifestyle in many ways and there were many wonderful, happy times. My son was born and became the most important accomplishment of my life. He became an intelligent, capable, productive and FREE member of our society. But, I had set aside many, if not most, of my personal ideals and philosophies of personal freedom and happiness.

It was not until I reached my early 60’s that I realized just how much. During all those years there was a continual gnawing feeling deep inside that kept telling me that I had sold myself out and traded many of my ideals, values and dreams for more traditional values and standards. I had relinquished my free spirit, freedom and happiness for a self-imposed imprisonment as a “wage slave.” I had conformed to how “they” (those who chose to live a traditional and conforming lifestyle) thought I should live my life. Of course, I made that choice freely.

I’ve identified and been developing a 12-step approach to living free as I’ve been reinventing myself and traveling on my quest to regain my own freedom and happiness. Sure, 12 step programs are popular for many things beginning with the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Bill W. and Dr. Bob first introduced the AA 12 Step program in 1939. Millions have benefited and the movement has spawned numerous 12 step programs addressing many other addictions and compulsions. My 12-step program is committed to helping anyone who feels trapped or imprisoned by their own thinking and is not as happy as he or she would like to be. It helps you make choices to break away from whatever you feel is holding you back from attaining all the freedom you desire, however you define living free for yourself. Living free should, as a natural consequence, result in a happier, fulfilled life.

Here, then, are my 12 steps. I will list them and provide a simple and brief description of each step. In future posts I’ll elaborate on each step in more detail.

Step 1. Dreams and Reality – You begin by facing your reality as it is today. You grew up dreaming about your perfect life – where you’d live, a lifestyle, who you’d marry, a family, what you would do (occupationally or professionally) to support yourself and your family, your adventures, travels and so on. Dreams always evolve as you grow and experience life. What happened? Life happened, that's what. What is wrong and right about your current life? You know that you’re not truly happy and you never seem to have time to do the things you want to do. This is where you find yourself asking the question, “Is this all there is?” It’s time to take your dreams out of that dark closet, blow off the dust and revisit them.

Step 2. Self-discovery – Once you come to the realization and have accepted that all is not as you feel it should be, then you can begin exploring what you and your life are all about. This is where you will find the roots of your discontent, unhappiness and lack of personal freedom.

Step 3. Personal Inventory – It’s time to take an assessment of your personal assets. This doesn’t mean just your tangible assets, however. It means going back through your life. What are your core beliefs? What did you learn from your parents, teachers, religious experiences (if any), and what are your professional/occupational, educational and training experiences? Who is your family? Who are your friends? Depending on your age, this inventory could become a long list.

Step 4. Simplifying – Life is complex. The average person (and family) has to juggle all the complexities of daily domestic, professional and social life including where you live, relationships with family and friends, raising children if you have any, the complexities of whatever your vocation or profession places upon you, health issues, finances, local, state and federal rules, laws and politics, the economy and the list goes on. The more we have and attempt to do, the more complicated and clouded our lives become. Simplifying our lives contributes significantly to achieving personal freedom and, ultimately, happiness. Simplifying can be done fairly quickly if it is undertaken in numerous small incremental steps evaluating what is important and not important in your life as you progress.

Step 5. Downsizing – If you were fortunate enough to be born and grow up in the United States, no matter what strata of society you come from, you have accumulated “STUFF!” Stuff can take several forms. It can be tangible stuff like furniture, books, CD’s, vinyl records, old clothes, etc. It can also be mental/psychological/emotional stuff (often referred to as “baggage”) like lost friendships, painful memories, unrealized hopes, etc. It’s time to let go of this “stuff” and get out of the “Stuff Warehousing Business."

Step 6. Finances – This is a serious and vitally important step. You have to evaluate your relationship with money, investments, debt and what you really need, financially, to live free and happy. If you are in debt you are not free. You will likely be surprised by the outcome of this step.

Step 7. Avocation – Do what you love and the money will follow. Maybe you’ve heard this before. Living free is not about having the highest paying job or career you can have. When you work for money you’re very inclined to become a “wage slave.” Finding YOUR best Avocation (as opposed to a vocation or occupation) means discovering something that you love doing and would do for free . . . except people will actually pay you. Thus, you can earn the income you need to sustain your Living Free lifestyle while doing something you really love to do.

Step 8. Relationships – Your relationships contribute a lot to how you define yourself. Very good relationships are supportive, encouraging, non-judgmental and collaborative. Relationships that do not provide these qualities are very often toxic relationships and will drain you physically, mentally and emotionally - and many times, financially. This is true of professional and personal - platonic, romantic and familial relationships. In order for you to be free you have to eliminate all toxic relationships and develop positive, mutually beneficial, supportive and collaborative relationships.  

Step 9. Amends – No one, and this includes you, goes through life without being hurt and hurting others. Most often these hurtful events are not done maliciously and often without knowledge that you or the other party has been harboring these painful feelings. To be truly free you must first and foremost forgive yourself for being human and making mistakes. Then you must forgive those who have, in some way, wronged or hurt you. And, equally important, you must seek to make amends with anyone you may have knowingly or unknowingly hurt. They may or many not forgive you. If they don’t that is their burden to bear. You have made your amends and are free of any further guilt. You can’t be free and carry lifelong guilt on your shoulders.

Step 10. Giving – What will you give? You’ve probably heard that you must give to receive. In Biblical terms it was stated that, “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Giving of yourself, whether financially, other tangible items such as food/clothes/shelter to someone in need or giving of your time are all ways of giving. You'll gain freedom, happiness and fulfillment from this simple action.

Step 11. Spirituality – This is not about God or any specific religious belief system. And this is not some “New Age” philosophy. This is simply about your connection with nature, the universe and a greater intelligence and truth then you can comprehend. You may choose to identify your spirituality by various names like God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha or any other name. You may choose to connect through nature. Even atheists and agnostics display forms of spirituality, though they may not recognize it as such. How you connect with others and with nature is part of spirituality and that connection helps make living free possible.

Step 12. Life List (aka a Bucket List) – It’s never too early to create a Life List. Like everyone else, you were born with a “terminal disease” called “Life.” The vast majority of human beings don’t know when the end of their lives will actually come. So, why, then, are you putting off creating a Life List of all the things YOU want to experience and accomplish for yourself before you leave this world? As far as we know, we only get one time around in this life on Earth. Life and everything about it is a miraculous gift and we don't get a dress rehearsal. So, what are you waiting for? Retirement? It may never come. It’s time to create your personal Life List and take every opportunity to experience and complete the items on your Life List - BEGINNING NOW!

These are my 12 steps. There are, of course, other facets of the human experience that also contribute to our freedom, happiness, well being and fulfillment, but they can all be incorporated into one of these twelve steps. I’ll define and explain these 12 steps in more detail in future posts. I hope they will help you define living free for your life . . . the Greatest Gift you’ve been given.

Step #1 – Dreams and Realization

A dear and, prematurely, departed friend of mine, Rosita Perez, frequently told this little story when she made presentations for major corporations and large, multi-national organizations. It went like this. Her husband, Ray, also a friend of mine, and a super guy, would come to her complaining about a number of issues that all seemed to need resolving right now. She’d remind him of one of the philosophies of Dr. Richard Carlson, who titled his best selling book by this philosophy, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And It’s All Small Stuff.” Rosita would tell Ray, “Don’t sweat the small, stuff, Ray.” Ray would often reply, “But, this isn’t small stuff, Rosita, this is important.” To which Rosita would respond, “Ray, Being born, BIG STUFF! Dying, BIG STUFF! Everything else . . . small stuff.”

So, what does this story have to do with Step#1 – Dreams and Realization? It’s simple! We let the small stuff of life enslave us. There’s another saying that has passed around the Internet and is part of the chorus of a George Strait (country artist) top 10 song from 2010 that goes, “Life’s not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.” In other words, each of us have so many breaths we’ll take during our lifetime, but just breathing doesn’t have anything to do with experiencing life to its fullest.

Life Is For LIVING!

I like to think that life is for LIVING and I don’t just mean waking up every morning and doing the same routine things everyday. Let’s see, you shower, groom, catch a fast cup of coffee and half a bagel, drop the kids off at day care or school, commute to work, do whatever it is that you do at your job, watch the clock waiting for the end of the day, commute home, prepare and eat dinner, clean up, help the kids with their homework or take them to their soccer games or whatever, watch a little CSI,  Law and Order or American Idol, catch a bit of Jay Leno or David Letterman, climb into bed, pick up the book you’ve been trying to get through for two months, fall asleep and start the whole routine over again when the alarm goes off at 6 AM. Okay, so maybe your routine varies a little, but I doubt that it varies very much.

So, what were those dreams you grew up with. Remember when you wanted to be a fireman or a cowboy or a soldier or a racecar driver or an astronaut or a doctor? Fill in your own dreams and ideas for future occupations. Ladies, fill in your dreams here, too. They may differ from a man’s dreams. The dreams probably changed many times as you grew through childhood, adolescence, those tough teen years and, again, when you finally reached adulthood. 

What other dreams did you have? Did you want to run and win marathons? Did you want to play baseball, football, basketball, golf or tennis competitively or professionally? Did you want to be an artist and paint or sculpt or take award-winning photographs? Maybe you wanted to be a best selling author with lots of fiction or non-fiction books to your credit. Or, perhaps, you were musically inclined and played in a rock band with your high school buddies or sang in a classical choral group. You might have even composed your own music. The list could go on endlessly.

But, why aren’t you doing those things? Why didn’t you pursue your dreams? Probably, because during your childhood you were being conditioned into the model created by the Industrial Revolution. This model, in my estimation, is now obsolete, but it’s still the prevailing model that most people live their lives by.

Four or five generations ago, men, primarily, since women were only a small part of the out-of-the-home workforce back then, would take a job in a factory or a coal mine or in whatever field they found work and they would stay in that job for their entire working lifetime, typically, 40 to 45 years. Then, they would retire, live for a couple more years and die.

Women, typically, stayed at home for all those years and handled the domestic necessities of life. Some women were schoolteachers, nurses, telephone operators, waitresses and airline stewardesses –so-called, women’s work. Everyone is still conditioned for this same model today, though women have probably made the most progress over the past several decades.

The school system is based on that model. It prepares you for when you’ll enter the workforce and get a job. Creativity is stifled. Thinking outside the box is frowned on. Doing what your dreams would lead you to do becomes unrealistic by those in authority and influence around you. You can’t make a good living as a musician or an artist or a photographer or an adventurer or a professional athlete. You need to be “serious” and get a job where you have security and can make some real money.

Life Happens!

So, you put those dreams on the shelf, push them to the back of the closet in your mind and just say, “someday.” When does someday arrive? Usually, it never does. And, why does it never come? Because LIFE HAPPENS! Now, life is going to happen whether you’re working in a field that pays good money or not such good money. It comes whether you love what you’re doing or despise what you’re doing. Life is going to happen because it just happens, period!

What exactly does “life happens” mean? It basically means the chances are reasonably good that, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’re going to seek a mate, create a secure home and have a family. Typically, once you identify the mate and go through the ritual courting process, you’ll bond in a marriage agreement. Then you’ll start to create little people just like yourself and the cycle begins again. Only now you are the parents and will begin conditioning the new little people into the same “system.” And all of this requires a stable, secure, responsible environment, right?

Wow! Do I sound cynical, or what? Well, actually, this is all very natural and the way the human life cycle has been since “Adam and Eve” (or however you define the beginning of our species). Here’s the rub. Everyone is born with a natural freedom. Once you understand a bit about life, you understand that you want to be happy. A fulfilling life means that you have done something that fulfills your dreams while contributing, to some degree, to the society you associate with.

There are certain basic needs that Abraham Maslow outlines in his Hierarchy of Needs. You can look this up yourself. Essentially, you all start at the base of the pyramid with very basic needs for survival and as you meet these needs you progress up the pyramid. However, nowhere in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, nor anywhere else, does it say that you need to conform to the standards or system of survival, personal growth and achievement of anyone else. Yet, by the time most of you reached the end of high school and, certainly, college, for those privileged to attend such an institution, you were conditioned to “get a job.” 

“I Did It My Way”

For some reason, call it providence or, maybe, just luck, while I went through the “indoctrination and conditioning process,” I didn’t buy into it totally. I started my entrepreneurial career at age 12 as the proverbial “newspaper boy” delivering 108 to 110 evening newspapers to my customers six days a week and collecting for the papers on Saturday mornings. I learned that the better the service I rendered, the larger the tip I’d receive. I, of course, had to pay the newspaper their share each week. So, I really was an independent businessman.

My father, a self-made and educated man, always held a job. He would have liked to have been in business for himself, but he grew up during the depression and hung onto the “so-called” security of his employment with someone else. Today, many of us know that the term “job security” is really a paradox. Even finding a “good” job is extremely challenging. Finding a great job or one that fulfills your dreams is next to impossible. And having any kind of job security is virtually non-existent for most people. My father fostered my entrepreneurial spirit during those formative years. To some degree, he guided me toward a certain degree of non-conformity. I never got to thank him because he died before I graduated from college, but I am ever so thankful.

After completing my four years of college earning a degree in Education, I was totally disenchanted with what the “job market” offered me. As I told one recruiter, I was perfectly capable of starving all by myself. I certainly didn’t need to sign a contract and indenture myself to starve. I went immediately to graduate school for a master’s degree in Television and Radio. The job offers were a little better, but not very much.

I had been operating my own independent recording business through college and graduate school and I had a contract with a small regional radio network based in Syracuse, NY. One day while I was having lunch with the vice president of the small, family owned group (he was the son of the founder), Al said to me, and I paraphrase, “You have to make a decision. You can find a full-time job and keep doing your recording part-time. The chances are very good that you’ll still be doing it part-time 40 years from now. Or, you can take a chance on yourself, go full-time into your own business and pull in your belt and eat a lot of franks and beans. But, this is the only way you’ll know if you have what it takes to make it in your own business.” I chose the second option and I’ve never looked back.

I always tell people I became an entrepreneur because I was just plain lazy and couldn’t deal with the idea of commuting to and from a job and putting in eight hours a day, five days a week for someone else. Instead, I chose to work about 14 hours a day, seven days a week working for myself. As the song, with lyrics penned by Paul Anka and popularized by Frank Sinatra, goes, “I did it my way.”

Reality, In Your Face!

So, here is the Realization. Like it or not, you’ve all been sold a bill of baloney. No one needs to conform to the system, though the vast majority will. You could have opted out when you were a kid and chosen to pursue those dreams. Sure, you could have failed. Hey, you might have ended up as a “lounge lizard” playing the piano or the iconic Hammond B3 organ for a bunch of sad, drunken lushes. You could have written songs that may or may not have ever been recorded by any of the artists you wrote them for. You could have gone treasure hunting and never discovered a single gold doubloon. You could have obtained your commercial pilot’s license and never found a position with a commercial airline. You could have trekked around the world and taken photos that never won any awards or had your photos displayed in shows in New York City galleries. You could have done any of your dreams and failed miserably and never made an amount of money that would have made your parents proud of you and your friends envious. But, you’ll never know, will you? THAT is the realization!

Maybe you would have made a fantastic, exciting and fulfilling life for yourself doing exactly what you dreamed of doing. So, you might not have made all the money and couldn’t have afforded the MacMansion. But, you might have the pride in knowing that something you did directly impacted one or more lives positively. Instead, you conformed to what your parents, siblings, religious leaders, friends, teachers, professors and so on told you should do to have a nice, secure future and life. How did that work out for you? None of these people had any malice in the way they influenced you. They, actually, believed that this was the best course for you. And it was safe . . . or was it? And, by the way, there is ALWAYS a hefty price for security. It’s called freedom.

Perhaps, right now you’re saying, “But, It’s too late, now.” Or, you’re saying, “Ed is just a dreamer blowing a bunch of blue smoke in the air.” Well, you have the right to your own opinion. I once had dreams of building a huge multi-media empire and being a multi-millionaire media mogul. But, over the years, every time I went down that road, I became a prisoner in a prison of my own making. I ended up creating businesses where I wasn’t free and doing what I was passionate about. I ended up creating businesses with employees to manage. It turned out that building an empire wasn’t really my dream – it was a series of choices. The results of my choices and life happening, in my case, ended up with me building personal prisons. But, at least I tried.

“Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It”

So, here is your assignment for Step #1. I know many won’t do it, but for those who do, you’re at the beginning of realizing your real dreams, life, freedom, happiness and fulfillment.

1. Make a list of your REAL dreams. These are the things you wanted to do when you were a kid and teenager facing an exciting future full of unwritten pages waiting for you to fill them in. It doesn’t matter how off the wall or unrealistic the dreams may seem now. Just list them.

2. Then circle or highlight any of those dreams that still stir excitement in your heart, mind and soul. Get your daydreaming mojo going and release adrenalin as you imagine, “What if?”

3. Now, make a brief outline of where Life has taken you. You know, the Life Happens, stuff. How free do you feel about where you are, now? How happy are you based on where you are, now? How fulfilled are you based on where you are, now?

You’re going to have conflicts and anxieties as you think about this seriously and deeply. Your spouse’s and kids’ (if you have any) faces will flash in your mind during this process. You’ll think about all the stuff you’ve accumulated and how could you possibly live without it. If you’re still employed, you’ll have questions and doubts about surviving without the income from your current job or business. If you’re retired, questions will arise about whether it’s too late or about working all your life for the “security” you feel you currently have and could you lose.

Reality, when you face it toe-to-toe and square in the eyes can be both ugly and scary. But, if you want to live free and be happy, it is a necessary part of this all-important first step.

Keep asking yourself these three questions:
       1. Are you as free as you feel you want to be, should be and could be? 

       2. Are you as happy as you feel you have every right to be? 

       3. Are you fulfilled in the knowledge that you lived your dream and your life on your
           own terms, didn’t sell yourself out and, with what you have contributed to 
           society, can be proud of your legacy when that second “Big Stuff,” that Rosita
           Perez alluded to arrives?

You can’t do this exercise in ten minutes or an hour or a week. I’ve been working at it all my life and it continues even now on the other side of my mid 60’s. Even though I’ve been a non-conformist and serial entrepreneur all my life, I’m finally facing my own realities and realizing that I sold myself out most of my life. But, and this is a large BUT, I’m not dead, yet. So, I keep getting more chances.

Let me leave you with one other pearl of wisdom, a quote attributed to Wayne Dyer and often used by my dear, departed friend, Rosita Perez, “Don’t die with your music still in you.”

Good luck! You’re on Step #1 of your journey to living free. Hang on for the ride of your life if you choose to pursue your dreams, freedom and happiness.

Step #2 Self-discovery

A rock band named “The Who” had a hit album in the late 70’s that was titled “Who Are You?” That was also the title of one of the songs on the album. The first line of the song asks? “Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?” And, if you recall the verbal exchange between Alice and the caterpillar in the Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland,” you’ll remember that is the same question the caterpillar kept asking Alice. So, that is my question to you . . .

WHO are you? Who ARE you? Who are YOU? WHO are YOU? WHO ARE YOU?

That is same question posed five different ways. The answer? Only YOU know WHO you are and that’s your assignment for Step #2, explore and discover who you really are.

Psychobabble and Pop-psychology

As I’ve been exploring this important question, “Who am I?” for myself, I realized that I needed to make this simple. Accordingly, it should be simple for you, too. Remember, I am not a member of the “credentialed” crop of "pop-psychologists” who have gained and lost (and sometimes regained) popularity, primarily, through the media over the past several decades. I am a realist, an existentialist, of sorts, and a pragmatist. I’m not going to dish out a lot of popular psychobabble or psycho-chatter.

You are not going to be directed to use hypnotherapy or transcendental meditation or neuro-linguistic programming or positive thinking or guided visualization or similar processes. You can do any of those if you choose to. But, please engage in those processes with a licensed, credentialed, trained, experienced professional. None of this is what the 12 Step Program for Living Free is all about.

What I am expressing to you is simply from my own life experience. Sure, I have a couple college degrees and I even had a course or two in psychology as it applied to working with children in the classroom setting. But, a psychologist, I am not. I have read volumes and volumes by some of the classic “self-help” authors and, in some cases, psychologists or psychiatrists. I’ve filled my mind with everyone from J.P. Getty, Napoleon Hill, Elmer Wheeler, Maxwell Maltz, M. Scott Peck, Richard Carlson, Wayne Dyer and too many others to list.

Have I gained anything from all of these people? Of course I have. I’d have to be a lower animal not to have gained something and, I’ll be honest, I’ve gained much. I’ve gained more then I can quantify. And, much of what you’ll experience in this 12 Step Program is the result of what I’ve learned and the conscious choices of utilizing or not utilizing this knowledge in my life. Through this 12 Step Program, you’re not going to gain from all the technical and theoretical information by the scores of authors like the ones I mentioned. Rather, you’re going to gain from the practical application of simple, basic steps that can work for you if you’re willing to apply these simple steps in your life as I and countless other people have in our lives.

Remember, everything you’re learning here is in simple basic steps. You need only make a conscious choice to apply the steps to your own life and stick with them. Don’t let your IQ, degrees, professional experience, success and status hold you back from gaining the true personal freedom and happiness you have a natural right to and deserve.

The reason the 12 Step Programs have been very successful in areas of alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, over-eating, etc. is because they cross all the lines. No matter who someone is in their personal, professional or societal life, when they join and attend a 12 Step AA meeting or the meetings of any similar programs, everyone there is dealing with the same issue. Those who accept that and adhere to the 12 Steps of the particular program change their lives and succeed. Those, who choose not to and prefer to just allow life to continue to happen, usually fail. This is proof positive that the 12 Step Program in Living Free can help you to gain the freedom and happiness you seek. Don’t judge the program or the steps. Simply choose to accept them, apply them and live them.

So, WHO Are YOU Anyway?

At this point you may be saying to yourself, I know who I am. I don’t need to do this. I contend  that every individual is a dynamic being who is constantly learning, growing and changing. You weren’t the same person at age 10 that you were at age 5. You weren’t the same person at age 20 that you were at age 15. You weren’t the same person at age 40 that you were at age 20. And, in my specific case, I’m not the same person at age 67 that I was at age 40. Select any age and day in your life and you aren’t the same person physiologically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually or in any other way then the person you were the day before or at any other time in your personal history.  

Self-discovery is as ongoing a process as change is in our world. No one can tell you to do anything. No one can tell you who you are. No one can tell you who you must be . . . unless you give him or her the authority to do so and choose to accept that authority over your life.

Self-discovery is a constant process of not only discovering who you are at this moment in time, but how you reached this moment in time and who you are becoming through your life journey. More importantly, because “life happens” you WILL continue to constantly change.

Life Is About Choices And Applying The Choices

Life is all about choices. You can choose to just allow life to continue to happen and accept whatever it dishes out. Or, you can make conscious, personal choices about where you want your life to go and who you want to be. Life is still going to happen, you can’t change that. But, you can have more control of your own life if you choose to.

If you are the average adult in 2012, you make dozens, if not hundreds of choices every day. For example, you may choose to use a traditional alarm, a clock radio tuned to a station you choose to wake you, an alarm in your cell phone or no alarm device at all. You’ll choose the appropriate and accepted attire to wear that day depending on the activity you have planned. It may be for your occupation or business  or such activities as working in your garden or going fishing or biking or shopping. You’ll choose whether or not to have a first meal of the day, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner and what you’ll eat. You’ll make similar choices for other meals and, perhaps, a few snacks during the day.

Most of those are rather routine choices and we often take them for granted. However, make no mistake, each is a choice. You also make larger decisions that include your career and responsibilities on your job, your family life or even choosing whether to have a spouse, family or not. You may be taking some courses in college or vocational training and you have to decide whether to go today or not. Or, you may be taking tests at an educational institution or for job advancement and have to make choices about answers you’re not entirely sure about.

You may have to make choices of the most serious kind, life or death decisions, about your own life or the life of someone else. You may be in the military and have to choose who to take with you on an assignment or whether to volunteer for a dangerous assignment. You may have to decide whether to jump on an armed hand grenade to save the lives of several other members of your team or to just yell “grenade” and allow everyone to fend for themselves with the potential of several team members being killed or severely injured.

Life is all about choices and you started making them when you were a baby. Every choice you have made is part of who you are. Everything you’ve learned in school and any formal education you have is another part of who you are. Every relationship you’ve had with family, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, employers, people you’ve come in contact with through community, government, charitable, religious, social and other interactions have contributed to who you are. Your various kinds of occupational, professional and business relationships and experiences, plus every movie, television show, radio show, Internet search and Web site visited, piece of music you’ve listened to, live theatrical and concert event you’ve enjoyed, military service and the list goes on . . . are all archived in the memory banks of your lifetime.

You are so much more then you were when you were a child or a teenager or a young adult (although you may still be a teenager or young adult currently). The process of self-discovery is a process where you take everything that you can remember about your life and explore the path it has taken you through on your lifetime journey to culminate at this moment in time. And, as you go through this exploratory process, you’ll recall things that you’ve sublimated and thought you had or, at least, attempted to forget. Some of the things you’ll remember will be painful. Some will remind you of great joy and pleasure. But, you can’t discount any of it because you are a complete and unique tapestry of everything that has ever happened to you.

Life is all about choices. Everyone has made some great choices. Everyone has made some not so great choices. Everyone has made some bad choices. You are the sum total of every choice and the resulting experiences, good, bad or in between, of every choice and experience.

And, don’t forget those dreams we explored in Step #1. Every dream, whether to be a cowboy or astronaut or business person or college professor or mother/father or rock star or actor or missionary or doctor or race car driver, etc., is part of who you are no matter what the dream was. You may have followed one or more of your dreams and accomplished it or them. You may have chosen to allow life to happen as it may, and shelved all the dreams.

What Do I Do With All This Stuff?

First, you must make a list of all your self-discovery. I have a friend, Michael Aun, in Florida, who began journaling when he was a youngster. His grandfather, who he held in high esteem and who he continues to display a deep respect and love for many years after his grandfather’s death, gave him his first book in which to journal. Michael has a written record of his life. It’s a detailed autobiography, if you will, that was written in real time as Michael’s life unfolded.

Listing everything you will remember as you progress through your personal process of self-discovery is important. It becomes a fruitless exercise if you don’t write it down and can’t connect all the events. You’ll want to talk with living relatives like siblings, parents, friends and anyone else who can help you remember little things that can assist in pulling all the pieces together.

You are, in essence, creating your own autobiography. However, you’re not doing it with any ego fulfillment motive. You’re creating a picture of yourself and all the richness of the tapestry that is you. This is going to answer the question we started with. “Who are you?”

The Foundation For Living Free And Happy – The Roots of Discontent And Unhappiness

So, now you’re down to the bottom line. Why do you want to know who you are?

You’ve been given the gift of life for a finite period of time. Most of us don’t have any knowledge of how much time we’ve been blessed with. Another of the great questions that philosophers have been asking since the earliest time of human existence is, “What’s it all about?” Of course, we know that part of the question is answered by a single word, survival. But, beyond basic survival and needs, why are we here?

I have a personal belief as a realist, existentialist and pragmatist that we’re here to enjoy every moment of this life we can. That may sound self-centered and selfish, however, I believe enjoying every moment of life and being self-centered and selfish are mutually exclusive. Every single human being on the face of this earth, no matter where we were fortunate or unfortunate enough to be born, has the basic human right to be free and to pursue personal happiness and fulfillment as we individually define them for ourselves.

The choices I’ve made and continue to make for my life to experience personal freedom and happiness have absolutely nothing to do with the choices you’ve made and will continue to make. I also know that IF you are reading and following this simplistic 12 Step Program, you’re searching for answers. You’re not experiencing the freedom you desire. You’re not enjoying the true happiness you feel you deserve.

You may have multiple PhD’s or be a general or admiral in the military. You may be a teacher, preacher, doctor or lawyer. You may be the CEO of a huge corporation or the owner of a small business or a simple laborer. Your position in life doesn’t matter. The desires are all the same.

There are those who won’t give this 12 Step program a chance to work for them or even take a serious look at it. That’s not my problem or concern, nor does it bother me in any way that some choose to take a different path in life, wherever it may lead them. I am not, don’t pretend to be and have no desire to be a savior or messiah for anyone other then my own humble life.

Self-discovery is a continuing process and without knowing who you are, you will likely never become who you believe you can be or live the life you want to live – free, happy, fulfilled and satisfied. Self-discovery is another of the cornerstones of personal freedom and, ultimately, the happiness with your life that you desire. Share the Living Free 12 Step Program with others. Some will embrace it while others will reject it. That’s no different then any other 12 step program and one reason there is still a huge problem in our country and the world with alcohol, drugs, gambling, overeating, etc. The Living Free 12 Step Program is one of the few positive programs to fulfilling your own desires for your life.

Step #3 – A Personal Inventory Assessment – Part 1 - Tangible Assets

This step is challenging. I’m breaking it into two parts. I like the elephant analogy in this case. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The entire 12-step program is about eating an elephant and eating the elephant in small steps. By utilizing this approach, what appears to be a daunting project becomes much more manageable.

Step #1 is an assessment of the dreams you had for your life when you were in your teens and early 20’s and the realization of where you’ve ended up currently. Step #2 is to discover who you actually are at the present time based on your early dreams from Step #1 and everything you’ve experienced during your lifetime to the present.

Step #3 is to examine all your personal assets and create a written inventory of them. Some of these assets are tangible and may include a home, one or more vehicles, clothes and so on. This is Part 1 of your inventory. You may have had to create an inventory of your tangible assets at some time in the past for your insurance company or for a financial statement when applying for a large loan, so this may not be entirely new to you. What you will notice is that I’ve expanded the information about each asset to make it more meaningful for making decisions and considerations in future steps.

Part 2 of the personal inventory is mostly your intangible assets and include things like your education, your professional/job experience, relationships, health, challenges and tribulations you’ve experienced, spiritual connections, belief systems, accomplishments, reputation, credibility and any other aspects of your life that can’t be directly seen, touched, weighed or takes up space other then in your mind, heart and soul.

Part 1 is to take an inventory of your tangible assets. Part 2, then, will be to take an inventory of your intangible assets.

I’m going to repeat this from time to time. I do not expect you to, nor should you, attempt to do all of this process in a single sitting, evening, weekend or delineated time period. Just as people in other 12 step programs go through the various steps in a program, they work at them daily, but don’t expect everything to be accomplished overnight. It has taken you however many years to reach your current age. Don’t expect to catalog all those years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes in a few hours. This is a challenging process and the only way you can truly gain the ability to live free and be happy is to understand everything you can about yourself and why you are where you are today in your life journey. 

One other thing and this is important. This is YOUR personal asset inventory. It’s not your household asset inventory. If you’re married or in any kind of relationship with a significant other, you must each do your own personal asset inventory. If you jointly own any tangible assets, then you must determine how much of the value or equity in that asset is actually yours. Marriages and co-habitation relationships come and go. Some will last forever and, unfortunately, some won’t. I believe that “won’t” figure is still around 50%. I flunked Crystal Ball 101, so I’m not making any predictions for you. But, this must be a realistic listing and evaluation of your personal assets to be of value in achieving a lifestyle of freedom and happiness.

So, let’s get started on Step #3, Part 1 - Tangible Assets

Making A List, Useful And Nice

The tangible assets are the easiest to work with because you can see, touch, pick up or in some way move them, live in them, whatever. Take a sheet of paper or open a new document file on your computer in the “landscape” format (long side across the top) or, if you have some, use some wide accounting journal sheets and write across the top “Tangible Personal Asset Inventory of _________  (put your name in the blank space) as of ______” (fill in today’s date). If you’re handy with a spreadsheet program like Excel, you might find this process even easier.

Below the title create several columns across the page. Label them as follows:

Column #1  - “Asset.” This column needs to be wide enough to write in the names of the assets you’re going to be listing.

Column #2  - “Value @ Acq” This stands for the value when you acquired the asset. What did you actually pay for your house, vehicle, time share, diamond ring, table saw, stereo system, golf clubs, scuba gear, skis, boots and clothes, etc. Don’t guess! You probably have some records on these purchases.

Column #3  - “Equity” This means how much of the asset do you actually own. How much REAL money, not inflated by real estate brokers or insurance appraisers, Blue Books, etc. do you actually have in whatever the asset is. Be sure to account for market fluctuations based on the recent economic downturn in values. 

Column #4  - “Creditor Owned” This, obviously, means how much does a creditor own of the assets? Remember, even though the value may have fluctuated and changed your equity position, the creditor is still owed the same amount of money, which means the creditor may own a larger percentage then you thought they did and the only way that will decrease is by paying back what is owed to the creditor PLUS all interest due at the time of the pay off.

Column #5  - “Date Acq’d” This stands for the date you acquired the asset.

Column #6  - “Curr Real Value” This means what is the current real value of the asset? What is the asset actually worth in today’s dollars in today’s market? Vehicles are virtually always depreciating assets and even the NADA, Kelley and Edmund’s Blue Book values don’t seem to be very stable. Real estate is also somewhat unstable currently. For example, I recently heard about a studio condominium apartment in Florida that sold for $9,000. I’ll guarantee it was much, much more when the original buyer purchased it.

Column #7  - “Fire Sale” This is the value you hope (and you’re probably still being optimistic) you’d receive for your assets if some event occurred in your life and you needed money NOW and had to sell assets for whatever you might be able get for them. Consider what a pawnshop would give you. That’s basically fire sale value. This has been happening to a lot of people lately. Many of them were well-employed, middle class folks not long ago.

Column #8  - “Use” This means how often do you, actually, use the asset? When did you last use the asset? Do you ever use the asset at all? How many times have you moved the asset from house to house and storage place to storage place in your house.

Column #9  - “Where” This asks where the asset is kept or stored in your home or are you actually paying for a storage unit in a public mini-storage facility (ouch!)?

Column #10 - “Space” This means how much actual space in square or cubic feet does the asset require to keep or store wherever it is?

Column #11 - “Cost” How much is the ongoing cost in space, insurance, upkeep and so on for that asset to remain in your possession? If you have it in a paid public storage unit, that’s really burning money up. I know. I’ve done it.

Column #12 - “Need/Want” This means does the asset fill an absolute need in your life or is it simply something you want, but, when push comes to shove, isn’t really needed.

Column #13 - “Pers Values” This means how does the asset impact your current personal values? Does the asset make you happy? Does the asset make your life easier or more comfortable? Does the asset improve your life and lifestyle in any manner? Or, does it just . . . exist?

Column #14 - “Action.” This means, after evaluating the asset in your personal asset inventory, is there some action that should be potentially taken regarding the asset? Should it be sold for whatever it will bring? Should it be given away? Will the Salvation Army, Goodwill or the local Hospice be delighted to have it so they can help others with it? Or should it just make its way to the landfill some Saturday morning with so much other “Stuff” that has no real value?

The Realities

We could continue adding more columns and more labels, but these fourteen columns should give you a real world look at your current tangible asset load. This probably seems like a lot of information to fill in. There is no question it would be daunting if I told you to do it all right now, but that’s not the point. Like any 12 step program, this is a long-term process. Your assets, both tangible and intangible, are going to continue to change. So, this is another dynamic step that will continue evolving as time passes.

Additionally, no matter what your current age is, you have already accumulated so many tangible assets that you’re going to keep discovering things you forgot you even had and be adding them to your inventory. Most people end up in the “personal warehousing business” after a number of years. The worst reality is that you are storing assets that continue to depreciate or have no value. You’re never likely to use these items again and your offspring won’t want your “stuff” because they are well on their way to accumulating their own pile of depreciating assets.

There’s also going to be “stuff” I’ll call “dime store stuff,” if you’re old enough to remember 5 and 10 cent stores. Most of this has no value so it doesn’t need to be listed.

However, you may have some old junk (or so it would seem) that may actually have collectible value. You may have picked it up at a flea market or yard sale or it may have been in the attic, left behind by a previous owner or it’s a family heirloom that’s been handed down. All of these items need to be considered and evaluated. As an example, I have three original discount admission coupons for Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Palisades Park has been closed since 1971 (four years after I left New Jersey), the land sold and developed into luxury high-rise apartments. Palisades Park was one of the great amusement and entertainment icons of it’s time just as the Disney parks have become today. Palisades Park was even immortalized in song, Palisades Park, recorded by Freddie Cannon, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and many other artists and bands. These discount coupons may have some collectible value even though they cost me nothing when I acquired them as a kid growing up near Palisades Park. You may have some assets like these, too.

Start Eating Your Elephant

I would suggest that you begin by listing the Assets in Column #1. You’ll start off with the obvious and most visible assets, your home, if you own one, your vehicle(s), your furniture, your cash in hand and liquid accounts, your IRA/401K and/or any other retirement or pension funds, other investments in stocks, bonds, real estate, precious metals, commodities, foreign currency, jewelry, tools, business (if you own your own or are a partner), tools, “toys,” time shares, one or more vacation properties, collectibles (and this is a very broad category), life insurance cash value, etc. You know what you have (or maybe you don’t). You start with the most visible and obvious and then as you go along, you’ll likely discover all kinds of things you forgot about years ago.

Once you have the Asset Column started you can begin filling in the other columns. You can fill in the other columns in any order. For example, once you have a list of assets you can go down the “Use” column and indicate the appropriate entry there. You can also work with the “Where” and “Space” columns in similar manner.

Overcoming The Overwhelming

Here is the toughest part of this process. SELF-DISCIPLINE! As the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We all have to deal with inertia. Getting started is the first step. But, keeping the wheels turning requires continual effort. Set this as a project and allocate a reasonable amount of time to the process each week. If something pops into your mind, take action and list or modify whatever it is right then or you’ll likely forget. Set-up some way that you’ll see this in front of you all the time so it won’t get buried under a pile of papers.

Believe me! I know how hard self-discipline is and how easy it is to procrastinate. I could teach the master course on it. I’m going to start . . . next week. I’ve been fighting my own self-discipline problem with writing this 12-step program. I have attempted, on several occasions, to write a book and never followed through. This 12 Step Program is going to be my book. I’m eating this elephant one bite at a time and I’m working very hard to maintain the discipline of writing each of these steps so you can benefit from it. When it’s complete, I’ll have the foundation for the long awaited book.

Now it's time to get started on Part 1 of creating your Personal Asset Inventory. Part 2 is the next installment.

Step #3 –A Personal Inventory Assessment – Part 2

Part 1 of Step #3 discussed creating an inventory assessment of your personal tangible assets. If you’re even remotely like me, you’ll continue finding tangible assets for a long time. When I gave up the ranch and undertook the major part of my downsizing I had a perpetual “moving sale” for over a month including a couple of weekends of open houses. A lot of tangible assets left the premises through that sale. I also sent four dump trucks of old files, ancient personal papers, nearly 40 years of Christmas decorations and similar “stuff” to the landfill. I carted about 20 heavy cartons of books to a used bookstore. I made trips to Goodwill and the Salvation Army donation centers. Yet, I still had enough left to fill up a 300 square foot storage unit with what was leftover.

I’ve been clearing that unit out now for the past three and a half years and I’m getting close to closing it out. But, during these three and a half years, I am astonished that I’m still finding assets of varying value that I’ve totally forgotten about. They have been hidden in boxes and various other containers where I suppose I put them at some time in the past with the idea that I’d get back to them someday. Well, someday has arrived. So, as you’re working on creating your personal inventory of tangible assets, don’t allow it to stress you. Most people are pack rats of one shade or another. Just keep adding to your list. In another step you’re going to make decisions about the items on your list.

Inventorying The Intangible

Now, you’re going to begin working on Part 2 of your personal inventory assessment. Part 2 deals with the intangible assets in your life. These intangibles are housed within your physical body, your mind and memory and your soul/spirit/third eye/heart or however you choose to describe that part of your being that isn’t as easy to quantify as your tangible physical self.

This time you’re going to create several different sheets to list your intangible assets. I’m going to list several here and tell you what information you’ll need to list on them. As you’re working on this step you may find that you’ll need to create some forms of your own. Go right ahead and do so, everyone is different and unique so there is no “one-size-fits-all” in this 12 Step Plan.

Here are some forms to create:

  1. People
  2. Education
  3. Professional/Vocational
  4. Personal Individual Interests/Hobbies/Avocations
  5. Body/Mind Health & Fitness
  6. Reading/Listening/Viewing
  7. Travel Experiences
  8. Spiritual – Religious (not necessarily the same thing)
  9. Positive/Negative Experiences
  10. Finances gains/losses
  11. The Dark Side
  12. Enlightenment/Aha Moments/Joys

You may, as I suggested, add more forms as you work through this step, but this is plenty to start with. You’ll find that some of these forms will have more listed on them then others and that’s fine. Once again, there is no standard pattern. Everyone is a unique patchwork quilt of human experiences. As you make your personal inventory of intangible assets you’re, hopefully, going to discover just how unique and interesting you are. Also, you’ll hopefully begin discovering a pattern through your life that will suggest a number of possible directions you’ll want to explore in your quest for living freer and happier.

It’s also important to realize and accept that these intangible assets can’t simply be eliminated through yard sales, Ebay, Craig’s List, donations or dumping at the landfill. They are part of you and will remain part of you until you die. What you want to do is identify these intangibles, many or, perhaps, most of which you may take for granted. Everything about you beginning with your genetic make-up makes you a designer original. There is no other person on this planet of seven billion people who has experienced life exactly as you’ve experienced it. Your life is your own “road less traveled.”

Form #1 is about People. Label columns across the top of the sheet as follows: Name, When, Where, Relationship, Contact, Value and R/S/L (stands for reason, season and lifetime)

Here is what they mean. Name is, of course, obvious. Name every person you can think of or remember that you’ve had some kind of interaction with. Of course, there are many you won’t remember and that’s not important. But, if you do remember someone then they have played some role in your life. There should be at least hundreds as you continue thinking about this.

When, means when did you meet them – you could say childhood, school, church, college, job, etc. leave enough space to elaborate enough to make it clear. Where means, it was a specific neighborhood, school & grade, company, city, and so on. Relationship can use abbreviations such as Fam for family, Fr for friend, B for buddy, BF for best friend, M/S for manager/supervisor, T for teacher, P for professor, V for vendor or supplier and you can make up your own as you go along. Don’t forget to create a key for these abbreviations. Contact means how often are you in contact – F for frequently, S for seldom, O for occasionally, S/M for Social Media contacts, N for never, etc. Value means VP/L for very personal/loving, obviously reserved for spouses, parents, offspring, siblings and similar. F/L is for close loving friends. F is for casual friends. A is for acquaintances. P is for professional, L is for little value and T is for toxic.

Finally, R/S/L means that someone came into your life for a Reason, like a college professor or a teacher or religious leader and so on. Or the person came into your life for a Season, perhaps you were close friends for several years through college and then went your separate ways, but you gained from the relationship in some way. And the L is for Lifetime and these are the people who are with you and continue to impact your life for a lifetime, either their lifetime or yours. They would be parents, siblings, offspring, lifelong friends, etc.

Form #2 is Education. This one requires that you simply list all of your formal education and training including pre-school through high school, college, advanced degrees, occupational/professional, military, seminars, in-service, continuing education programs, certifications, recreational/hobby and any other forms of specialized knowledge/training you’ve experienced during your lifetime. All of these experiences are part of who you are and are intangible assets.

Form #3 is Professional and Vocational. On this form you’re going to list each job or professional experience you’ve had from the very first until the present. When did you begin to learn about the necessity of doing something to provide for your survival and well-being and ultimately that of your family, if you have one? Did you begin helping your father or mother around the house for which they paid you something? We often call this an allowance, however, there were usually some small chores attached to that allowance. I was a newspaper boy at age 12 and learned about handling money, responsibility, commitment and what I could do with the money I earned. Did you have a lemonade stand or mow lawns or shovel snow? Did you have part-time jobs in supermarkets or fast food restaurants, gas stations, newspapers, etc.? Did you have work scholarships or graduate assistantships in college and graduate school? What full-time and part-time jobs have you had during your adult life? Have you been in business for yourself and created your own job? Indicate when each of these experiences occurred. And, here’s the most important part. Indicate what you learned, gained, experienced in each of these situations and how you apply it to your life currently. You may not think it has, but there is no way it hasn’t influenced who you are today.

Form #4 is Personal Interests and Hobbies. This probably won’t be a very long list since most of us find these interests and hobbies when we’re fairly young and they evolve with us and us with them. So, list your personal interests and hobbies? When did the initial interest begin? Do you belong to any organizations with other people with the same interests? How much time during your lifetime have you been able to devote to these interests? Are you fine with where you are with your current involvement or would you like to expand the involvement? How have you benefited in your overall life because of this special interest or hobby?

Form #5 is Body/Mind Health and Fitness. Here you are going to list everything you’ve done in the past and currently do to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. You’re also going to list the negative things like dealing with broken bones, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, MS and so on. What treatments did you undergo? What were the outcomes of those treatments – full-recovery, limited recovery, loss of some functionality, etc.? What have you learned through these experiences about yourself and how have they impacted your life to the present time?

Form #6 is Reading, Listening and Viewing. What books have you read? Who have you listened to in lectures and music in person or on tape (the old format), CD’s (a current format) or downloads (the format of the future)? What movies and TV shows have you watched? It is, again, impossible to remember every single book, every single lecture, every single piece of music and every single movie or TV show you’ve ever read, listened to or watched. But, the ones you do remember had some impact on you or you wouldn’t remember them. Attempt to remember when you read/listened/viewed them and the reason or motivation for reading/listening/viewing them. For example, books that have influenced me include “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Road Less Traveled” to mention just two of far too many to go into for this example. How have these various forms of input impacted your life to the present?

Form #7 is Travel Experiences. Perhaps you have not had an opportunity to travel broadly. On the other hand, maybe you’ve traveled the world. Any travel, even if it’s only to the nearest large city is going to change your outlook and worldview. List everyplace you’ve ever traveled since you can remember as a child. List the circumstances of the travel, such as a family vacation, to visit grandparents who were some distance away, to attend a wedding or funeral and so on. List all your adult travel for fun, for business, for obligations of various kinds. Then list the impact each travel experience had on you. What did you learn about the people you met, the things you saw, the places you went, etc.? How has this impacted your life and worldview in the present?

Form #8 is Spiritual and Religious experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re a devout Christian, Orthodox Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist or anything else. Humans, by nature, are spiritual beings. You may not practice any religion, however, there are times when you do experience some kind of connection to another human being or something in nature. You may not describe these feelings, attitudes or experiences as spiritual, but that’s not important. The fact that you do is all that matters. As humans we grow and evolve and all of these experiences add a dimension to who we are ultimately becoming on a practical, real world basis. So, list every religious experience, the religious education you may have had as a child, the organizations you may have or may still belong to and any other experience that may be explained in some manner as spiritual in nature. When did these experiences occur? How have they influenced and impacted your life and who you are currently?

Form #9 is Positive and Negative experiences. Some of these may have found places on other lists that you’re currently making, but list them here anyway. During your lifetime there have been positive experiences such as your first boyfriend/girlfriend, the first time you made love, the standing ovation you received at your first solo in elementary school or the blue ribbon you received on a project you did for the 4H Club. Perhaps, you graduated with honors from high school or college, received a full-scholarship to the university of your choice or became a partner in the firm you worked for. The negatives could have been the break-up of your first relationship or later in life, the divorce or death of a spouse. Perhaps you flunked out of college or were fired from a job you really liked. Maybe you took a big loss in the stock market or you had to bankrupt your business. List every one of the positive and negative experiences you can remember. Then list the positive impact regardless of the positive or negative nature of the experience, each has had on your life. Don’t be concerned with the negative impact. That’s over. But, every experience has a positive side to it and that’s what makes you better for it – the intangible asset.

Form #10 is Financial Gains and Losses. It doesn’t matter who you are, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and “The Donald,” you have realized some financial gains and some financial losses. That is simply the way the world and life works. List them including when they occurred and the impact on your life and how you gained, even from the losses. Perhaps, you had a business go under where you had invested every cent you had. Maybe, due to the loss of a job, your house went into foreclosure. You may have made a pile of money in the stock market and took a sizeable sum of that money and, unsuspectingly, put it into a fund that was going through Bernie Madoff. List the positive outcome of each experience whether positive or negative. Again, you gained and it’s part of your current intangible assets.

Form #11 is The Dark Side. Yes! There is some Darth Vader in every person, including you. It’s important to remember that this is YOUR personal inventory. No one else needs to ever see this. The only person it’s important to is you. So, look deep inside and dig out those dark things that you don’t want anyone to know about. List everything you can remember that you’ve ever done that you’re not proud of or that you’re ashamed of. I won’t make any suggestions here. You know your own heart. And the reason you know these dark things is because in some way, at some time, they have shown their ugly colors. As you list them, also list all the positive things that you do and have done because of realizing you have this dark side.

Form #12 is the Enlightenment, Aha Moments and Joys of your life. This is the opposite side of what you listed on Form #11. Mostly, you are a very good person. There may be a few people in our society who are sociopaths and dwell in their dark side. Most people control their dark side and live in the light. You have not only enjoyed doing positive things for yourself and others, but you have gained from others the same way. List all the times of enlightenment and aha moments when something of wonder crossed your path. Also, recall the times of great joy when you may have done something for someone else, without consideration of any reward, compensation or return. You just experienced the joy of making someone else happier or made his or her life a little better, perhaps at a bad time in his or her life. List how these experiences have impacted your life in a positive way and how they are evident in whom you are in the present.

May The Force Be With You

That’s all for this step and that’s plenty to do regarding your intangible assets. After you’ve worked on this, even for a short time, you’ll realize just how important and unique you are. You’ll better understand where the real assets are in your world and they aren’t in your attic, basement, garage or storage building. They are all within you.

Later, we’re going to learn how dealing with the tangible assets and utilizing your intangible assets more fully will allow you to begin living free and being happier and more joyful. But, as I wrap up Step #3, I want to remind you that this is not an evening or weekend project. You have the rest of your life to complete this step. There is no deadline or finish line in this process except the “ultimate” and final finish line we will all cross at some point in our lives. So, take your time and enjoy the process. No matter what you do, as long as you do something, you are the beneficiary.

Step #4 Simplifying Your Life – Part 1

M. Scott Peck began his classic, best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, with three words, “Life is difficult.” He was right. But, he wrote his book in 1977. Has the world changed since that time? You bet it has. So, here is my opening line --

“Life is complex.”

Several years ago, a woman, about 21 or 22 years my senior, and I were sitting in her office having a casual conversation. Agnes was a lifetime real estate agent in Winchester, Virginia, a small city of about 25,000 located in the northern Shenandoah Valley. The discussion was generally light in nature, but as we chatted, we both touched on some matters that were complicating our lives. Out of the blue, I asked her, “Agnes, you have a few years on me, tell me, does it ever get easier?” Her reply was simple and to the heart of the matter. She said, “Honey, it only gets harder.” Honestly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear her say.

Many of us grew up in a “kinder and gentler time.” Sure! We had to do our “duck and cover drills” in school to be prepared for the possible atomic bomb attack from the Soviet Union. Even as an elementary school child, having seen photos of Nagasaki and Hiroshima after we dropped “The Bomb” on Japan, I wondered whom they were kidding? If we weren’t instantly turned to cinders, a worse fate followed, that of radiation sickness from the fallout. Other than that, life was pretty simple in the late 40’s, 50s and early to mid 60’s.

A home typically had one telephone, usually; a party line and you could have it in any color you wanted as long as it was black. Most families that had a car typically had only one. Radio was still a very popular form of entertainment and many of the great radio dramas were still being broadcast, a few, lasted into the early 60’s. Television was simple, they were all black and white, small screens, a 19” was the talk of the neighborhood, and there were only a few channels. I grew up in the New York City metropolitan area. Cable TV didn’t exist, yet. In the NYC area we had the good fortune of having seven channels to select from. My, how difficult it was to get everyone to agree on a program. (I’m being a little facetious.) Of course, most homes only had one TV, too. The typical home had two or maybe three bedrooms and a single bathroom. Everything about that time was simpler.

The 60’s were a period of significant change and by the 70’s with all the advances made through the space program, remember, the U.S. put a man on the moon in 1969, things began to change much more rapidly. Cellular telephones were in the early stages of development and testing. They were very expensive. Jet airliners had pretty well taken over the commercial air travel industry and one could fly coast to coast in reasonable comfort in about five hours. Families now had multiple cars and multiple phone extensions with touch tone dialing in different shapes and colors to fit a room d├ęcor. Color TV was rapidly replacing the black and white TV. Cable TV was growing rapidly in major markets a fourth broadcast network joined the original three and new cable TV networks were popping up including the beginning of HBO.

Life had shifted from the slow lanes on the U.S. highways to the fast lane on the new interstate highway system commissioned by President Eisenhower in the mid 50’s. You could take the supermarkets that I recall when I was a youngster and put two or three of them in one of the new supermarkets. Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target had all been launched and were starting their expansion. The corner bakeries, delicatessens, candy stores and drug stores were beginning to go the way of the dinosaurs, taking the 5 and 10 cent stores with them. Life was becoming complex and we hadn’t even added a computer to every home, the Internet, everyone having a cell phone including the kids, email, ebooks, texting, microwave ovens, satellite radio and GPS. If you remember the original Star Trek series from the 60’s, we’ve realized much of what that show projected.

Okay, so enough with the history lessons. Some of you who are reading this weren’t even born back then, so this is ancient history to you. You read about it in recent history books. This was our life. So much has changed. I don’t have to go into the growth of terrorism through the 90’s that culminated in 9/11. That was something we couldn’t have imagined in the 50’s and 60’s.

Today, we live in a high-speed society, we tend to work more hours, both the husband and wife work in many, if not most, families – either because they both want careers or they absolutely need two full-time incomes to barely keep ahead of the bill collectors or both. Add children to the family and now we need to figure in pre-school, day care, after school activities, sports, multiple computers and keeping in contact by cell phone or text messaging. Email is beginning to decline already as texting replaces it. Frankly, I’m glad I’m 67 at this writing. I can’t keep up with it all and I’m single and my son is an adult.

We are bombarded by 24/7 news feeds, thousands of athletic competitions each week, hundreds of high definition, all too often, mindless pulp they call, television programs. OMG, who cares about the trivial manure they call news most of the time. Oh my, and I just used a term from a new language – OMG, from the texting world, meaning Oh My God and I don’t even text very often. But, these acronyms are becoming common language. Acronyms used to drive me crazy when I was in the Air Force.

So, here’s my question to you. Do you actually have any real time for YOU? For those who are about 45 and over and especially those who are 55 and older, I’m sure you’d ask the same question I asked my friend Agnes. I can tell you the answer. No! It doesn’t get easier or simpler. To those younger readers who didn’t enjoy that simpler, kinder and gentler time that us older folks remember, you grew up with all of this. You don’t know the difference. But, I think those who are 50 and over understand there is a big difference.

Step #4 in the 12 Step Program is about simplifying your life. There are many ways to simplify and some of them are reasonably easy. Others are more difficult. Many of the things that complicate your life you do traditionally or habitually. Some things you can’t escape, so you need to find ways to simplify the process.

There are some excellent books on simplifying your life. I’ve read many of them. One series of books is by Elaine St. James. She has devoted many years of her life writing books on the topic. The one I found to be immediately helpful to me is Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter. You can breeze through this book and start simplifying immediately. Another book is by my long-time friend and prolific author, Jeff Davidson. His book is titled, The Joy of Simple Living: Over 1,500 Simple Ways to Make Your Life Easy and Content-- At Home and At Work It’s a larger book and it’s loaded with terrific ideas.

I have several more and I’ve just discovered two more books, both in ebook format. I’m really into ebooks because I can carry an entire library in my netbook or tablet computer or my Android smart phone and read them anytime I want to regardless of where I am. I eliminated most of my paper and ink books when I moved from the ranch in 2008. I refuse to buy hard copy books. If they are not available in Kindle or ebook format, I’ll pass. I’ve already acquired, read and reviewed one of them on this blog, Simple Ways to Be More With Less: Life on Purpose by Courtney Carver. The other ebook is by John Haines, a New Zealander, and is titled, In Search of Simplicity: A True Story That Changes Lives. I’ll read and review that one in the near future.

Let’s get started. In the next several paragraphs I’m going to start you on a number of projects to begin simplifying your life. There is a catch, of course. The catch is that you’re going to have to change. You’ll have to change some of your thinking and your lifestyle. Some of these are fairly simple and others are pretty drastic. They may even create some psychological and emotional trauma for you. The choice to implement any of these changes is, as always, yours and yours alone. Whether you apply any or all of these in your own life will not have any direct or indirect impact on me.

Once again, you’re going to create a series of lists. You can label these lists as follows:

1   Newspapers/Periodicals
2   Mail
3   Wardrobe
4   Vehicle(s)
5   Toys
6   Home(s)
7   Phone(s)
8   Holidays
9   Debt
10 Banking/Investments
11 Shopping
12 Job/Employment
13 Health/Fitness
14 Volunteering/Organizations
15 Relationships

This is a lot of territory to cover so I’m only going to touch on most of these topics. I have another blog – The Simple Life that I haven’t updated in a while, however, I will begin posting more detailed ideas on simplifying your life on that site for you if you’re really serious about simplifying your life.

Newspapers and Periodicals

Make a list of all the newspapers and periodicals you subscribe to. You probably still subscribe to either a local newspaper or a national newspaper or both. The question? Do you actually read them and why? First, there is little in the newspaper you can’t learn from listening to the news on your local public radio station and the local “chatterbox” community station. Second, newspapers are costing more all the time and, in case you hadn’t noticed, are getting smaller. You can also use online feeds from CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Your financial news is available on CNBC and Bloomberg. Save the money and the hassle of recycling all that “fish wrapper” and stop the subscriptions. You won’t miss them after about a week, if that long.

Also, you need to eliminate magazines, periodicals of all descriptions and newsletters that come in by mail. Once again, you probably don’t have time to read all of it anyway and virtually all of it is available on line. Eliminate the subscription costs and the hassle of dealing with all the paper you have to stack, store or recycle. Most of us suffer from information overload anyway and you’re no exception. Cross each paper or periodical off the list as you eliminate it from your life. [Hint: I get most of my trade journals in digital magazine format and read them on-line only when and if I have some time.]


Make a list of all the mail you receive, both junk mail and real mail. Once upon a time we looked forward to that catalog from Fingerhut or JC Penney or Montgomery Ward (no longer in business) or Sears. Now, our names are on more mailing lists then Carter has little pills (for those who remember who Carter was). And, to add insult to injury, once you buy something on the Internet, you begin receiving email solicitations there, too. You don’t need any of this stuff and you surely don’t need to spend the time sorting through it and disposing of it all – either physical mail or email. Every time you receive a mail solicitation or email solicitation, look for the way to be removed from their lists, contact them and request they remove your name and address immediately. And, NEVER check or leave checked the little box on email or Web offers when you buy something that offers to “keep you updated with the latest and greatest information from that vendor and their partners.” Indeed stop wasting trees and electrons. They are costly.

As far as real mail like bills from utility companies, phone companies, credit card providers, bank statements, mortgage and car payments, etc. We’re going to talk about them more later in this step, however, have ALL your billing statements sent to you on-line, pay them on-line and, again, stop the paper flow. We seem to think if we don’t have a paper bill in our hand it’s not a real bill. I assure you it is. In fact, most billing organizations prefer that you opt out of the paper and do it all electronically. It’s more efficient and, again, you are saving trees and postage and processing.


Make a list of ALL the clothing in your closets and drawers, stored for the winter/summer, etc. If you’re a woman, you’re probably not going to like this step. If you’re a typical man, you probably will have less of a challenge with it. Make sure you include EVERYTHING – underwear, jewelry, accessories, scarves, hats, and shoes . . . the works. Once you’ve made the list, go back and highlight or check each item that you wear very regularly. Don’t cheat! I’m in the process of finally getting rid of my Class of 1967 camelhair college blazer. Give me a break. I know I’m never going to wear it again. But, I’ve kept it for 44 years after the last time I wore it.

After you’ve marked your list, the chances are there will still be items on it that you marked as “keepers,” but they’ll leave your list as you go through the second and third cut. You’re likely no different then anyone else, which means that you wear approximately 20% of the clothes in your wardrobe. The rest of those clothes are costing you money and could be doing someone else a world of good if you’d simply donate them or even take them to a consignment store (where they might become “found money” to you). You’ll probably find things that you bought or was given to you that you’ve never worn or wore one time. You won’t miss any of it and the maintenance of your wardrobe will be less time consuming and costly. By the way, eliminate virtually everything that requires dry cleaning.


This will be a short list (I hope). List all the motor vehicles you have including cars, full-size and mini-vans, SUV’s, pick-up trucks, the classic cars you’ve kept since you’re very first car (oh yes, I’ve seen people who still have every vehicle they’ve ever had in their lifetime). We could add motorcycles here, but that probably fits the next category better. Go through the same drill as with the clothes. How often do you use the vehicle? What do you use it for? What kind of gas mileage does it get? What are the annual maintenance costs? How much is the insurance costing? What is the depreciation costing? Are the neighbors complaining about the rusted out, smoking old pick-up truck you use to take something to the landfill on occasion?  How many people are in your family – no kids, three kids, six kids and are you single or married?

This one is really going to do the guys in. Get rid of everything except one or two small, economical cars. You’re going to save a bundle in gas, maintenance, upkeep, registration fees, inspection fees, depreciation, insurance, etc. What could you do with all that extra money – maybe not have to work as hard or as many hours to earn it? When you need a van or when you’re going to do some “off road trekking” or need to take some stuff to the dump you can borrow or rent the appropriate vehicle and it won’t cost but a pittance of what your current costs are. And, while you’re at it, SLOW DOWN. Gasoline is no longer $.38 a gallon like it was in May of 1970 when I moved to Washington, DC. By dropping your speed to 60 from 70 or 75, you’ll save two to three miles per gallon. That could save you the cost of a gallon of gas on each fill-up. Over a year, that could be nearly a $200 savings. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Oh, and it will take you 10 minutes longer to drive a 70 mile trip. Leave a little earlier.


Oops, here we go again. Start making your list. Anything you have that is mainly used in some form of recreational or hedonistic ritual needs to be on this list. This is mainly going to impact the men, though more and more women are becoming enticed by various kinds of toys. Motorcycles, jet skies, snowmobiles, ATV’s, boats, golfing gear, skiing equipment, fishing, archery, hunting, video games, basically, if you don’t need it to subsist on a daily basis, it needs to go on the list.

Am I saying that all pursuits of this nature are frivolous? Of course not! What I’m saying is how often do you really use it, how much is it costing to keep it (storage space – even in your home), insurance, depreciation and so on. Again, most people find that they buy things they want and after they have it, the novelty wears off and it basically sits. Needless to say, if you use something a lot and gain a great deal of pleasure from it that justifies its existence. Again, don’t cheat. Be serious in your evaluation of its present value to you in your day-to-day lifestyle. Get rid of everything that you aren’t using enough to justify its existence and either borrow or rent it when you need it. 


This is another one of those short lists. List every home you have. Your main residence, your vacation property and you should also include any time shares you own, since basically you don’t own anything except the right to pay more money to use it for one week out of the year. How big is your main home (or apartment)? How many people live in that house? How often do you entertain guests and do they stay with you? How often do the kids come home (if they’re not still living with you)? How empty will the home be if you eliminate all the excess “stuff” that you’re currently storing and all the furniture, linens, etc. that you seldom use, if at all. What is your primary home costing you in mortgage, interest, insurance, taxes, interior maintenance, exterior maintenance and grounds work, time from your schedule to handle all these details – and let’s not forget the ever present utility bills that keep inching up toward the sky. How many days or weeks of the year do you spend at your vacation home? Make the same evaluation for your vacation property.

Perhaps, you have chosen to have a recreational vehicle, like a travel trailer, 5th wheel trailer or motor home, as your version of a vacation getaway. Again, what is the real world cost on an annual basis and don’t forget to include massive depreciation for the first six years or so? Can you rent such an RV for the amount of time you actually use it and stay ahead of the curve?

This holds true if you have a condominium or you rent an apartment instead of owning one or more homes. Do you need all the space and all the expense or can you downsize, simplify and save both time and money. This is a tough decision, but once you’ve made it you’ll be glad you did. And, one last note, don’t concern yourself with the home mortgage interest deduction. It seldom offsets all the other costs associated with home ownership. It’s a false economy set up to entice you to buy homes that almost always cost considerably more then you anticipated.


Ah, the ubiquitous telephone. People have them stuck to their ears or have Bluetooth “implants” on the side of their heads everywhere they go. One day, I came to the startling realization that I’m not as important as I seem to think I am. Most people have no idea how costly this little convenience is. Make another list and list all the phones, phone services, other accessories (fax machines and such) that you have. Get the monthly bills out and write down the cost of every phone and service. Who has these phones – just you, you and your spouse, each of your kids, business colleagues, etc? You’d be surprised at how much those, so-called, family plans can add up to. Get rid of your landline phone. Get rid of your fax machine. Set yourself up with the cellular phone that provides only what YOU need. Smart phones aren’t for everyone. Don’t get one because it’s trendy or cool or you can play games on it or check your Facebook account. Get one because you actually NEED one. Otherwise, buy a simple phone on a flat rate plan.

Set up a couple Google Voice phone lines – [Hint – they are FREE!]. They provide both incoming and outgoing nationwide and Canadian calling. They also have a very advanced voice mail system that will answer not only your Google Voice line, but also your cell phone line – consolidating all voice mail in one system. Additionally, Google Voice transcribes the voice message to a text message and sends it to your cell phone as a text message and to your email account, plus you can listen to the call from your email, your Google Voice account or on your cell phone – or any phone for that matter. I also recommend you set up a Skype account allowing you to have audio or video chats with friends and family around the world, computer to computer, at no charge. For a tiny fee you can also call landline and mobile phones from your Skype account. Ultimately, you’ll save potentially a thousand dollars or more per year. Time to simplify by using technology.

Here’s one other tip. Just because your phone rings, doesn’t mean you have to answer it. That’s what voice-mail is for. Take a vacation from phone calls whenever you want to. You don’t have to be available to everyone 24/7. Also, disable call waiting. Once again, that’s what voice mail is for. There is nothing as annoying as being in a conversation and having the other party let you know how important your conversation is by putting you on hold to take another call. By the way, you also don’t have to answer your doorbell just because it rings.

This post is very long, so you have enough for right now to think about and digest. I’ll post the other eight simplifying suggestions later this week. And, as I said, I’ll reactivate my other blog on The Simple Life and put more in depth posts up there as well as others that haven’t been covered in these basic 15 ideas. Simplifying, again, is not an overnight process. There are lots of considerations, mindsets and habits to deal with. But, you’ll never get anywhere until you start somewhere. And once you realize how much better life is when you simplify it, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to get around to doing it.