I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three ways to live: you can live without any dreams, you can be a dreamer, or you can have dreams and dance those dreams into reality. You can either take the initiative to design your own life, or you can let circumstances and other people mold your life for you. What you’ll end up with is something akin to a manufactured product, rather than something definitive and organic—but, hey, you’ll have made the choice. Right?
It’s easy to shrug off things like positive thinking if we’ve been living with our negative thought patterns for a long time. They’ve almost become a source of comfort to us—something that we rely upon, and maybe even use as an excuse for the times when we do not measure up to the expectations that other people have of us. Perhaps it’s easier to say, “Well, what did you expect of me? I’m just a born loser anyway!” when we disappoint a parent, friend, or partner.
The problem is, although at first our subconscious rejects these thoughts, after awhile, we begin to accept them as a reality. If we tell ourselves that we’re overweight or unattractive for a long enough period of time, even if we’re slim, fit, and extremely good-looking, we will begin to develop a very poor self-image. I read about a situation in which a woman went to a plastic surgeon to have her nose fixed. She had always felt that she was tremendously unattractive because of what she perceived to be an ugly nose. Well, even though the surgeon gave her the nose that she had always dreamed of having, she was unable to see herself as being pretty because she was still holding onto the image of herself as an unattractive person.
The truth is, no matter how much time or money you spend on your appearance to try to make yourself beautiful or attractive, unless you alter your perception of yourself, you will continue to see the same person you’ve always seen when you look into the mirror. Similarly, even if you have several degrees and academic accolades, if you persist in imagining yourself to be stupid, you will continue to see yourself as stupid, in spite of your level of education and/or academic excellence. And how you see yourself directly determines how you will behave. If you think you are not deserving of an opportunity that comes your way, you will manage to reject it, whether you intend to or not. For example, if you are an actress and you have a chance to audition for an important part in a top-notch play, how you succeed at that audition will probably be determined by how worthy you think you are of getting the part. If you walk into the audition slumping, holding your head down, walking timidly or if your voice is soft and weak, the message you’ll be sending to everyone is: “I know I don’t really deserve to be here, but I thought I’d give it a shot.”
Remember how Barbra Streisand auditioned for “I Can Get it For You Wholesale”? She went into that theater like she already owned the place. No one had to wonder whether or not Barbra had confidence—it was evident how much self-assurance she had by how she moved, how she talked, and how she walked. She exuded self-confidence. And I have the feeling that even if Barbra hadn’t felt as confident as she acted like she was, she would have behaved exactly the same way. Why? Well, like all of those who are at the top of their field, Barbra understands that those around her are going to value her at the same level at which she values herself.
You really cannot expect other people to give you respect and to admire you if you don’t respect and admire yourself. If you question all your choices and berate yourself for every mistake you make, what message are you sending out to other people? Do you realize that you’re automatically causing them to make judgments about you? When you put limits on yourself and decide what you are or are not capable of, you will soon find that those around you start to agree with you. Instead of saying to you, “You can do it”, they’ll start to doubt that you actually can do what you say you want to do. They’ll begin to suspect that you know yourself better than they do. . .and that you are right in thinking that you have limited capabilities.
If you have demonstrated a pattern of failing or of not living up to other peoples’ expectations of you, you have an added challenge to contend with. It’s sometimes difficult enough to get people to believe in you and your endeavors when you’ve had a great deal of success in the past. But, when you’ve been someone who has consistently disappointed those who wanted to have faith in you, you’ll probably discover that getting to the point where people have confidence in you will take both time and patience.
One of the books that meant a lot to me when I was growing up was by a violinist named Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. It was called On My Way. Nadja is a fiercely tenacious woman with a strong will and an indomitable spirit. When you hear her play in person, you sense that you are in the presence of an amazing musician. Her playing is electric. She is passionate about music, and her love for the violin shines through every note she plays. But there was a time when Nadja’s vibrant spirit and tenacity were not enough. Although she had the talent to accomplish remarkable things, she lacked the essential level of commitment. She was too busy focusing on the aspects of her life that were inessential. . .the distractions. . .the things that brought her short-term gratification. And, she had to pay the consequences of this behavior. Her teacher at the Juilliard School, the world-renowned Dorothy DeLay, informed Nadja that she need not come back for another lesson until she decided whether or not she really wanted to be a concert violinist. At the time, Nadja had been planning to enter The 1981 Walter W. Naumburg International Violin Competition. However, DeLay scoffed at the idea, telling her that she was certain she wouldn’t even be accepted to enter the competition.
Essentially, Nadja had two choices. She could either let her teacher’s words become a reality for her, or she could turn things around and go after what she wanted, no matter who told her it was impossible. Nadja chose to ignore her teacher. She abandoned the undisciplined habits she had been adopting and completely transformed her life. For a few months, she locked herself in a room and practiced for hours, only leaving to go to the kitchen for the two meals she let herself have each day. To simplify things, she chose to eat nothing but canned sausages and ice cream. By the time the date of the competition arrived, Nadja had brought her playing to a level of excellence that was truly phenomenal. She had also lost fifteen pounds. And, rather than simply being someone who participated in the Naumburg Competition, Nadja ended up winning the top prize! The impact this event had on her career was tremendous. It’s doubtful that the opportunities that have enabled her to become one of the world’s most renowned performers and recording artists today would have come her way had Nadja not won the prestigious competition.
But what if she had let Dorothy DeLay’s expectations of her became her own self-fulfilling prophecy? How would it have changed her life? Where would she be today? Would any of us even know who Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is? We can’t answer any of these questions with certainty, but one thing I do know for certain is that Nadja’s story presents a marvelous example of a woman who took charge of her own life. She wasn’t about to let someone steer her ship for her. She grabbed hold of the helm and took on the role of captain of her ship.
What I want to know is. . .is there any reason that you shouldn’t do the same thing? The universe is like a fathomless, rough, beautiful, yet turbulent, ocean. And your life is a ship on this ocean. The question is this: are you going to steer your ship, or are you going to let someone else steer it for you? Don’t imagine for a moment that your ship will steer itself. If you refuse to take on the role of captain, another person will take on that part for you—or a group of people will. Perhaps, a succession of people will steer your ship—friends, relatives, spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends—those who pass through your life for various lengths of time. Some of these people will probably support your dreams and goals, and others will make you feel like you’re incapable of doing much of anything. Even if you don’t let toxic individuals stay in your life for very long, if you aren’t at the helm of your ship, you’ll still be letting anyone and everyone who comes into your life have some influence on it, whether it’s a lasting impact or not.
When I was growing up, my father frequently made comments to me about my being worthless, unattractive, and inadequate. Although part of me knew that there were things about me that must make me valuable, I wasn’t steering my own ship. Rather, my father was at the helm. And, even after my parents separated and later divorced, I let other people take over my ship rather than grabbing hold of it myself. I chose not to take on the role of the captain—I chose to turn over the power that was rightfully mine to other people. I could tell you that I simply didn’t know I was supposed to do anything else, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Although I was conditioned to believe that I had a multitude of inadequacies, I think I let myself subscribe to toxic thought patterns even when I knew they were wrong. And in letting myself be nourished on toxic thoughts, I was automatically depriving myself of having control over my life. A person who thinks his/her capabilities are limited or that he/she is essentially without value will never imagine that he/she will be able to steer his/her own ship. If they don’t rely on other people to steer it, then they’ll turn to things such as alcohol, drugs, or food to help them cope with what they perceive to be an overwhelming responsibility. On a short-term basis, these vices can numb us. They can distract us and/or make us forget that we have problems in our lives that we need to deal with. But, what happens when we stop drinking or when the drugs wear off? What do things look like when we’ve just finished the latest eating binge? Did that gallon of butter pecan ice cream you polished off make you feel any stronger? Do you feel better physically? Are you happier? Or, do you feel that once again you’ve tried to find a way to escape from the reality of you life? If so, is that truly the way you want to live?
There have been plenty of alcoholics who had big dreams, and there have been drug addicts who have died of overdoses with most of their potential still inside them. Even though we may never know what lifetime goals people such as musician Kurt Cobain and actors Heath Ledger and River Phoenix had, it’s important that we understand that an early death or a life of destitution and poor health is something that can happen to anyone depending on the choices that he or she makes on a daily basis. Jim Belushi didn’t die because of the choices that other people made for him. His death was caused by an overdose of drugs that he made the choices to take. Sure, other people were probably at the helm of Belushi’s ship at one time or another, but whether he was captain of his ship or not, he ended up being a victim of his own unwise decisions.
The difference between those who end up living unfufilled lives or who succeed in being just another statistic and those who experience incredible succeess has much less to do with talent, education, experience, or ability than you might think. Yes, these things can help. However, what’s more important than anything else is the thoughts that you hold in your mind on a daily basis. It’s the image you have of yourself that will determine how you live your life. The classic film actor, Cary Grant, was once asked how he managed to retain his slim and sophisticated figure. He replied that he had always envisioned himself as slender. He once said: “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I finally became that person. Or he became me.”
Even if you don’t feel you have the power to steer your own ship, take on the role of captain starting today. See yourself as having the ability to move your ship in the right direction, even if those around you tell you you can’t do it. After all, it’s not important what others think of you and your capabilities—what ultimately determines whether or not you will succeed is the image you hold in your own mind of yourself.
So, toss your negative thoughts into the ocean, and start steering your ship towards your dreams, rather than away from them.
Live with passion, courage, and enthusiasm. . .and make each moment matter!
Your Success Diva
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