Don’t struggle when you can soar!

believe71 white bird at take-off)There is a common belief that great success is a by-product of intense struggle. In other words, if we are pushing ourselves to our limits and beyond, then we assume that we must be on our way to accomplishing productive things. Is this true? Well, in my mind, this theory has been a reality for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I would often be so weary when I would finish my music practice for the day that I would fall asleep standing up. The problem was I had a lot of times when I felt genuinely overwhelmed. I never allowed myself to give in on an emotional level, but the fact I had to strive in spite of what I now realize was physical and psychological depletion left me with a sense of permanent discontentment. How can you enjoy your success when you’re too tired to fully embrace it??

Several weeks ago, two of my friends, Timothy and Sarah, asked me to write a blog post centered around the idea of finding ways to enjoy life in spite of the hassle of day-to-day existence. In the back of my mind, thoughts on this subject have been forming and fermenting ever since the topic was suggested to me. I remember reading an interview that the actress, Brooke Shields, gave shortly after the birth of her second child. She was lamenting the fact that she was consistently sleep deprived, even though she was overwhelmed with joy at having another beautiful daughter to take care of. I think Brooke’s predicament is similar to what many men and women find themselves in on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Although what they would technically term obligations are things they know they must do—and even, to a certain extent, want to do—there are times when they feel as if they are sinking instead of swimming because their days consist of nothing but must-do tasks instead of activities that would bring them inner contentment.

At the moment, I am feeling the strain of being a Success Diva myself. I am passionate about what I do. . .and I love the fact that I am having the opportunity to inspire people. However, there is a tendency in my nature to make things too urgent. Having a chronic illness has taught me patience to a certain extent, but there are still times when I have an overwhelming desire to make things happen right now. I berate myself for not posting more blog posts or for not sending more personal messages to my friends, and I seem to ofttimes forget about the meaningful things I actually do accomplish.

It reminds me of those occasions when I have remembered the one critical remark someone has made to me instead of the half dozen compliments I received. I think it’s all part of our inherent tendency to think that life must be difficult in order to be profound. If we laugh too much or have too much fun, we must be slacking off on the things we should be doing. But is this necessarily true? I grew up watching classic films, and, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also developed a sincere appreciation of foreign cinema as well. However, since I began my Success Diva blog, I haven’t taken the time to sit down and watch even one film in its entirety. Why? Well, I have a nagging feeling of guilt when I do something that is basically just about bringing me pleasure because I feel like I ought to be reaching out to other people. How can I spend a couple of hours watching a film when there are people whose messages I haven’t yet replied to??

There really is a fine balance between making sure we meet the needs of those whom we care about and not letting our own needs be neglected. We must nourish ourselves. The actress, Ashely Judd, represents a fine example of a woman who eventually collapsed because she failed to pay attention to her own needs. She was always a high achiever, and, when she ended up moving into the spotlight at a relatively young age, I think she stopped listening to the signals her body was giving her. . .signals that indicated she needed to take more time out for her. When you come from a family of strong and successful women like the Judds, not being a role model of tenacity and resilience is probably not something you let yourself contemplate. Yet, Ashley, in an interview with Glamour magazine in 2006, revealed that she spent 47 days in a Texas treatment facility for depression and other emotional difficulties.

What happened? How could one of the Judd women end up in a situation where the world around her seemed to be falling apart? Well, Ashley admitted that she had issues with codependence in her relationships and that she had a lot of rage and anger inside her that she had been repressing for years. On the surface, she seemed to be “together”. Yet, inside she was going through intense emotional turmoil. Naturally, Ashley received her fair share of criticism for being so open and honest about her problems. But, in demonstrating such candor, she was letting all of us know how human she really is. In addition, she was teaching us an important lesson, which is that we need to get in touch with ourselves and what we’re feeling, even if doing so makes us aware that we should seek therapy or take some time off simply to nourish our souls.

Success can be achieved through pushing and struggling, but, when it is achieved by these means, does it bring us lasting happiness? And, when we put everyone else’s needs before ours or spend nearly every waking moment of our lives at work, what sort of long-term impact is this going to have upon our lives? No one can answer these questions for each person with even the slightest degree of certainty, for each person’s life is different. However, we must never focus so much on our career or on our family or on our partner that we forget to take care of ourselves.

In a way, I think that ultimate success is about soaring rather than struggling. When we break free of the expectations we have of ourselves and accept our best efforts without chastising ourselves, this is when we will be able to enjoy that which we accomplish. How can you paint your own rainbow if you’re so worried about getting the right colors of paints that you never get around to picking up a paintbrush? How can you enjoy a delicious meal at a fine restaurant if all you’re thinking about is how much all the food is going to cost? Letting go of fears, even if they are valid, can be an integral part in designing the life of your dreams.

The brilliant French author, Albert Camus, once said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Sometimes we miss an opportunity that comes through a door because we’re too busy polishing the windows. And there are moments when we could be experiencing  joy, but we’re so occupied with our daily worries that we cannot allow ourselves to feel joyful. We are too busy struggling to let ourselves soar. But, in a way, when we keep ourselves from soaring, we’re like a bird with clipped wings. We’ve built a cage around ourselves, and, rather than looking up at the glorious sky above, we are surrounded by the bars of our own prison. 

In a way, the difference in soaring and struggling can be compared to the difference between living and merely existing. You may think you are fully engaged with life because you have a list of goals that you’re determined to accomplish. However, if you don’t stop and replenish your soul and body in-between checking off all those things on your daily to-do lists, the satisfaction you seek will be as elusive as that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. No matter how close you think you’re getting to being completely fulfilled, you will find that self-satisfaction is always just beyond your grasp.

When I was growing up, I was taught that crying was a weakness. But now I see that tears, just like expressing anger or disappointment, must be part of a life in which we soar, rather than struggle. The only way that we will ever be able to push ourselves to the limit without ceasing is if we become robots, instead of people. We will come to a breaking point, unless we take time to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us before we deplete all our resources. If an eagle did nothing every waking moment but hunt for food. . .if he or she never stopped to alight on a tree branch and rest, how long do you think he/she would survive? It’s essential to practice the habit of self-discipline and taking initiative, if you’re ever going to accomplish your goals. But, there is something to be said for those moments of tranquillity when we let ourselves be quiet and still as we nurture that inner part our beings that will only be replenished in moments of peace.  For our soul to soar, it has to be well-nourished. For our  bodies to continue to carry us through life, we must treat them with care and love.

As I continue to try to live up to the expectations I have of myself, I am becoming more and more aware of how much more finely attuned I need to become to my body and my soul. This diva wants to soar, not struggle.  .  .and she knows that’s what each one of you wants to do, too. So, free yourself from your cage of expectations. Reward yourself more often for the things you do well and start looking towards success as a journey that can be paved with more smooth stones than jagged rocks. Sure, adversity, obstacles, and setbacks can end up transforming us into the kind of people we want to be. . .but we must never think we have to struggle in order to have success. For only when the struggling ceases can we soar!

Live today with enthusiasm and passion. . .and make each moment count!

Until soon,

Alexis, Your Success Diva

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This page and all written material at The Success Diva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate. The Success Diva

So you need more time?

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There just isn’t enough time to do it all, is there? Hey, this diva knows what it’s like to have a mere 24 hours in which to accomplish everything she both wants and needs to do. It isn’t easy, and you and I both know that certain choices are going to have to be made. I spoke a little bit about this in my last Success Diva Speaks post. I mentioned the things that are urgent as opposed to those things that are important. Well, on a very basic level, it is about prioritizing. However, when we start using terms like prioritizing, I tend to think that we’re taking an overly business-like approach to making our dreams into a reality. Sure, you do need to prioritize. In other words, you need to decide which things on a daily basis must be done vs. those things that you could put off doing, even though you very much want to do them. But if you’re like your diva, you probably notice that the hours skip by faster than you can blink. Also, sometimes it seems like the same day is repeating itself over and over again. Have you ever seen the film with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell called “Groundhog Day”? If so, do you remember how each day started off the very same way? Well, this happens in life, too, I think. We can decide that we’ll manage our time much more efficiently tomorrow than we have today, only to discover that we’re making most of the same misguided choices.

So what happens when we continue to make the choices on a daily basis that prevent us from ever getting to spend the time we need to spend on the things that are really important to us? I’m not talking about the quality time we spend with our spouse or our kids or our family.  What your diva is speaking about is what it important to you. Let’s say that you want to be a writer.  For you, the idea of never seeing your name in print is unbearable. You’ve seen prolific authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, and the late John Updike, produce book after book, and, in the back of your mind, you think, “You know, I could do that, too.” Well, what’s stopping you?? Do you know?? I would say that one of the main things that’s preventing you from pursuing your writing endeavors with determination and persistence is the fact that you haven’t yet found a way to separate the things you do each day into three separate categories (yes, three! Count  ’em.) The first category are the things that are urgent. This might be something as simple as picking up some select food items from the grocery store or picking up the dry cleaning. In other words, these are things that you think you should do, yet they aren’t really things you absolutely must do. Am I making sense? In the middle category are those things that are important. If you’re an actor, showing up at a theater rehearsal is obviously important. It’s not even something you think about—you just do it. Similarly, if you’re a mother or father and  you’re supposed to pick your child up from a soccer game or a ballet class, that’s going to also fall into the important category. But baking cookies for your neighbor who just recovered from surgery is not important. And watching the latest reality TV show isn’t important, either. In fact, these aren’t things that are urgent, either. They bring us to our third category which, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just call the inessential. To be honest, nearly 75% of the things you’re doing on a daily basis might fit into this final category. “What?” you shout, “you’re saying that I’m spending 3/4 of my life doing things that are inessential??” Well, how much time do you spend on-line each day? And how much of this time is spent actually doing something that’s important? Are you answering e-mails that must be replied to immediately during the time that you’re on-line? Are you updating your blog, writing a review, or making contacts to promote your personal endeavors? Or are you talking to friends who have a special place in your life? If you answered ‘yes’ to any or all of these three questions, then the time you’re spending on-line truly is important. But don’t lie to yourself. Please. It won’t do you any good to delude yourself into thinking that you are doing things that are more meaningful to you than they really are. You know this, of course, but your diva can still remind you of it *wink*. Now when I say that 75% of the things you’re doing each day could fit into the category of that which is inessential, I’m not saying to stop doing all these things. If you enjoy watching a movie every night, there’s no need to deprive yourself of that. And if you like to read fashion magazines, then don’t berate yourself for doing so. However, do spend at least a few minutes thinking about the activity you are about to engage in before you engage in it, simply to make sure that the time you will lose from making that choice will be worth the benefits you will receive from it. Your diva loves fashion and she enjoys a bit of celebrity gossip every now and then, but the only two magazines she regularly reads are Smithsonian and National Geographic. Why? Well, I see life as being all about choices, you see, and this means that every time I decide to spend time doing one thing, I’m losing the chance to do all the other things I could be doing instead. Does it really matter what the latest news on Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie might be? Do I need to know which actress or supermodel is expecting a baby? Is it important whether Heidi Klum and Seal decide to have any more children? And if so, why? How do these people affect my life? Are they starring in my show?? I hope I’m staring to make a valid point by now. Am I? All that I’m saying does connect in some ways to my post, You Are the Star. I’m trying to help you see that if you spend time on activities that will distract you from designing your life and if you focus on the lives of people whom you do not know and will probably never meet, your life isn’t going to be a hit show–it’s going to be a flop. You won’t even have to look in the morning newspapers to see what the critics are saying. You’ll know without anyone else telling you that all your reviews are dreadful.

I think it’s nearly impossible, in the media-crazed culture we currently live in, not to be continuously distracted by things that are not the least bit essential to our lives, our goals, or our well-being. We can look at the worldwide frenzy surrounding the unexpected death of pop star Michael Jackson, and see how easy it is to become swept up in the latest celebrity scandal.  And if celebrities don’t interest you, there are things such as politics to keep you thoroughly preoccupied. I’ve noticed that several hours of my day can actually sweep right past me without my being aware of it. Why? Because I’ve been busy watching the news, reading e-mails, and/or contemplating how I was going to get everything done on that particular day. See, contemplation can only get you so far. There comes a time when you just have to. . .well, do it. If you’re a writer and you want to finish and publish a novel, at some point you’ll have to stop just talking about it, and you’ll actually have to sit down and start writing it. Scary, isn’t it? It actually scares me a little. But then, I’m a writer. My most recent novel is still in the embryonic stage, meaning I haven’t fully committed to writing it, re-writing it, editing it, and publishing it. The reason I’m confessing this is because I want to stress how important it is that you are honest about the direction you’re moving in right now. Are you driving down a dead-end road? Are you on the path that will take you to your dreams, or are you heading down a one-way street? Moments come in the lives of those of us like you and me who really are interested in making our dreams a reality, in which we have to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. Ruthlessly? Yes, ruthlessly. Do you know what that means? It means that the excuses we would usually try to find in our Little Book of Excuses (remember that? We all have one of those. Don’t deny it!) must be disregarded by us. We must not let ourselves even be tempted to use those excuses. Rather, we need to get a cold, hard, clear look at our lives, and, no matter how difficult it is, we need to determine what path we’re taken. Are we on the Yellow Brick Road that will take us to the Emerald City of our dreams? Or are we on a road made out of dirt and mud that will take us into a meadow full of weeds?? If we are not absolutely certain that we’re on the Yellow Brick Road, it’s time to stop walking. Sometimes you have to stand still if you want to analyze things with any significant amount of clarity. To continue running, if you’re running in the wrong race, isn’t going to do you any good at all, is it?? Of course it’s not. And this is what you are doing if you are living a life in which your time is spent mostly on that which is urgent and inessential, rather than on that which is genuinely important.

Each day is made up of twenty-four hours. You and I both know that, and we also know that how we spend them is entirely up to us. Now don’t even bother to disagree with me because, if you are honest with yourself, you’ll see that your diva is correct. It may seem like how you spend some of those hours of each day is a decision that other people are making for you, yet, unless someone is forcing you to do something with your time that you haven’t any desire to do, you are making the choice when it comes to how you spend every second, minute, and hour. And if something isn’t a choice for us at this point, it was at an earlier time. What do I mean by that? Well, let me illustrate with an example. Let’s say that you have to get up around the clock to feed your newborn baby. Is it a choice whether you feed the baby or not? Technically it is, but what sort of mother would you be if you didn’t feed your own child? So, we’ve established that feeding your baby around the clock isn’t a choice you’re making now. . .or not really, at any rate. However, somewhere along the way you probably did  make a choice to have the baby—or, at the very least, you had sex without using contraceptives that were reliable enough. And here’s another example: let’s say that your husband or wife now wants you to prepare all the meals for him/her. Usually, this is more the sort of thing a woman does, but, hey, there are guys out there who cook, right? Well, if your husband or wife is expecting you to prepare all the food, you’ll probably say that you don’t have a choice. Maybe you don’t, at this point. But you were the one who chose to marry him or her, right? When you said “I do” and cut the wedding cake, you were making a choice that you must have suspected could greatly impact your entire future. Now you are having to make choices that you don’t want to make based on decisions that you already made by your own volition. Do you see? So, what do you do? Unfortunately, there are certain situations in which you must accept the consequences of a decision you have already made, whether you want to or not. But think of all the other choices that are yours to make. You can decide whether or not you have another baby, for instance. You can even decide, depending on what your views are on divorce, whether or not the sacrifices you’re having to make to keep your marriage together are worth the possible benefits. Of course, I’m simplifying things a little. Nothing is ever as easy as it sounds like it is, although, if you’ve been reading Success Diva’s  blog for any length of time, you already know that she’s the first to admit that.

Okay. Let’s do something we’ve never done before! Let’s summarize some of the issues I’ve addressed in this post. What are the three categories that you can put each of the items on your list of daily tasks into?  The three compartments are: the urgent, the important, and the inessential. I’m really only summarizing all this because I haven’t any guarantee that you’ll read this post more than once, even though you very much need to. Trust me. Your Success Diva senses what you need. She is very intuitive, and she knows that not mastering the art of categorizing the different areas of your life will essentially spell ultimate disaster for you. So, bear with me here, and really remember the points I’m making. As you have probably heard countless times before, we all have 24 hours in a day. That is one gift that is given to each of us equally. But how we use that 24 hours—that is a choice that each one of us makes. So, make time for that which matters most. Let the other stuff wait. What I’ve often noticed is that half of the things I thought were urgent last week didn’t really have to be done at all. And as for that which is inessential?? Well, you’ll have to decide how much of your time you want to spend doing the things that fall into that category. As always, it’s entirely up to you.

This moment in time is passing and today will never come again. Make the  most of every second.

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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All written material at the Success Diva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate. The Success Diva