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

when you reach a turning point. . .

turningpoint1There are moments in life when something happens that is so unexpected that we really don’t know how to cope with it. Whether it’s finding out that our boyfriend or girlfriend is seeing someone else or whether we just lost our pet dog or cat in a freak accident, there are those times when it’s as if something in our world has gone so wrong that everything else seems to be out of focus. I remember reading about how the actress, Jane Seymour, suffered an injury when she was pursuing a career as a ballerina, and all I could think was how catastrophic this event must have been for her. Of course, watching her in such films as “Somewhere in Time” and “Lassiter”, it’s difficult to imagine her as anything other than an actress. But that’s because she took an incident that could have brought an end to all her ambitions and turned it into something profitable. It reminds me of a passage I came across today from a poem called “Don’t Quit” by an unknown author. The passage was “Success is failure turned inside out.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought of success in those terms. I understand that failure and success are directly connected, and that you cannot have one without the other because rarely do we succeed at anything on the very first effort. But what I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended is what a turning point failure can be for us. One of my favorite actresses, Mary Pickford, once said, “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you.  You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing called ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  But how often do we really look at our failures in that light? How often do we acknowledge ourselves for picking ourselves back up after we fail?? Don’t we have a  habit of concentrating more on that which we fail at than on that which we succeed at? I know I do. If a relationship or a career doesn’t work out, it can diminish your sense of self-worth to such an extent, that there are moments when you actually feel a sense of overpowering hopelessness.

When I think of someone who has continued to strive in spite of not accomplishing her ultimate objective, the brilliant American figure skater, Michelle Kwan, immediately comes to mind. If you saw Michelle skate at the 1998 Olympic games, you probably remember the look of subtle disappointment on her face when she lost the gold medal to her American rival, Tara Lipinski.  Although a silver medal at the Olympics is scarcely something to feel ashamed of, an athlete with Kwan’s capabilities and work ethic is always somewhat chagrined when he/she doesn’t come in first. However, Michelle handled the situation like a pro. In fact, rather than allowing herself to get discouraged, she decided to bounce back.  At the 2002 Olympic games, she once again tried for that gold model, but again, it eluded her. This time, though, she ended up with the bronze model instead of the silver. The young American skater, Sarah Hughes, took the top prize. Do, did Kwan give up?? No. She made plans to try her luck yet a third time in the 2006 Olympic Games. It wasn’t until Kwan suffered a groin injury in her first practice session in Turin, Italy, that she withdrew from the competition. And Kwan is still talking about the possibility of competing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Now that’s the kind of attitude all of us should work towards!  “But Michelle Kwan’s persistence hasn’t really paid off,” you may be thinking. “I mean, she never did get that gold medal she wanted so badly.” No, Kwan didn’t get the gold medal. But I think she got something even more important. She got the kind of respect and deep admiration that only those who persist in the quest for their ultimate goal both deserve and receive. Indeed, Michelle Kwan remains a more reliable role model than either Tara Lipinski or Sarah Hughes, the two skaters who won gold medals at the Olympics she competed in. Perhaps, whether or not we win first prize isn’t as important as the attitude we demonstrate during the competition itself. And life is a bit like a competition, isn’t it?

As a diva of success, I would love to tell you that every one of your dreams will definitely come true. However, since I promised I would always be honest with you, I have to remind you that life gives us no guarantees. What it does give us is lessons, learning experiences, and role models. Those of you who know this diva over at Facebook have probably noticed that I’ve begun a photo album dedicated to women whom I consider to be “Icons of Inspiration.” Well, the group of inspirational women is so diverse that there aren’t that many things that many of the women have in common with each other. But there are a few fundamental character traits that they do all share. What are these traits? Well, all of them have or had an invincible belief in themselves and what they could accomplish. Even when they felt their faith in their talents and abilities was slipping, they managed to pull themselves together and move forward. Your success diva will be the first to tell you that sometimes you have to pretend to have more confidence in yourself than you actually feel. In other words, you have to adopt what I call an “as if” mentality. You act as if  you can accomplish that which you dream of achieving. You act as if  you have an optimisic outlook on life, even when you’re actually feeling despondent. You act as if  the man or woman of your dreams is right around the corner, even though a part of you believes that your soul mate must have gotten lost in another dimension. Do you see the point I’m making? To expect yourself to always be on top of the world simply isn’t realistic. There will be times when you feel like you’ve accomplished very few things in life that are of true significance, and you could feel this way even if you were an Oscar-winning actor/actress or a Nobel prize-winning author. Why? Well, it’s simply part of being human. The world we live in is chaotic and full of all sorts of of negative and cruel people, and circumstances are rarely going to be completely ideal. So, since we are human, we naturally react to the obstacles and crises that come into our lives in a way that isn’t always positive. Should we blame ourselves for this? To be honest, I think that doing so only makes things worse. It would be like blaming yourself for depression, when those of us who are well-informed know that there are many instances of depression in which psychiatric therapy and medication are essential. What you must do, though, is understand that the way in which you react to something can actually turn out to have as significant an impact on you as the event itself. “Wait,” you interject, “are you telling me that if a man/woman is raped, his/her reaction to that rape could have as momentous an affect on him/her as the rape itself?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. . .and, no, I haven’t suddenly lost all my reasoning abilities. Look, I know of women who have allowed an incident of rape to destroy the rest of their lives. There are also many women who have committed suicide after being raped. Does this mean I cannot comprehend their actions? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, I fully understand how a woman or woman who has been raped might feel like taking his or her own life. At the same time, for a victim of rape to take his or her own life means that the person who victimized him/her ultimately has the last word. On the other hand, for a someone who has survived rape to take that terrible catastrophe and turn it into something that benefits both himself/herself and others by doing volunteer work for groups that help counsel rape victims, for example, would mean that an event that could have been devastating would actually end up having a positive result.

I remember when I first heard the motivational speaker and author, Tony Robbins, talking about how our response to something can be as important as the event. I must admit,  I thought he was being utterly illogical at the time.  “Well, you can tell that nothing that bad has ever happened to Tony,” I found myself muttering. Yet as life has gone on, I have come to see Tony’s point. We truly can make a traumatic event a hundred times worse depending on how we react to it. An experience such as rape will always be horrendous no matter how someone responds to it. However, what should always be remembered is that no matter what someone else does to us it does not in any way diminish our self-worth. We may feel that something that someone tells us or does to us makes us less valuable as a person, but this is just a trick our mind is playing on us. It’s also something that the person who mistreats, abuses, or violates us wants us to feel. Why?? Well, that’s one of those questions that I’m reluctant to answer. I always think that those who hurt us, whether it be through their words or their actions, are hurting within themselves. But I don’t think that explanation justifies anything, which means it is scarcely satisfactory, even though there are times at which it can be a source of comfort. The truth is, we will probably never begin to understand why certain people do certain things. As one of my friends reminded me a couple of hours ago, this is an unjust world we live in. So, all that each of us can do is try to treat others with kindness and fairness, whether they treat us the same way or not.

One reason that I can speak with authority on the subject of turning what seems like a failure into a success is because I’ve had to continue to do this throughout my life. I trained for a concert career on the violin beginning at age three, only to be told at age 17 that such a career was impossible because I had a chronic illness called lupus. Did I have a nervous breakdown? Well, no, but I came pretty close to having one. For a couple of years after I had to give up playing the violin, I couldn’t even listen to any of the recordings I owned of violin music. Unfortunately, my sense of self-worth was entirely connected with the violin, and without it, I felt as if I had no real value as a person. It has only been through my accomplishments in other avenues that I have re-established my self-confidence. Although I am blessed to have a mother who has taught me to believe that who I am as a person is far more important than what I do, it has always been difficult for me to separate my personal value from my achievements. I don’t think the materialistic, career-driven world we live in tends to instill in people the sense that such traits as integrity, honesty, and compassion are far more important than how much money you make each year or what kind of car you drive. And yet, unless we start to understand this ourselves, how will we ever teach those who look up to us—-such as our children, if we have them—-what’s really important in life?? When I mentioned Michelle Kwan earlier, another thing I intended to say about her is that she has never compromised who she is simply to get ahead. Yes, she has won two Olympic medals, but I have always had the sense that she would rather be seen as an icon of grace and elegance of spirit than as merely another Olympic medalist. Audrey Hepburn is another lady who had her priorities in order. In spite of the fact that she could easily have acted in dozens of films throughout the 1960s and 1970s, she chose to devote herself to being the best mother that she could. I guess we don’t have to wonder why her son, Sean Ferrer, speaks with such lavish praise about his mother! And this is why it’s so crucial that we stand back and view our lives from a long-term perspective, rather than being sidetracked and discouraged by the setbacks of the moment. Only those who fail to strengthen their inner spirit allow themselves to see any failure as being permanent. Those who understand that life is a like a corridor, in which some doors open while others close, know that resilience is an integral part of success. I think actress Brooke Shields summed up the philosophy that all of us should adopt when she said, “If one window closes, run to the next window—-or break down a door.” Well, this is what your Success Diva advises you to do, too. The only way that a failure can have any lasting impact on your life is if you let it become permanent. So, no matter what happens, don’t let yourself be defeated. Begin to see each failure as a turning point in your life.  .  .as a mere curve in the road that will eventually lead you to the life of your dreams.

If you haven’t yet joined my mailing list, you can subscribe at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/successdiva  This is an announcement list, which means no participation is necessary. Also, I am always available and eager to help anyone with a specific situation they want my input on. Write me at successdiva7@yahoo.com, and I will respond at my earliest convenience.

Live with passion and enthusiasm. . .and remember, it’s only too late to create the life of your dreams if you believe it is!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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