Steer Your Ship!

boat1I’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!

Until soon,

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

You are the Captain!

Sometimes I look around and wonder: where is honesty and where is truth? I think all of us probably put on a mask to face the world with, whether it is thick or paper thin, sturdy or flimsy. If we think that the face we show to everyone else is the face that we see when we dare to really look inside ourselves. . .well, I think we’re lying to ourselves. And that never gets you anywhere, does it? Was it not John Keats, the poet, who said the oft-repeated phrase, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty–that is all/Ye know on earth, all ye need to know.” Yet T. S. Eliot felt these simple yet profound words detracted from the rest of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.  You don’t have to have lived very long on this planet to understand that you need to know a lot more than this in order to survive. The world can be a brutal place and people can be ruthless. Were I to tell you otherwise, I would be simply giving you the false impression that the world is a warm and loving place. Yes, it can be. But is it? And if it isn’t, why is it not? Why aren’t more people living fulfilled lives? Where are the people who are living richly, fully, happily, and successfully? Why aren’t there more of them?

Well, have you ever heard of the fight or flight response?? Sure you have. In fact, I would imagine that you have chosen to react to at least one situation in your life in the past year by either fighting it or running away from it? Am I right? If not, think back to a time when you did, in fact, try to fight back at someone or something? Why did you do it? Underneath all that anger and resentment and, yes, even hate, was there possibly. . .if I’m wrong, don’t get upset. . .but could there not have been just a tiny bit of fear? In other words, did you use anger to mask the fact that you were actually apprehensive, that you really felt afraid? When you were a child and your mother or father didn’t buy you a toy that you wanted, for example, and you got angry at them, couldn’t you have also been afraid that them not giving you something you really wanted meant that they didn’t love you as much as they should? Think about it. And later on, when that girl or guy whom you wanted to go out with in high school never seemed to reciprocate your attention, what made you decide to start avoiding them? Wasn’t it fear? Weren’t you afraid of being hurt?

Well, you’re probably not in high school right now. . .and, if you are, I applaud you for being willing to start making the changes that will enable you to create the life of your dreams at such a young age. But whether you are in high school or it’s been several decades since you finished high school, the insight your Success Diva is giving you will always be applicable. That same anger that you felt when you were a child. . . and that same fear (and maybe anger, too) that you felt when you were a teenager. . .well, these are two emotions that are still ruling your world, to a large extent. “What?” you say, “Success Diva is saying I’m driven by anger and fear! Well, she’s going too far this time!” No, I’m not going far enough. This is just the tip of the iceberg that hit the Titanic as far as these two emotions are concerned. I will be talking about them more and more as I continue becoming more and more a part of your life. You see, The Success Diva has been driven by anger and fear, too, along with other things such as hate, resentment, contempt, vindictiveness, and other negative emotions.  There was a time when the only way I knew to react to being hurt or mistreated by someone was to get angry. There were times when I would get comments such as “Well, you’ve got a temper to match the color of your hair,” and I knew those comments were valid, although I dislike redheads being automatically labelled as “short-tempered.” The thing about it is, my hair is still red. However, I rarely get angry anymore, and, when I do, I find ways to eliminate it before it injures me or someone else. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m making it sound awfully easy to stop letting a destructive emotion control your actions.  “You just don’t know the sorts of people I’ve had to deal with,” you might want to tell me. Well, The Success Diva has encountered all sorts of people in her life. . .and, let me assure you, at least half of them have not had a positive or healthy influence on me. In fact, I have known people that would very nearly make an angel throw away her halo and buy a pitchfork and a pair of devil’s horns instead. Not that this would do an angel any good, of course—merely buying a costume won’t change a person’s behavior. And this brings me back to what I said about all of us wearing masks in the beginning of this post. Just because we wear a mask of  happiness or joy or love or peace or compassion or strength—well, if we don’t actually feel any of those emotions inside, our behavior will not consistently reflect those feelings. Many people say that you have to love and accept yourself before you can give love to anyone else. And you know what? I think they’re right. This is probably why so many women say that becoming a mother is the most extraordinary and important experience of their lives. In learning to love the child growing within themselves, they begin to have a certain love and respect for themselves as women. Then, when they finally give birth to that child, their hearts are overflowing with a love that may well have been there all the time, but has never had a viable outlet before. I’m not saying that every woman who becomes a mother starts loving herself. What I am saying is that a woman often considers that she has finally accomplished something worthwhile when she brings new life into the world. And this new feeling of self-worth brings with it a certain amount of self-love.  But if you love yourself does this mean that you don’t get angry or that you suddenly don’t experience any negative emotions?? Of course not. What it can mean, however, is that you begin to understand that those destructive emotions that you thought were just hurting other people are really hurting you. “It’s worth hurting myself, though, if I can get back at so-and-so,” you say. Whoa. Wait a minute. What did you just say? You’re telling me that it’s worth depriving yourself of joy, happiness, peace, and love just so that you can prove something to someone else? You’re saying that if you can just pay him/her/ them back for whatever he/she/them said or to you, it’s worth becoming a toxic person for a little while? You see, toxic people are toxic to themselves, first and foremost. They don’t usually realize this fully enough, but when a toxic person loses his/her temper and says or does things that are cruel, hurtful, or abusive, what he/she is really doing is demonstrating how little control they have over themselves and their own behavior. This is something I have come to realize in recent years and especially during the past several months. If I get angry at someone who mistreats me, what I’m really doing is allowing them to control  me. So, not only have they attempted to victimize me with their mistreatment. . .but I am continuing to play the role of ‘the victim’ by letting myself be driven by negative emotions that they evoked. So, I’ve given up my power and I’m basically a chess piece in someone else’s game. Is this what you want to be? I know it can’t possibly be, or you wouldn’t be reading the Success Diva’s blog. I fully believe that you want to be the one steering your own ship—and I also think that you’re willing to buy, borrow or find the necessary equipment to build that ship. Hey, it’s the ship of your dreams, after all. It will take you anywhere you choose to go. It can take you away from the life of your dreams. . .or it can steer you towards it. You are the Captain. I’m just there to encourage and inspire you.

I have been asked before by people who are curious about why their lives are not going the way they want them to, which emotion I feel is the most inhibiting of any that a person can feel. In other words, if I had to name just one thing that is standing between a person and the life he/she desires, what would it be?? The answer is simple yet people are often surprised when they hear it. It’s fear. Fear is what makes a person feel that they have to hold onto the life they’ve got, the job they’ve got, the spouse they’re married to, the boyfriend/girlfriend they’re with, or the career they’ve spent so many years pursuing but never really have liked. Fear is what makes a person not get on an airplane, even when deep within themselves they’d love to travel around the world. Fear is what prevents you from grabbing half the opportunties that come your way. It’s both insidious and deadly, and until you find a way to move beyond it, you will never have any lasting happiness or success in your life.  “But don’t I need to get rid of the fear?,” you ask. “Can just moving beyond it be enough?” Well, the truth is, fear is something you will always feel no matter how badly you want to never experience it again. Why? Because life is full of new experiences, and there are bound to be some experiences that will challenge you and overwhelm you if you are going to create the life of your dreams. If, for example, one of your dreams is to go sky-diving, do you really think you won’t experience any fear if you decide to make this dream a reality?? Of course you’ll experience fear. The situation is, when your passion for something—whether it be a career, a job, or a person whom you are madly in love with—becomes more powerful than your fear, you will automatically move past it and embrace whatever it is you really desire. Now generally, in life, the sort of passion that is able to conquer fear isn’t something that you feel on a regular basis. It’s something that you feel every now and then, when you ask your girlfriend to marry you or when you go on a rollercoaster ride at your local amusement park. It isn’t something you are accustomed to feeling every single day. And this is one reason you aren’t living the life of your dreams. You are living with fear, whether you realize it or not. You’re afraid that you’ll fail. You’re afraid that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, whether it be in your career or in an important personal relationship. You think to yourself, “How could someone like me ever make a go of this?” or “Why would he/she ever seriously be interested in me?” Well, what you have to do is understand that there are some opportunities that will only come your way once. . .and if you don’t snatch them now, they may never show up again. You have to be willing to grab happiness or success or love sometimes. You have to believe that it will ultimately make you feel more worthwhile if you should go for it, even if you don’t get it. “But I’m really not a very worthy person,” you say, “I mean, I don’t really deserve happiness or success or love or all these great things you’re talking about, Success Diva.” Really? Who says? Have you been keeping company with toxic people who think they have the right to tell you what you are or are not capable of? Or have you been saying such things to yourself for so long that you have actually started to believe them? Which is it? I can safely assume that when you were a child of five or six you weren’t under the impression that you weren’t “worthy” or “deserving” enough to be happy or feel loved. You know your Success Diva is right about this. When you were a kid, there were moments when you probably think that nearly anything was possible. At the very least, I’m sure that you would have thought that you deserved a happy, rich, joyful, and successful life.

So, what happened?? Well, you see, when you are a kid the world didn’t seem like a cruel, brutal, dark, and cold place to you. You looked at birds and butterflies with your eyes wide open. . .you noticed the sun rising and setting and you loved the feeling of rain against your skin. You weren’t worried that you weren’t carrying around an umbrella! And you didn’t even think about sun-screen (don’t get me wrong—sun-screen is essential to protect against sun damage and skin cancer). Also, when your mother or  grandmother made a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies you weren’t thinking, “I wonder how many calories each cookie has in it.” No, you were enjoying every morsel of those cookies. But somewhere between then and now you’ve come to see the world in an entirely different light. You generally feel guilty if you eat too many cookies now, and you no longer really think about when the sun sets or when it rises. Around some hour of the morning it gets light outside. . .and around some hour of the evening it gets dark. As for rain? Well, it’s something that creates problems when you’re trying to get somewhere in a rush. It causes more traffic. Plus, your hair might start frizzing. . .and, my goodness, what about that new pair of shoes you’re wearing? See what I mean?  There are lots of things that you actually feel fear about without being aware of it. Yet I would wager that you do drive in the rain and that you do eat too many cookies every now and then. I would also say that some of you have ruined more than one pair of shoes, either by walking in rain, mud, or snow. I know I have. I ruined a pair of shoes by picking persimmons of a tree a few years ago. I didn’t realize that there was so much mud around those trees. . and, well, I had been to a symphony concert earlier that night and I was all dressed up. But do you know what’s interesting? I no longer think much about those shoes I ruined. However, I will always have the memory of picking persimmons off persimmon trees with my mother one late night in October. And life becomes more meaningful when you have moments that are memorable. If you simply exist, never taking any risks and never accepting any opportunity that comes your way unless it seems “safe,” then you are always going to exist. You will never be fulfilled. . .and you will never live the life of your dreams. Never?? That’s right—never.

So, take that fear and use it. To feel fearful all the time takes a whole lot of energy. But you can take that same energy and use it in a different way. You can use it to feel passion and enthusiasm and determination. Instead of being afraid to do something, choose to be adventurous. Even if there’s still some fear deep inside you, choose to see it as a tool rather than as a hindrance. It can actually help you, believe it or not. It can force you to be a stronger person—it can make you more determined. And, when you see that there was really nothing to be afraid about all along, you’ll become less and less fearful. Now as I said previously, you will never completely obliterate all fear from your life.  However, with enough practice and enough advice from your Success Diva, you will not only work around it, but you will also find a way to channel it effectively.

Well, it’s way after midnight here in Atlanta, and even though the Success Diva is a self-proclaimed ‘night owl,’ she’s going to have to wait for another post to say more. But she does encourage you to start implementing the suggestions she’s giving you in this post—namely, to start using your fear in a positive way and to start responding in a mature, effective, and productive way to those toxic people, rather than reacting with emotions that are destructive to you, such as hate, anger, contempt, and resentment.

Until later. . .live each moment of your life with passion and enthusiasm!

Your Success Diva

successdiva7@yahoo.com

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