Believe in yourself!

believe135 (flower)Many people have the erroneous idea that faith must be in some way inevitably connected with religion. However, I have never thought that this was necessarily the case. True, it can help in times of immense turmoil to imagine that the universe is guided by a Divine Force, whether we call that force God, the Creator, or something entirely different. At the same time, there is the unshakable sense of self-assurance that I feel those who succeed in life never quite lose sight of–and who can deny that this, too, is a type of faith?

Norman Vincent Peale, the preacher, speaker and self-improvement author extraordinaire who first brought the concept of “positive thinking” to the forefront of society, believed that the most important seed we must plant in ourselves is the seed of self-worth. I think our world is so focused on outward appearances and on the superficialities of life that many people don’t even know what they should base their self-worth on. If their sense of value comes from their appearance, what do they do when they start to see the first signs of aging on their face? Does their self-worth suddenly plummet? And, if so, is there any validity behind their feeling they are less valuable than they once were? You can pick up fashion magazines or newspapers or turn on the television, and you see impossibly gorgeous models, both male and female, advertising everything from perfume and shampoo to blue jeans and designer duds. After awhile, you cannot help but wonder, “Is how I look truly the most important thing?”

This is where a personal “vision” comes into play. I have heard people scoff at the idea of a “mission statement”, and, perhaps, it does sound like too grandiose a term to describe a sentence or two summing up what a person wants to accomplish in his or her life. The irony is, the people who roll their eyes in amusement or smile smugly at such terms are the very people who don’t honestly have a clear-cut direction for their life. They are those who drift aimlessly, like boats which glide across the ocean, allowing themselves to be tumbled about by the waves. They are the people who swim but never make it up to the diving board. Such people may have moments in which they occasionally accomplish something significant, but, with no clearly defined plan, how can they ever use even a fraction of their innate potential?

Truthfully, I have never enjoyed writing down goals. In fact, I find it downright tedious! But, like the treadmill some of you get on at the gym, I write down goals because they  help me achieve my objectives–not because they bring me any momentary gratification. How many times do you go to the grocery store without having made some sort of shopping list, even if all you’ve done is scribble down a handful of items you desperately need? Well, is a trip to the grocery store that much more important than your life? Even though there may not seem to be a logical explanation for this, there is something about writing down a goal or plan that turns it into a reality for your subconscious mind. The crucial part of this strategy is that your goal or plan must be entirely your own. That is, you must let go of everyone else’s expectations of you.

I am currently re-reading my friend and mentor Denis Waitley’s incomparable book, Seeds of Greatness, and I am struck yet again by the story he shares about trying to live out his father’s vision for his life. Like so many parents who mean well, yet do not understand the importance of their children making their own path in life, Denis’ father encouraged him to go to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Knowing Denis both from his writing and through my friendship with him, I fully perceive that his spirit is too poetic and creative for him to experience total fulfillment in fields such as mechanical engineering and marine engineering. And, even though Denis did graduate from the Naval Academy and enjoyed a nine-year career as a naval aviator, he was never at home in that profession. However, like those who always manage to find the positive aspect of those sets of circumstances that don’t turn out precisely the way they want, Denis credits being a naval aviator with teaching him an incalculable amount of self-discipline, in addition to the invaluable importance of goal-setting and teamwork.

How many of us would have looked upon those nine years as being wasted? I must confess, it took me a few years to fully cherish the benefits I gained from all the years I dedicated to the goal of one day being a world-renowned concert violinist–a career which never became an actuality. I had to fight the impulse not to consider the largest part of my life as having been wasted. Although I read about such remarkable women as actresses Jane Seymour and Charlize Theron, both of whom began as dancers only to be swept into acting because of an injury, I still found it hard to stomach the idea that there could have been a purpose in my having worked so hard to design, create, and shape a career that was cut short by lupus. There were moments in which I somewhat cynically thought, “Sure, it sounds good to say that everything has a purpose. But isn’t that just what we want to think?” If you ever have had moments like that, you know that they are generally accompanied by a feeling of despair, hopelessness, and diminished self-worth. Why?  Well, I think that all of us want to believe that the things that happen in our lives have a purpose behind them, even if we don’t admit it.

Once again, I will reiterate that the word “purpose” has nothing to do with religion. It can incorporate God, for those who do believe in Him like me, but it can also be that inner sense that you have a role to play in the universe–a role that only you can perform. Shakespeare once said, in his play All’s Well that Ends Well that all the world is a stage, and all of us are merely actors on it. To a certain extent, I think Shakespeare was right in comparing the universe to a stage. And in drawing on this comparison, you can look upon your life as being a specific part in a production that the world is staging. It is a part that no understudy will ever be able to take over, even on the days when you don’t feel like getting out of bed or when you feel like everything is going wrong. It’s also a part that you cannot walk away from, no matter how badly you may sometimes want to.

So, what are you going to do? If you were a bird or an angel, would you clip your wings, or would you use them to enable you to fly? The potential you have within you is as miraculous as the wings on a bird or a butterfly. . . or the aura around a celestial being. I’m not certain that anyone has ever expressed the remarkable capabilities of the human spirit more aptly than Thomas Edison when he said: “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” The reason why we so rarely astound ourselves is because we have so little faith in our own unique potential. We allow the doubts we have about ourselves and the skeptical comments others make about our endeavors to cloud our vision. Instead of looking through a glass that shows us what we can do, we’re actually looking through a glass that shows us what other people think we can or cannot do. And, if we’re not doing that, we’re looking at a reflection of ourselves that only gives us a close-up of our flaws and our failures.  After awhile, we will experience a sense of fear about even trying to do something because our conscious reminds us of all the times we’ve failed in the past.

It’s this sense of fear I speak of that makes faith so important. You may still be at a point in your life where you think that the fear you feel when you’re taking a risk or striving towards a goal will somehow magically evaporate. Well, guess what? That fear will only get stronger if you’re waiting for it to go away. It’s kind of like thinking that the stack of dirty dishes in your kitchen sink is going to diminish if you leave it there long enough. Unless you have a fairy godmother somewhere in your midst, you or someone else will have to wash and dry all those dishes. Similarly, you are going to have overcome your fear at some point, whether you want to or not. Because a more powerful emotion is often the only thing that can diminish or eradicate a weaker emotion, the best way to combat fear is through faith.  You don’t have to complete your vision in your mind of what you want your life to be like–just start with a few pieces of the puzzle. Like an architect building a cathedral, you will soon see that patience and perseverance will do more for you than any momentary bursts of exuberance. I have had many people tell me that patience is what they find to be the hardest virtue to learn. Yet, when you remove patience from your stack of playing cards, you will find that you are trying to win a game with an incomplete deck.

Perhaps, having a chronic illness has forced me to learn the importance of patience. Who knows? I do think that anyone can learn the art of patience, though. It is when you become completely aware of what a difference patience can make in the quality and substance of your accomplishments that you begin to work towards mastering it. Faith and patience actually go hand in hand, too–for we must often have faith about things that have not yet happened. When we take a trip by airplane, we usually have faith that we’ll have a safe journey, just as we have confidence that we’ll get up the next morning when we go to sleep at night. If your belief system has been grounded in fear, it won’t be easy to change it. But, I have often found that what we must work hardest for is that which is most worth our achieving.

The psychologist and author William James summed it up well when he said, “To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.” Even if the fear is never completely gone, it can become so diluted by the level and strength of our faith that it will lose any power it has over us and our lives. That is when the forces of the universe, whether we believe in a Creator or not, begin to somehow work together to help us achieve our aims. Whether you call it a miracle or simply the way the world works is up to you. But, I challenge you to start replacing fear with faith for the next month and to observe how your life begins to change. See whether or not those obstacles you imagine to be mountain peaks are really molehills in disguise. . .and whether or not that setback that you thought was permanent might not pave the way for an undiscovered opportunity. Although being realistic about what’s possible is always important, we do sometimes have to look at what can be instead of what is.

May you live each moment of today with courage, passion, enthusiasm, and faith! Make each moment count!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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This message 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. . .well, You

For as long as I can remember, I have been an incessantly driven person. When I was a little girl, I was constantly wanting to be the best at everything I did. Whether it was playing the violin or singing, I would always strive not only use all of my potential. . .but I would also try to outdo everyone else. Part of it was an inner sense that I somehow wasn’t worthy on my own—that my accomplishments were what made me valuable and unique as a person. Without saying that I had a miserable childhood, what I will say is that I shut myself off from experiencing any genuine joy because of my relentless worth ethic. In a way, I am grateful for the fact that I was taught the importance of hard work at a very young age. It shaped who I have become.  . .and has certainly forced me to be tenacious and resilient during those times in my life when I could easily have allowed obstacles to block my path. What I now ascertain, which is something I didn’t understand for a very long time, is that we can really only compete against ourselves. Do you know why this is? It’s because each of us is different in nearly every aspect of ourselves. Thus, to compare ourselves to someone else automatically removes the essential element from the scenario—and this is our own uniqueness. A few years ago I read a book by Oprah’s long-time boyfriend, Stedman Graham, called Build Your Own Life Brand. Although the book left a less vivid impression on me than many books of the same type that I’ve perused, I will say that the concept of creating your own “Brand” is something I like. What would the world be like, for example, if there weren’t such instantly recognizable brand names as Gucci, Guess, and Chanel?? I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to pick up a fashion magazine at a doctor’s office without coming across an ad featuring one of these brands. “But what does this have to do with me?” you ask. Well, think about it—aren’t you the designer of your own life?? Just as Guess designed jeans and Gucci designed handbags. . .aren’t you designing your life? And, if you’re not, who is?? You may not yet have the fashion know-how to pull off a life plan that would be on a par with a master designer, but with a little practice, why can’t you do it? Now don’t pull out your little book of excuses and hunt for something there. Your Success Diva won’t let you get away with that! *wink* I want to hear a real—a viable—reason for why you can’t design your own life? Are you letting things other people have said to you throughout the years prevent you from pursuing your dreams and goals? Are you thriving off negative emotions like anger, hate, or fear? That last one, fear, can be flipped over and used effectively as I said in one of my previous posts. Come to think of it, anger can be used effectively, too. I suspect hate is truly a thoroughly destructive emotion; yet the root of all hate is self-hate, which means that the solution to overcoming hate is to begin loving and accepting yourself.  I know that sounds kind of. . . .well, like something from a 1980s ‘self-help’ book, but see if this doesn’t make sense if you really stop and think about it. How can you give an emotion to someone else that you don’t feel within yourself? It would be like trying to purchase a yacht when you’re broke. There has been a massive focus on issues of self-esteem and self-image during the past couple of decades, and I would like to think that this, even if it has been overly excessive in some ways, may have enabled people to more readily accept themselves. But. . .what I notice is that there is a tendency to forget what you’ve read in a book a week, two weeks, or three weeks after you’ve read it. Now an unforgettable novel, such as Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert or Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. . .perhaps certain details of the plots of these books remain with you for a very long time, if not forever.

However, when it comes to books that would be classified as “motivational” material, it’s easy to forget half of what you’ve read a few days after reading it. Of course, you can continue to re-read these books. . .and re-read them. . .and re-read them. It won’t do you any harm, that’s for sure. But is that really how you want to spend your time? As smart as I know you are, your answer would have to be no. Yet what alternative is there, if you want to change the way you think about yourself, about other people, and about the world around you?? Well, there are a few specific changes that you can make that need to be as permanent as possible. One of these changes is the tendency to compare  yourself to anyone else. You are you are you are YOU. If someone tells you that you write like Ernest Hemingway. . .or Philip Roth. . .or that when they see you acting onstage you remind them of  Nicole Kidman, by all means thank them. . .and fully accept and appreciate the compliment. But don’t start seeing yourself as someone else, even if it’s someone you happen to look up to a great deal. Part of creating and living the life of your dreams is acknowledging and embracing your own individuality. You must create your own ‘life brand’, or you will spend your life trying to be like other people. And who wants to do that?? Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves to be like other people.” I think this was a valid observation on his part. From what I have seen, people so often try to dress, speak, look, and act like someone that isn’t them. I’m not simply talking about withholding a part of yourself when you meet a stranger—or trying to repress certain aspects of yourself while disguising others. I’m actually talking about living with the constant need to ‘fit in’ with your surroundings. . .and with the people who populate your surroundings. What’s wrong with just being you? When I was much younger, I was always trying to imitate a certain celebrity’s style of dress. Usually, I would attempt to adopt Audrey Hepburn’s impeccable fashion style. To me, she was and still is an icon of beauty, grace, elegance, and style. However, it is disheartening to see so many women trying to copy Audrey, rather than simply being themselves. Although I cannot imagine there being a  much more perfect role model for a woman to emulate—at least, not in terms of both style and humanitarian accomplishments–it’s still preferable for each woman to be completely herself. No, there will never be another Audrey Hepburn. But then, there will never be another you, either.

I must admit, I used to think that trying to outdo and/or outperform others provided me with just the zeal I needed to develop what I would call competitive edge. The problem with this mentality is that in trying to be the very best, there is a tendency to focus more on what others are doing than exclusively on what  you are doing and can do. The movie from the 1980s, “The Competition” provides me with a perfect example of why focusing on merely winning isn’t the answer. If you’ve seen this film, you probably haven’t forgotten the tension that existed between the two main characters, played by Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfuss. Both of these characters were concert-level classical pianists. . .and both of them were competing in the same competition. However, whereas Dreyfuss’ character arrived at the competition viewing it as something he must win, the pianist that Irving depicted always seemed to look at the competition as a challenge. . .an opportunity. . .something she would like to win but not something that she was dependent upon winning. Well, if you’ve seen the film, you already know which pianist won. If you haven’t seen it. . .well, what can I say? Watch it as soon as you can. If you really stop to analyze the difference in the two final piano performances that Irving and Dreyfuss give, you will see that Irving’s is indeed superior. ..but perhaps not for the reason you will initially conclude. The reason that Irving’s performance of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto is better than Dreyfuss’ performance of Beethoven’s Fifth (“The Emperor”) Piano Concerto is because Dreyfuss is concentrated solely on taking home a gold medal; yet Irving plays from her heart and soul. She isn’t thinking about whether she’ll win or lose the competition because she understands that if she gives her all out there in that final performance, she’ll have achieved victory whether she takes home a medal or not.

Is the point I’m trying to make becoming clearer now? Is it starting to make sense to you? Are you beginning to see where your focus needs to be? Who cares whether one of your co-workers got the promotion you deserved? And what does it matter if one of your best friends managed to purchase an expensive new car? If you let yourself constantly think about the little and big successes in the lives of other people, you’ll be so caught up in focusing on them that you won’t be able to start making your dreams come true. If you imagine I don’t know how difficult it is not to compete with other people, you’re mistaken. There was a point in my life when I found my own competitiveness to be unhealthy. It tended to breed negative emotions such as jealousy, selfishness, and greed. I couldn’t help but look at those who succeeded where I had failed and think that I wished I could be in their shoes. But would I have really wanted to live someone else’s life?? Would I have suddenly wanted to stop being me and become another person simply because that other person was more of a success than me? The truth is that whether or not you win all the prizes in life isn’t nearly as important as whether you contribute to the world something that only you can give. If you want to be a singer but you bemoan the fact that you don’t have a voice like such legends as Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand, relax. Embrace your talent—appreciate your voice. Let the world hear what you have to offer. Similarly, if you’re a struggling writer who is frustrated that he/she can’t write like Fyodor Dostoevsky or William Faulkner or Marcel Proust, stop trying to be like any author who came before you. Write like you, not like somebody else. This applies to any career and any area of your life. Don’t decide that you have to get married and have two or three kids just because that’s what your sister, your best friend, and your mother and father did. What is it that you want? Do you want to conform at the expense of never experiencing true love? Do you want to always be compared to a bunch of other writers, rather than being hailed as a new and innovative author? It’s up to you. . .but I know what I’m going to choose. Although there are plenty of things that I want to change about myself—many of which I will be successful at changing, and a few of which I probably won’t—I still wouldn’t trade places with anyone else in the world. Would you? If you answered ‘yes,’ you need to re-read Success Diva’s post.

Live each moment with passion. . and remember, there is only one of you!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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