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

Paint your own rainbow!

rainbow33 (paint your own)Sometimes the sky above us is filled with so many dark clouds that the idea of ever being able to find a rainbow seems impossible. We know that one is there. . .somewhere. . .but where oh where? When you were a child and you first saw the film, “The Wizard of Oz,” how did you feel when you heard Judy Garland singing, “Somewhere over the Rainbow”? Didn’t it make you feel happy inside? The mere idea of a rainbow fills most of with joy, perhaps because rainbows are magical jewels of nature, rather than manufactured marvels. Sure, a Hollywood production studio helped provide a rainbow to inspire Judy’s song, but, for us, rainbows are those exquisite jewel-like ribbons of color that appear in the sky after a storm.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret when it comes to rainbows. If you want to experience a rainbow in your life and you’re waiting to see one until a thunderstorm clears, you may never have the privilege of enjoying one. For, they don’t just pop up whenever we desire them. In fact, I have come to see that there are times when we actually have to paint them ourselves, out of whatever materials we have on hand. Whether we use crayons or paint or colored pencils or magic markers, we can paint our own rainbow. And we don’t have to be a Pablo Picasso to create a rainbow that is worthy of admiration. Even children paint rainbows. In fact, a child is much more likely to draw or paint a rainbow than an adult is. Why? Because children believe in impossibilities. They haven’t yet been conditioned to have ceilings on their dreams or lids on their fantasies. This is one reason that children are so creative. Oddly enough, scientific studies have shown that between the ages of five and seven, a child’s creativity level decreases at an enormous rate.  The reason for this is thought to stem from the fact that, when a child first attends school, he or she begins learning about all the things that he/she cannot do. . .all the things that are “impossible” or “illogical”. Prior to being told that he or she cannot do something, a child tends to believe that anything is possible. This is probably why Picasso was once quoted as saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

I will never forget hearing actress Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech when she on her second Best Actress Oscar in 2002 for Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of The Lambs”. Jodie thanked her mother for enabling her to believe that she could make any of her dreams come true—for convincing her that “all her fingerpaintings” were “Picassos”.  And, perhaps, Jodie’s unfailing determination to go after the roles she has wanted, in spite of those who have tried to held her back, has something to do with the seed of self-confidence her mother nourished within her beginning at a very young age. Ironically enough, Jodie wasn’t the first choice for either her role in “The Accused” or “The Silence of the Lambs,” and yet, her performance in each film was impressive enough to garner her an Academy Award.

Although some people would say that thinking “big” is unrealistic, I think that only when we step outside so-called “realism” and dare to have big dreams, can we truly get enthusiastic about life.  David Schwarz in his classic book, The Magic of Thinking Big, promotes the theory that the main thing holding people back in life is actually their “small thoughts”. According to Schwarz, whether or not you dream big dreams or small dreams is actually more of a factor in your ultimate success than talent, education, or connections.

Who says we have to remain strapped in by the seat belts of probability? Who can predict what is possible or impossible? Sure, there will always be well-meaning friends and relatives in our midst to tell us when we are engaging in what they call “wishful thinking”. But we make the choice whether we decide to believe them, or whether we continue to pursue our dreams, no matter how many people tell us we’re being illogical.You see, one of the problems is that the people who tell us that we have to be “logical” are generally people who have chosen to repress their own dreams themselves. Now they may claim they had no choice in the matter, but, the truth is, we all have a choice. Some of us may have to be more patient than others to make our dreams a reality, but all of have the chance to paint that rainbow.

I have spoken before about Jim Carrey at my blog, but what I haven’t mentioned was how Jim Carrey visualized his dream before it  became a reality. He used to imagine himself as a famous actor, and even thought up scenarios in which he was preparing to audition for roles in major films. At one point, he wrote himself a check for several million dollars, writing on the blank side of the check, “For services rendered.” Was this not an example of someone painting his own rainbow? Jim had no sign that he was going to be a major movie stair. If anything, things were pointing in the opposite direction. Yet, he made a choice to see himself as what he wanted to be, and his vision of himself was a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’ve always believed in magic,” Jim said later. He spoke of how he would go sit on Mulholland Drive and look out at the city, stretching out his arms, telling himself over and over again that he was a “really good actor” and that everybody wanted to work with him.  Jim said these positive affirmations were his way of erasing the negative thought patterns that had been passed down to him from his family.

A self-fulfilling prophecy can be positive or negative. That part is up to you. And, whether you realize it or not, you are actually forming self-fulfilling prophecies in your mind every day. Every time you tell yourself that you can or cannot do something, you are predicting either a positive or negative outcome. To put it another way, you are either painting storm clouds or a rainbow. You may think that you are simply being realistic when you tell yourself that something you dream of doing isn’t going to happen, but what you’re really doing is painting a cloud. And then you find yourself wondering why others don’t see your dreams for you. Well, how can you expect anyone to believe in your dreams, if you don’t wholeheartedly believe in them yourself?

Early on in singer and entertainer Barbra Streisand’s illustrious career, she went to an audition at St. James Theater for “I Can Get It For You Wholesale”. She arrived looking frazzled and unkempt and spilled sheet music all over the floor when she crossed the stage.  It was a situation that most actresses would have been humiliated to find themselves in. But Barbara—or Babs, as her fans like to call her—-has always been one to handle things in stride.  She played up the comedic part of the situation, leading the production staff to wonder if she was a kook or merely a brilliant comedian. In fact, she made such a splash that she was asked back for another audition with the celebrated Broadway producer, David Merrick, who was eventually persuaded into casting Barbra in the part of Miss Masselstein, even though the role was written for an actress in her fifties.

As you see, those who make their dreams a reality are rarely afraid to take chances. That’s because they know that there are times when taking a risk is the only option that will get them anywhere near the results they are after. This is why you must not let yourself be satisfied with painting a rainbow in a few lackluster shades. If you want to make things start happening in your life, paint your rainbow in the boldest colors you can find! Although pastel hues are becoming when it comes to baby shower decor and bridesmaids’ dresses, living a life in pastel colors is only going to make you feel powerless and ineffective. Imagine if every actress who showed up at the Oscars each year wore a gown that was in a pastel shade? After awhile, even if you thought the dresses were pretty, you would begin to be bored by the lack of color.

Well, how can you expect to get excited about a life that is painted in pale hues? If your life was a canvas, what colors of paint would you use to create your picture?? Would you use all the colors of the rainbow, or would your restrict yourself to shades of gray? Would you choose bold, passionate red and bright, vibrant yellow and cool, brilliant blue. . .or, would you water these colors down by adding lots of white? If  you could create a canvas that would represent your ideal life, what would it look like? Who would be part of your ideal life? What career would you be involved with? What city or state would you be living in? Would those people who are closest to you now still be the ones you would turn to? When you stop to answer all these questions, you start gaining clarity about your life. Certain things that haven’t been clear before start to become obvious. Unfortunately, most of us don’t feel the freedom to think in terms of our “ideal lives” because we’re so caught up in our day-to-day existence. In a way, some of us may fear thinking in terms of “the ideal” as it will only make us more aware of how different our lives are from what we would consider the “life of our dreams”.

However, until we fully allow ourselves to embrace the liberating experience of self-awareness, we will never be able to make even one of our dreams a reality, for we’ll never be honest with ourselves about what has to change in order to make our dream come true.  Although it pains me to admit this, there are some people who simply live in what I would call a “state of oblivion”. These people labor under the illusion that somehow, in some miraculous way, their lives are going to turn around for the better even though they’re not making any consistent effort to change them. Sometimes they fantasize about winning the lottery or, perhaps, finding a rich man or woman to marry. Or they imagine that a talent scout will approach them in a supermarket or shopping mall and offer them a movie contract.  Now, I’m not saying that such scenarios are not possible. However, to depend on such fanciful twists of fate is not going to bring a person any closer to his or her dreams.

So, what’s the difference in believing in dreams that others would consider to be impossibilities and fantasizing about winning the lottery? Well, your personal dreams are something that you have control over. You can decide what dream to pursue, and you can begin to back up that which you yearn for with definitive actions. On the other hand, whether or not you win the lottery is something that you have very little control over. And we’ve already examined how important it is to focus on the things that we actually have power over as opposed to the things that are not under our control. Believe me, when you begin to become aware of all the things in your life that you really do have control over, you’ll start to see that not nearly as much is left up to chance—or fate, as some might call it—as you might think. 

As I said at the beginning of this post, you aren’t even dependent on whether or not a rainbow appears in the sky because you can paint your own. Similarly, if you prefer, you can paint a series of dark storm clouds. Do you see how much power you really do wield over your own destiny? I think that more than anything else, what holds people back is fear. And, to a certain extent, I think they are afraid of their own power. They think that once they start making changes, they’ll move outside their comfort zone and nothing will be the same. Well, indeed you will move outside of your comfort zone when you start designing that life you’ve always dreamed of. You see, your mind has been conditioned to accept things as they are, which means that even if what you’re pursuing is what you frantically yearn for, there will be a part of you that tries to sabotage your efforts. The only thing to do is to push past that fear. Sure, that’s easier said than done. But the only alternative is to wait for the fear to go away, and that isn’t going to happen because as long as you try anything new, you will experience fear.

In fact, you’re probably going to experience fear when you start to paint your rainbow. You’ll worry that you aren’t using the right shades of paint. . .or that the canvas you’ve chosen to paint the rainbow on is too big or too small.  Yet, I think you’ll also realize that these fears are perfectly natural, and that the fact  you’re having them shows that you’re doing precisely what you should be doing.  Even though some of you aren’t going to be happy about this, security is going to be something you’ll have to give up if you’re going to make your dreams come true. So, you might as well get used to living on the edge because it’s the only kind of life that’s going to get you to the destination you desire!

In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Don’t wait until tomorrow to start painting your rainbow. Why should you sit looking at a grey sky or a blank canvas for another day?

Until soon.  .  .live with passion and make each moment matter!

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