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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If you should need my personal input on a specific situation or problem, please write me at successdiva7@yahoo.com  I will respond at my earliest convenience, I assure you!

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

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