~Be your own mirror~

mirror1My great uncle once told my mother that he believed there are two types of people in the world: “givers” and “takers”. Although I would never be so quick to stack individuals into two boxed-in categories, I think the point he was trying to make was a valid one. As a diva of success, it would probably be easy for me to become so focused on my own endeavors that I didn’t give much thought to others except in terms of how they could in some way benefit me.

A couple of weeks ago, someone who has been my friend for several months suggested that self-promotion was at the heart of my Success Diva activities although he has never actually taken the time to read the articles at my blog.  Obviously, to be successful in any area of your life, you do have to take personal initiative. You must make the most of opportunities and, to loosely paraphrase a quote by author Francis Bacon, you sometimes have to create more opportunities than you find.

But, does this mean that suddenly you are the only important person in your world and everyone else is a background player?? Are you the only star in your sky? If so, isn’t it getting a little lonely up there in the heavens?? I have known plenty of people over the course of my life who seemed to concentrate exclusively on themselves and their own needs and desires. There are even those who would say that such behavior is “natural” and “normal”. Yet, is it? Or is that just an attempt on a person’s part to validate the fact that they are always putting themselves first?

Our society nourishes and promotes a philosophy that is immensely ego-driven. We are brainwashed into believing that if we accomplish enough and acquire enough, we will find happiness and fulfillment. When we turn on the television set, we see add after add telling us what perfume we should wear, what shaving cream we should use, where we should shop for clothes, and what sort of lifestyle we should crave. We can think that we aren’t being influenced by the messages that we’re hearing on television or reading in magazines and books, but, after awhile, the thoughts behind the words begin to seep into our consciouness. We imagine that we will always remain consistently devoted to our own personal goals and dreams, but aren’t we kidding ourselves? How can we not be affected by all that we see, hear, and experience?

If, for instance, our society was more inclined to encourage everyone to think first of others and then of themselves, how would things be different than they are now? Many people think that  “looking out for number one” is the strategy that drives achievement.  But what sort of achievement does it bring? We all reside on this earth together, don’t we? The only way that focusing exclusively on ourselves and our needs would be an ideal situation is if each of us were residing on our own planet. We are dependent upon other people, whether we want to be or not.

Zig Ziglar, one of my favorite motivational speakers is noted for saying, “You can have everything in life you want, if you just help enough people get what they want.” What I think Zig’s trying to point out is that you we must embrace the spirit of harmony that pervades our universe, rather than trying to fight it. Instead of looking at each relationship as being something that could benefit us, we should be thinking of ways in which each connection we make can be mutually beneficial. When it comes to the people you love, don’t you usually think of their wishes, in addition to your own? Of course, you do. So, you know what it’s like to experience that feeling of connection with another person. Why not enjoy it in all of your relationships?

It’s only our ego that makes us think that giving too much attention or affection to others will in some way cause us to be depleted. When we allow ourselves to lapse into what I call a “scarcity mentality”, we truly fear that if we let someone else take center stage in our world instead of us, we’ll somehow end up as the understudy in our own life.  And yet, the examples that have been shown in books and films of those whose lives have been lived solely to benefit themselves demonstrate that happiness is not generally found in mere self-gratification.

The film “Sunset Boulevard” comes to mind when I think of a story in which the leading figure was completely at the command of her own ego. Norma Desmond had become so fixated on her status as a “star”, that she lives in an imaginary gothic fairy tale of her own making.  Her world was a spider’s web spun from threads of lies, delusions, and memories.  She existed in the past because facing the future would have meant that she would have had to fly out of her gilded cage and face the woman she really was when she looked in the mirror. A looking glass doesn’t lie to us, but we can lie to it if we choose to see a reflection other than our own when we peer into it.

If, for instance, we see ourselves as a generous, caring, and benevolent person, but we are actually selfish, jealous, and resentful, we will never be looking at our reflection in a mirror no matter how many times we gaze into it. When you take a few moments to think about it, it’s amazing how much time many of us have taken to try to erase a small blemish on our complexions. And, yet, how much time have we spent trying to rectify the blemishes in our soul? How often have we contemplated whether or not we were exhibiting compassion and caring to the people in our lives? How frequently have we stopped and engaged in a full self-assessment of ourselves and our inner natures? It’s so much easier to ignore what we don’t like about ourselves. “Nobody knows I’m really this way,” we whisper to our souls, and maybe some part of us really buys into that theory.

However, would  you think a diamond that looked magnificent on the surface was nearly as lovely if you held it under a microscope and saw it was full of black carbon spots? It would lose a lot of its allure, would it not? Well, if our outsides don’t match up with our insides, we’re no different than that deeply flawed diamond. So, no matter how radiant we think we are when we’re under the spotlight, sooner or later people are going to notice those telltale blemishes. It’s never comfortable to acknowledge that we’re not the person we want to be and/or that we’re pretending to be, but, in order to find true contentment within our souls and spirits, it’s much better to admit even that which is unpleasant as opposed to allowing an illusion to become our reality.

After all, no matter how many people come into our lives or how many significant others or children or relatives or friends we have over the course of our lifetime, the person we will end up spending the most time with is still ourselves. Would you choose to spend the largest amount of your time with someone who was pretending to be someone besides themselves? If you had a friend who told you that they were hiding their true nature from you and everyone else, would you continue wanting to spend lots of time around them? Well, if you haven’t been honest with yourself and others about the person you are, is it really any different?

Actually, it is different because whether or not you lie to yourself is something you have control over. On the other hand, you have no power over whether or not others are manipulating or lying to you about who they are. If someone whom you love and trust is presenting you with a fake mirror image of their true nature, there isn’t anything you can do to change that. It’s because people do deceive others and convey a false impression of themselves that many of us are quick to imagine there is a hidden agenda behind someone’s friendliness or kindness. “What do they want from me?”, we sometimes asks ourselves. And, who can blame us for wondering that? Since our culture teaches people that self-gratifaction is of the utmost importance, why would we not look for hidden motives?

What we need to make sure of is that we are not guilty of having hidden motives ourselves. It’s easy to engage in behavior that appears to be benefiting others, but if all we’re thinking about is how what we’re doing will benefit us, there will come a time when someone will start to question our authenticity. At the very least, we’ll know that our seemingly altruistic gestures are being guided by personal motives. If, for example, the only reason we take someone out to lunch is because we think that they’ll invest in a project we’re trying to get up and running, we may accomplish what we’re setting out to do, but we’ll be left with a feeling of dissatisfication because we’ll know that we had a private agenda that was intended to only benefit us.

Anthony Robbins, another of my favorite motivational speakers and authors, has ensured that his children learn the value of giving to other people. I have always remembered the story of how one of his children was given a huge bunch of balloons on a special occasion. Rather than encouraging his son to bask in the feeling of overwhelming gratification that being the recipient of so many balloons could have given him, Tony suggested that he go to a nursing home and give some the balloons away to the people staying there. At first, Tony’s young son wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the prospect of letting go of his highly prized balloons. However, after he did give them away and saw the looks of appreciation and affection on the faces of the elderly residents, his sensation of happiness far exceeded what it had been when the balloons belonged to him.  

I think what is true of the balloons is true of love, generosity, kindness, and compassion. We can allow all these emotions to reside within us. . .we can hold onto them frantically, fearing that sharing them will be too great a risk. . .or we can let go of our fears and allow ourselves to embrace the spirit of harmony that is inherent in the universe. I am tremendously fond of saying that Love is Queen of all. I imagine Love as a magnificent queen, dressed in opulent robes and sitting on a jewel-encrusted throne. I think of her ruling over an kingdom in which goblins and ghouls of hate, anger, malice, and envy roam with wild abandon on nights when she sleeps soundly. I envision her engaging in battle with these nefarious beings and conquering them not with the blade of a sword, but rather with magical words of persuasion and gestures of grace. For Love is a Queen whose power comes from stillness and calm rather than bluster, brashness, and brutality. Like those rulers who have been sagacious enough to realize that psychological combat can be more effective than sword play or fist fights, Love plays her game with chess pieces that are pure, genuine, and will not harm anyone. For she knows that truth and kindness will ultimately win, since the universe would not maintain its spirit of harmony otherwise. 

Our world may be full of those who hate and hurt those around them, but the path to happiness and fulfillment is only walked upon by those who are devoted to nourishing themselves and those around them with love, honesty, affection, generosity, and empathy. If you’re thriving on anger, envy, greed, and hatred, you may make enough money to purchase a fancy sports car to drive around in, but sooner or later you’re going to either run off the road or end up on a dead-end street. 

So, unless what you’re pursuing is short-term satisfaction or success that gives you plenty of material possessions but no feeling of inner contentment, look at yourself in the mirror and make sure that the person you think you are matches up with the reflection. And if you prefer the reflection, start making the changes today that will transform that image into your reality.

As always, make every moment matter. . .and life with passion, courage, faith, and enthusiasm!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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It isn’t just about you. . .

meerkat-team spirit2

 

Sometimes I think we have to make happiness. . .you know, like making a batch of cookies. Yes, it sounds easier than it is (now you know I’ve admitted that most things seem that way, right?). Admittedly, you cannot manufacture happiness like a chocolate factory manufactures candy bars. Happiness is not a commodity that is mass produced. And I haven’t seen any available for purchase at the local discount store, either. What I have seen, though, is that it’s almost impossible to find happiness if all you focus on in life is yourself. Have you noticed this, too?? Now don’t get me wrong—I am not saying that you aren’t the star of your show or that the title of my first post here, “It’s All About You” didn’t mean that it is, in fact, all about you. The thing about it is it’s not just about you. Does that make sense?? It’s like saying that you can have anything you want (and you can!), but not everything you want. For one thing, acquiring one thing in your life may automatically make it impossible for you to acquire something else. If, for example, you want a new car and you want both a BMW and a jaguar,  you probably aren’t going to be able to get both, unless you are a millionaire.  Now this diva couldn’t afford either car, but that’s beside the point *wink*.  Let me give you another illustration. If you go into a restaurant and you order a slice of cheesecake, the chances are that by making this choice, you will have to forfeit the chocolate cake and the apple pie. So, as you see, we make choices. We also make a choice as to whether we want a life that centers exclusively around us, or whether we would like to have a cast of supporting players. Having been a theater actress for a few years, I can safely say that one of the very worst things you can do, when you are starring in a play, is not realize that the entire cast of the play is a team. Competitiveness can be a positive thing, but if it means that you don’t want the best for someone else, especially someone whom you’re working with, it can become very destructive. In a way, life is the same way as a play. I’ve mentioned before that there are a lot of similarities between the world and a stage and between people and actors and actresses. The American author Nathanael West, in his bleak but brilliant novel, The Day of the Locust, presented the pessimistic theory that life is essentially like a Hollywood sound stage. There is a scene in the book that I found particularly painful. Oddly enough, it involves a cock fight. On my initial reading of the book, I failed to see the significance of this brutal scene. Reading about two roosters brutalizing each other seemed as if it hadn’t much of a point. But now, on reflection, I’m wondering something: was Nathanael West trying to make a point about life and what some people do to other people? Was he not basically saying that the world supports and promotes the idea of the “survival of the fittest”, so to speak? Was he not saying that if you’re weaker than someone else, they will take advantage of that fragility? West himself had to witness other writers succeeding who certainly didn’t possess his genius, while he was forced to sell Hollywood scripts just to have enough money to eat and feed his family. Maybe his own experiences are what shaped his oppressive worldview. But what West failed to see is that just because the world is attempting to promise this “you win/I lose” mindset, it doesn’t mean that we have to buy into it. Society and “popular” culture will always try to get us to buy into what they say everyone is doing, thinking, saying, or experiencing. However, let me ask you: when you go into a clothing shop, do you buy everything you see? If one of the sales assistants comes up to you and tries to persuade you to buy a dress or a suit by telling you about how many other people have bought it, do you automatically go into the dressing room and try it on? And if you try it on, do you purchase it, even if you don’t like how it looks on you?? Well, if you answered “no” to that, then why are you purchasing the opinions and ideas that society promotes?? If you believe in God but society tells you that you shouldn’t, why would you listen to them?? Similarly, if your best friend is a Christian, but you have no interest in becoming one, are you going to let him/her convince you? I’m not saying that having faith in a power beyond ourselves cannot provide us with solace in our darkest hours. Your Success Diva believes in God. But she doesn’t try to push others to believe in Him just because she does. Why?? Well, you see, here’s the way I look at it: only those who feel a weakness within themselves would feel it was necessary to alter the opinions and beliefs of those around them. If you have full confidence in your convictions, you don’t feel you have to persuade others to share them nor do you feel that you have to defend them or disguise them.

I have a great many friends who are atheists, and we all get along beautifully. On the other hand, my grandmother, a religious fundamentalist, tends to alienate those who do not believe exactly the same way she does. In fact, her best friend, whom she knew for several decades, didn’t feel that she could share personal things with her. She knew my grandmother would judge her for any conduct that she didn’t approve of. It’s funny how so many people who believe in God want to adopt the role of God for themselves. Rather than allowing everyone to have the freedom to believe the way they like, they somehow feel they have the right to interfere and control the lives of those around them. What I feel would be so much more beneficial is to merely share the positive qualities that others might associate with religious faith with your friends and acquaintances. Could there be a better testimony than that? I daresay not. Of course, whether you are Jewish, an atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Mormon, or someone who hasn’t ever made up his/her mind what you believe, you will probably see at some point that making yourself the only focus of your life isn’t going to leave you feeling very content.  We are not made to be solitary creatures. If you will note, birds tend to migrate in flocks more often than not. And if you have the cable channel, Animal Planet, you might have had the chance to watch the fascinating and entertaining show, “Meerkat Manor”. If so, did you notice how the meerkats supported and cared for each other?? Yes, they had misunderstandings and quarrels and so forth. Yet, ultimately, they bonded with one another and saw that living in harmony with each other provided them more benefits than braving it out by themselves. “But I’m not a meerkat, dear diva,” you say. No, of course you’re not. You are a living, breathing human being, and my guess is that you need to give and receive love and affection a great deal more than any meerkat in existence does.

One of the most difficult things to do, though, is to reach out to others when you are in the depths of despair. How do I know?? Well, I have often isolated myself when I have been experiencing deep depression. I have shut people who cared about me out of my life by refusing to return phone calls and/or answer e-mails and letters sent to me by post. It was not a conscious decision on my part—or, at least, I didn’t think it was at the time. The problem is, the more I isolated myself, the more depressed I became. The fact that I wasn’t willing to give affection to others made me even less able to give myself any affection. The more I withdrew, the more I disliked myself. The less love I gave, the less I received, and the less I was able to give to myself. Even now, when I am feeling extremely sad, I have a habit of closing myself off. It often seems like such a formidable task to talk to others about how you are feeling, when all you really want to do is sit in a chair and/or cry for a few hours. You also fear that no one will really understand. To be honest, there are plenty of people who won’t understand. They’ll tell you things like “Pull yourself (or your act) together,” or they are sometimes even insensitive enough to say, “Snap out of it.” Does this mean that they don’t care about you?? No, it doesn’t. What it means is that they haven’t yet learned how to respond to the needs of other people. To them, depression is merely a state of mind, and they probably think that a state of mind can be changed as easily as a pair of shoes. It’s very easy to resent such people and to blame them for their uncaring attitude. But what I think will benefit you the most (and remember, you are the most important person in your life, even if you aren’t the only important person) is to not allow yourself to give way to resentment and bitterness. The moment you start feeling yourself getting angry at the people who don’t understand, ask yourself this: if I let myself be driven by a negative emotion because of this person, who is in control of me and of my life—me or them?? Do you see that the answer is “them”? I hope you do because it is. Anger can be used positively, but more often than not it is used destructively. Reacting in anger to something another person says or does is the same as saying: “Hey, I want you to know that you have had such a powerful influence on my life by what you said or did, that I am allowing you to make me angry, even though I know that anger is a destructive emotion and that I am hurting myself more than anyone else.” Is that what you want to do?? Is anything that anyone does or says worth it? Have you noticed, too, that anger, even if it seems to lend you energy at first, usually exhausts you in the long run? I have. Emotions such as love and compassion and generosity will actually give you energy, but resentment, frustration, anger, and hate will take energy from you. Now it’s one thing to remove toxic people from your life. There are indeed times when you simply must walk away from someone. However, never do so out of anger, even if ridding yourself of the anger you feel towards a particular person seems impossible. Always keep in mind that the last impression you make on someone can be every bit as important as the first impression. Wrap your mind about that thought for a moment, and tell me whether or not you want a person’s final impression of you to be of someone who has no control over his/her own emotions.

Now that you’ve heard your diva’s thoughts about anger, I will return to the subject of reaching out to those around you. Have you ever noticed that when you get intensely preoccupied, you forget about other things that are going on in your life?? For example, let’s say that you love foreign films. Well, if you go to the video store and rent a couple of movies directed by Federico Fellini or Francois Truffaut or Ingmar Bergman or another foreign filmmaker who is among your favorites, even if you just found out that your boyfriend or girlfriend has been cheating on you, are you focusing on that when you sit down to watch the films? Sure, you can’t exactly forget about it entirely. I mean, it’s a real situation—it does exist. But if you’re watching Fellini’s muse, Giulietta Masina, light up the screen in “La Strada” or “The Nights of Cabiria,” are you thinking every second about your unfaithful “significant other”? I doubt you are. To give another example, if you have a headache, but you love ice cream and decide to stop by the ice cream shop to get a scoop of your favorite flavor (whatever that might be), are you thinking about your headache as you enjoy the ice cream? If so, are you thinking about it as much as you were?? Are you sure?? Come on now, you know you weren’t.

Well, the emotional turmoil that comes from depression is not unlike the pain that you would experience if you found out that the man or woman you love has been involved with someone else at the same time he/she has been romancing you. It’s also not unlike a stomach ache. Sure, stomach pain is usually the result of a physical ailment, but it’s still pain, isn’t it? Next time you’re feeling blue or having a bad day, try reaching out to someone else. You don’t have to do anything that requires a lot of time and/or effort. Your act of kindness can be as simple as a short phone call, a brief e-mail, or a greeting card sent by post. Also, you don’t have to say much. I emphasize this because often, when a person is hurting themselves, they are unsure what to say and have difficulty communicating. What I would suggest is a simple message such as “You are in my thoughts” or “I’m sending you a hug” or “I just want you to know that you are one of the special people in my life.” You don’t have to worry about being eloquent or profound or charming. Just be sincere. A simple and small gesture can often mean as much to another person as an expensive gift, a bouquet of roses, or a lengthy letter or e-mail. And a phone call just to say “hello” can make the difference in both how you feel and how the person on the other end of the phone feels. You can make it a situation that is mutually beneficial. Is there anything better than that? Our competitive and fast-paced society is repsonsible for the “What’s in it for me?” attitude. But you know what? If you adopt your diva’s suggestion, you will find that there’s always something in it for you when you show caring for someone else.

I must provide one word of caution, though: not everyone is receptive. Why? Well, it’s easy for people to be skeptical when people do nice things for them or say kind things to them. They tend to think that you must have a motive behind your actions and/or words. This is why being completely sincere is essential. If someone is a friend but not a close friend, don’t pretend they are. It will probably make them suspicious. And when you tell another person that you love them, make sure the words are coming from your heart. And don’t expect them to say that they love you, too. Love is something that must be unconditional if it is to be at all genuine. Perhaps they are at a place in their life where they feel they must withhold affection. Maybe they have been rejected so much that they are afraid to freely give love. Or maybe they usually associate love with romantic love, and feel that saying they love you wouldn’t be appropriate. Whatever the case, don’t worry about it. You have done yourself a favor by verbally expressing your love. Love happens to be one of those emotions that has no negative consequences. Even if it isn’t reciprocated, it will not harm you or anyone else. Indeed, it is the only emotion that can fully heal someone.

That being said, I urge you to open yourself up to the love that others demonstrate towards you. In accepting the love you receive, you will be able to pass it along to others. What is essential is that you not count on the fact that the love you give to others will necessarily be returned to you from those specific people. You will get the love back, but it may come from other sources. Life is an odd thing, really—it’s incredibly complicated, utterly unpredictable, but ultimately fulfilling. But it can only be fulfilling if you let yourself be fulfilled by it. Now, it’s going to be complicated and unpredictable whether you want it to be or not. Those are two things that you haven’t any choice about. Personal fulfillment is something you do have a choice about, though. And although you should never look to others to fulfill you, I think you’ll find that in reaching out to others, you will be enabling yourself to experience a significant feeling of fulfillment.

To all of you, I send love, peace, joy, happiness. . .& loads of success!

Your Success Diva

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(photo: a group of meerkats show what team spirit is all about)

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