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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It really is all about you . . .

It’s now a little past midnight on June 28th where I live, and the world is still mourning the passing of the man who was quite possibly the greatest superstar in music history, Michael Jackson. I haven’t any idea how many new blogs might have been created honoring this pop star. But the only reason Michael will be mentioned at SuccessDiva’s blog is to point out where focusing on your goals and being willing to work as hard as you have to in order to make your dreams and objectives a reality will get you.

Without following a master “game plan”,  Michael Jackson would never have become the beloved icon that he is. Some celebrities are worshipped and loved more for their image and for the aura that surrounds them than for their talent and/or what they have contributed to their respective field. But Michael Jackson can be remembered for his amazing work ethic, whether you like his music or  not.

This brings to mind a phrase I heard from one of the many motivational speakers whose CDs and books I devour on a nearly daily basis. Namely, that what human beings can do is extraordinary and nearly limitless—whereas what they will do (i.e., what they are willing to do) is another matter entirely. 

Let’s face it. There are very few people who are unhealthy enough not to be able to follow some sort of exercise program. I’m not talking about going to the  gym every day and lifting weights (groan!) or signing up for an aerobics class at the nearby fitness center. No, that isn’t what I would even recommend.

Rather, I think that for nearly anyone, taking a walk or jogging at least 5 days a week, preferably in the fresh air, is the healthiest and most beneficial way to achieve optimal health, not only from a physical standpoint, but from a psychological and emotional standpoint as well. In today’s world, so many of us are sitting all the time, mostly indoors and often at our computers. I say it’s time to get out of the house and find a place where you can walk,  jog, or run (note: alternating these activities can also be beneficial as it is a bit like “cross-training”).  At the very least, take a relaxing walk 5-7 days a week and try to connect in some way with nature and your surroundings.

I feel incredibly empowered after taking a 30-minute walk, whether I take it outside or at a gym. Even when I’m exhausted, I find that it helps me. For one thing, it enables me to sleep more deeply. For another, I’m less likely to reach for cookies and more likely to polish off an apple. So often, a person mistakenly thinks that to follow a healthy eating plan or to watch what he/she eats means that he/she is in some way giving in to the standards that society tries to impose upon all of us—namely, that you must be “fit” or thin or in so-called “perfect” shape. It simply isn’t so.

If you are in touch with your body the way you should be, you soon discover that there are certain foods that give you energy and increase your mental clarity and others that diminish both. Foods that are “alive” such as fresh fruit, vegetables, sprouted grains (look for sprouted bread at your  grocery store or simply let a grain you frequently eat, such as rice, soak for a couple of days in water before cooking it),  and raw nuts are going to automatically make you feel better. It requires less stress on your body to digest these foods as well.

I am certainly not promoting a certain type of lifestyle where food and/or exercise are/is concerned. This blog is about success, not being physically healthy. At the same time, I don’t truly think that a person can achieve success in any area of his/her life, when tired, in pain, or having a low energy level. You simply don’t feel like going after the things you want when you wake up nearly as tired as you were when you went to bed.

How can you be enthusiastic about life when you have to drink ten cups of coffee to start thinking clearly? Well, the answer is, you can’t. I enjoy ice cream as much as the next person. But I notice that if I eat ice cream, cookies, or candy first thing in the day, I tend to have a burst of energy that lasts less than an hour, followed by a feeling of lethargy. Even if you aren’t accustomed to eating breakfast, having a piece of fresh fruit, such as an apple,  banana, or orange will make you feel better throughout the day.

Last autumn, I began a blog at another location, and it was oriented towards success, too. But, rather than expressing my thoughts and opinions, I came from a place where I was more interested in sharing the thoughts of those who have written books and created tape and CD programs on success. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. And I tend to think I was doing the best I could at that time of my life. But this is not only a brand-new season but also a new year.

That was 2008, and this is summer of 2009. A lot has happened in my life between autumn of 2008 and June of 2009. I feel as if at least five years have passed in many ways, even though it was really less than a year. I have become aware of the fact that I possess a lot of the answers as to how to achieve ultimate success myself, whether I have been using them or not.

So many people think that they need to change other people or change society to make their dreams a reality. But you know what? The only way to really end up living the “life of your dreams” is to change who you are. This is one time when it really is all about you. Every single day you are making the choices that will determine where you are 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 5 years from now, and even 25 years from now. If  you look at your life and feel that much, if  not most of it, is not the way you want it to be, the truth is, you are the one who made the choices that have brought your life to the level it’s at.

Yes, there have been people who have discouraged you. Yes, you have probably been through an ordeal or two,  or maybe even several. Yet, as easy as it is to blame circumstances and other people, in the end, it’s your life. And until you can actually accept full responsibility for it being the way it is right now, you’re not going to be able to change it.

Even though it may be hard and even painful to acknowledge that you’ve made lots of poor choices, the only way to avoid more pain and more disappointment is to be really clear about the role that you played in creating the life you are now living. If you aren’t the one who has most of the power over your own life,  that means that other people have the ability to continue preventing you from making your dreams and goals come to pass.

Do you really want to continue giving away that kind of power? Do you want to be merely a chess piece in someone else’s chess game? Do you want to be at the mercy of some mysterious “fate”? Do you want to live your life according to someone else’s agenda? No, of course you don’t. Or, at least, I sincerely hope you don’t. I know that isn’t how I want to live my life nor is it how I’m going to live my life.

But, as you and I both know, taking charge of  your life and every single decision that you make isn’t as easy at it sounds. It takes practice, just like everything else. First,  you have to take a really objective look at where you’re at right now. Then you have to figure out where you want to be. And what’s in-between? Actually, I’m sure you already know the answer to that.

If you weren’t smart and interested in being successful, you wouldn’t be at this blog in the first place. So, let’s imagine that the life you are living now is on one side of the ocean, and the life of your dreams is on the other side. This would mean the ocean is what’s in-between. But what is that ocean like exactly? How deep is it? How wide is it? How turbulent is it? Well, only you can really answer these questions with any degree of validity.

Since I don’t know you personally, and, even if I did, you probably wouldn’t have shared every detail of your present life with me, I would say, making a rough (i.e., tentative) guess, that the ocean represents all the obstacles that you and other people have put between you and your “ideal” life. It also represents all the things you’ll have to do to transform your life from where it’s at right now to where you want it to be.

The bad news is that I can’t help you get across the ocean. I can only give you instructions on how to build the boat that will take you to the other side. You are going to have to be the one who builds that boat and the one who steers it to the other side. I would try to steer it for you. But, if I did that, I would be the one in power—not you. And as I said, it really is all about you . . . because it’s your life we’re talking about.

Unless you are still not ready to build that boat that will take you to the side of the ocean where your “dream life” is, you may be wondering what you can do right now to start building it. Well, I think the first and most important thing you can do is make a mental list of all the ways in which your life is not the way you want it to be. Don’t feel you have to start writing things down. This isn’t some structured exercise that I’m suggesting.

But I would assume two things: a) you are not living your dream life right now (I assume this mainly because you’re reading my blog) and/or b) you have at least a vague idea of the ways in which your life is not the life you desire. That being said, I think it’s only reasonable to start being honest—and, in fact, brutally honest, if necessary—about how your life is not that way you want it to be. Another way to do this is by imagining what your “ideal” life would be like. Then compare that with the life you’re living right now.

How do the two scenarios match up? Do you have the job or career of your dreams? If not, how can you get the job or career of your dreams? Are you fulfilled? If not, in what way are you not fulfilled? And what would you have to do to feel fulfilled? What have you always wanted to do or be? What has prevented you from doing the things you’ve always wanted to do and/or or pursuing your “dream” career? Are you in a deep, meaningful relationship with someone whom you love and who loves you? Is that what you would like to be in? If so, what is preventing you from it?

Take off the cloudy glasses that you’ve been peering through at your life through and put on a new pair of clear and highly polished glasses that will force you to truly analyze and examine your life in a way that is objective and honest. If you need to put certain aspects of your life under a microscope, do so. Yes, you’ll have to be brave to do this. It would be much easier to keep on pretending that your life is better than it is and to keep living under the delusion that, by some miraculous turn of events, it’s going to get better. But even though it’s important to have dreams, you can’t live within a dream. You only have one life to live, and you don’t want to get to the end of it realizing that you never really gave yourself permission to take full control of  it.  After all, you are you.  And there are things only you can contribute to the world and to the lives of other people. There are books only you can write. . .poems only you can create. . .flowers only you can plant. . .pictures that only you can paint. . .photos that only you can take. . .children that only you can bring into the world. . .lives only you can touch and/or influence. . . people only you can reach out to, maybe because you know them better than anyone else or understand them better than anyone else ever has. . .or maybe just because you’re you and therefore different than any other person on this planet.

Here’s to life, love, happiness. . .and, most of all, success!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva