Reinventing yourself!

believe43 (butterfly)There is only one way to truly live. . .and that is on the edge. Although I believe that we must use wisdom in the choices we make, if we don’t learn to take risks, we’ll never be able to use our full potential. You know, I lived my life with the dream that I would one day be a performing classical violinist. However, when that dream came to an end I was faced with two choices: either I could give up on life entirely or I could decide to reinvent myself.  A lot of people come from the place where they think that they have to somehow make a career or a relationship work out that seems to be dead-end. They don’t understand that only in letting go of that which is no longer beneficial can they bring the things into their lives that will give them fulfillment. It would be like keeping your closet full of clothes that don’t fit anymore or shoes that are too worn-out to continue wearing. Would you actually do that? I know I wouldn’t.

And yet, many of us are doing something similar to this with our lives. We make the mistake of trying to change ourselves while keeping things and people in our lives that are not part of our long-term vision. Reinventing yourself is about more than simply altering you. You also have to be willing to unclutter that closet! You must pull the weeds out of the garden to enjoy the flowers.

In addition to toxic thoughts, there are also toxic people, and they can be every bit as deadly to keep in your life as toxic thoughts are to keep in your mind. At the heart of most motivational thinking and writing is the basic concept that your thoughts can transform your world. Now I’ve been told by some people that so-called “positive thinking” does nothing for them. Well, if your thoughts are not followed up by relevant actions, you aren’t going to notice a transformation taking place. And that’s what you need sometimes, isn’t it? A transformation in your life.

I have had to transform both myself and how I see the world countless times, and I still struggle with breaking free from toxic thinking. Like anything that is nourished by practice, toxic thinking can easily become a habit. Pretty soon, you may notice that it’s not even something you actually. . .well. . .think about. You simply lapse into thoughts of unworthiness, hopelessness, helplessness, or despair. But, even if you have been guilty of this up to this very moment, you don’t have to continue down that beaten road that isn’t ever going to take you anywhere. Remember how I keep talking about the yellow brick road that will lead you to the Emerald City of your dreams?

When I think of someone who has constantly reinvented herself from one decade to the next, I cannot help but think of the singer and actress, Madonna. Whether you’re a fan of her music or not, I think it’s almost impossible not to admire her determination to continue to do whatever is takes to continue being successful. Even when things haven’t worked out the way she undoubtedly intended them to, she hasn’t let it get her down. My songwriter friend, the amazingly talented Anna Ginetti-Ricci, pointed out what an icon of courage and strength Madonna has always represented to her. And I found myself agreeing with Anna that Madonna truly is a woman who has been uncommonly resilient and resourceful.

Many of Madonna’s films, for example, have been box-office bombs. Yet, she hasn’t stopped trying to pursue a career in movies. She has been crucified by her critics, mercilessly attacked in the press, and scrutinized in a way that would have surely torn apart the self-esteem of a lesser woman. But she’s understood that only in bouncing back from every temporary defeat will she have the kind of life and career she desires.

The American author, Terry McMillan, probably best known for her New York Times bestseller, the novel, Waiting to Exhale, once said,  “There is a price for popularity. Critics look for your weaknesses, your flaws, anything that makes the work seem like a fluke and not seem worthy of all the attention is getting.” And Henry Fielding, the celebrated English author of such classics as the novel, Tom Jones, once wrote, “Now, in reality, the world has paid too great a compliment to critics, and have imagined them to be men of greater profundity than they really are. ” And there’s no doubt that both Terry McMillan and Henry Fielding are right. If you don’t have some people around telling you that your dreams are impossibilities, your dreams probably aren’t big enough. You know, a lot of people might not have thought of looking at it this way. However, it really does take every bit as much energy and effort to create big dreams as little dreams. It’s sort of like nourishing yourself on positive emotions rather than negative, destructive emotions. Feelings of anger, frustration, hate, and bitterness wear you down, both from a physical and a psychological standpoint.

Haven’t you ever noticed how tired you feel after you have a fight with someone? For instance, if you have a quarrel with a friend or with your spouse in the morning, haven’t you perceived that the rest of the day seems to automatically go in the wrong direction? It’s as if the entire day has been jinxed, simply because of the spat. And most of the time, nothing positive has been accomplished from the argument. Instead, you and your friends or partner most likely feel unloved, unappreciated, and misunderstood. One of my role models, the marvelous motivational speaker and author, Stephen Covey, speaks of the importance of seeking to understand the people around us. In fact, his philosophy is summed up in this sentence, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Yet how many of us really live that way?

In treating life as the opportunity it is, I feel that what we must do is transform the way we relate to the people in our lives. In fact, improving and changing the way we communicate with others is essential to redefining who we are. We can’t reinvent ourselves if we hold onto old patterns of behavior. I grew up with a father who frequently lost his temper, and, when he did, he would alienate everyone around him. He had difficulty with authority and was compelled to own and run his own businesses because the idea of working for anyone else filled him with resentment.

Because I saw the way in which my father’s attitude towards life and other people affected his relationships, I have understood how important it is to treat others with respect and dignity. It can be devastating when we allow our destructive emotions to take over our behavior. When we react to situations and other people’s actions and words with anger or hate, all we are doing is allowing ourselves to be overpowered by our emotions. And it’s our thoughts that will transform our world—not our emotions.

It’s important to cultivate a generous and compassionate heart. When we let our heart rule our head, though, we can easily get into a lot of stressful predicaments. We must think before we speak and before we act. . .otherwise we will inevitably succumb to feelings that will negatively influence both ourselves and others. An encouraging thing to keep in mind is that the more often we take control over our thoughts, words, and behavior, the easier it will become to continue doing so.

In recent times I have found myself desperately holding on to my inner serenity, mostly because I have been too caught up in letting other people’s actions influence my own opinion of myself. However, when I look towards those who have persisted in spite of relentless critcism that has been unfair and unjust, I know that I, too, can choose not to listen to the critics. I remember a few months ago when Oprah Winfrey was lambasted in the press because a situation involving child molestation arose in the girls’ school she founded in Africa. Even though Oprah was in no way personally responsible for this set of circumstances taking place, she was vastly criticized by her detractors, who did their best to cast aspersions on her character. Rather than putting the blame where it belonged, some wanted to take away from all the wonderful, benevolent things Oprah has done. They chose to try to make her feel guilty.

While I cannot know for sure how deeply Oprah was affected by all this criticism, I do know that she’s a resilient lady. She would not allow anyone to permanently diminish her feelings of self-worth. And I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not how many times we let ourselves be affected by the things that people say about us or the way in which they behave towards us. The most significant question is: do we let other peoples’ opinions of us and/or actions affect us permanently?

For example, if, like me, you grew up with a father who made you feel inadequate because you were a girl, do you continue to remind yourself of the things he told you and the way those words made you feel? Or do you choose to let the feelings of rejection you experienced from him strengthen you? There really are just two ways to respond to any negative situation, you know—you can either let it weaken you or you can let it make you stronger. Courage is not something that you are born with. It’s something that you learn to acquire. It may not be able to be purchased, but as you continue to reinvent yourself, you’ll start to see that courage really can be learned.

Courage is like “learned helplessness”, a term that the American psychologist and writer, Martin Seligman, coined. When you were born, you were not made to remain helpless as you grew. You did not come into the world with an inability to bounce back from the hurdles life put in your path. Any feelings of helplessness that you have now or have had in the past are a by-product of  the negative experiences that you have lived through. This is why the only way to start living a life that will be in alignment with your deepest desires is for you to replace the learned helplessness with courage and resilience. If you tend to focus on the negative side of life, it will be very difficult for you to turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. However, even if you can’t see it, if you’re holding onto negative thoughts and nourishing yourself with destructive feelings, there’s a big sign that says DEAD END at the end of the street you’re walking down. And, sooner or later, you’re going to reach that dead end. Then, what will you do?

The time to reinvent yourself is not next year, next week, or tomorrow. Why would you want to wait any longer to start walking down that yellow brick road that will lead you to happiness, success, and ultimate fulfillment? I know that the actor,  Jim Carrey, didn’t let roadblocks get in his way. He came from a family where money was so scarce that his family barely had enough to eat. Both of Jim’s parents battled deep depression, and, starting at a young age, Jim was faced with the responsibility of trying to cheer them up. Of course, he had it in his favor that he was naturally funny. In fact, he was a born mimic.

Although Jim was not a popular kid in school, he managed to become well-liked because of his amusing antics. At age fourteen, he was given the chance to perform in a well-respected club in his hometown of Toronto. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a success. But Jim had drive and determination, and he committed himself to not letting one failure steal his dreams. He perfected his comedy routine and, awhile later, returned to the same club, where he made a magnificent splash. His talent as a comedian was noticed by the American actor and comedian, Rodney Dangerfield. This connection is what landed Jim on the first step that would take him up the spiraling staircase of success. 

Your diva can tell you that she has experienced more setbacks than she would care to claim. However, my perseverance in not letting any of those setbacks be permanent is why I’m where I am today. I could never share my words of encouragement with all of you if I hadn’t first shared them with myself. I am very grateful to such inspirational people as Denis Waitley, Brian Tracy, Stephen Covey, Les Brown, Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and Zig Ziglar for writing books and recording tape and CD programs that have encouraged me, but on a day-to-day basis I have to be my own coach. This is why I emphasize the importance of reinventing yourself.

If you’ve had crossroads and setbacks in your life that you haven’t yet recovered from, you need to start seeing a brand-new you every time you look in the mirror. It doesn’t matter whether you made a big mistake yesterday or last week. . .you can start anew at this very moment. Have you ever noticed how some flowers blossom overnight? Our next-door neighbors gave us a pot of spectacular trumpet flowers. The thing about it is, trumpet flowers only bloom for a few hours, and, when they do bloom, their blossoms unfold all at once. The transformation takes place overnight. Now it’s not going to be nearly as easy for you to transform yourself and/or certain aspects of your life. But it doesn’t have to take a minute for you to start the process of transformation. So, what are you waiting for?

 

Until soon,

Alexis

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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

You are. . .well, You

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

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

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

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

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

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

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