The Freedom of Truth

There comes a time in our lives when we want to believe that we have discovered, if not all the answers to the meaning of existence, at least a few of those answers. We may even manage to convince ourselves that we have, at long last, found “what works for us”—our personal truth. It seems inconceivable to many of us that we could have reached a certain point in our lives and still know so little. But is it not when we are willing to acknowledge our ignorance that we begin to learn?

I was asked a few days ago how it is that I “verify” my beliefs. My answer was, “I don’t because I can’t.” What did I mean? Am I admitting that I have many beliefs that I question the validity of? In a way, yes. I have had to develop a willingness to examine each of my beliefs in order to discriminate between those which make sense to me and those which don’t. And while I have not abandoned those beliefs that I consider to be part of my core self, I nevertheless understand that I may not be able to prove the validity of those beliefs to anyone besides myself. Fortunately, it isn’t important to me whether I do or not, for I believe that each of us must find our own truth for ourselves.

It is only those who live in fear and ignorance who believe that trying to push their own views and ideas on someone else is going to achieve any effective result. Even if we think that someone whom we know is making all of the wrong choices in his/her life, it is not up to us to point that person in another direction.

Out of kindness and love, we should always attempt to prevent someone from making a decision that might bring him or her harm or endanger the life or well-being of another person. But aside from that, we should give others the freedom to choose for themselves in every area of their lives (I’m speaking of adults, of course—not children).  Each person’s journey is unique and personal, and, whether we understand the individual choices someone makes or not, we must respect their right to choose for themselves.

Unfortunately, even though our world promotes the idea of individuality and personal freedom, most people are no longer thinking for themselves. The illusion is created, through various persuasive techniques on the part of the media, that we are all free to form our own opinions about everything. However, the criticism, ridicule, and outright contempt that are demonstrated towards those who dare to step away from the masses indicate that freedom is merely a concept—not a reality. We have become a nation of “feelers” rather than thinkers, basing our decisions on intuition and “gut feelings” rather than on solid evidence, facts, and proof.

Intuition does play a role in the life of a thinking person. But the fact that our feelings are so capable of being manipulated makes them much less reliable than our intellect. Socrates once said that he was the wisest man on earth because he realized he knew nothing. He believed that all of us must submit to the authority of reason. For him, the “stamp of truth” is that which remains independent of us and our own subjective realities, including our own needs, wants, and desires. Although indulging in dreams and wishes may not be a bad thing in itself, if doing so prevents us from gaining and sustaining a clear view of reality, then it can be dangerous.

Francis Bacon summed up  our tendency to confuse our own reality with true reality when he said, “The assertion that the human senses are the measure of things is false; to the contrary, all perceptions, both of the sense and the mind, are relative to man, not the universe. The human understanding is like an uneven mirror receiving rays from things and merging its own nature with the nature of things, which thus distorts and corrupts it.”

Perhaps, it sounds as if Bacon was encouraging us not to use our senses at all. But a man as clear-headed as Bacon would never subscribe to such an inclusive philosophy. There is no reason to suppose that we cannot use both our intuition and our intellect. However, we must develop a level of self-awareness that enables us to ascertain when are making a choice based on instinct versus critical thinking.

To know when to use one’s abilities in a certain realm can be even more important than whether or not one possesses those abilities. There is always a time to go forward and a time to hold back, a time to feel and a time to think, a time to let go and a time to hold on. Rarely, is anything ever completely final. And yet, some things are.

Being able to accept that is crucial as a failure to do so can result in living in bondage to the past. I don’t agree with those who say that the past should never be examined for I think that analyzing the choices we have made and understanding the reasons behind those choices can be helpful. But, if we remain trapped in the past because we cannot move on, as opposed to re-visiting the past in order to learn more about ourselves, we will not be able to bring all of ourselves into the future.

Freedom is more a process of detaching than it is of attachment. The more freedom you allow yourself, the less dependent you will be on anyone else. And this lack of dependency will enable you to give others their freedom as well. Because our society is so narcissistic and has a habit of nurturing insecurities in us by promoting unrealistic ideas about romance, beauty, youth, and social status, it is only natural that we develop a tendency to look towards others to build up our self-esteem.

We all want to feel loved, cherished, and appreciated. And because society doesn’t allow us to give ourselves these feelings (how can we when everyone else’s lives seem to be so much more perfect than ours?), we seek these things from other people. The problem with this is that no matter how much praise and admiration another person gives us, if we feel inadequate or worthless deep within ourselves, we’re still going to feel that way regardless of what anyone else tells us.

And, if we are dependent on anyone else to validate us, then we have given up our freedom. Just as happiness must come from within, so also must freedom. This does not mean that you won’t ever end up in situations that in some way inhibit your freedom. What it does mean is that you will always maintain the freedom of your own mind.  Even when you feel tempted to turn your back on reality in order to foster a sensation of certainty, if you choose freedom, you will resist the temptation.  You will doubt rather than trust, and, even when it is easier to believe a lie than to disregard it, you will be willing to seek Truth.

If all of us were able to cast off the shackles of preconceived ideas, assumptions, and erroneous beliefs, the world would look so different to us that we would barely recognize it. Yet, we would have found both Truth and Freedom, both of which oftentimes seem to remain just beyond our grasp. When we speak of the misery of existence, we fail to give ourselves credit for creating much of the misery that exists in our own lives.

Our fear drives us to make choices that are not for our highest good. Oftentimes, rather than accepting responsibility for those choices, we either blame others or allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by guilt. Why? Because it seems to be the easier path to take. And in a society that promotes the easy over the difficult, we are conditioned to make the decision that appears to require the least from us.

It is much harder to admit that we’ve made a grave error than it is to attribute one of our mistakes to someone else or to an outside cause. But what does reason dictate? Does evading the truth alter the truth in any way? No. Truth remains the same, whether we acknowledge it or not. Moreover, it may be more difficult to find the truth if we avoid it persistently and for an extended period of time. Yet, not acknowledging something that exists will never negate its existence.

Similarly, pretending that something is real when it isn’t will not make it so. The True is the Real. We can close our eyes and pretend that we’re living in a fairy tale. But at some point we’ll have to open them again and face the reality of our everyday lives. And when we face this reality is when our authentic lives begin.

The only part of you that will ever encourage you to live outside of truth is your False Self. Your True Self, that self who is capable of creating a life of meaning and purpose, fully understands that fulfillment can only come from within Truth. Only Truth is eternal. And, in the end, nothing else will remain.  When each of us comes to the end of our lives, the lies we have told ourselves and others will no longer matter. We will be faced with the results of a life that was either lived in freedom and in truth or in falsehood and imprisonment.

Does it sound like this is yet another matter in which making a choice is the preeminent factor?  Well, in a way, life does consist of the choices we make. We may think we’re being clever when we make choices that bring us pleasure at the expense of bringing pain to others. But the person who will pay the price of all the choices we make is us. And there is always a price to pay, whether we see it immediately or not. If nothing else, we pay the price of selling our soul and freedom to lies and self-deception. We pay the price of betraying humanity by choosing what we thought was best for us over what was right for others.

It is so easy to forget that we are all as connected as we are separate. And yet, the moment we forget that is when we cease to be fully human. It is also the moment when we think we have more answers than we do. There are many who imagine themselves to be smart enough to live successfully by their own rules. But those who make an impact on the world and who lead lives that are of consummate value will never be the many but rather the few. They may not acquire fame or fortune, yet they will have gained something of far greater merit—the freedom of Truth.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “He who knows not who he is, and for what purpose he exists, and what is this world, and with whom he is associated, and what things are the good and the bad, and the beautiful and the ugly, and who neither understands discourse nor demonstration, nor what is true nor what is false, and who is not able to distinguish them, will neither desire according to nature, nor turn away, nor move  upward, nor intend, nor assent, nor dissent, nor suspend his judgment: to say all in a few words, he will go about dumb and blind, thinking that he is somebody but being nobody.”

What will your choice be? Is it better to be a nobody who thinks he is a somebody or a somebody who is humble enough to regard himself as a nobody? There is no reason to underestimate ourselves. Nevertheless, it will always be in humility that we find Truth, for Pride is a veil through which knowledge and wisdom cannot penetrate.

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(for Mark Stephen Levy, with love, happiness, and much respect)

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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva Pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved

The Allure of Mediocrity

Many of us may say that we want to stand apart from the rest of the world—that we wish to be different, unique, or exceptional. Yet, is there not a certain security found in conforming to the mold that society tries to cast us into? Do we not have to oftentimes be willing to take risks in order to not be one of the crowd?

Although this concept might seem difficult to adjust to, there is truly a certain allure to be found in mediocrity. When we refuse to acknowledge that we are extraordinary, it allows us to be less courageous than we would be otherwise. After all, if we haven’t any special gifts or talents, how can we be expected to accomplish anything remarkable? It would seem that merely managing to get by would be accepted as an achievement.

As incomprehensible as this may sound to some of you, there is a logic beneath it that I’m asking you to reflect upon. It is similar to the idea of not accepting responsibility for one’s own life. When persons can convince themselves of their own lack of power over themselves and their choices, they are also able to exempt themselves from guilt over unwise choices and reckless behavior. Sometimes, this refusal to accept personal responsibility is manifested in illogical thinking patterns connected to theories that promote the idea that rather than being the creators of our own destinities we are dependent upon the “forces of the Cosmos” or unseen entities who control our lives for us.

Personally, I do not  believe that simply thinking “positive” thoughts or focusing on how we want our lives to be will draw forces and events to us that will bring us the lives of our dreams. However, what I do believe is that some of us actually pursue mediocrity without being fully conscious of it. We persuade ourselves to discard any dreams that seem too far-reaching by convincing ourselves that we are being “realistic”.

Then, we wonder why our life resembles a plot out of one of Richard Yates’ novels. What were the two main characters of Revolutionary Road if not two people who sacrificed anything extraordinary by refusing to let go of the ordinary? Thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to end up with lives that are not as deeply tragic as the lives of April and Frank Wheeler ended up being. Yet, whether we realize it or not, far too many of us are leading existences that are really nothing more than a slow death. We do not have to intentionally decide to be mediocre in order to live a life of mediocrity. All we really have to do is allow our fear and self-doubt to trap us into a prison of our own making, in which we prize security over change and safety over risk.

When we get to the end of our lives and we end up with a long list of regrets, it will not be because of the unwise choices we made but because of the choices we were too afraid to make. We will look back and find that the things that bring us the most sorrow are the words we didn’t say and the actions we didn’t take. When we try to play it safe and worry more about our pride or our self-image than we do about making the choice that is truly best for us, we are defeating ourselves and compromising our potential.  Actress Uta Hagen once said, “We must overcome the notion that we must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.”  What Hagen probably did not entirely understand was how alluring the mediocre can be. 

To walk into a room without being noticed can actually be far less threatening than making an entrance that commands a great deal of attention. It is a brave person indeed who does not mind having others talk about him/her for when one is spoken of, there is always the possibility of criticism and ridicule. How much easier it is to blend into the background, to be no more noticeable than your average garden flower. Is it not the butterfly that captures our eye? We might have a dozen caterpillars cross our path without ever once losing ourselves in a moment of rapture or awe.

So, how can mediocrity be genuinely appealing? Well, it tends to be disguised as “fitting in” or as having what might be termed a “balanced life”. It is only later that people realize that they chose the ordinary at the expense of creating a life that was in any way exceptional. Oftentimes, the choice has been between having and being. In order to have “a life,” people give up being individuals. They marry because that’s simply what people do, and they procreate for the same reason.

It is not merely to fill a void within themselves that they continue to seek having over being. Also, it is because that is what culture encourages us to do. We can say all we want to about celebrating the individual, but the cold, bare, hard truth is that our world embraces normalcy and shuns everything else. There is even a tendency to ostracize those who refuse to conform although those who say they promote non-conformity are sometimes just as guilty of this behavior as anyone else.

Yes, it’s true. To take on life with bravado and assert your belief that you are extraordinary will be one of the most difficult tasks you ever undertake. It will not be the words alone that will bring you criticism, however. The actions you take that back up your assertions will be what others will question, challenge, and even attempt to thwart. We accept butterflies as the natural transformation of the caterpillar because it is expected that caterpillars transform themselves into butterflies. But, what if only on occasion did the caterpillar turn himself/herself into a butterfly? Would we then consider the butterfly beautiful, or might we not rather label it an odditiy, an anomaly, something “outside the norm”?

The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche summed up the battle towards individuality rather succinctly when he said, “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” But what do we call “owning” ourselves? That is a question that many of us fail to answer adequately.

We may say that we live for ourselves and that our beliefs and opinions are all our own, yet how true is that for most of us? There is so much inner strength involved in letting go of the need to please anyone besides ourselves. Even if we manage to accomplish this feat for awhile, it doesn’t take long for us to once again fall into the pattern of caring too much what other people think of  us.

Does this mean we are doomed to some level of mediocrity no matter how much we fight against it? No, I don’t think it means that at all. However, what we have to do is remain entirely aware of the superifcial glamour that oftentimes draws us to that which is ordinary whether consciously or not. We must never mistake the desires that other people have for us for our own desires nor should we ever allow ourselves to exchange the vision we have for ourselves and our lives for another person’s vision for us. 

There have been countless people who have settled for that which seemed good only to give up that which was truly best. And generally, this decision has been made from a place of fear. We take what comes along rather than waiting for that which we really yearn for because we are so afraid that we will be without anything if we don’t choose something. It is only later that we see our mistake although by then we have to face the consequences of our choice.

Even if we manage to persuade other people that the choice we made has worked out for the best, deep within the recesses of our souls we know that we could have done better. We know that it was only in trying to “fit in” or “make do” that we exchanged the extraordinary for a life of mediocrity. We settled for an ordinary life because we weren’t brave enough to let go of our fears—not because it was the only option available for us.

I’m sure that many of you who read this article are already in situations that seem to be permanent or, at the least, offer you little hope of change. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that things can be radically different simply by your wishing them to be so. But what I can do is assure you that the things which you view as unchangeable are never as incapable of being altered as you may think they are. Although none of us are promised nor should we expect a life of ceaseless sublimity, each moment gives us the possibility of becoming something more than we are now.

Our dreams are never lost to us unless we let go of them. Hope can always be found if we look for it persistently enough. But we have to be willing to unlearn the things we think we know and to explore that which we are afraid of. Security and safety are the parents of mediocrity. Once we perceive this to be the case, we will understand that only in overcoming them will we lead anything other than an ordinary life.

In sharing my concepts and ideas with you, I want you to realize that I am not asking you to agree with me. In fact, I would much prefer you to disagree with me than to accept my theories without examining them and thinking them over.  I am so devoted to a life of self-examination that I oftentimes find I disagree with myself when I read back over some of my previous articles. But, for me, this is a positive thing as it indicates I am capable of changing my beliefs and that I do not need to convince myself that I have the “right” answers about anything. When you reach the point in your life when you can acknowledge and even embrace your own ignorance, you are giving yourself the freedom not only to recreate yourself but also to rediscover the world around you.

And what of mediocrity and its superficial allure? Is it possible that with all of my attempts to elucidate upon the virtues of the extraordinary I’m truly confessing that the mediocre is beguiling? Actually, it isn’t mediocrity itself that will ever put a spell upon anyone. But what is a temptation that any of us who wish to stand apart from the herd must be willing to resist is the fear that comes from disapproval . . . from solitude . . .  from isolation . . . from taking risks that other people regard as dangerous or foolish. And, no matter how eager you are to abandon  the idea that mediocrity can be alluring, the transitory benefits that can be yours from choosing a mediocre life should never be underrated.

Ultimately, it is your choice: the allure of mediocrity or the risk of the extraordinary? No matter which decision you make, make sure it’s yours.

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved.

Transform Your Reality

Although people oftentimes do not realize it, each day we are in the process of creating ideas that will or will not affect the rest of our lives. Ideas are different from choices, but they can and do lead to choices. We form ideas about the world and about other people who shape our viewpoint of life. But we also form ideas about ourselves.

These ideas usually fit into one of two categories: they will either help us reach our goals and dreams, or they will take us further away from them. To put it more simply—and to borrow a motto from a friend of mine—ideas take us either “closer to the dream or further away.”

What ideas are you creating at this moment? Which ones did you create yesterday that you have acted on today? The great  German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Daring ideas are like chess men moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.”

Are the ideas you create daring or not? Or do you sometimes find yourself discarding daring ideas because you feel you had better “play it safe” ?In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with ideas from the outside, both from other people and from books, the television, movies, the radio, magazines, newspapers, and the internet,  there are many times when I don’t think we stop and listen to our inner voice.

What do we want our lives to be like? Which goals are our own and not handed to us by another person? Who are we trying to please by continuing to do something or by not doing it? It’s easy to tell people that they should “follow their bliss” but much harder to actually let them do so without interrupting them with our advice and suggestions. Have you ever noticed that?  It’s not that we want to hold anyone back—we really do believe that we know better than they do what they need to do with their lives.

But do we? And, even if we did, aren’t we trying to take power that isn’t ours? If you feel stronger when you try to control another person, it is only an illusion. You are deceiving yourself into believing that you are managing to control another person’s destiny. And because you feel that there is some aspect of your life or your destiny that you don’t have power over, you can temporarily experience a sense of satisfaction from controlling someone else.

Why do you need to do it though? I’m playing with concepts now . . . throwing out ideas that you may or may not agree with. If you’re analyzing everything I say to pick it apart later, just stop reading. I’m not looking for critics. I’m looking for ways to inspire you—to challenge your thoughts and your vantage point towards life. Those who think that they have all the answers shouldn’t even read my articles because they already think that they’re on the pathway that will lead them to fulfillment. And, nothing I say will change how they perceive the world because they are not open to change.

As time goes on, I am becoming more and more willing to admit that I know absolutely nothing about anything. Wait—don’t argue. I realize that some of you think that I have an abundance of insight and wisdom. And it overwhelms me when people say that about my writing. But I tend to adopt Socrates’ theory which was summed up in these famous words he once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.” It’s difficult for some people to subscribe to this view because they need to believe that they have figured everything out or that they at least know what works for them. Yet, if you can just reach the point where you find yourself able to acknowledge and embrace your own ignorance, you are at the point where miraculous changes can begin.

Yes, I said embrace your own ignorance. Acknowledging our ignorance isn’t enough because we can still hold a negative view of our ignorance and nevertheless acknowledge it. When we embrace it though, we create in ourselves the desire to learn and absorb knowledge. Do you remember what I said in my article, What Choice Will You Make?, about desire ruling the world. Well, desire is one of those powerful incentives that can be used both negatively and positively. If you use desire as a learning tool and as the impetus to seek truth and wisdom, then you are the one controlling it rather than letting it control  you.

What power are you giving away today? Who is holding you back from pursuing your bliss? The answer to the first question is one that only you know. But I can easily answer the second question for you. You and you alone are the only person who can hold you back from pursuing your bliss. To share details of my personal story with you isn’t something I enjoy doing, except for those times when I feel I can help or inspire you by sharing it. I don’t like the focus to be on me. Rather, I prefer to focus on you. But today, I want to talk briefly about a time in my life when I did walk away from something even though very few people understood my reasons for doing so.

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a playwright. I have written fiction and non-fiction in various forms for more than a decade, but my interest in the structure of drama came about through the reading of texts by Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, and especially Chekhov. After an excursion into the writings of Russian actor and theater director Constantin Stanislavski, I decided that in order to be the kind of playwright I wanted to be, I needed to pursue work in the theater. I intended to both act and to write plays.

However, within a few months of being a theater actress, I was finding myself with very little time to write anything, even a reflective letter to a friend. What had happened by that point, of course, was that many people already associated me with the identity of an “actress”, and eventually I found myself seeing myself in that way, too. Very little interest was shown in my playwriting. And I was oftentimes discouraged from writing plays even by those who had never read any of my work.

Ultimately, I left the world of acting. And it was a choice that I’ve always been happy about, in spite of all of those who have expressed their disapproval  of my decision. The fact that my original goal of becoming a playwright was only hindered through my acting work didn’t matter to most people. Why? They saw me as an “actress” not as a playwright or even a potential playwright.

The more time you spend on this earth the more aware you become of the fact that people have a way of casting other people in molds to suit their own fancy. And, once they’ve “molded” us in their minds, to see us in some other way is almost impossible. Philosopher Robert Nozick speaks about this in the Introduction to his marvelous compilation of philosophical meditations, The Examined Life. Nozick writes, “Once having pigeonholed people and figured out what they are saying, we do not welcome new information that would require us to re-understand and re-classify them, and we resent their forcing us to devote fresh energy to this when we expended more than enough in their direction already.”

The question I have is this: who gave us the right to pigeonhole people? Do we like it when others pigeonhole us? And if we don’t, why do we engage in behavior towards others that we would mind if they did the same to us? You may not think that you are pigeonholing people. But the moment that we start attaching any labels to anyone, we must be careful.

I’m not talking about basic descriptions of people such as, “he/she is a very sincere person” or “he/she is intelligent and outspoken.” I’m speaking more about phrases that define other people or mind structures that we build up that we think define other people. Just because we think that a certain activity or relationship or career will make another person happy, that doesn’t mean that he, she, or it really will. We must understand that we all have our own reality, no matter how “open-minded” we consider ourselves to be.

To become all that we can be, we need to empty our minds of every preconceived idea. We need to abandon the habit of judging today or next week or next year by any previous time in our past. Freeing ourselves is more than we think it is. Freeing ourselves means being free not just when it comes to choosing our own thoughts and making our own decisions. It also means letting everyone else have that same freedom.

If it sounds now and then as if I am repeating myself, that is my intention. I am not trying to be redundant—I am trying to open your eyes. Each time you find something wrong with someone else and/or another person doesn’t behave as you think he/she should, stop, take a deep breath and look within. What does your reaction to someone else’s behavior tell you about you?

Before you blame yourself for not allowing someone else the freedom that you expect, first take a few moments to discover why you want to take this freedom away from another person.  We do not have to look upon behavior that doesn’t match up with the person that we want to be as being reprehensible. Rather we should look upon it as something we can learn from.

If you end up in a discussion and someone disagrees with your opinion and you lose your temper with that person, what does that tell you? What part of you feels threatened by another person not sharing your views and opinions? Why isn’t it enough that you feel a certain way about something? Why does anyone else have to agree with you? Is it possible that you don’t feel strongly enough about your deeply held beliefs? And, if so, wouldn’t it  make more sense to examine them and take time to challenge them on your own?

I am constantly challenging my beliefs, and I have found that it’s a process that teaches me a great deal about myself. Because our world is so solution-oriented, there is a tendency to form opinions and come to conclusions too quickly without examining a situation from every viewpoint. For example, if a friend leaves one career to open his/her own business or retires from his/her steady job to write a novel, from one viewpoint, your friend’s decision may seem foolish. You might even think that he/she will regret it later. You may also believe that it’s your place to suggest that he/she will be sorry for that decision. But what’s the reality? Is it your choice or not? Whose life is it—yours or your friend’s? 

I’m sure you see what your diva is getting at in throwing out these ideas and exploring these concepts. I’m wanting you to be as honest with yourself as you possibly can be. You don’t have to agree with me nor do you have to absorb any of my words. I hope you’ll allow me to let you open up your mind. But if you don’t, that’s your concern, too. My desire for you to be honest with yourself has to do with my wanting what is best for you

Self-deception won’t get you anywhere you want to go. It will only impede your personal growth.  And always remember that what you say about yourself and how you see yourself is only your personal truth. That being said, just because you think that you’re open-minded and that you give others the freedom that you give yourself doesn’t mean that you actually do.  

If people are oftentimes backing away from you, you most likely don’t. The way the world responds to you is a direct reflection of the person you are. Wait . . . what did I just say? Let me repeat my words just to make sure that you’re listening to them. The way the world responds to you is a direct reflection of the person you are. So, if the world isn’t responding to  you the way that you want it to, it isn’t the world that needs to change—it’s you. Yes, you.

As you see, I’m not just going to tell you everything that you want to hear. That’s why I continue to suggest that you not read my articles if you don’t like how I go about things. If you want me to feed you words about being perfect just as you are and not needing to change anything about yourself or your life, you’re not going to get that. I care about you too much to lie to you. None of us are “perfect” as we are. All of us have plenty of room for self-improvement. Moreover, none of us have all the answers. Most of us have very few of them, if any. And, the only way that we’re  going to transform our reality is if we are willing to transform ourselves. For you to be honest with me isn’t necessary nor do I expect you to be.

But for your own sake, do be honest with you. I once said that even if you lie to everyone else, the one person with whom you need to be honest is you. I don’t even have to tell you why self-honesty is essential, do I? You know the answer within yourself. And, something else you know is whether you are being honest with yourself.  If you’re being honest with yourself, ask yourself this question now: how important is it to me to create the life I want? That’s another answer that you already know, and it’s also one that only you can give.

What’s my suggestion? It’s summed up in these words: Live today as if there will be no tomorrow.

Until soon,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(I dedicate this article to my incomparable friend, Krystal Rushing, with much love always. Krystal is a beautiful and extraordinary person who continues to be an inspiration to me in every way).

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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva Pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved.

Releasing Yourself

With the beginning of a new year, I can’t help thinking of Andy Warhol’s sagacious observation, “They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” How many of us imagine that the start of a new year presents us with a fresh opportunity for change, success, happiness, and/or fulfillment? Yet, what is the reality? Is it not true that every day gives us a chance to make the changes in our lives that will enable us to live freely and authentically?

A few days before Christmas, I picked up a book by Steve Chandler with the catchy title, 17 Lies that Are Holding You Back and The Truth that Will Set You free. I spend many hours each day reading philosophy and psychology. Thus, I wasn’t sure how much an author who evokes comparisons to some well-known self-help gurus would appeal to me.

However, I tend to consider each book I read profitable if I come away with even two or three new ideas. I enjoy having my thought processes and thinking patterns challenged, for challenge promotes growth. Chandler’s honesty is probably the reason why his writing seems both authentic and persuasive. The minute that we adopt the view that the writer of a book by has never faced any of the problems or issues that we’ve experienced is when he/she will lose most of his/her ability to have an impact on us. Taking each “lie” one chapter at a time, Chandler analyzes the myths and misconceptions many of us have about ourselves and proves the lack of validity beneath them. The lies he speaks of are the lies that others have told us and that we have told ourselves—and they are all lies about us, about other people, and about the world at large.

If you find yourself blaming others for your depression or your perceived failures or find yourself frequently making comments about being “too old” or using the excuse “that’s just the way I am” to exempt yourself from guilt, then you might want to stay away from this book. Unless, of course, you’re really serious about changing. Chandler takes a no-nonsense approach. And, for those who need for others to treat them with kid gloves or to only tell them what they want to hear, he won’t be the author for you. At the same time, I tend to think that many of those who are reading this blog sincerely do want to change, even if they don’t admit it to themselves.

I came under brutal attack for my last blog article, “Reclaim Your Power.” In spite of the incredibly positive responses that I got from most of my readers, there were a few poor souls who didn’t like my article at all. They even ridiculed my work. But I understand that they were only trying to find some way to disguise their own lack of effectiveness as people. I was accused of belittling those who didn’t subscribe to the concept that we have a choice as to whether we can be happy or not. Well, it is never my intention to belittle those who do not agree with me. In fact, I sometimes end up contradicting my own views at a later date. I consider life to be a continual learning process, and, in spite of what others might think, I certainly don’t imagine for a moment that I have all the answers.

Sometimes I think that we are afraid of those whom we choose to demean and criticize because they show us aspects of ourselves that we would rather not reveal. Ridicule and scorn generally come from one of two things—either fear or a diminished sense of self-worth. Jealousy and envy are usually evoked by the same causes. When we start to understand and appreciate our own worth as people, we are able to accept it when others do not share our views without creating a need to attack, insult, or mock them. Moreover, we do not feel threatened by the accomplishments that others achieve.

Does this mean that once we establish a definitive sense of self-worth we are suddenly “perfect” people? Not at all. We are never what you might call “finished products”.  However, until we are willing to let go of preconceived ideas about ourselves and other people and respect the different views that others have and the decisions they make, we will always have a deep sense of inner unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Releasing others from your expectations enables you to release yourself from the expectations others have of you.

Although, at the time I received the insulting remarks that I speak of, I felt compelled to defend myself, I now see that in attempting to defend myself I only gave others power over me. In coming from a place of defensiveness, I ended up making what they said about me have more value than it actually did. But, all of this happened over a week ago, and I’m such a chameleon that I tend to change on a daily basis, constantly transforming myself, my thoughts, and the way I see the universe around me.

There are very few things that I regard as “fixed” in my life. In general, I find that becoming too attached to any one set of beliefs stifles our attempts to grow and expand. On the other hand, let me clarify that I do encourage others to be true their religious faith and also to their code of ethics (like I am), for these are things that should be celebrated because they are part of what makes us authentic individuals. Once we allow anyone to make us question what we truly believe, we are starting to give our power away to others again. And, your life doesn’t belong to anyone but you.  

When my firend, Anna Lieb, spoke of the positive impact that Wayne Dyer’s book, Pulling Your Own Strings, has been having on her and her life, I felt inspired to pick up my copy of the book, too. Needless to say, I have not been following Dyer’s suggestions in recent times. I have become a victim of the whims of others and have even been allowing them to manipulate me into joining them in games of betrayal and self-deception.  Now, you don’t have to tell me that life itself is a bit of a game. The situation is, we all deserve to be victors—not victims. And ultimately, we end up victimizing ourselves more than anyone else does because we give our power away in a number of ways every single day that we enable those around us to manipulate and mistreat us. Unless, of course, we make a conscious decision to make our life strictly our own.

One of the key ways that others will victimize and manipulate you is by telling you things about yourself that aren’t based in reality. For example, if you behave in a manner that they perceive as irrational, they may label you as being “neurotic”. It might even be implied that you are emotionally unstable or much more fragile from a psychological perspective than you actually are. Pay attention. Stop to consider whether the things you’re hearing others say about you are really true.

Just because someone else perceives you a certain way, you don’t have to agree with them. People have been attaching labels to me for most of my life, some of them positive and some of them extremely negative. After awhile, you must learn to disregard any opinion about you that doesn’t match up with your authentic self. You don’t even need to spend time wondering why someone thinks something about you or says something about you. Realize that, in all likelihood, they are dealing with self-esteem issues, and they are demeaning or criticizing you in order to feel better about themselves.

Does this mean that such people are “bad” or “evil”? Not necessarily, although it is certainly within the realm of possibilities. But, whether they are “bad” or “evil” or not, they are undoubtedly toxic to you. For one thing, they are operating from a place of fear rather than joy, and this, according to psychologist Nathaniel Branden, is one of the key elements of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem doesn’t make people toxic (except to themselves, naturally) unless it creates a need in them to control, manipulate, or abuse other people. Manipulative tactics are not always easy to discern either for they can take many forms. For example, being needy and trying to dominate others are both signs of low self-esteem, and the types of behavior that are evoked by either of these things can be forms of manipulation.

It has not been easy for me to get to the point where I have been willing to let go of anything or anyone that might be holding me back. Why? Well, I tend to think that I’ve been coping with self-esteem issues of my own. It’s perfectly normal for those who do not have a definitive sense of self-worth to look towards others to give them the love, acceptance, and approval they are withholding from themselves.

The problem is that you cannot continue this pattern and have control over your own life, for you are at the mercy of other people. In some ways, it can be more difficult to maintain a high level of self-esteem than to continue living with low self-esteem. One reason that this is the case is because we tend to attract people who are quite a bit like us, whether the similarities are immediately visible or not. Thus, if we have been struggling with low self-esteem, we have most likely been drawing other people with low self-esteem to us. So, as we begin to work on our self-esteem and start having the confidence to gain control over our lives and to put our own needs first, we’ll notice that there will be people who have been there to support us who start to distance themselves from us. They may even get angry or feel that we are abandoning them.

What you have to remember though is that only when we esteem ourselves highly will we be capable of holding anyone else in high regard. We may envy others and we may admire them, but a genuine sense of self-respect will be beyond our capabilities. We will end up hurting others and ourselves because we probably won’t love and/or like them any more than we love and/or like ourselves. As Denis Waitley has so wisely pointed out, we must first have an emotion inside us before we can give it to another person. In keeping with this concept, we would have to at least consider the possibility that until we love and/or like ourselves we won’t be able to love and/or like anyone else.

There are a lot of misconceptions about self-esteem. And there are those who will use words like “conceit” or “arrogance” to describe people who simply have a genuine sense of self-worth. But, this is because they have low self-esteem and yet they are still living in too much fear to overcome it. You may well lose such people as friends. Yet this will all be part of the process in your embracing your authentic self.

Never forget that when you let go of those who are holding you back or who fail to respect your desire to take control of your own life, you are doing both them and you a favor, whether they realize it or not. For you are no longer encouraging them to continue the self-destructive patterns in their own lives. There is not any person who is helped by the friendship, companionship, or love of someone who doesn’t expect him/her to take charge of his/her own life. Even parents must understand that, at a certain point, a child must be taught personal responsibility. This isn’t about “tough love” although some people  may label such behavior with that overused and misused term. What it is about is about making sure that others are entitled to the same privileges that you are—namely, the privilege of having power over their own lives.

If you are someone who does look towards a new year as a new beginning, then by all means take that source of inspiration and run with it. I’m certainly not going to try to stop you. The philosophy I live by is this:  if it works for you, then do it. This is why I have to laugh when anyone suggests that I am trying to “fix” people or change the world through my SuccessDiva articles. Even if I wanted to do so, how foolish would I have to be to actually think I could? Let’s get serious for a moment, instead of entertaining fanciful ideas about me and how much power I think I have over anyone’s life besides my own.

I am here to offer suggestions to those who want to hear them and feel that they will benefit from making use of them. Indeed, I feel very fortunate indeed to have such a large following. But I certainly didn’t expect it when I started my SuccessDiva work. My SuccessDiva work was begun as part of my own personal journey towards self-discovery and spiritual and psychological healing. The recognition, respect, and praise I’ve gotten have simply been icing on the cake, so to speak. At the same time, without the support and encouragement of those who have been my fans and admirers, I wouldn’t be half the diva I am. And, this is something I recognize on a daily basis.

I want to close this article by wishing everyone a beautiful new year. I trust that those of you who take the time to read my blog will make the choice to look upon each day as a new beginning. And that rather than trying to follow New Year’s resolutions, you’ll embrace your authentic self each and every day and take responsibility for every aspect of your lives. You don’t need resolutions to do that—you just need to get to the point where you’re willing to let go of all of your excuses, your preconceived ideas, your lies, and any self-destructive patterns you may be holding onto.

Be bold . . . be daring . . . be authentic . . . and Live without Limits, SuccessDiva style!

Blessings,

Your SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All Rights are Reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate.

Living On Purpose

When I first began my career as a SuccessDiva, it didn’t occur to me that people would subscribe to the mistaken idea that I was promoting the idea of securing happiness through material possessions. However, there is oftentimes the assumption that success equals wealth or fame or an elevated social status. Although I have made it clear, both at this blog and elsewhere, that I am not encouraging you to seek this type of “success”, I am impassioned anew to point out not only the fact I am not promoting these ideas but also my reasons for not doing so.

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy believed that wealth actually came from “the number of things one can do without.” And since many of my principles in regard to life are very closely attuned with those of the Greek philosophers such as Epictetus, whom I mentioned in my last blog post, “The Authentic You”, I wholeheartedly agree with Tolstoy’s sentiments.

In many ways, abundance is the opposite of  accumulation. When we accumulate, we are adding things to our lives, many of which we don’t really need.  Yet, in achieving a state of abundance, we learn to appreciate that which we already have.  I was reading a book written by a well-known psychologist and anthropologist in which she gave a beautiful illustration of how her perspective towards life changed by sharing an encounter she had with her grandmother, when the  latter was dying of cancer. “Grandmother, have you had a happy life?” she asked her. The grandmother’s reply is profound in its inherent wisdom. “Mary,” she answered, “I don’t think of my life that way. I ask, ‘Have I made good use of my time and my talent? Is the world a better place because I have been here?'”

In a world where people cannot wait for the weekend to come so that they can relax and watch a lot of television or spend time hanging out with their buddies and friends, I think too many of us have lost sight of the fact that we were put on this earth for a reason. Skeptics and cynics scoff at the idea of our having a purpose. But which is better—a life lived by default or a live lived on purpose? Would you like to come to the end of your life without being able to name one fellow human being whose life you had touched?

If you have children, how you rear them is what will be the determining factor in whether or not you make a lasting difference in their lives. Unless you teach your children that who they are as people is infinitely more important than what they do, how much money they make, what they own, or even what relationships they have, you will be setting the stage for them to experience a lifetime of inner emptiness and disappointment.

Unfortunately, even living a life in which we devote ourselves to helping others can be evoked by a desire for self-gratification. The only way to ensure that our efforts towards making a difference in the world are sincere and done for the  benefit of others is to ask ourselves how much further we would go in our pursuits if we knew that we would gain very little or nothing through our efforts. A female acquaintance of mine who is a “self-styled psychologist” recently complained that she felt she was “putting herself out” in her endeavors to help other people without getting the proper level of appreciation in return. Now, what’s wrong with this picture? Well, when we begin to expect rewards for actions that we say are solely to benefit other people, we are sending the clear message that, no matter how compassionate our behavior seems to those around us, the motive behind our actions has been self-serving.

The demonstration of gratitude is becoming more and more rare in the culture we now live in. Those who have little want everything, and those who have much want still more. We are inclined to value quantity over quality, both in our material possessions and in our relationships. Oftentimes, sex, rather than being something meaningful and significant, has become yet another outlet to distract us from lives that are unfulfilled and devoid of any real importance. Children are conceived without consideration and then resented for all of the extra time and effort they require. Not only have we not learned that less is often more—we seem to be embracing the concept that more is essential.

So, why do so much misery, hopelessness, and despair exist? Why is there such a high suicide rate, and why are so many seemingly stable marriages ending in divorce? What has happened to our society? Can the world be fixed? These are all questions that cannot be answered easily, and there is no “right” answer to any of them. Like most things in life, these questions are relative to the respective situations. Many variables are always involved.

Whereas one couple may divorce because of infidelity on the part of one or more partners, another couple may split up simply because they disagree over who should pick out the DVDs they rent from the nearest Blockbuster Video store. But there is one common denominator that is usually present in a set of circumstances that seems tragic or unnecessary. That denominator is a lack of clarity about that which matters most. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once expressed a profound statement about that which matters most never being at the mercy of that which matters least. The question is, what does matter most?

I believe that at a certain point in his or her life, any critical thinker becomes cognizant of the fact that peace of mind and inner contentment are to be prized far more highly than either the esteem of others or the extent of one’s personal achievements. We are all connected to each other in this world, and, perhaps, at the root of the general hopelessness that is pervading our society is the idea that we have lost touch with one another. We are so occupied trying to persuade others to think the way we think and to see life the way we see it that the spirit of love and harmony has gotten cast aside in favor of being “right” and making our points about politics, religion, sex, or whatever the subject du jour may be.

As we toss out labels like “animal rights extremists”, “radical feminists”, “pro-abortion fanatics”, or, on the flip side of the coin, “fundamentalists”, “rednecks”, and “right-wing conservatives”, we don’t stop to think of the long-term consequences this name-calling will bring about. We have abandoned empathy for dehumanization and instead of discussing important issues we jump right  in and start virulent debates. What would happen if we stood back and tried to put aside our differences long enough to form a connection with our fellow individuals, however tenuous that connection might be?

You may well have heard Gandhi’s frequently repeated quotation, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Yet, have you ever applied that particular quotation to yourself? Do you see yourself as merely one grain of sand on an overly populated seashore. Or do you understand that, even though you are only one person, you can still make an impact on the lives of those around you?

Forget everything you’ve heard about so-called positive thinking. Open your mind up and listen to my words for, though I speak with my own voice, my philosophy is summed up in the texts of many sages, philosophers, and poets who came into this world centuries before you or I were born.  If we do not find some way to make our lives mean something, then many of us will come to the end of our lives fully comprehending why Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an essay entitled, “On Vanity of Existence”. According to Schopenhauer, man is a “compound of needs which are hard to satisfy . . . [and] their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which [man] is only given to boredom . . . [and] boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence.”

When was the last time you said you were feeling bored? Did you ever stop to consider it was because you were not engaging in any activities that were of any lasting value?  I cannot help but think, when I read these words of Schopenhauer, that the only solution to the “vanity” of existence is in focusing our attention on something besides our own personal needs. If indeed the fulfillment of these needs does not bring lasting satisfaction to begin with, would we not be better off  looking outside ourselves and our own wants and desires and focusing instead on the needs and desires of others?

I’m not encouraging you to live a life of unmitigated self-sacrifice. But I do feel that until we get to the end of ourselves, we will not be able to fill the void within our souls. We must let go of our preoccupation with ourselves and our own needs in order to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of those whom we leave behind. Whether we have children or not, there will be those who come after us whose lives will be affected in some way, however minimal, by the choices and decisions we have made.

It’s easy to regard yourself as insignificant, but in a way, by doing this, you are avoiding responsibility for your life. In demeaning your own importance, you are removing any sort of obligation you might have to accomplish something worthwhile, whether it be raising your children with values and principles or using your gifts and capabilities to their full potential. Sometimes, we use fear as an escape mechanism. After all, if we’re too afraid to take charge of our lives, no one will blame us if we don’t do all we could or should. And, if we add the habit of blaming others to our own feelings of fear and anxiety, we’ll end up having plenty of reasons to justify our indolence, apathy, self-pity, and sloth.

It’s also tempting to attribute our lack of initiative to depression or discouragement. But when we hear about those who have  overcome insurmountable odds to accomplish remarkable things, we’re left with the inner knowledge that our excuses don’t hold up so well under scrutiny. Although you may not realize this, if you are living a life in which you’re letting fear control you or using blame to validate your own mistakes, you are actually living in a state of bondage. You have managed to victimize yourself—you have become a martyr of your own feeble attempts to excuse yourself from living a life of purpose and significance. 

In a way, we are not entirely to blame for this tendency many of us have to avoid responsibility for our lives. Our society and culture encourage us to feel like our lives and the world at large are spiraling out of control. Messages of fear about global warning, political upheavals, and nuclear disaster are hurled at us like missiles. Almost every time we turn on the news or pick up a newspaper we hear about yet another case of injustice or brutality. How is it possible to have peace of mind in such a chaotic universe?

One of the most fundamental ways to achieve a state of inner calm is to separate that which we can control from that which is out of our control. Although we can make an impact on the world, we cannot change the world, no matter  how strong our desire might be to do so. It is not uncommon to embrace the concept of being a superhero who manages to bring about transformation on a monumental scale. But each of us is just one person with one life to make into either a story that nobody will remember or a masterpiece that others can reflect upon with admiration and respect.  

Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who died of typhus in a concentration camp at the age of sixteen, summed it up with exquisite eloquence when she said,  “Give whatever you have to give, you can always give something, even if it’s a simple act of kindness.” What we must let go of, when we decide to give to those around us, is the expectation that we must get something back. In order to live authentically, to truly break free from self-limiting beliefs and live a life without limits, we must  be willing to stop asking ourselves that age-old question, “What’s in it for me?”

To stop clinging to the habit of expecting to be repaid for our good deeds and kind gestures takes courage. But until we learn to be masters of the art of self-sufficiency, we will always be looking for fulfillment in things, people, and achievements. We will never get to the place where we can look in the mirror and feel a surge of self-respect and acceptance for the face looking back at us. The choice is up to you. Do you want to continue living a life by default or would you like to start living on purpose?

Until soon,

Your SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva

The Authentic You

Epictetus once said, “It is impossible for man to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” This quotation sums up why so many of us are not experiencing contentment or serenity in our lives. We think we possess knowledge that we actually haven’t yet acquired. And where our ignorance has the most devastating impact on our ultimate outcome is when it pertains directly to ourselves.

If we think we know ourselves, yet we have never taken the time to understand ourselves, then it will never be possible for us to live an authentic life.  What is an authentic life?  It is a life in which we are making the decisions that are in keeping with what is best for is. It is a life where the opinion of those around us matters a great deal less than the opinions we have about ourselves.

To live authentically, you have to strip yourself of everything that is not genuine. You have to let go of learned behavior that does not match up with who you really are. And you have to get to the point where you would rather disappoint everyone else in your life than to disappoint you.

Some people would say that such a philosophy promotes selfishness. But what it really does is enable you to give others the freedom to be authentic, too. Once you cease meeting or trying to meet the expectations of others at the expense of your own needs, they will be forced to gain clarity about themselves and what their needs may be.

I have spoken about the potency of habits in a previous blog post. And I want to delve more deeply into the way that habits can negatively impact both your life and the lives of those around you. When William James wrote his chapter on “Habit” in his Principles of Psychology, there were many things about human behavior that had not yet been discovered or analyzed. James encouraged people to allow certain actions to become habitual, such as eating a meal or taking a bath.

The problem is, even these seemingly innocuous activities should actually be engaged in while we are thinking about them. Why? Well, the more we get into the pattern of doing things without engaging our mental faculties, the more inclined we are to not use those faculties at times that it is essential for us to do so. Now, there obviously are habits that have a positive influence on our lives. But sometimes we need to make sure that the habits we think are positive actually are.

For example, if we have a habit of repressing our true thoughts and opinions in order to be accepted by others, is that really a good habit?  Or does it simply appear to be good on the surface? And, even if we do win this much sought-after acceptance, is it really worth very much if we had to pretend to be someone other than ourselves in order to gain it?

Let me ask you something. If someone told you that he or she would write a book under your name and that it would be a best-seller, would you think that was a tempting idea? Even if you did, would the accolades that you received when the book was published mean nearly as much to you as if you had written the book yourself? Or would a certain part of you feel like a fraud?

When people told you what a wonderful writer you were, would that mean that you would actually believe them? Or is it possible that you could get to the point where you actually believed that you had written the book? If you answer no, I challenge you to reconsider your reply. Although you may think that I’m taking things too far by using this example to illustrate my point, you probably at least concede that it would be possible for some people to buy into their own fraudulent identity.

Sometimes it is easier to get trapped in a life that is compromised of learned behavior patterns and assumed opinions than it is to explore our own authenticity as an individual. To conform to what others think we should be does not require courage or conviction. What it does take is a self-image that is not clearly defined. I am often told by people who cross my path that they would finally have happiness or contentment in their lives if they could just find the right career or if the man or woman of their dreams would miraculously come into their lives. Although I empathize with such thought patterns, I think that they are both unrealistic and dangerous.

For one thing, such beliefs prevent us from taking the time to work on ourselves. They remove the necessity of personal growth because we are looking at  something outside of ourselves to make us complete.  And, when that person or that career fails to live up to our idyllic fantasies, we are left feeling even more dissatisfied than we were before. In a way, it’s like someone with an eating disorder attempting to “cure” the problem without getting to the root of what is causing it.

When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The illness itself harmed me far less than the way the doctor I was seeing at the time treated the illness. Rather than taking the time to analyze and examine what was causing me to deprive myself of nourishment, she blamed me for not eating and seemed to subscribe to the erroneous assumption that I was making a conscious choice not to eat. If you know anything about anorexia, you understand that it is not a choice. Even though those who are anorexic often use starvation as a coping mechanism to handle the fact that certain aspects of their lives seem to be beyond their control, they are not consciously engaging in this behavior.

Similarly, if you are unfulfilled or unhappy and you are seeking a relationship or a career to escape from the emptiness within yourself, you may not be doing this intentionally. When we feel a void within us, it is only natural that we might have a frantic need to fill that emptiness.  It’s interesting how quick we are to talk about connecting or reconnecting with our bliss. But is there still not the assumption that we have discovered our “bliss”? Emptiness and bliss are not compatible. Thus, as long as we have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction within ourselves, we are not only not connecting with our bliss–we have not found our “bliss”.

Of course, like the word happiness, bliss is also a word that can be defined in many different ways. However, I have the sense that it conveys the essence of elation or exuberance. If we use that definition of bliss or even partially subscribe to that definition, then we must also admit that there are not many people whom we have ever known who have seemed very exuberant or elated. Does this mean that it is unrealistic to expect to ever feel bliss? No. But it does mean that we may have to redefine the word. The other option is that we will have to accept the fact that, even though we want to believe we are connected to our bliss, we are actually still pursuing it.

One assumption that prevents us from living authentically is the idea that happiness or bliss is a destination that we will someday reach. Perhaps, some of us even think that if we feel loved and appreciated enough, contentment will be ours. But what sort of contentment are we seeking? If you are honest with yourself, I think you’ll admit that you are not looking for the temporary feeling of rapture that comes from devouring a piece of chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake is wonderful, but once you’ve eaten it, it’s gone. If you pursue the wrong type of bliss or if you are not clear about the type of bliss that you won’t, you may end up with a lot of what I would call “chocolate cake” moments but no lasting feeling of fulfillment or significance. Is that what you want? Even if you could exist on a diet of nothing but candy, cake, and cookies, would that ultimately satisfy you?

To me, the satisfaction that comes from lots of  “chocolate cake moments” is a bit like the happiness that is derived from buying clothes and jewelry or taking a trip to some country you’ve never traveled to before. Sure, there is enjoyment–but how long does it last, and how profound is it? Your soul is never going to be content if the only nourishment it gets are from things that have no lasting value.

At the end of your life, knowing that you have lived authentically and honestly is going to mean a great deal more to you than how many pairs of shoes you have in the closet or how many trips to Europe or exotic locales you have taken. And unless you are living authentically at the time that you enter into a relationship or marriage, you will not find happiness in that partnership, either. For no matter how much love, admiration, and acceptance you get, if it isn’t the authentic you who is being accepted or loved or admired, how can it make you happy?  

An actor I once knew told me that he believed that nearly all people are wearing masks and that only when we get to the point in our lives where we are willing to take off our masks will we be at peace with ourselves. It is somewhat uncomfortable to accept this concept. For, if we do, we have to wonder how much of the behavior we are witnessing on the part of those around us is sincere.  But when we understand the reason why we wear masks, we can embrace the idea without it making us feel overwhelmed, confused, or uneasy.

Usually, we put on these masks at a very young age. Why? Because when we are children, we start being told what behavior is “acceptable” and what behavior is “unacceptable”. Our hands are slapped when we touch the hot stove, and we get a spanking when we decide to stick our finger in an electrical outlet. We hear so many “thou shalt nots” that, merely for the sake of ease, we repress our needs and desires and modify our words and actions in order to please those around us.

The problem is that we carry this repressed behavior into our adult life, and, instead of the masks getting more transparent, they oftentimes get more opaque. Eventually, separating our real faces from the masks that have been covering them for so long becomes almost impossible. For one thing, the masks have become our security blankets. As long as we are wearing them, we are able to face the world without having to constantly worry about being rejected. Even though we may get rejected when we wear our masks, the real persons being rejected are the persons we’re pretending to be.

In a way, wearing a mask not only protects us from being hurt but it also means that many of the negative judgements that are made about us can be disregarded. We can tell ourselves, “Well, that person didn’t really know me. If  he had, he wouldn’t have rejected me.” Yes, this  may be the case, but is it not better to be rejected for ourselves than to be accepted for someone we’re not? 

If we do not give other people the chance to see and get to know the true individuals that we are, we are inadvertently forcing them into the role of unwitting conspirators in our  elaborate attempts to weave a life built upon half-truths and lies. So, we are both failing to connect with our own authenticity and encouraging others to be inauthentic as well.

As I learn more and more about human behavior and examine with growing clarity the role that our mental conditioning and our learned patterns of behavior play in our success and happiness, I realize that as much as an artist works to perfect his paintings or a pianist works to polish his or her technique, we must work at mastering the art of living.  Once again, I turn to Epictetus, who said, “For as carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life.”  In the end, each of our lives if what we have made of it, and we can either choose to master the art of living or we can always be stuck in a never-ending cycle of lies, destructive patterns, deception, emotional pain, and learned behaviors. Which choice will you make?

Until soon,

Alexis, the SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva

Rediscovering yourself

believe53 (flower and sand)The great philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.” So often, I think we succumb to the mistaken notion that structure and creativity cannot work together to achieve a desired outcome. Yet, this is far from being true. Actually, in an environment that is too cluttered, creativity becomes stifled by that which is excessive and extraneous.

Clutter is something that we usually think of in relation to domestic activities. For instance, countless books have been written on the subject of getting rid of clutter around our houses. What is not addressed nearly as frequently is the issue of clutter in connection with the people and activities in our lives.

When we think of success and fulfillment, we usually turn our attention to what we want to add to our lives, disregarding the fact that it is every bit as important what we let go of as what we acquire. Although a chaotic environment can be used to foster creative endeavors, when you are spending time and energy on relationships or activities that are not bringing you any closer to your dreams and goals, you have to step back and examine whether or not those things and/or people should remain in your life.

I have spoken a lot about happiness in my SuccessDiva writing, and I am sure that many people would say that happiness is something they are searching for. But is happiness what you are really seeking, or are you craving the state of mind that you think happiness will  bring you?
In a way, happiness is a catchall for a sense of overall well-being that is not necessarily connected to any specific person or thing. It is different from joy, which conveys a sensation of exuberance.

In reading a chapter on happiness from Robert Nozick’s The Examined Life, Philosophical Meditations, I became more cognizant of how misguided the idea of pursuing happiness can be. If we were able to purchase happiness like any other consumer good, would our lives suddenly become perfect? Or must we experience trials and challenges and even crises in order to live a rich, full, complete existence?

Yes, there are moments in our lives when we seem so connected with our own inner bliss that, if someone asked us if we were happy, we would answer “yes” in a heartbeat. But how often is this feeling of happiness long lasting? Like a movie that you are momentarily touched by–yet forget the details of in days to come–happiness is fleeting. Happiness is the butterfly that alights on your hand, only to fly away a few seconds later.

Thus, we must get beyond “happiness” and strive towards a state of fulfillment that can be sustained. To a certain extent, I think Socrates was right when he said that the “unexamined life” is not worth living. When we let obligations control our decisions and the expectations of others become more important than our own personal needs, we have crucified our dreams on the cross of other people’s desires. We have given up our birthright.

Happiness can and does exist, and it is a viable pursuit. At the same time, it is contingent on other variables within our lives. If we are not following what we feel to be our personal calling, any sense of “happiness” we experience is merely an illusion. In the society we live in now, where “quick fixes” and instant gratification are heavily encouraged, many people never stop to look within themselves and honestly acknowledge that sense of incompleteness that exists inside them.

When they do recognize and admit their inner emptiness, they frantically search for ways to fill it. Sometimes they look towards such things as alcohol, drugs, and food to numb their pain, Other times they attempt to satisfy their inner longing with material possessions, a relationship, or even a child. The problem with all of these solutions is that they will never quench that insatiable thirst within the human soul. For until we become comfortable with who we are, we will not find peace through something or someone else.,

To a large extent, one of the reasons that so many relationships fail is because people enter relationships looking for a partner to meet a need within themselves that only they can truly fulfill. And it’s oftentimes easier to run into the arms of another person than to look within ourselves at the person we are. Some of us are so damaged and wounded from the battles we have fought through life thus far that to acknowledge our wounds is almost unbearable; for, in doing so, we must remember memories from our past that we have no desire to resurrect. Rather than reliving them, we would prefer to have new encounters and experiences erase those memories for us. But can they ever be erased entirely? 

Might it not be more effective if we faced our past, no matter how painful it is, and tried to make some sense of it? True, we might have to deal with a lot of destructive emotions such as anger, resentment, and even contempt. At the same time, unless we work through this emotional process, how can we move on into a state of forgiveness and inner peace? We must not only forgive those who have hurt us but also ourselves for the mistakes we have made.

It has been said that we have become a culture of victims. Rather than taking responsibility for ourselves and our behavior, we sometimes try to find someone else to blame our wrong decisions on. Or we may even say that circumstances conspired to force us into acting the way we did. Well, what’s the truth? If we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of victimization, we will always be at the mercy of unseen forces and events.

So, even though it may appear to be easier to blame someone or something else for a mistake that we make, in the end, we are letting go of our own personal power in doing so. The moment that you choose to take complete responsibility for your life is the moment when you will be at the peak of personal empowerment. Only then will you be able to apply the knowledge that you have absorbed and turn it from lumps of coal into clear, brilliant diamonds of wisdom.

Have you sometimes wondered why it is that in an age of nearly boundless opportunity, so many people still haven’t found inner contentment? I think one problem is that information has become so readily available and in such vast quantities that it’s difficult to know what to ignore and what to pay attention to. Similarly, it is all too easy to accumulate a multitude of acquaintances rather than a few, genuine friends. In a universe that promotes “the power of now”, we all want everything immediately–or, to use a somewhat trite phrase, we want to have our cake and eat it, too. Or . . . do we?

Robert Nozick, in his examination of happiness, presents an interesting hypothesis about an experience machine that would automatically give us any experience that we desire. By making use of this machine, we would feel the pleasure of things–or as he puts it, how they would feel “from the inside”. Although, on the surface, this machine might sound ideal, Nozick makes a strong point when he draws attention to the fact that, although we would feel these experiences, the fact they were not really happening but were instead a product of our imagination (via the machine, of course) would mean that we were essentially living in a dream world. And, even though we might enjoy escaping to a dream world every now and then, most of us would not want to live the rest of our lives in an illusion. In spite of all the pain we may associate with the real world, there are few people who would trade actuality for an existence that was nothing more than a fantasy.

For me, this hypothetical experiment that Nozick suggests puts a new spin on the idea of happiness being a preeminent achievement. Sure, to say that we are pursuing happiness sounds good, and it can even be good. The question is this: is it realistic? And even more than that, if we were given a life that consisted of nothing but happiness, would we be completely content? I find that part of what makes life so interesting is a variety of experiences. If the four seasons of the year were all spring, even though there might be a lot of beauty to appreciate, that fertile splendor might get rather commonplace after a while.

Well, like the seasons of the year, our lives are about seasons, too. To expect that there will not be a certain amount of sorrow and grief along our personal journey is not accepting reality.  And as we start to acquire more and more wisdom, we become more inclined to acknowledge those things in life over which we have no control. What we do always have the power to change is the lens through which we view the world. Also, we have the ability to choose the way we will spend our time and the people with whom we will share it. 

Susan Ford Collins, in her book The Joy of Success, makes it clear that deleting is as much a component of ultimate success as either creation or completion. “Success,” Collins says, “is being able to let go of an unworkable method or system. An outgrown relationship you’ve tried everything conceivable to fix. A well-paying job you’ve done the same way far too many times . . . Success is cutting out, down, or back.”

If we are the scriptwriter of our own lives, should anybody besides us be creating the plot or writing the lines? No. Yet, tragically, many people come to the end of their time on earth realizing that they only achieved a fraction of what they were capable of accomplishing. And, what is perhaps even worse, they oftentimes come to the startling realization that the dreams that became a reality belonged to someone other than themselves.

Thus, rather than using their own unique potential, they were allowing someone else’s vision of success and fulfillment to be lived vicariously through them. Generally, these unfulfilled individuals justify their decisions with heartfelt phrases about not having wanted to disappoint their mother or father, their spouse, their children, or their friends. But, what they are not realizing is that in not wanting to disappoint others, they have ended up disappointing the most important person of all–themselves. And, in disappointing themselves they have inevitably disappointed everyone else, too, for they have not been able to put their heart into what they have accomplished. This means that no matter how impressive the results of their labor appear to be, they are the product of time and effort rather than passion and enthusiasm.

When motivational guru Anthony Robbins ends one of his Personal Power II audio programs, he always says, “Live with passion”.  And even though I used to pay little attention to this key phrase, I now understand how much significance there is beneath the words.  To live with passion is the opposite of living the life of “quiet desperation” that author Henry David Thoreau spoke of. It is to be engaged fully in work that you find deeply satisfying or to be in a relationship or marriage that is ignited by the flames of love, ardor, and affection. When you are living with passion, you are able to appreciate the sensation of raindrops falling on your skin or the crackle of autumn leaves under your feet.

Moreover, when this passion and zest for life is combined with wisdom, you start to understand that it is in being that you will feel contentment rather than in having. Sometimes, you may have to give up certainty in order to embrace opportunity. You may have to walk more by faith than by sight, for those who play it safe are rarely the passionate souls. To let go of that to which you are accustomed in order to step out into the unknown is indeed a risk. Yet, isn’t life itself a risk?

Although tomorrow will give you another chance to start creating your ideal life, a lot of hours will pass  between now and then. And, since the one thing that none of us seems to have enough of is time, why not start now?

Live Without Limits!

Until soon,

Your SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva

Finding your purpose. . .

believe19Although it’s not something a lot of people are ready to accept, the first and most essential step to changing your life is taking complete responsibility for every choice you make. In a way, this sounds like it might be dis-empowering. When we make a mistake, it doesn’t feel pleasant to acknowledge the role we played in it. We would prefer to blame someone else. . .or something else. . .or the weather. . .or fate. . . .or some unseen force. To blame ourselves, particularly when we feel like we were simply naive or too trusting, is painful. Yes, it is painful, but what you have to ascertain is whether or not you would rather deal with the short-term pain now or with long-term misery later.

Have you ever heard the saying about winning the battle but losing the war? This is something I’ve given thought to this week as I’ve been tempted to react to thoughtless critcism in a way that would have been destructive to both me and those who criticized me. Sometimes we have to weigh the importance of a situation—we have to consider whether or not it’s truly significant from a long-range perspective. There will always be people who, for whatever reason, don’t like us. We can spend time trying to figure out why they have negative feelings towards us or we can forget about them and move towards those who do support us and encourage us. It’s essential that we learn to conserve our energy so that we can use it on the tasks that really matter. Energy is as precious as time, and neither one can be replaced. No matter how many cups of coffee or cans of soda you drink or how many pieces of candy you may consume, your natural energy cannot be fully replenished in a day once it is gone.

I remember reading about how the consummate French author, Honore de Balzac, managed to keep himself awake throughout the wee hours of the morning by drinking pots of black coffee. Balzac was not a person with a large amount of self-discipline; so, he was forced to deprive himself of sleep because he frittered so much time away carousing, drinking, and enjoying himself. Although many of Balzac’s books are among the finest of all European literature, you have to wonder how much more he might have accomplished if he had learned how to take responsibility for himself and his choices. None of us really wants to be at the mercy of such substances as alcohol or drugs nor do we want to have to rely on caffeine to keep us awake. This is why getting a clear mental picture of where we are going in our lives is of primary importance.

“Am I talking about a vision again?” you may ask.  In a way, I am. But I’m also talking about a purpose. Someone who wrote me this week and said some very discouraging things about my role as a Success Diva implied that I was merely encouraging people to go after a life of fame, fortune, and personal glory. Well, since this person misunderstood me to such a great extent, I feel it’s incumbent on me to clarify my intentions to all of you. There is no amount of money on earth that will bring you happiness or fulfillment. As for fame, it is fleeting, and often leads to months and years of solitude, misery, and isolation. I am not suggesting that anyone seek fancy cars, expensive clothes, opulent houses, or other material possessions in order to achieve happiness or success. Success, according to this diva’s frame of reference, is the usage of one’s full and unique potential. It is the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing that you have done something that you’re proud of and that makes you feel worthwhile. It’s the feeling of contentment and self-satisfaction you get when you look at your life and realize that you have more to be grateful for than you could have ever dreamed of. Success begins with discovering and embracing the reason that you were put on this earth—and then doing everything within your power to make sure your life has not been lived in vain.

Think about a tree. When it’s first planted, does it seem to be full of promise? Do you look at it and become enraptured by its radiance and splendor? Or do you look at it as being full of potential? And, after you’ve planted it, what would happen if you decided to go pull it up after a few weeks because it didn’t appear to be growing? You and I both know what would happen. You would never look forward to the experience of seeing that fragile sapling grow into a tree of strength and resilience. Well, we are not so different from the young tree. We  begin as saplings, too. Unfortunately, we often remain saplings because we do not allow ourselves the chance to sink our roots deep into the ground. Rather, we allow the gutsy winds of life to cause us to fall down, and, even though we sometimes sense that we have the tenacity to get back up, if we don’t use this tenacity the first time we’re knocked down, it becomes easier and easier to let the storms leave us in a state of permanent decay. At a certain point, we’re not even fresh young saplings anymore. Instead, we’re rotten trees with broken branches and cracks that seem too severe to ever mend.

Recently, I read about Walt Disney, and how he fought so hard to hold onto his dreams when everyone told him that his ideas were outrageous and unrealistic. Nowadays, Disney has his share of critics because people are so narrow-minded that they cannot look past the Walt Disney Pictures that we’re familiar with today and focus on the man behind it all. It’s tragic when people associate an individual and his or her specific dreams with those who carry on those dreams in years to come. Personally, I think Walt Disney had one of the most ingeniously creative minds in history. He was a pioneer. . .a trendsetter. . .a man who continued to go after his dreams, in spite of countless obstacles. Now what’s not to admire about that?  What amazes me is that Walt Disney suffered two nervous breakdowns at critical times of his life. So often, we think of nervous breakdowns as being something that those who are truly icons of success do not succumb to. And yet, time after time, I encounter details about famous authors, artists, musicians, actors/actresses, and other creative artists having mental and emotional breakdowns. It almost seems like having to overcome a setback of such a devastating nature strengthens the resolve of these determined individuals. Is that possible? If so, we have been overlooking a secret to ultimate success that those who have achieved great things have known all along. Namely, this secret is that, if we take any negative experience that happens to us, whether it be significant or not and reverse its affect, so that it makes us stronger rather than weaker, our chances of success have actually improved because of the setback. Hey, I realize that’s a radical concept.  . .but this diva is radical.  Indeed, what I’m slowly starting to discover is that only in combining radical, cutting-edge ideas with more solid philosophies and “traditional” thought patterns will I be able to be the diva I want to be. It’s the mix of the daring with the tame. . .the spontaneous with the carefully considered. . .the old with the new. . .the spicy with the sweet.  You’re never going to make an impact on anyone if you’re not flexible. You have to be willing to take leaps of faith, even if you worry that they’re too risky. Fear is something to overcome–not something to run from.

Walt Disney didn’t let his breakdowns cause him to let go of his ultimate goal. So, why should you let petty annoyances and narrow-minded people cause you to renounce your dreams? Most of the time, the things we spend so much time thinking about aren’t even important. And most of the people who try to cause us to fall down are of no consequence at all.  If they were really worthwhile people, they would know that true success is only achieved by building others up. For only when you are willing to extend a hand to help another person make the life they desire a reality will you be ready to embrace your own dreams. Sure, some of your dreams may come true, even if you do mistreat those around you. But your dream of personal fulfillment and of inner happiness will never be yours. And no matter what any of us try to say, we all have at least one thing in common—we want to feel a certain sense of satisfaction with ourselves. We want to have respect for the person we are. Yet how can we ever respect ourselves if we achieve our goals at the expense of others?

This is why I have emphasized the importance of seeing life as a team effort. Remember how I compared us to the clans of meerkats on the television show, “Meerkat Manor”? If you didn’t read that particular post, I’ll elucidate a bit. On the cable channel, Animal Planet, there’s a successful show called “Meerkat Manor”. It centers on the day-to-day existence of families of meerkats. And unlike human beings, who often seem to have no instinctual desire to support each other, meerkats undertake every situation that arises as if it’s a team sport. The result is that, most of the time, the meerkats know that they can rely on each other. It’s sad to think that, in some ways, we are more selfish than meerkats, but I’m afraid it’s true. So many people have bought into what I call a “scarcity mentality” which essentially focuses on the idea that you must lose so that I can win. In reality, what often happens is that both you and I will lose. This is why this philosophy is so toxic, and why it leads to disappointment and unhappiness. On the other hand, the “abundance mentality” centers around the concept that both you and I can win because there is plenty of success, joy, love, and happiness to go around. We don’t have to fervently hold onto our little sliver of the pie, for we know that there will always be more pie where that pie came from. Our willingness to freely share the pie with others ensures that there will be more than plenty for us.

The “abundance mentality” can also be applied to the love and affection we demonstrate towards others. The more we are willing to demonstrate our caring and compassion to the people that surround us, the more likely it is that we will receive a significant amount of caring and compassion in return. That which flows outwards tends to flow back in eventually. It’s part of the way the world works. So, the next time you are tempted to treat someone with cruelty or thoughtlessness, think about the fact that what you are giving will at some point be received by you. And when another person mistreats you, always remember that they will end up bearing the brunt of their mistreatment—not you. The only thing we ever have any power over is our own life. What anybody else does or says to us is outside of our control. 

This is why you must take charge of all of your choices right now. Once you separate the things you really can change from those  you are powerless to do anything about, you’ll be one step closer to designing the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Have fun. . .and make each moment matter!

Until soon,

Alexis, Your Success Diva

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