Looking within

I was recently browsing an on-line forum at which I read a post by a young female acquaintance who has been spending time in India helping a woman take care of children at a makeshift orphanage. This young woman related details about one boy, who appears physically to be about seven years of age but is actually closer to thirteen, who has been the victim of a brutal rape. Although she clearly offered a certain amount of solace to the boy by holding his hand, helping him bathe, and spending time with him for several hours, she scoffed at the idea of being anybody’s savior. “I have a whole problem with the thought process that assumes somebody needs saving and I’m the one to do it,” she declared.

But wait, I wanted to say, isn’t the truth of the matter that half of the world’s population at least feels that it needs saving? Even those of us who have the advantage of a comfortable home to live in and plenty of food to eat oftentimes allow ourselves to succumb to feelings of hopelessness and despair. In fact, one of the problems is that not only do many of us feel that we need saving, but also there are some of us who actually do. Yet, inherent in this problem is also the means of solving it.

The renowned Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said, “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution.” The solution to this problem is simple. We have to accept responsibility for our lives and, in a sense, be our own saviors for there will never be any one person who will manage to fulfill us on every level. One of the reasons that our world is overcome by such a sense of disillusionment is because so many of us have looked towards presidents and other leaders to guide us out of the tunnel of darkness and despair and into the light of hope. We want to feel that there is someone who will help us bear the heavy burden of our personal crosses. And when we are let down by these would-be saviors whom we have turned to in our hour of need, we feel bitterness, resentment, and sometimes even a certain amount of hostility.

If you’ve turned on the news at all these past several days or picked up a newspaper, you’ve probably heard about the scandal involving golf legend Tiger Woods. From all indications, Woods would have seemed like a man who had everything he could possibly desire—an opulent lifestyle, a beautiful wife and two healthy children, and a golf career that has continued to be incredibly successful. What more could anyone ask for? Well, Woods clearly wanted a great deal more. Yet, instead of giving any significant amount of thought to what issues might have led Woods to shame himself and his family by behaving in an inconceivably reprehensible way, most people are content to simply label Woods a “wife cheater”, a “womanizer”, and “an adulterer”.

But let’s stop for a minute and consider this situation carefully. Is Woods that different from many other people who have found, after reaching what others would consider to be the apex of success, that they are still hungry for more?  What Woods seems to suffer from is an insatiable desire to fill the emptiness within himself. The fame and all the accoutrements that have come along with it haven’t been enough for Woods. There’s still been a void inside him. 

Rather than facing his inner dissatisfaction and taking appropriate measures to deal with it, Woods opted for the easy path to contentment— short-term gratification that involved little commitment on his part and even less critical thinking. Like those who pursue the objective without carefully considering the possible consequences, Woods blithely carried on affairs with multiple women over the course of his married life, apparently never imagining that his escapades would at some point become public knowledge.

At this point, Woods has become fodder for the gossip magazines, and his wife undoubtedly feels humiliated. But as much as anything else, I suspect that the public who so adored Woods feels betrayed by the fact that he tainted the glowing image that they had of him. In a way, it takes us back to the days of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, a time when Americans both snickered and wept at the realization that their president was every bit as human as themselves.

Why is it that so many of us seek a role model to place upon a pedestal and naively expect this role model to conform to our idealized standards of acceptable conduct? In a way, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment, for, alas, no matter how famous or renowned someone is, he or she is every bit as much a mortal as you and I are. Thus, that person is capable of the same mistakes and privy to the same vices. While I’m not saying that there is any justification for the conduct that Tiger Woods has demonstrated, I am challenging us to examine why we are so utterly bewildered and shocked at his indiscretions.

Rather than pointing fingers and casting aspersions on Wood’s character, let’s stop to figure out what our reaction to his behavior says about us. Is it possible that we are almost as disappointed in ourselves for idealizing Woods to such an extent as we are with him for his reprehensible actions? Do some of us, on some level, feel that we have been made a fool of? And if so, when are going to cease to regard our fellow mortals as objects of hero-worship and adulation? When are we going to see that celebrities and those in positions of power and/or leadership are only presenting to us the sides of themselves that they want us to see? Much of the time, if we ripped off the masks that people wear and looked beneath them, we would be appalled.

One of the last blog articles I wrote, “The Authentic You”, was about the masks that so many of us hide under—the masks that prevent us from revealing our authentic selves. When I look at Woods, who presented the sugar-coated family man image to the public while  leading the life of a promiscuous playboy on the sly, I cannot help but think of how important the concept of authenticity is. Although Woods will have a difficult time living down the scandal his behavior has created, I believe that in order for him to ever grow into the person he has the potential to become, the details of his private escapades needed to be disclosed to the public. How will those of us who are living a lie ever cease to do so unless we’re exposed for the frauds that we are?  Oftentimes, it takes what some people call a “defining moment” for them to gain clarity about themselves and the personal issues they may never have taken the time to come to terms with.

In my SuccessDiva work, I have already traversed many paths, all of which are leading to the same destination, but with many twists and turns . . . and, yes, even a few roadblocks. I started this blog with the intention of instilling hope in those who felt like giving up. Since I have felt like giving up so many times in my life, I felt that I might be able to speak with a voice that others could relate to and perhaps even find to be a source of strength. Yet, somewhere down the road, I realized that I needed to refine my objectives and be honest with myself about how much it is possible for me to do.

When you are only one person, you must always remain aware of the fact that your influence is going to be vastly limited, no matter how committed your efforts may be. This undeniable truth has frustrated me so greatly at times that it has taken a considerable effort for me to push forward. However, I never forget what Helen Keller once said, “I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

I suppose, to a certain extent, each of us, who wants to make a difference in this world, must have faith that what we do will create a ripple effect. And that our willingness to look outside of ourselves and our own personal lives will inspire others to do the same. Although we should never regard ourselves as being more successful or better than we are, what we also must keep in mind is that to be all that we can be we sometimes have to believe in our ability to accomplish things that we haven’t yet done.  In order to pursue anything wholeheartedly, we must have some faith in ourselves.

A life without passion and a sense of purpose is only an existence, and, when we limit ourselves in our own minds, we are actually removing the possibility of doing all that we can. We’re deciding how the game of cards is going to end before we even start playing. This being said, perhaps it was better that I overestimated what I would be able to achieve at the start of my SuccessDiva work. Maybe it would have been difficult for me to withstand the amount of criticism and ridicule that has been lavished upon me if I hadn’t had an innate belief that I was doing something meaningful and purposeful.

At this point, I don’t need critics to tell me that trying to fix people’s problems isn’t ever going to work. The young woman, whom I spoke of earlier who finds the idea that people might need “a savior” to be personally distasteful, admitted to me that she had the impression that I was trying to heal people’s wounds with Band-Aids (TM) when what they really required was stitches. What I happen to know is that many of those with wounds that require stitches actually prefer to wrap bandages around them so that will not be forced to deal with the harsh reality of their situation. If this were not so, why would people be drowning their pain in drugs and alcohol? Why would people need to take sleeping pills to get adequate rest? Why would so many marriages be ending in divorce?

We are a world in which the quick-fix option is what we turn to first instead of as a last resort. Rather than true faith in an all-powerful God or Divine Creator, many people use religion as a way to escape the chaos in their souls. They are so afraid of having to face their inner torment, that they will latch onto anything that brings them some feeling of security. But, is this any way to live?

Rather than naively imagining that nobody in the world needs a savior, what we need to do is realize that the majority of the population feels a desire to be saved, whether that desire is consciously acknowledged or not. At certain times of our lives, we may have experienced this desire, too. And, until we can separate a desire from an authentic need, our perception of reality will be much more real to us than actual reality ever is.

The brilliant psychologist Carl Jung once admitted, “The whole world has a savior expectation; you find it everywhere. The savior complex is certainly not a personal motif; it is a world-wide expectation, an idea which you will find all over the world and in every epoch of history. It is the archetypal idea of the magic personality . . . and image of the collective unconscious. ” Doesn’t this explain why we look towards everything from food, drugs, and alcohol to celebrities and material possessions to bring us personal fulfillment?

We want to be saved from the void that exists within us—we want to find some way to bear the emptiness we feel inside. If we can find someone or something to cling to in our hours of doubt and despair, perhaps we’ll manage to get by. But what happens when we give up drinking or using drugs or overeating? What happens when the person whom we’ve been looking up to does something completely unforgivable? How do we go on then? In a way, aren’t we worse than we would have been if we had simply taken responsibility for ourselves and used our own inner strength to make the most of our lives?

It’s important that I make it clear that I’m not suggesting that merely visualizing our “ideal” lives or adopting positive thinking patterns is going to change anything. These concepts, though widely promoted by those in the self-help field, are only as reliable and/or effective as the person making use of them wants them to be. What I do believe, though, is that each person has the tools within himself to create a life that is at least reasonably satisfying. Even if years of therapy and/or psychoanalysis are needed, a person still ultimately chooses whether he or she lives a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. There is no psychiatrist or psychologist in the world who will be able to provide more help to someone than that person is willing to accept.

Gandhi may have summed up a profound truth when he said that we must be the change we want to see in the world. But what he neglected to mention is that we have to want to be that change. Nothing will ever change in your life unless you want it to. So, you can either continue looking for salvation from some outside source or you can turn your vision inwards and accept the knowledge that nobody besides you can transform your life. Which choice will you make?

Until soon . . . Live without Limits, SuccessDiva style!

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

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